Faster Better Happier Rider
7 steps to a Faster Better Happier Rider
All good things come in sevens and after providing you with seven reasons to race ‘cross in the winter, here’s more priceless cycling wisdom from our resident old pro, Tim Granshaw, as he outlines seven steps to make you a Faster Better Happier rider in 2013 – and all for less than £1,000…
You already know what I’m about to tell you is true: your bike, as cool as it is, only makes you incrementally faster. It’s you and how well you take care of yourself, that drives a good result at the local group ride, sportif, or target race. Most of us can’t hope to have five watts per kilo threshold power, but we can make the most of what we have to hand with time, commitment, attention to detail, and some wise spending. Here are seven things to make a better and happier cyclist in 2013 for a small amount of change.
Don’t Be A Pillock – Spend £0
Richmond Park in London offers a fantastic training ground. The 7 mile loop on the fringe includes various sharp uphills, swooping downhills, and extended flat sections. It’s a great place to ride. Unfortunately, it’s also the site of some of the greatest affronts to cycling decency in the United Kingdom. Teeth grinding and gears mashing, 100s of riders ignore one another, sprint off fellow cyclist’s wheels immediately before turning out of the park, clip and curse at other cyclists, squeeze new riders into the gutter and behave like a bag of monkeys.
Adopt the pro outlook: ride with a pro and you’ll find they’re mostly nice guys and most of the time are eager to ride with other people. When you’re training 30 hours a week, the monotony of cycling solo makes group rides and meeting others on the road a pleasure. Mirror this attitude and save the hard days for the races or early hours when the roads are empty. When you slow to say “hello” as you pass someone on a steady training ride, you may find they have something interesting to say.
For The Love Of God, Get A Bike Fit – Spend £150
Do your knees hit you in the face on every pedal stroke? Do other riders hum the “Here comes the circus” song every time you ride by? Time for a bike fit. Gucci parts are great, but a proper bike fit can make you much faster by improving your breathing and muscle efficiency. These efficiencies also have the peripheral benefit of making you look smoother, faster and more comfortable on your machine. I’ve known some riders to gain 5% threshold power after a 90 minute fitting session.
The technology behind fits has changed over the past several years, leveraging lasers where tape measures used to suffice. The premise has stayed the same: the fitter assesses your position by poking, prodding and measuring. Based on this assessment, your bike fit, including your stem length, seat height and seat position, amongst other things, are adjusted to ensure you and the bike work in tandem rather than against each other. Call your local shop: they can either direct you to a good fit expert or provide a fit themselves.
You Can Never Be Too Thin Or Too Rich – Save £150
If you can see your belly button popping out between the bottom of your jersey and your shorts, it’s time to quit the doughnuts. Power output improves in small increments over a cyclist’s career until their early 30s when it begins to decline: years of repetitive motion will see a solid rider improve by tiny percentages every season. Add a couple of kilos worth of frites and all that hard work is for nought. At the same time, if you’re 5 or 10 kilos heavier than you could be, the fastest way to gain a couple of minutes in rolling or hilly terrain is to stop eating Smarties for a few weeks.
There are some excellent books on exercise nutrition: a couple of highly recommended ones are Racing Weight and Sport Nutrition For Endurance Athletes. You can offset the cost of the chosen read by skipping the Lion Bars, maybe even make some money back.
Back In Black. Watch The Italians– Spend £250
Now brain and body are squared away, let’s straighten the attire. Your goal is preserve an air of mystery while still looking sharp. Our recommendation is to go all black on your kit. Why? First, black kit always looks the same. Rain spray, chain lube, slugs thrown up by the front wheel, bloodshed from your competitors: none of these will impact your black outfit.
Second, black kit means business. A jersey with your Labrador on the front might get some oohs and aahs at the local pet store, but it’s not going to earn you any respect out on the road.
Finally, black kit helps #2 above. If you’re a kilo or two over, black helps you look a little leaner, because it obscures the shadows cast by squishy bulges. Once you have your black shorts, socks, and jersey together consider your accents: the Italians are masters at this. I raced with an Italian team for a few years. I watched my team mates carefully select helmets, glasses, gloves and shoe covers for maximum effect. Their general rule of thumb was match gloves, shoe covers and helmet but contrast glasses. While you’re about it make sure your handlebar tape matches your saddle color or one of your frame accents. Want to go full style? Mimic Fillipo Pozzato: his ideal position on the bike, synched dress and outrageous hairdo, place him second only to Mario Cipollini as cycling’s leading fashionisto.
Always Anaerobic Is Not Always Good – Spend £200 – £450
Finishing every ride with your head between your knees, coughing up your morning toast, might seem like the best way to get faster but the knowledgeable coach will tell you that it’s as important to go slow as it is to go fast. The body is not capable of full recovery from a really hard series of efforts within a one day period: muscles break down and blood thins. Hammering for weeks drives performance down as the effects of prior days pile on top of each other.
We recommend purchasing a cycling computer like the Garmin 510 with a heart rate strap. Then, signup for an online service like the excellent trainingpeaks.com, which for an annual fee includes a full year’s training plan. Structuring your training and riding makes you a faster, more confident rider.
Mr. Clean—Spend £120
Do you brush your teeth at least twice a day? Do you wash, clean and adjust your bike at least once a week? “No” to the second question is almost as regrettable as “No” to the first one. Good bicycle hygiene is critical if you ride a lot. In addition to representing yourself well, a clean bike works better and runs more quietly. Additionally, cleaning your bike gives you an opportunity to give the components and frame a once over for cracks and wear, ensuring no nasty mid-ride surprises. Keeping your bike clean and well-maintained does not require a huge investment. Complete bicycle tool kits cost £80-£100, with cleaning supplies only another £20-£40 more. You’ve probably spent a fair amount of cash on your bike, it makes sense to treat it well!
Cover Yourself!—Spend £150
Your legs may be beautiful, muscled stems of power, ogled by the opposite sex and envied by your riding partners. However, we suggest you keep them under wraps to protect yourself against the climate for at least two of the four seasons. Investing in leg and arm warmers, an undershirt, gillet, gloves and thermal shoe covers will make the cool days more pleasant.
When the temperature outside is below 16 degrees put your leg warmers on. Your knees are susceptible to the cold: riding every day with bare legs in the chill can result in knee pain and even the onset of tendinitis. That same chill passes straight through your jersey: keeping your core warm is important for preserving heat in the extremities too: your body prioritizes core warmth, so a cool torso can result in numb toes and fingers. Wear a gillet when on descents and on days below 16 degrees and an underlayer if the mercury dips under 21 degrees.
If after applying these pearls you are (or are not) a Faster Better Happier rider then let us know exactly what you think in the comments section below. You can also read Granshaw’s 7 Reasons to Race Cyclo-cross article here.