Something has inspired you to join the great sport of cycling. Whatever triggered the desire to start riding bicycles, you are not alone. The sport of cycling is growing and there are new cyclists joining the ranks of cycling everywhere. Cycling’s growth is due to the technology and variety of options available to the new cyclist. There are road bikes, comfort bikes, hybrids, mountain bikes, recumbents, fat bikes, e-bikes and more.
Before we talk about bikes, let’s think about you and your needs, goals and motivations for becoming a new cyclist.
(The links provided in this article are just meant as examples – I’m not necessarily promoting – they are just informational)
New Cyclist – Know Thyself!
Your motivation for getting into bicycling is something to ponder. Why did you choose to become a bike rider?
- Perhaps you have friends that ride all the time and they enjoy the social aspects of cycling.
- Perhaps you have been taking Spinning classes and think you might prefer a workout with an ever-changing view.
- Perhaps you just want to get into better shape or lose weight.
- Perhaps your doctor has suggested that you exercise more.
- Perhaps you want to recapture the childlike joys of freedom and fun that you had as a kid with a bicycle.
Ask yourself, “why cycling,” and the answer will help guide your journey.
Outdoor Cycling – Things to Consider
The new cyclist has a few things to think about. Ask yourself what kind of rider you think you might want to be.
Do you see yourself:
- Riding “out there,” with others enjoying the beauty and the relative peace and quiet of nature?
- Riding with a social group on the roads of your community?
- Riding when your schedule allows to maintain life balance and fitness?
- Challenging yourself to complete a cycling event like El Tour de Tucson or an MS 150 event?
- Feeding that competitive fire by someday competing in a mountain bike or road race?
There may be other reasons to ride, but each of these has some elements to consider.
As the name implies, mountain biking is often done in challenging terrain. Of course there are rides that are on flat, dirt roads too. Mountain bikers often love riding a narrow trail called “singletrack.” Part of the joys of mountain biking is that you are out there, away from busy streets, and traffic and noise. You often see natural wonders of flora and fauna and geology that enrich the riding experience. The terrain is usually bumpy, often rough, and will often challenge your sense of balance and sharpen your riding skills and focus. Mountain bikes are built tough and can take a lot of abuse without breaking down.
The downside of mountain biking for most, is that you often have to transport your bicycle to a suitable area for riding. This takes additional time and sometimes, additional equipment. You will get dirty. You may need maps or a good GPS. And unless you ride in an area frequented by other riders and hikers, you may find it best to ride with others. Because mountain bikers sometimes ride in dusty, wet and harsh conditions, they can require more maintenance.
Riding a bike on the streets has its own kinds of unique joys and pleasures. There are many groups that ride on the road together and this can be a great social outlet. Most roads are smooth and clean and make for a less “jarring” experience than mountain biking. You can usually find routes that have bike lanes or bike paths and this increases safety. If “the wind in your face” and a sense of speed is something you like, road biking can offer just that. Road biking is pretty convenient too – you can suit up and usually start riding from your own driveway. Road bikers ride in relatively less harsh environments and don’t require a lot of maintenance.
The downside to road biking is that depending on where you live, it can be a relatively noisy activity if you have to ride in city traffic. There is a little less freedom than is found on a mountain bike – on the road you have to follow many of the same laws that cars have to adhere to, as well as a few that are unique to riding a bike on the streets. The biggest downside to riding on the road – especially in city environments is the dangers posed by careless and inattentive drivers of cars and trucks.
If you are a contemplating joining the fun, freedom and fitness-enhancing world of bicycling, seek out as much information as you can. Ask your friends who ride about their chosen type of riding. Of course, the Internet is a great tool for research. I wish I could recommend spending some time discussing your needs at a local bike shop or two to get more information. But after working in nearly a dozen bike shops over the course of my cycling career, the quality of information you may get there might not be the best to guide you towards your unique goals. Bike shops aren’t populated with the likes of the notorious used car salesman, but they aren’t exempt from a healthy dose of “let the buyer beware” either.
Save the trip to the bike shop for after you have determined what kind of new cyclist you want to be –
After you have decided:
- with whom and where you see yourself riding
- and how it all fits into your life, whims and fancies.
The best advice I think anyone can suggest is to collect information and then – be honest with yourself and to think long and hard about your unique personality type, your unique goal(s) and where and how you find fulfillment, satisfaction and, most important – fun!
2 April 2017 – Kenda Cup West #2 – Fontana City National
It happened again. I arrived at the race course in Fontana and had another of those nightmarish reconnaissance rides that made me question why I had signed up for this event. The course was mostly singletrack and featured a lot of fairly steep but none-too-technical climbing, followed by very several technical descents. Most of the climbs were reasonable, but still I struggled – I became the poster boy for “don’t look where you don’t want to go” and I slammed into every momentum-killing rock and rut. I put my foot down and came to a halt on so many ascents I lost count. The descents were equally, if not more frustrating – I can’t imagine anyone being able to ride this course in reverse. So I was off my bike or at a standstill and wondering aloud frequently, “What kind of cross country course is this?” That’s the PG version of my thoughts. I walked two or three of the steeper downhill sections and mused over how many racers behind me I would hold up on race day. The singletrack sections were not pieced together by many sections of wider trail that would make passing possible for faster riders – should there be any behind me. And I’m in California where start line chutes are often filled to capacity with the furiously fast. Just like at Havasu a few races back, if I would have been closer to home, I might have just packed up and left.Read More
I was thankful that the start time for the second stage of the Tucson Bicycle Classic would be 7am; racing for 42 miles in the current heat wave would not have been a good time. In an effort to cut the expense of racing this year, I had booked a stay at a cheap hotel near the University of Arizona. The place was convenient to the freeways and therefore, the various stages of the event, but it came at a cost; the traffic noise was pretty high and the internet was non-existent. So in order to download the data from the day’s previous time trial stage, I decided to get up a little earlier, find a Starbucks, coffee up and down load. The only Starbucks I could find on the way to the race site was in a Safeway that opened at 5:30am. That would be cutting it close.Read More
March has the best weather in Arizona. But not this year. If two weeks of 90+ degree weather is any portent of this coming summer, this could be a brutal 7 months till things cool off again in October. Preheating the Arizona oven this early in the year seemed a cruel greeting to my first-ever stage race.
The prologue time trial of the Tucson Bicycle Classic was held on a Friday, right in the middle of this way too early wave of heat. My start time was 2:30pm and it was over 95. My Garmin, which always seems to register temps a little on the high side, reported that it was 104. One thing about hot weather races – it’s pretty easy to “warm up.” I had skimmed the tech guide and my eyes focused hard – too hard – on the course profile. The 5 and 6% grades were front and center in my imagination and little else occupied my thoughts. I “read” the whole of the tech guide and all its course information – start times, location, distance and map, but the course profile’s lumps preoccupied me complete.
That’s unfortunate. What I didn’t pay enough attention to was the length of this swelter-fest. It was a mere 3.57 miles long. Moreover, it started with long, gradual descent where one could gather tremendous speed. I, in my course-length ignorance, my head full of finish lines at the top of a 6% gradient, settled into what I thought would be a sustainable pace.
But I was going too slow. I was saving too much. And in a few minutes – much to my surprise – the finish line appeared and I realized that I had not nearly gone hard enough. Three-point-five-seven had escaped my attention and my time represented my failure to think. My “race of truth,” the moniker of the road racing time trial, left me with but a single revelation.
Read and attend to the Tech Guide.Read More
All of the road races – the omniums, the time trial, and the stage race – that I have entered this first year of road racing have produced Tech Guides that give details about the race(s). In the case of the Tucson Bicycle Classic, the “Tech Guide/Race Bible,” as they termed it, was 22 pages long. It listed the location of each of the 3 days of races, where to sign in, where to park, start times for each category, as well as a course map and course profile. The maps had important details like sketchy railroad crossings, and roads that were not fully closed to automotive traffic. The course profile graphically shows the elevation changes – the ups and downs along the race route. Just about everything one needs to know is on these pages – including mysterious bits of jargon unique to bicycle road racing – like the term “wheels in/wheels out.” As a neophyte road racer without a team or even a racer-bro to ask, I Googled the term and discovered that “wheels in/wheels out” means that if you put a spare set of wheels in the support vehicle and you have a flat tire during the race, you can take your wheel out of the support vehicle that follows your race group, so that you can continue racing.
On Friday, there was a prologue time trial. I’ve watched a fair number of Tours de France on TV, but I’ve never understood why they call it a “prologue.” The way a stage race works is that each day’s race is timed and the times one finishes with each day are combined and the rider with the lowest time wins. Google – my only source and – “teammate” – tells me that a prologue “in professional cycling is a short preliminary time trial held before a race to establish a leader.” Fabulous redundancy here, which is confirmed by the other definition of prologue, noun, – “an event or action that leads to another event.” Wonderful indexing in cycling jargon – Prologue, Stage 2, Stage 3 – like the old George Carlin joke, “Examples 1, 2 and C.”
Another unique term found in the Tech Guide is information about the “feed zone.” This is pretty self-explanatory, especially if one has ever watched a professional road race on TV. Even some longer charity bike rides like “El Tour de Tucson” have feed zones, only they are called “Aid Stations.” These aid stations are usually staffed by volunteers and anyone can ride up, grab a beverage, some fruit or a handfu of M&Ms and get back on the route. Usually these aid stations don’t “hand up” drinks, one has to stop and grab and go. In a road race, at feed zones, a someone working with your team (or a wife or friend or kid) hands you a water bottle or a bag of food while you slow slightly, grab, and continue apace.
I need to remember to bring a team next time – or a wife. Or a kid I could bribe. Only my kids – adults all – have no interest in cycling and are a bit beyond the bribery stage, lest I offer a vacation package or Rolex.
There’s also something called a “rollout,” but it only applies to “junior,” riders between the age of 9 and 18. Still, I Googled “rollout” – this bit of bike jargon – and none of the definitions made sense, so since I’m a few years away from being a junior, I blew this one off, and relaxed a bit. The third search result listed by Google was a song by Ludacris, and even though young bike racers might like his music, I doubt rollout is a USA Cycling attempt to grow the sport by offering youngsters a chance to show off their dance moves. So, I still don’t know what a “rollout” is, but I am a little concerned by Mr. Ludacris’ spelling skills.
Why tell you all this stuff about Tech Guides? See my Tucson Bicycle Classic’s daily entries.
Southern Arizona Omnium March 10-12, 2017
Another omnium in and around Tucson this weekend. Friday was the criterium and today we had a time trial. Biggest difference between my previous unfortunate road racing experience – besides no broken chain – is that it’s March and despite the fact that March usually has some of the desert Southwest’s loveliest weather, the past two days have seen the mercury rise to 90+ degrees. The soaring temperatures made packing my gear a little easier and made for a hot and somewhat windy criterium on a somewhat fun course on Friday.
We spun laps around the Musselman Honda road racing track – a smooth asphalt circuit that looks to be used mostly for karting. At least that’s what one might surmise, based on the piles of kart slicks used about the track for catch-fencing and safety barriers. We rode clockwise around the outside of the road course so the route only contained one quick left turn and a series of flat and slightly off-camber rights. I love to ride in the twisty bits, so I was hoping for more esses and variety, but still, it was fun to ride on a super smooth and very clean bit of tarmac.Read More
6 March 2017
As part of getting Level 2 Coach certification from USA Cycling, I read a fair amount on sport psychology. Self-talk – those messages that circulate round our heads before, during and after we ride has been on my mind a lot lately. Those negative, “neutral” and positive memos we send ourselves that work to motivate, and perhaps de-motivate us too. Three days ago, I went for a hard training ride in east Mesa, a popular route that takes in part of the Bush Highway and Usery Pass Road. On this day, the wind was strong out of the north-northeast and this meant facing a wind on some pretty bumpy tarmac. Headwinds are demoralizing. They are the hill that you never reach the top of. Combine a rough surface and a chilly, indomitable wind and you have the recipe to start thinking, “I don’t think I can do another lap of this.” Self-defeating, self-talk.Read More
The weekend of February 24-26, eight other coaches and I spent more than 20 hours gorging ourselves on bicycle skill drills, sports physiology, training plan design and the business of coaching. Our teachers and program presenters were Steven Pye and Derick Williamson and Kevin Dessart. Their certifications and expertise and experience in endurance cycling and coaching are too long to list here. As a long-time high school English teacher, I have been to a plethora of workshops, conferences, seminars and the like, but never have I attended an informational event the quality and professionalism of USAC’s Level 2 Coaching Clinic. I left each day exhausted but inspired in equal measure. The materials and the information delivered were well organized, polished and relevant. Some of the material we learned I have read about in the past, but Steven and Derick crystallized and clarified that info so that I have much more confidence in my knowledge of coaching and training cyclists.
I left these info-packed trainings with a head and heart full of science and training methodology. But the greatest take away is that while there is much science and many different training plans for coaching a cyclist to achieve his or her goals, the most important aspect is that effective coaching and training is an art. Coaching cyclists to ride and race at their best is highly contextual. Each rider brings a highly individualized and unique set of characteristics, demands, limitations, skills and constraints to the “training table,” and it is the task of the coach to analyze those elements, work within them and create a plan that fits the needs and goals of the rider – a complex and satisfying blend of art and science. Nothing could be more human and gratifying than helping another passionate fellow cyclist successfully navigate the complexities and challenges of achieving at an individual’s highest level.
I have loved cycling since I was six, when I first removed the training wheels from my Western Flyer and promptly turned down the handlebars into racer-boy aero position. I have loved teaching and honing my craft with countless pages read and years of countless hours worrying over how to improve my pedagogy. In both – cycling and teaching – I have always looked for ways to get better. To combine this – the desire to improve – and these two, life-long loves – cycling and teaching – in the service of others is a belated, but welcome, dream come true.
Thank you, USA Cycling, Steven, Derick and Kevin.
In a previous post, I celebrated getting an opportunity to work with a coach. For years I have been reading various sources and incorporating workouts and ideas into my training, but it was not very well-planned and executed. My training was haphazard and random, and while I had some pretty good results in mountain bike races in the mid-90s, those were probably more the result of years in the saddle, some native skill and youthful exuberance.
I’m 58 now and have enough time and enough sense to know that to make the transition to road racing with the Masters Men, I would need to up my training game. So I contacted an old bike shop colleague to chat about a coach recommendation, and was delighted to have my friend, a long time cycling professional who has worked with many Pro-Tour and elite cyclists, offer to manage my training plan.Read More
12 February 2017
Havasu Havoc – MBAA #3
There were 22 at the start and after the top five riders in the series standings were called up to the line, I slotted in behind one of them, hoping to get a good start. The course did not become singletrack for several hundred yards and by the time we made the hard U-turn onto the narrow, rock lined, twisting trail, there were 6 of us that had already gapped the rest of the field. I rode a few wheels to the singletrack “junior loop” trying to save a little gas for later. I did not feel particularly good – or bad – so I had little clue how I might fare the day after my less than enthusiastic pre-ride. I was a little concerned about the ten mile “long loop” that I had not checked out and I could not remember much about the course from 2014, except the steep descent marked with signs that offered two paths to the bottom. In 2014, riders were treated to a bit of course marker’s humor that suggested one of these two routes was “Sane”, the other, steeper, rockier trail, “Insane.” There was also a very steep climb out of a wash that was a hike-a-bike section for all but the very strongest riders. That’s all I remember from my third place finish in 2014.