“Ride as much or as little, as long or as short as you feel. But ride.”
Have you ever thought of taking a break from your tedious life or to get away from the hustle bustle of the city life? If no, then start thinking now!
Life on two wheels is a beautiful thing, and travel on two wheels can be epic. On a bike tour there’s no car window to block those exquisite floral scents; no engine noise to drown out the chants of monks or the clamour of penguins; no fumes to mask the aromas of steaming noodle soup or simmering paella.
Road racing is a hugely rewarding hobby, but it can also be intimidating, whether you’ve only watched it on TV or have been lining up at races yourself for years.
Here are the need-to-know facts every aspiring road cyclist should grasp before hitting the open road.
Review the race course: Before hitting the course, do a proper recce. If you’re racing locally, and if you can’t get at the right spot, you can use Google Maps and street view it if you can’t preview in person.
Ride in a pack: Before you start racing, it’s a good idea to spend some time riding with other people to get used to drafting, moving around in a pack, and even sneaking in some sprints to town lines or to the local coffee shop. If you’re on a group ride, you get used to that proximity. Strategy doesn’t replace athletic ability, though, so make sure to follow a training plan to get in tip-top shape.
Get the right fit: Work with a local bike shop to create a perfect fit on the bike. This will avoid back pain and injuries and improve performance over the long-term. Bike fits are highly individual, but a good rule of thumb for determining saddle height is for the user to place a bare heel on the pedal and adjust the saddle so that the knee is locked. Cyclists can adjust it from there to suit taste.
Know the lingo: Cyclists can seem like they’re talking in code, and announcers during the race aren’t any better. Here are a few cycling terms you might hear as you’re racing.
- Prime: The race isn’t over, but there is a sprint to the finish line on a Prime lap, and there’s often a small prize attached.
- Penultimate lap: Second-to-last lap (start getting excited, it’s almost over!).
- Peloton: The main group of riders in a race.
- Breakaway: The small group or rider who has gotten ahead of the peloton.
- Chase group: A group attempting to catch up to the breakaway (this can be the whole peloton or a group of riders that breaks away from the peloton to go after the breakaway).
Keep track of your front wheel: You’re in charge of your front wheel in the sense that if someone in front of you does something weird (like grabs his brake or changes his line suddenly), you’re still responsible for holding your line and not swerving into the guy next to you. In a figurative sense, it just means you’re responsible for yourself and your bike, race respectfully and safely.
Be predictable: Keeping yourself upright is easier if you don’t try crazy lines (like riding the cobbles while everyone else sticks to the pavement). Ride predictable lines, especially when you’re new. No sudden change in speed or movement. If you find yourself suddenly overlapping someone’s wheel and he stands up and you’re worried he’ll run into you, don’t overreact and make a drastic change that will have the guy behind you crashing into you.
Focus on skills in your first criterium: Criteriums are the shortest road races, and also one of the most technical: They involve corner after corner of tight turns and often end in sprint finishes. Your best advice is to practice cornering ahead of time. Practice by yourself, especially at higher speeds, but also try cornering with a group so you know how it feels to have people on both sides of you as you lean into a corner. If you’re nailing corners without any difficulty then you should start going for primes.
Prep right for your first time trial: Time trials are the least scary of the road races for beginners, because they’re solo efforts and pack tactics don’t come into play. You still want to know the course (not all time trials are flat and straight) and prepare for corners, but you will prepare a bit differently. A good warm-up is mandatory. Because time trials for beginners are often short, it’s important to be ready to go with your heart rate up and your legs feeling good. If you’re warming up on the road, on the trainer, or on rollers, do a few sets of hard, 10-second efforts to get ready.
Stay strong in your first stage race: Start taking healthy and most importantly nutritious diet. Stage races are races of attrition and can combine any of the other race styles—single-lap, circuit, time trial, etc.—in any order over the course of a few days. Your task is to stay just as prepared on the last day as you were on the first day, and to do that make sure you eat and drink enough on and off the bike is key. For multi-day events, post-race recovery meals become even more important, so make sure you’re making that meal count.
Riding bikes is fun. Acknowledge other riders, enjoy yourself, and don’t worry too much about having the ‘right’ gear or the ‘best’ bike. The best bike out there is the one that you enjoy riding.
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