How to Get Better at Cycling
You don’t need to be unemployed, inherit a trust fund or be single without kids to get better at cycling.
It takes four words: small consistent, focused action.
Like this photo I’ve strategically placed to get your trust and attention. Tour de Toona 2007, the first race in my cycling career where I wasn’t saying “ouch” like the gal next to me.
Decide on an event or a goal and commit to it. If you don’t know what to get better for (or why), how will it happen?
Could be a huge climb, a Gran Fondo, or riding 100km in ‘x’ amount of time. If for whatever reason it’s a mission abort, just starting will direct your next one.
But be calculated with what you commit to and understand where and how you can improve. Consider the law of cause and effect and how it plays out in cycling. For example, speed and stamina are effects of a strategic input.
Now, assuming you already know the basics, like not over-inflating your tires, lubing your chain and keeping your bike in working order, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of how to get better at cycling.
Get a Scientific Bike Fit
Being properly fit on your bike is not only smart injury prevention but also FREE money… or watts. Each stroke of the pedal will be hard at work in a singular goal of propelling you forward. Yes, of course, there’s an initial investment, but then it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
The three touch points: pedals, saddle and handlebar are hard to fit yourself when you don’t know how long the bones in your legs, torso and arms are. A good bike fitter will not only know cycling well and be educated on the mechanics of the body, but he’ll have a bunch of laser beams, too.
You’ll know a pro cyclist without needing to gasp at their rail-thin body, but with the fluidity in which they turn the pedals. Their feet are flat the entire pedal stroke, and that’s not by accident - but by where the cleat is mounted to the shoe. Twinkle toes sadly get a frowny face.
Focus on Skill not speed
Aside from cornering, descending and climbing, the most crafty skill you can develop to see the fastest results is drafting. That is sitting in a group or behind someone and pulling less than everyone else (so you don’t look like a total hoser). I believe that’s what they call “panache.” Here’s why:
“Studies have shown drag reductions of between 27% and 50% for riders that are drafting, with the exact reduction depending on a number of variables — the size and on-the-bike position of the rider in front, likewise with the rider drafting, the distance from the wheel in front, the direction and strength of the wind, and more.”1
27 to 50 percent is nothing to sniff at; it’s how I won my first green jersey at above-mentioned race. In all seriousness, you’ll get more fitness… and friends from taking pulls. Forearms parallel to the ground on the hoods is usually the least drag - not the drops, contrary to popular opinion.2
Expand your mindset
We’ve all heard “you are what you eat” but have you ever considered the notion that you are what you believe? Whether we’re aware of them or not, we have opinions and preconceived notions mostly unfound or tested.
Now, I know there are statistics and probabilities that forecast outcomes - but you might consider taking a mindful approach to your belief system. I mean, investigate the validity of what you’re allowing yourself to think.
Find examples of what’s possible and reverse engineer the result. Hang around people who’re doing what you want to do and measure your progress legitimately.
Your mindset is the single most powerful tool you have. Might not be the easiest one, yet the ultimate goal is to be aware of the beliefs that you either dismiss or agree to be true.
Small Consistent Action
Now that you know the fundamentals, every action you take in this category will be magnified because it’s strategic, intelligent, and mindful. Without any further ado, let’s unpack this “small consistent action.”
Improving your Function Threshold Power (FTP) is what’s ultimately going to make you a stronger, more resilient bike rider. No intervals, power meter or heart rate strap wanted or needed. Just don’t ride around slow. In the bold words of my first coach:
He also told me to do pushups and sits ups to exhaustion. (Luckily I was already exhausted at 5.) And “slow” is a relative term.
So, how can a mere mortal apply such techniques?
By having an objective and strategy for each ride. A structured training plan impedes the Passion Program for most of us and in my case, frivolous targets. For example:
PR on a hard climb in the area: to achieve this, use everything besides the actual climb as a warm-up and warm-down. The art of the PR is not blowing up without going too easy. Think about starting the climb modestly and upping the pace every 25%, giving it all last quarter.
Go for a long ride on Saturday but be home by 1 pm: look to ride a 3, 4, and 5-hour ride at roughly the same output. The goal is to finish as hard as your start. This gets challenging when you pedal over the crest of the climb and on the downhills, and again harder when moving time is 15% of elapsed time.
Beat “panino” who I haven’t been able to drop in a whole year now: ride consistently 2-3 times per week and use drafting technique.
Gran Fondo Strade Bianche: simulate the elevation and the distance once or twice a month then positioning, not to win but for their dramatic photos.
Of course, there are various coaching philosophies that polarise training which can be just what makes you tick. If that sounds restricting, remember: consistency is key, no heroic efforts required and Passion Programs are fuelled by joy.
Schedule an event in your calendar to quadruple your joy by 1. anticipating and looking forward to it, 2. savouring and enjoying it, 3. Talking about it and sharing it with your friends, 4. reflecting and looking back at it.3
Choose something that lights you up, have a vision - a “why” and use it to up the ante when the going gets tough.