Photo credit: © Monalyn Gracia/Corbis
When I first started watching road races on TV, the images of these thin men riding at 40+ kph on undulating roads looked to me like a piece of cake. “I could do that!” , I’d say to myself. After all, riding my BMX all those years ago, I was pretty sure I was hitting at least 30. So the day came when I got on my very first roadbike, I shifted it immediately into the big ring, and boy was I so wrong about thinking this was going to be a walk in the park.
Unbeknownst to SOME, cycling is one of the hardest endurance activities you can partake in. It’s like a combination of running and rowing where a both aerobic AND unaerobic endurance is needed to get you through those long rides, and get you up those steel short hills fast. Most beginners who are doing this for the first time and trying to ride with a group will be in for the shock of their lives.
Thankfully, Togoparts is here to help soften the initial “shock and awe” experienced by a newbie riding in a fast group for the first time.
Before you set out to train on your roadbike, it will be handy to keep in mind the Rating of Perceived Exertion(RPE) Scale. Assuming that you have no heart rate monitor, this can be used to gauge your effort by feel and is pretty effective. In fact, popular training aids like The Sufferfest use the RPE scale. Below is the scale for you to commit to memory.
0 – Nothing at all
0.5 – Just noticeable
1 – Very light
2 – Light
3 – Moderate
4 – Somewhat heavy
5 – Heavy
7 – Very heavy
10 – Very, very heavy
Let’s get on to training!
As a totally new entrant to this sport, it is very important to build a good foundation for the more complicated training you will be subjected to as you become a more experienced cyclist. We will cover these foundations in this article, so that by fully committing yourself to them, you will be ready to get into the stuff that will get you into racing fitness.
1) STAY IN THE SMALL RING – Beginner legs are likely not built to handle the stresses it is required to handle when pushing down on the big ring. For the first couple of months, stay in the small ring, and keep your speed down to 25-30 kph (depending on fitness level), targeting an RPE of 3 or less (Around 60% of maximum heart rate). Spinning the small ring for long durations will help build the capillaries that your legs need so that oxygen is transported as efficiently as possible to your leg muscles. Resist the urge to go harder and faster! This is what base building is all about.
2) FOCUS ON TECHNIQUE – Pedaling isn’t simply pushing down on the pedals, it is also about pulling up! Pulling up allows you to unweight the pedal and reduce negative torque when one crank is on the upstroke, thereby allowing the downstroke crank to be “easier” to execute. Pedaling in circles will be a new thing to most beginners as we have all started riding bikes on flat pedals and sampling mashing down on them. With clipless pedals, we are given the capability to pull back, pull up, and push forward as well. As Greg Lemond advised, pulling back is like scraping mud off your shoes. Once these 3 motions are put into one fluid action, then you would have mastered the art of pedaling in circles called “souplesse”.
The biomechanics and muscles utilized in a pedal stroke
Photo credit: 53×11.com
3) RIDE IN A GROUP WITH CYCLISTS OF SIMILAR FITNESS LEVELS – If possible, try to get in a group of cyclists with similar fitness levels as yours. Riding for extended periods will really challenge your sanity, and riding with buddies helps time pass a little bit quicker. Be sure not to ride with cyclists who are much faster as you will end up pushing too hard at this early stage of your base training. That will not be good for you in the long run, and may be a shock to your system leaving you lying by the roadside, gasping for air and booking a cab ride for home. Check out the Togoparts “Rides” forum to look for a group near you!
Riding in a group. These are pros though!
4) STRENGTHEN YOUR CORE AND UPPER BODY – Do not underestimate the importance of building a strong and sturdy core. While upper body mass is not exactly a requirement, upper body strength is! The benefits of having a strong core and overall upper body are most noticeable when climbing or when out of the saddle. Strong arms help you keep the bike steady when sprinting out of the saddle, while a firm core helps you transfer all your leg power into the pedals rather than wasting energy into unnecessary upper body movement. Below are some exercises you can do 2 -3 times a week to help improve your core strength.
You have be ‘hard core’ to be a good cyclist, if you know what I mean
By focusing on these 4 areas, no matter how “boring” some may be, you will find yourself with a good fitness base on which you can build your cycling strength when it comes time to ride with more advanced groups, and do the more intense workouts.