You want to become a better cyclist? Don’t we all? I continually strive for improvement, and I’ve been riding more than 40 years.
But what does becoming “a better cyclist” mean for you?
Do you want to ride more miles than last year? Improve your health and fitness? Have more endurance? Become a better climber? Ride with a faster group on the weekends? Or do you have a more specific goal like finishing your first 100k? Or riding a specific tour? Or climbing Mt. Terrible? Or setting a personal best in your club’s 10-mile time trial?
Whatever your goal(s) you want to have more fun, which is definitely part of becoming a better cyclist!
I’ve been riding since 1976 and coaching professionally since 1995. I’ve ridden millions of virtual miles with clients that I’ve coached. I’ve learned that every rider – whether he’s in his 20s or she’s in her 70s, whether he’s training for a first century or she’s training for the Race Across America – improves most if we work on Six Success Factors:
- Planning and goal-setting
- Effective training
- Sound nutrition
- Mental techniques
- Proper equipment
- Proficient skills
Cyclists achieve maximum improvement by working on all six of the Success Factors, not just on their favorites or the easiest.
This is how I coach my clients. I identify the priority of the success factors for each rider, which vary depending on the rider’s goal(s), strengths and weaknesses. I then write each rider’s workouts based on his or her specific success factors.
This Week I’ll Focus on Recreational, Health & Fitness Riders
This week, and over the two following weeks, I’ll describe how these Six Success Factors apply to three different kinds of riders:
- Recreational, Health and Fitness Riders
- Performance Riders
- Endurance Riders
Let’s look at an example. Bob is 55 years old and three years ago his doctor recommended that he get regular aerobic exercise. Bob follows the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommendation to do aerobic exercise most days of the week totaling at least 2.5 hours a week allyear. Bob rides at least this much (almost) every week, averaging 12 – 13 mph. Last year he logged 2,000 miles. The ACSM recommends that more volume and/or more intensity will provide even greater health benefits, so Bob decided he wants to ride 2,500 miles this year. Bob works full-time and is divorced, with custody of two teenagers every other week.
Let’s break down each of Bob’s Six Success Factors to provide examples for the Recreational, Health and Fitness riders among us:
1. Planning and goal-setting
Planning starts with a goal. To quote the great Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
What is a good goal? One whose achievement largely depends on variables that you can control. You can control your general preparation, training, equipment, etc., but you can’t completely control the outcomes of events, which depend on conditions and competition. Your goals should reflect this. They should be S.M.A.R.T.:
- Specific, defining what “better” means for you.
- Measurable, in time or distance.
- Attainable, within your capacity given your current conditioning.
- Realistic, given the time you have to train and your other responsibilities.
- Time-oriented, by a certain date.
Bob’s goal is to ride 2,500 miles this year. It’s:
- Specific, 2,500 miles, not just more miles.
- Measurable, 2,500 miles, which can be tracked and recorded.
- Attainable, increasing his riding by 25% after just three years of riding is quite a stretch. A better goal would be to ride 2,200 – 2,300 miles this year, a 10 – 15% increase.
- Realistic, does he really have 25% more time to ride?
- Time-oriented, by the end of the year.
Bob’s goal is achieving the health benefits of more volume, and that determines how each of the Six Success Factors applies to his riding.
Here’s a simple plan that will help Bob reach his goal. The plan is divided into five phases with different amounts of riding in each phase: Pre-season: January about 5% of annual volume. Base: February to April about 20%. Build: May and June about 20%. Main Season: July through September about 40%. Tapering Off: October through December about 15%.
2. Effective training
Because Bob’s goal is more volume, almost all of his training should be at a conversational pace. These relatively easy rides throughout the year help him handle more volume with less recovery.
Although the ACSM recommends that more volume and/or more intensity will provide even greater health benefits, Bob should stick with just more volume. If he did a short intensity workout he wouldn’t log as many miles as in a longer conversational ride. He’d also need more days of recovery after an intensity workout before he could ride again. If Bob is ahead of his planned month-by-month volumes he could incorporate some intensity in his main season. This would increase his riding speed and make it easier to ride more miles in future years.
He should alternate higher and lower volume weeks because he’s divorced and has custody of the teenagers every other week. The lower volume weeks provide more recovery.
3. Sound nutrition
The ACSM recommends aerobic exercise most days of the week, and to meet his riding goals Bob needs to exercise consistently. He can’t afford to skip days because he doesn’t have enough energy to ride. This means he needs a consistent flow of energy. He currently eats the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet), skipping breakfast, fast food for lunch and a big dinner with plenty of meat. He should start eating six times a day: breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, dinner, bed time snack. He should shift toward less fast food and meat and more fruits and vegetables.
4. Mental techniques
Good intentions aren’t enough. Bob needs discipline to ride consistently and confidence that with this consistent riding he can reach his goal. The discipline can come from his plan. He can break down the planned riding in each phase to monthly and then weekly riding objectives. As he meets these weekly and monthly objectives his confidence will increase. He’ll have set-backs — every rider does — but rather than getting discouraged he can adjust his plan to still reach his goal and then follow the revised plan
5. Proper equipment
Bob’s going to be spending more time on his bike, so comfort is the first priority. A lighter, more aerodynamic bike won’t help him reach his goal if it isn’t comfortable. Rather than a bike with standard racing geometry, he might be happier with a sport-style hybrid bike with a higher stem, a more upright position, a more comfortable saddle and wider tires. Reliability is the second priority. Bob’s already very busy and time to ride is precious, so he doesn’t want any equipment problems on the road. This means selecting components, wheels, tires, etc., that are almost fail-proof. Regular maintenance is also critical. Every month or two he should take his bike to the shop for a tune-up. He could do this during the weeks when he has his kids and is riding less.
6. Proficient skills
As a pretty new rider the most important skills are riding safely! Bob needs to learn how to ride defensively in traffic. He needs to learn that although a multi-use path seems safer he needs to be cautious around other users and to be very careful at intersections with cars, which may not anticipate a bike.
Want to keep going? Read Part 2, the Six Success Factors apply to roadies who want to improve performance in different ways: participate in faster group rides, rider harder routes, climb better, etc.
How Can You Use the Six Success Factors?
How you can use the Six Success Factors to improve is described in my new eArticle, How to Become a Better Cyclist: The Six Success Factors, which launches today. The 36-page eArticle explains in detail how to apply each of the Six Success Factors to your cycling. Roadies have different goals: riding more for improved health and fitness, covering more miles this year, climbing better, riding with a stronger group on the weekends, finishing a specific ride or setting a personal best in a particular event. Like all our eArticles, it will sell for only $4.99; only $4.24 for our Premium Members with their automatic 15% discount.
This new article is also included in the new bundle of five eArticles The Best of Coach Hughes: 5 eArticles to Make You a Better Cyclist. The new bundle, also launching today, includes:
How to Become a Better Cyclist: The Six Success Factors – A new eArticle totaling 36 pages.
Your Best Season Ever, Part 1: A 32-page eArticle on how to plan and get the most out of your training. Published in 2015.
Intensity Training 2016: A 41-page eArticle with the latest information on how to use perceived exertion, a heart rate monitor and a power meter to maximize training effectiveness.
Optimal Recovery for Improved Performance: A 16-page eArticle with 10 different recovery techniques illustrated with 14 photos. Published in 2011.
Eat & Drink Like the Pros: A 15-page eArticle of nutritional insights from pro cycling teams. It contains a dozen recipes for you to make your own food and sports drinks. Published in 2011.
The Best of Coach Hughes: 5 eArticles to Make You a Better Cyclist totals 140 pages and will be available starting today at the special price of $15.96 (this is a special 5-for-the-price-of-4 discount).
Don’t forget to become a Premium Member at Road Bike Rider!
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.