Most fitness riders want to be able to ride faster, further and be stronger. While they are not competitively racing, they still want to be able to keep up with their riding buddies, win the crazy-fun sprint at the end of the ride and power up hills. Here are a few simple tips to allow you to do just that.
First off, I assume that you have a half decent bike. It does not need to be a drop-bar racer, but you should have 700 x 25c (or even better, 23c) tyres as well as clipless pedals and shoes. You do not need to spend big dollars on a new bicycle — at least, not yet. I started out riding a $500 Fuji Absolute 3.0, and am still riding it two years later!
Set up and cadence
Get your bike set up properly. Go to a bike shop if necessary. If you are a fitness rider, you do not need the precise bicycle set-up of a professional rider, but you at least need it close enough that you are not causing injuries, and that you are able to efficiently push the pedals.
Next, get yourself a clip-on metronome, set it to 90 beats per minute and ride in time with it. Once you have mastered riding at a cadence of 90, you will be amazed at how your riding will improve. Your rides will be faster, and take less effort.
Time in the saddle
You need to ride — regularly. Time in the saddle is one of the most important factors to riding faster, further and stronger. You do not need to ride flat out every ride. Make sure that you enjoy your time on the bike and that your exercise is not something that you dread.
I have developed a program where I can fairly easily ride 120 kilometres a week. I only do a couple of short 24 km rides during the week. This allows me to roll my legs over, but still perform a full day of work, as well as family duties. I then ride my regular 36 km loop twice on the weekend. If I did this for a full year, it would actually average out to 520 km a month.
With this level of riding, I can achieve a fitness level where I overtake a lot more riders on my Saturday morning ride, than overtake me! According to my GPS, I rode 102 km in the Brisbane to Gold Coast Cycle Challenge in 3 hours, 11 minutes at an average speed of 32.1 km/h. My fastest 20 km on the ride was completed in 34 minutes 14 seconds. That’s 35.05 km/h! And this was achieved on training of around 500 km a month riding my Fuji Absolute 3.0 flat bar road bike.
I have found that aiming for a 500 km month is achievable for most people with a busy job, family and other commitments. 500 km is an effort and takes some commitment, but is not so far out of reach as to be unachievable. Start off with a lower goal if necessary, but when you are regularly riding 500 km a month, your fitness level will dramatically increase and you will definitely be improving your cycling — faster, further and stronger.
The average weekend fitness rider will make the biggest gain in their riding simply by not eating that extra chocolate when they get home from their ride, cutting back on the burgers and chips, and generally eating healthier. Be aware that many of the sports energy drinks, bars and gels are not helping your weight loss campaign. If you need a sports drink on your ride to stop cramping, look for one that has no carbs in it, for example Shotz electrolyte tables.
You should be able to ride 500 km a month only drinking water on your rides and a normal diet — that is, no sports drinks, energy bars or gels. Teach your body to burn natural, healthy foods instead.
For many of us, we are actually riding to lose weight, so it is a bit of a catch-22 situation. Even so, losing 5 kg from your waist will allow you to ride faster than spending $3,000 on a new bicycle!
Okay, only when you are doing plenty of time in the saddle, have a decent set-up and cadence, and have lost most of your flab can you legitimately spend more money on bicycle toys.
Assuming that you already have a half decent bicycle, you will get the biggest gains by upgrading your wheels. Look for relatively lightweight, yet strong wheels that can take 700 x 23 c (or 25c) tyres. Most fitness riders do not ride fast enough to gain any benefit from spending big dollars on carbon fibre aerodynamic wheels, and you will look like a goose if you can only manage 25 km/h on them!
I have a Fuji Absolute 3.0 flat bar road bike. I spent about $500 on it and the bike was totally submerged in the Queensland 2011 floods. I have repacked or replaced all the bearings and purchased a Fulcrum Racing 5 Road Wheelset. Not the fanciest set up, I know, but I still manage to pass a lot more people than pass me.
Now, go back to point number two — get out on your bike and ride faster, further, stronger!