5 Steps to Becoming a Faster Rider
Caveat: I am not a PT, coach, MD, or a personal trainer. I speak from personal experience, articles & books I have read, and discussions with more knowledgeable people than myself. This is free advice, take it for what it is worth.
It is fun to ride faster. You don’t need to worry about being last. Hard things become a little easier. You can cover the same distance with less time on your butt. You will likely become healthier and feel better. All worthy goals.
Now for the unfortunate part. It takes time and effort. Lots of effort.
I am going to arrange these items in reverse order of difficulty, the easiest adjustment is first, the most difficult is last.
#1: Strength. Biking uses more than quadriceps. You need a strong core, back, triceps, glutes, hamstrings. While cycling uses these muscles, it doesn’t strengthen them. You need to occasionally go to the gym and lift weights. The best type of gym workout uses free weights (not machines) and isometrics (which help with balance). Try to go twice a week, and accept once a week. Do this year round. if you are riding a lot, ease off the leg exercises. Getting a trainer will make your gym time more efficient.
#2: Yoga. I cannot tell you how many times a person (usually a guy) will say they will not do yoga. Maybe it is because males typically suck at flexibility. If you don’t stretch and become more flexible, you will injure yourself. Your body is highly interrelated. Doing only hamstring stretches will not adequately stretch your hamstrings. In the end everything is connected to everything. Yoga is the best form of stretching to get at this. Not only does stretching help minimize injury, it helps you put your power into the pedals. Somewhat like torque vs horsepower in a car. Flexibility adds torque by allowing you to position your body for maximum efficiency. Here are two great videos you can watch and use from home. They are specifically for cyclists.
Sandy LeBlanc is a great instructor.
#3: Hard Days. Your body is great at being lazy. You have evolved to be efficient. Given an easy way out, your body will take it. In order to go fast, your body has to be shaken up and relearn what biking is. There is nothing wrong with long and slow, but this will not make you faster. Instead, do something unusual and more difficult in a short amount of time. Climb Summit Drive as hard as you can, go on a ride with faster companions, go on a mountain bike ride and climb fast. Shake your cycling up, make your legs hurt. Interval training is another great method for accomplishing this.
#4: Easy Days. Yes I marked this as harder than hard days. Once you start getting faster, once you’ve gone to the weight room, become more flexible, you will WANT to ride more. If you ride every day, you will not improve. The older we get the longer we need to rest between rides. It sucks. If I ride the BTBS ride on Tuesday evening, I might not be able to ride effectively until Saturday. It sucks. Hard rides require time for your muscles to heal. I usually walk, lift upper body weights, and do yoga on these off days. Sometime I just veg and watch the Tour de France. Once you are in shape, the best thing you can do is rest between major efforts.
#5. Lose Weight. I said it. Losing weight is the hardest thing to do, excluding keeping the lost weight off. If you want to ride faster, especially on the hills, you need to lose body fat. I suggest trying to lose no more than 1 pound a week for women, and a 1 ½ for men. Set realistic goals but set goals. I needed to write down everything I ate. I use myfitnesspal.com. I drastically reduced: beer, processed foods (including bread), and anything with added sugar. That means I ate fruits, vegetables, chicken, eggs, yogurt in meaningful amounts. No more handfuls of peanuts, chunks of cheese, or thirst-quenching Bend beers. This is the hardest thing to do, but probably the most important change. You can ride faster if you aren’t carrying around a daypack worth of fat. Society, cheap food, parents messaging, commercials, friends - all conspire to thwart your efforts, but you can do it. It is a test in mental strength and willpower.
Five efforts to ensure you become a faster ride. Can you skip one. Not really. They are all you, you need them all. Also this is a good time to consider giving Strava a shot. Whether you use it on your phone, or better yet, a Garmin device, Strava will measure your success. Don’t compete against others, compete against yourself. Find out whether living a good life allows you to ride up the Shevlin Park hill faster. I am betting it will.