This month celebrates the 10-year anniversary of the day my significant other, Rose Marie Ray, arrived at my house with two bikes attached to the rear of her SUV. When I opened the door, she announced that we were going on a bike ride and would enjoy a picnic along the way. With 121,000 miles of cycling logged since that life-changing day, I have a couple of observations with a couple of points of advice to cyclists.
Two things surprised me about cycling: 1) Big people make great cyclists and 2) Older cyclists can not only keep up with younger cyclists, but can often become much stronger cyclists than those young enough to be their children and grand children.
I came from the world of running and I competed at a body weight of 143 pounds at 6 feet tall. If you didn’t look like me in the world of distance running (5K and up), you were simply not in contention. Conversely, in the world of cycling, often larger/muscular types can be seen on the podium – especially in amateur competition where events are not multi-day over challenging terrain. As a matter of fact, this past racing season I tried an experiment and competed about 10 pounds heavier than the weight I had competed at in the past and had my fastest season!
In most aerobic type sports, the younger guys are levels above the older participants. Not so in cycling in that due to the mechanical advantage of the bicycle, it becomes possible for much older riders to stay with and often exceed the abilities of younger riders. I personally turned top time of the day from the 70-74 age group with competitors as young as 50 in three state and one national championship event. I can tell you that it adds to the fun!
If you want to improve as a cyclist, my biggest recommendation is to vary what you do. I often see riders doing the same thing every day and they never seem to improve, but in fact seem to slowly march backwards. The body adapts to the same workout and hence it has no reason to improve to meet challenges that are non-existent.
More is not necessarily better. I was once just a couple of weeks short of completing two consecutive calendar years without missing a single day of training on the bicycle. I was averaging over 350 miles a week and did quite well competitively on the schedule. As I experimented however, I discovered that I actually did better with less mileage. I alluded to having my fastest year last year – I had cranked my mileage down to 250 “intelligent” miles per week. Contrary to what some believe, improvements are not made during your workout, but during your rest time when the body adapts to the training and builds more resources to deal with future training onslaughts! I want to stress the point that just because you are aging, do not assume that you cannot improve and improve by a considerable amount. In my 74th year of life in my 10th year of cycling, I was still improving!
The biggest bang for your training buck is interval training, however, the proper time to use that technique is when peaking for an important competitive event.
Every cyclist interested in competing and or actually improving as a cyclist should practice periodization. In periodization, the year is broken down into stages. Lets assume that one has just completed a season of racing. That is the time to do recovery riding where the body and mind are given a chance to recover. In the case of the body, that recovery is physical, and in the case of the mind, it will encourage enthusiasm instead of mental burnout.
After a recovery period, which will vary depending upon one’s planned racing schedule, the base/strength building phase commences where the body is built up in preparation for the final phase of training which is the all-important, challenging, peaking phase. In that final phase, training should more resemble racing with regular interval training as part of the regimen.
Finally, racing begins and racing will bring one to an even better peak of performance. There simply is no better preparation for racing than racing! Typically, it is unwise to try to maintain that peak for more than 2 months, and it is also quite unwise to go through more than two peaking periods over a 12-month period.
I believe in the KISS method of training and racing. Many get hung up with the restrictions imposed on them by their coaches and their power meters. I’ve never owned one (either one). I’ve seen racers get so distracted as to what their power meters are telling them, that it negatively affects their racing ability. I used to have my heart rate displayed on my computer during races, but after being psyched out a couple of times by numbers such as 190 reflecting back at me, I now use it simply for statistical information post race!
I train enough that I know what I can expect out of my body. Based on the conditions, the course, the wind, etc., I have a reasonable knowledge of what I can expect out of myself in regards to an average pace in a race. I often am trying to break records and I know exactly what pace I have to attain to do so. On my computer, my screen shows my speed, but more importantly, it shows my average speed. I do whatever it takes to hold or exceed that planned average speed – I don’t give a whit what the power meter might be telling me – I want to win the race and perhaps set a record, not please some coach who emailed me my plans and told me what power I should sustain.
If you race, be sure to have an adequate warm up. I often warm up for an hour and a half for a 5-kilometer time trial!
Buy the best equipment you can afford and that includes not only the bike, but also the ancillary equipment such as helmets, clothing, shoes, tires, gloves, etc. Buy the proper size bike and have it expertly fitted.
Keep your bike maintained. Keep it lubed, learn how to recognize parts that need replacement such as chains, tires, cogs, cleats, etc., and ideally, learn how to do those minor repairs yourself.
Regularly inspect your bike – this is especially important in the era of carbon fiber. We had a local fatality when a rider’s front fork failed leading to a fatal crash. Had that fork been carefully inspected after the last, or prior to the ride, I suspect that a minute crack might well have been detected. It’s dangerous enough out there without riding on dangerous equipment.
Finally, riding in groups is quite a satisfying, fun venture. Don’t be the person who never shuts their mouth with constant chatter – you will wear people out who are trying to enjoy a modicum of serenity. Pay attention to what you are doing in that if you do something stupid, it might put someone else in the hospital.
Don’t be a constant wheel sucker. If you cannot do an occasional “pull” find a slower group to ride with.
Finally, I invite you to click on the button entitled, “Sandy’s Blog Archive” on the main page of this site for many cycling related articles I have written over the years. Alternatively, you can click on the below link to go directly to the archive from this piece:
If you are a competitor, you might also be interested in the Time Trial edition of “Florida Racing” magazine. I have written a couple of articles in that issue, one of which deals with the techniques for racing a time trial. It can be found at:
For more detailed information about some of the concepts I briefly touched on, Rosie and I co-authored a book entitled, “From Broken Neck to Broken Records, a Masters Cyclist’s Guide to Winning.” It can be purchased on Amazon.com or directly at: