Like many aspects of life in general there are nuances of riding a bike that are passed down by word of mouth or that some times will be demonstrated . Many are simple things , but if you are never informed , how will you ever know ? Here are my top 10 ;
10 : The rear end ;
Riding the Wicklow 200 last weekend I noticed a number of cyclists wearing white shorts with a VJL ( visablejocks line ) underneath . All cycling shorts are designed with a padded chamois to be worn next to the skin . You may feel naked the first time that you do this but you will get used to it very quickly . The seam of any underwear will cut into you and is a surefire way to get a saddle sore or to end up walking like John Wayne after a spin . Chamois cream is a great way to cut down on the natural friction that occurs when pedaling at 90 rpm for a couple of hours . This can be applied to either the chamois itself or directly onto the skin where the point of contact is . Whilst everyone has a personal choice in saddle styles , in general they should be narrow for road bike use , as you will be sitting more forward and a wide saddle may cause chaffing between the legs . All saddles should be level , not pointing up or down . If you feel that you need your saddle pointing down towards the front hub , chances are that it is too high in the first place and vice verse . It does take time to get your rear end used to sitting on a saddle for hours on end , but this too is all part of the training .
9 : What to do if you get a puncture ;
There are racing cyclists who drop their bike into a shop to have a new tube fitted after getting a puncture whilst out training . I blame mobile phones for this . If you had no way of communicating with someone who may come to pick you up there would be a much greater incentive to learn what to do yourself . And it really is pretty simple . Forget about patches , that puts people off straight away . On every training spin bring a pump , tyre levers and 2 spare tubes . If you get a puncture , take off the wheel ( if it’s a rear drop it down into the outside sprocket first as this will help you know where to hang the chain when putting the wheel back on ) . Use your tyre levers to remove one side of the tyre and then pull out the tube . Pump the tube to see if you can find where the air is coming out . This will give you a good idea of where to check the tyre for the item which caused the puncture in the first place . Locate the thorn , piece of glass , thumb tack , or whatever and remove . Then check the rest of the tyre . If you cannot find anything whatsoever in the tyre and the tube has two holes very close together , this may be a pinch flat . These are caused by riding an under inflated tyre over a pothole or stone . Next slightly inflate your new tube and fit into the tyre . re-seat the outer bead of the tyre and finish near the valve . The reason for this is so that if a part of the tube remains under the tyre bead by pushing the valve back up into the tyre you can re seat this properly . Now pump the tyre as hard as possible using your hand pump and refit the wheel . The picture below shows Sean Kelly fitting a new tube during the Wicklow 200 .
8 : How to ride in the wind ;
The wind can be a cyclists’greatest enemy . But with a little practice you can make life much easier for yourself when the trees start to sway . If you are riding in a group stay close to the rider in front . If the wind is coming from the left place your front wheel slightly to his right and vise verse . When riding on your own be conscious of any protection or shelter that a ditch or wall can offer . Use your gears and try to keep a good pace going . Riding against a strong headwind is very similar to climbing , that’s why so many Dutch riders have excelled in the mountains of the Tour de France . Always try to begin your training spins with a headwind so that you can enjoy the tailwind on the way back .
7 : Food and drink .
For spins under 2 hours you do not need to eat anything . Bring a gel in case you are having a bad day . For longer spins bring an an energy bar , ride shots , fruit or whatever you like to eat and nibble away from the 1.5 hour point onwards . Drinking depends on the weather , but is a good idea to begin sipping within the first 5 mins. as this will set the tone for the rest of the spin . I usually use 1 x 500 ml bottle of powerbar carbo/isotonic mix every 2 hours whilst training .
6 : Using your gears ;
It is always easy to spot an inexperienced cyclist . They are trying to churn a huge gear with their shoulders . Take a look next time you see one and you will see their shoulders move at least 12 – 18 inches with each pedal stroke . Bikes nowadays can have anything up to 33 gears . Even if you only have 10 , use them to keep a nice steady economical cadence . The average should be about 90 rpm on the flat and 70 rpm whilst climbing .
5 : Clean your bike ;
20 – 30 mins once per week will keep your machine running much better . Brakes , gears , handling will all run a lot smoother when a bike is well taken care of . Chains and cassettes will not wear out as quickly and you will spot problems such as glass or thorns in tyres before they become an issue . You will also feel better as a nice clean machine whirring along underneath you will always lift your spirits . Try it and see . This is how I clean my bike ;
4 : Time ;
Cycling takes time . It takes time to go for a spin and it takes time to improve . Then the better you get the further you can go and it takes even more time again . With family , work and social commitments there will always be something else to do , you just have to find a way around them . The biggest obstacle many people find when trying to do ‘The Wicklow’ , ‘The ring of Kerry’ or ‘The Sean Kelly’ is getting the time to train for these events . Well here are a few ways around that problem . If you know the names of three or more characters on Fair city , Coronation Street , Eastenders , Big Brother or whatever TV show is on , you have the time to train . If you spend your lunchtime sitting in a cosy cafe , you have time to train . If you sit in traffic for 1 or more hours per day , you have time to train . All you need do is to become a little more disciplined with your time and you will find the time to train . Your wife will be happy with the new trimmer you , the boss will be happy with your increased productivity and alertness and the kids will enjoy the extra energy that you will have to play with them .
3 : Bend your elbows ;
When we first started out cycling with the Carrick group Tony Ryan would come up along the line and give you a Karate chop on the elbow if it was locked rigid . He was a great advocate of ‘bending the elbows ‘ . It makes sense really . If your arms are locked all the vibration from the bars travels up along to your neck and shoulders which causes neck and shoulder pain . You are also less flexible if someone bumps off of you in a group . It does take a bit of practice but will be well worth the effort .
2 : How to climb ;
Many people have a mental block about climbing . The main thing to know is that climbing does involve a certain amount of pain for everyone . Robert Millar said that ‘ the best climbers are not the ones who can climb the best , but the ones who can suffer the most ‘ . So be prepared for some pain , but also be conscious that everyone else is suffering too . This makes it a lot more tolerable . On short , sharp climbs , try to power over them but for longer climbs it is important to pace yourself a little . Find a gear that you are comfortable(ish) in and get into a rhythm . When rising out of the saddle change up a gear to maintain your speed and change back down when you sit down again . The only way to improve your climbing is to climb , so don’t be avoiding any hills when out training .
1 : Look up ;
If you have ever been sea sick or car sick , you will have been told to look up at the horizon to make your body feel still . This is because 20% of your balance is related to your optic nerves . This is important on the bike too . When descending you are much more stable when you look on up ahead than 5 feet in front of you . The speed of the road passing by can actually make you feel dizzy . You need to look where you want to go , not where you don’t . In a bunch too , it is important to look up . Your peripheral vision will take care of whats around you and by looking up ahead you can look out for any parked cars , etc. and also be more stable on the bike itself .
A few other simple things are to always wear your helmet 1” above your eyebrows , not on the back of your head , call the potholes and obstacles when riding in a group and don’t be afraid to ask other cyclists if your not sure about something . It makes them feel important and you get the answer you are looking for . Well, most of the time anyway .