An Ironman’s top advice for new road cyclists
Want to take up road cycling, but feeling overwhelmed? Ironman triathlete and ZOZI Guru Chris Lieto offers his tips for getting started.
I’ll admit that there are more technical aspects to cycling than running. It’s not just a pair of shoes. It’s a pair of shoes, a bike, a chain, tires, wheels, and a helmet. So the first step is to avoid thinking that there’s too much to think about. In the end, where running is about getting out and running, cycling is about getting out and riding.
Get fit—and fitted
Ready to give it a try? From the get-go, one of the most important things to consider is bike fit. I always advise getting a professional fit done at your local bike shop, but in the meantime there are ways to set up your bicycle on your own to get the fit pretty darn close.
Check out this short video on cycling basics that I put together for my website, MasterTheBike.com.
Once your bike fits, make sure you’ve got a good helmet that also fits. You want to ensure that the helmet won’t fall forward, especially if you hit the back of your head. I’m a Giro fan, but any good-quality helmet will work. Avoid the $20 ones—I’d spend at least $60, if not more—because this is what’s going to save your life.
When it comes to shoes and cleats, clipping in is definitely more efficient—and my recommendation—but be prepared. Ninety-nine percent of people fall over during the first couple of days of clipping in. I did it. Everyone I know has done it. You stop at a stop sign, forget you're clipped in, and fall. But it's definitely the way to go. You'll get used to it.
Let It Ride
Now that you’ve got the basic gear needs down, it’s time to get on the road. Start super easy. Just enjoy being outside and in the saddle. Build your fitness and your confidence. Go out and ride for a half hour or an hour, but do all of your riding during the first month at a slow pace. If you can carry on a conversation with someone while you’re riding, that’s a good pace to keep. If you go up any hills, make sure that you have your bike in the lowest gear that allows you to keep pedaling without having to grind.
Once you feel like you’ve built up some endurance, you can shift into training mode. Every time you ride, you’ll focus on one of four aspects: endurance, strength, speed, or recovery.
Building up your heart muscle is important to be able to go aerobically for a long time.
To focus on endurance, plan workouts that increase the efficiency of your heartbeat and the aerobic capacity of your muscles—allowing you to work on the bike without getting exhausted. This means consistently longer rides and farther distances.
Doing workouts to increase the strength of your legs and the strength of your pedal stroke is next. Here’s where you focus on climbing, making sure that you're in the right position on the bike, and doing a slow cadence that will allow you to build up your muscles.
Third is speed. Interval workouts allow you to cycle for short bursts at a high threshold. Play with those high speeds, then slow down and recover.
A fourth type of ride cannot be overlooked when training: the recovery ride. When focusing on recovery, you’re aiming for a low heart rate, and spinning and flushing out your legs.
Generally, when training, I had six different workouts that I always did. I would alter those slightly, but there was always a specific purpose each time I went out in order to not confuse my body. If you’re training for speed, don’t decide halfway to focus on aerobic capacity. At the end of the ride, you won’t have built any speed, nor will you have built aerobic capacity so you’ll have lost key benefits to the workout.
The Inevitable Flat
At some point, you will need to change a tire. But there are ways that you can help prevent flats. First, you can put an additional rim of liner between the chain and the tire that will protect it from nails and such. Second, when you run over glass, stop and clear off your tires. It's usually little shards that will burr in the tread and will work their way through as you're riding and eventually hit your tube.
As you get more advanced, you can clear debris that catches while you're riding. If I run through anything that looks like it may stick, I just reach down with my fingers and rub the tread as I'm rolling. Or you can take your water bottle and touch your tires and spray them off.
I’ll put a disclaimer on this though, because if you miss and hit a spoke, you can cut your finger off. So on that note, you might just want to learn to change your tire.