I was out on a group ride last week (yep, I’m back on the group rides). I asked a rider who I hadn’t seen for a while how his year was going. He replied “I’m just riding for fun these days”. Just for fun? Wait a minute! Is there some other reason we ride a bike?
I believe what he meant was that he wasn’t competing or on a serious training program but the comment stuck with me. The idea that some people just ride for fun would indicate that other people ride for reasons other than that. Based on what I know about professional rider salaries, I would say there are only 50 or 60 riders in the world who could tell you they do it just for the money and even then, with the amount of suffering and sacrifice this sport requires, I’m pretty sure there’s more to it than just monetary gain. There are other reasons to ride of course. Commuting, charity rides, fitness, but in the long run, if you don’t truly love and enjoy the sport, you will not truly be successful at it at any level.
Having established the fact that when it comes down to it, we all really just ride to have fun, it then occurred to me that as a coach my job should primarily be to make you have more of it. For a cyclist fun can mean a lot of things. Winning a race is fun in an exciting, exhilarating way. Bombing a descent is fun in a suicidal living on the edge kind of way. Hard training is fun in a challenging, self disciplining kind of way. Cycling is fun in a million ways and we use a dozen different terms to describe it but since none of us (even us Cat 1s) are doing it for the pay day, one can only assume there is a common sense of personal self satisfaction that we all enjoy.
Which Came First?
So how do you get more enjoyment, more fun out of your cycling? Many of you would say improved strength, faster split times, beating up on your friends. However, I would argue those things are just as likely to be a result of enjoying your cycling more as opposed to the cause. In other words, if you truly love to ride your bike, if you truly enjoy every moment of exhilarating freedom, if you seize every pedal stroke, every gasp for air, every sweeping corner and make the very most of it, you will see successes in this sport that hard work and suffering alone could never accomplish.
It’s a chicken or the egg kind of argument, but just suppose for a moment that I am right. Suppose you have to love to ride your bike before you can really get good at it and suppose if you already do love to ride your bike, loving it more will make you even better. If that is in fact the case then before I assign one more interval, one more cadence drill, one more threshold test, I’ve got to teach (or in many cases re-teach) you to have some fun. Here are a few basic tips.
A good bike fit, no matter how aggressive or aerodynamic, should essentially be comfortable. You should be able to spend long hours in the position without counting the moments until you can get off the bike and into the shower. You only have so much suffering at your disposal on a given training ride. If half of that suffering is wasted on an uncomfortable bike position, then you only have the other half available for good, hard, fun, fitness building misery. Get a good bike fit and if you are working towards a more aggressive, more aerodynamic position, do it slowly allowing your body to gradually adapt. Bike position is not a static thing. It’s something that will develop over your entire career as a cyclist. As fitness, experience, flexibility and efficiency improve, so will your position and so will your comfort.
It’s pretty much impossible for me to enjoy a ride when I’m listening to an annoying clicking or a squeaking sound coming from the bottom bracket every time I take a pedal stroke or when the chain is grinding or the gears aren’t shifting right. Take the time to make sure your equipment is always in peak working condition. Clean it thoroughly once a week and do a complete overhaul once a year. It’s amazing how a ten minute repair like replacing dingy old bar tape or throwing on a new chain can make you feel better about your ride.
You don’t need top of the line stuff. I’d rather have a perfectly true, heavy duty training clincher that I kind depend on day in, day out than a light weight carbon tubular that spends more time in the shop being glued and trued than it does out on the road. Use reliable sturdy equipment. Instead of thinking of the hour you spend cleaning and tuning your bike as sucking away precious riding time, come to enjoy it as part of the beauty of the sport. Treat your bike like an extension of your body. Your bike will pay you back in dividends.
Here’s an easy one. Buy a really expensive pair of bib shorts. It’s not absolutely necessary to drop 3 bills but don’t skimp. Find a pair that you look forward to wearing, a pair that you don’t rush to jump out of the moment you park your bike in the garage. From 20 years of experience, I can tell you for sure that you will never regret buying a nice pair of bibs and you will never have your best on the bike performances when all you can think of is how much your ass is hurting you. I swear by the Summit Bib Shorts by Pactimo but go out and find a pair that works for you.
Most people aren’t able to relax on the bike. Tension, nervousness, fear, worry, anxiety, stress. Not only are these counterproductive to strong athletic performance but none of those things are generally associated with having fun. As you learn to love the bike, some of these feelings may go away but there are other ways to accelerate the process. If you worry about bike handling and pack riding, practice it with friends. Hold your own skills clinic to improve your bike handling. Practice deep breathing and visualization of perfect, stress free rides. Use a product such as The Ultimate Cyclist to improve confidence and relaxation. You will soon find yourself falling into a positive cycle. The more relaxed you are, the better you will ride. With better riding performances you will become more confident and with confidence comes positivity and enjoyment.
Set a Goal
This is the first thing I have any new client do and “I want to get better” is not an acceptable goal. Without a clearly defined goal you will not only never know if you have reached it but you will not know how to get there. You’ll roll out every day, not knowing for sure why you are doing it and at the end of the ride you won’t really know if you’ve done anything but spin your legs. Coaching a rider without a goal is like trying to give directions to someone who doesn’t know where they are trying to go. With a goal, your riding has a purpose.
If you can visualize the goal and it is a realistic, tangible goal, more often than not you will achieve it in at least some small way. So take 5 minutes and think of a reasonable objective that you could achieve in the next 3 months. Write it down on a post it note and tack it to the wall in your garage. Don’t obsess over whether or not you achieve the goal but enjoy the process of moving towards it whether you accomplish what you wanted to or not.
The way I figure, there are two types of cyclists. Those who are happy when they arrive at their destination and those who are happy at every step along the way. Try to find a little of both in your rides and you will become a better cyclist in every sense of the word. And the next time you are hurting, I mean really suffering. When the world is getting blurry and the pain is close to unbearable…smile. Remind yourself, this is why I ride a bike.
Josh Horowitz is a USCF Certified coach and an active Category 1 racer. For more information about his coaching services and any coaching questions you may have, check out his website at LiquidFitness.com.