By Christopher Cudworth
This is essentially my 10th year of what I’d call “serious cycling.” In 2004 I was riding a Trek 400 steel frame road bike and not getting much faster. It was a tremendous accomplishment to average more than 18 mph for a 30 mile ride on that bike. It simple wasn’t set up to generate that much speed.
Yet the foundations for successful riding were being built even on that bike. Some of those foundations have been ignored to my detriment. Here they are, with an explanation of how they can help you become a better rider.
#1. Try new things in terms of distance and types of riding
When you start out in cycling, everything is new. As you grow in ability, you need to seek out new things in order to keep growing in your strength and endurance. If you’ve never done a criterium, give it a go. Same goes for road riding, or centuries. Choose something new to do this year.
#2. Ride with people better than you
With a few years under your belt it is easy to fall into a pattern of riding with people you know and trust. But that makes you too comfortable and can actually hold you back. When you choose to ride with better riders on a regular basis, you are neither limited by your own expectations or hemmed in by theirs.
#3. Go for the long and short of it
To grow as a rider, you must learn to vary your riding style in terms of terrain and pace. Start the year by going for really long, slow rides by yourself, and don’t hurry. Just build time in the saddle. During the work week you can jump on your bike for a one-hour ride and not feel guilty for pedaling a little faster. That’s faster, not harder. Spin like the devil and keep your cadence above 95 for an hour. Teach your legs tempo and down the road you’ll be happy for it.
#4. Fix your diet a little bit
We all eat too much crap. Supplanting even 10-20% of our diet with better foods in the veggie and lean meat category is far better than filling those hunger gaps with carbohydrates and sweets.
#5. Assess your gear and protect your rear
So many of us cyclists store up gear that we rarely use. It’s important to determine what works best for you on your bike, then take care of it. Be diligent in your washing and drying routines, taking care to protect your best gear from accidental over-drying. But always, always change out of your gear as soon as you are done riding. Even the best equipment is no good for you once you’re done riding. 20 minutes in wet gear for coffee with friends is okay. After that, get out of your wet stuff and save your rear, and other body parts.
#6. Plan at least one destination ride
Riding from one clear place to another can be great fun. If someone you know is “heading west” and can drop you off for a 60-mile ride back home, toss your bike in the trunk and ride your way home. It’s an adventure, and fun to capture on your camera. Obviously let people know where you’re going and when you’ll probably be back. Carry a phone and a Road ID in case of accident and be sure to have ready food and water supplies along with some cash for stocking up if things take longer than you think.
#7. Enter a race
Even if you get cooked in the first few laps of a criterium, the sensation of lining up with other cyclists is a thrill, and the dangers are really overplayed. Even criterium racing typically levels out in a lap or two. Then it’s a question of finding a draft and staying alert.
Many regions now host “practice” criteriums where you can test your riding ability in a variety of categories including CAT 5 and Master’s races. But be advised, many of the Master’s Races are far faster than the lower category races. I averaged 23.5 in one CAT 5 Criterium and 26.8 in a Master’s race before getting dropped after 25 minutes. It’s all fun.
#8. Go somewhere new to ride
It sounds simple, but throwing your bike in your car and planning a ride in a new location is really critical to breaking up your riding year. You should plan to do an “away” ride at least once a month from April through September. The riding season in Illinois is not much longer than that, so we try to make the best of it.
#9. Bring someone new into the sport
Helping someone else learn to ride is a great joy. You need to be patient and keep the distances down at first, yet shared riding and the progress you’ll see in others is one of the great rewards of cycling.
#10. Be grateful
There are so many great things about cycling that we forget. Even the dullest scenery changes with the seasons. Getting out early to ride is the ideal way to experience the world in a new way, every day. Being grateful for the ability to ride gets you through the tough days too. When it’s windy or cold or wet, you can always think aloud, “It’s still better than…_____________ (fill in the blank.)
It’s going to be a great year for riding if you get out there with a new plan in mind.