What I have learned from a year of cycling
Yesterday I wrote about my experience riding my first Bike MS: The Citrus Tour, and today I wanted to get down my thoughts on what I had learned while preparing for the ride and during my first year of regular cycling.
(Btw, if you thought I was kidding yesterday about big wheel bike man, check out this picture. See, I’d never lie to you.)
First, some final thoughts on the ride itself. Now, I’ve never run or ridden in an organized race like this in my life, but from my perspective the Bike MS Florida folks did an unbelievably good job putting this event on. The waves went off each morning smoothly, there was ample signage and road markers throughout, the rest stops were well placed and packed with plenty of drinks and snacks, the SAG vehicles were plentiful, and there was even a mat covering a tricky railroad crossing that apparently gave folks fits last year. My hats off them and all of the wonderful volunteers who bent over backwards to keep the riders comfortable and happy. See you next year!
Now for some stats and things that I’ve learned that new cyclists just starting out might find useful.
Miles ridden since I started training: approximately 3600, or roughly the distance between New York and London. I bring this up to prove a point; when you start riding, keep track of things like your mileage and other stats like average speed and rpm if you can. It’s a great way to measure improvement and see where you are at a glance. There’s some great iphone apps that cost less than $10 that will track just about everything you need and let you map your routes for future reference. (Ironic thing here, I track my rides fairly religiously, but of course I forgot to start my GPS app BOTH days during the MS ride. Doh. Of course, I nearly left for the ride without my bike, so what do you expect?)
Number of bananas (or banana pieces) consumed during the MS ride: 9. (side note, if I even see a banana right now somebody might get hurt) Bananas are essential, especially if you are prone to cramping at all. All that potassium is good for you and will help keep your calves gloriously loose and knot-free. I’m also a big fan of peanut butter and jelly (or honey) and Gu Brew tablets for fueling/hydrating during rides. If you are planning on riding longer distances (really anything more than say 25 miles or so) get used to eating while you ride. It’s essential to keeping your energy levels up and avoiding the dreaded wall or dehydrating.
There’s lots of cool biking gear out there, some of it great and worth every penny, and some of it just an excuse to drain your money. My advice would be to spend your money on those areas where your body contacts your bike. So, splurge for higher end bike shorts, get fitted for a saddle that’s right for you and your riding style, spend a little more for gel lined gloves, get clipless pedals installed, and try on several pairs of shoes until you find ones that you’ll be comfortable in for several hours. Also, those big pockets in the back make cycling jerseys remarkably useful things by keeping all your essentials handy. Unless you’re going pro and getting sponsored though, don’t worry about spending a lot of money on a helmet (the cheaper models protect your head just as well), glasses, (I’ve got a $30 pair that works great), socks, or rain/bad weather gear (see here).
What about the bike? You have to spend thousands to get a good one, right? Well, here it depends on your needs and goals I think. Are you just going to be riding to the store or hitting some 15-20 mile rides on the weekends? If so, then you are wasting your money if you spend $2000 on a carbon road bike obviously. A $500 hybrid would work just as well. I’d suggest finding a good bike shop in your area, tell them what you are wanting to do and what your goals are, and see what they recommend. If they steer your towards the most expensive bikes in the place, then run (don’t walk) to the door and find another shop. You can get some great entry level road bikes in the $800 to $1500 range that will more than fit the bill. The point here I guess is to be willing to spend more than you would at Target or Sports Authority to get a bike fits your body type and goals, but don’t think that you need to take out a second mortgage to get a great bike. Mine cost under a $1000 and I couldn’t be happier with it eight months later.
If you are over the age of 30, then Biofreeze will be your very bestest friend in the world. Thanks for that, PR.
One other piece of essential gear: the Topeak phone drybag. This thing is absolutely unbelievable, especially if you ride with your iphone in Florida where rain can come out of nowhere. Your phone will NOT get wet.
Once you get beyond some basic “fitness” rides, mix up your rides throughout the week. If you just go out and ride at the same pace or try to go as far and as hard as you can each time out, you’ll plateau quickly, or worse, just get bored. Do one or two long rides at pace each week, and then mix in shorter speed rides, hill climbs, and intervals. I’ve written about some of the ones that I enjoy, especially “flying 40s,” but there’s tons of people out there who know a lot more than I do that have some great online ideas and resources for you if you just take 10 seconds to look. Most important though, don’t forget to rest and recover. You’ll never get stronger as a rider if you never allow your body to rest and rebuild some of that muscle that all of your frantic pedaling is breaking down.
Two final stats and then I’m done, promise.
The first is 100. Somebody asked me today if I was disappointed that I didn’t ride the full 150 miles this time out, and the answer is no. Well, not completely no because I was looking forward to seeing if I could do the full 150, but looking back I’m happy with what I was able to accomplish on that route and at this stage in my life as a “cyclist” (really, I’m no cyclist, just a dude on a bike.) I went into this really not knowing what the hell I was doing (and I still don’t to some extent, but I’m learning) so finishing that particular 100 mile course is accomplishment enough in my eyes. And from what I’ve learned from this year’s ride I’ll be able to prepare that much better (and be that much fitter) for next year for the full 150.
And finally, $2871.70. I’m ecstatic to say that is the amount of money that I’ve raised for the National MS Society this year. Thanks so much to everybody that donated, it really does mean a lot to me that you’d part with your hard earned money for such a worthy cause. But, you know what? It’s not to late to donate if you missed your chance. Just click this link to donate online. Fancy being the one that puts me over the $300o mark? (I know, I’m totally greedy)
Anyway, it’s been a pretty amazing year since I started thinking about this ride last March. Thanks again to all who donated and supported me, even if it was just with kind word of encouragement, it really did mean a lot. I’m taking a week or so off the bike (Lou Reed is singing “I am tired, I am weary. I could sleep for 1000 years” in the background as I write this. I’m listening Lou, I’m listening), and then it”ll be time to start all of this again before you know it. Can’t wait.