With riders from the USA Pro Cycling Challenge tackling the formidable terrain around Boulder last week, local enthusiasm for bicycling has peaked. Bike stores have seen a surge in newbies, anxious to get on bikes. Capitalize on the excitement – get out on your bike. But make sure you know the basics, so you can maximize your pleasure, and minimize your pain.
- Saddle too high or low: The correct saddle height is crucial. You risk injury if it’s too high or too low, and reduce the power you can generate. Here’s a simple test: sit on the bike, and at the bottom of the pedal-stroke the leg should be almost straight but the heel should stay on the pedal without stretching.
- Climbing in a high gear: You must be in the correct gear approaching a climb. Don’t leave it too late. If you have to switch from a high gear to a low one once you start climbing then you risk dropping the chain. Cycling up a hill in a high gear means your muscles recruit more fast-twitch muscle fibers. Fast-twitch fibers fatigue quickly and take a long time to recover. If you change to an easier gear and higher cadence, you conserve energy.
- Riding in Your Underwear: Many beginner cyclists do not fully understand the use of cycling clothing. Shorts and jerseys are made to pull moisture away from the body. Although it might feel uncomfortable at first, all cyclists need to go commando while wearing riding shorts. The shorts are made to be worn against the skin, and having a pair of wet underwear in between shorts and skin will lead to painful chafing.
- Not Drinking During Rides: Cycling can be just as difficult as other forms of aerobic exercise. On a bike, you may not realize how much you sweat, because so much evaporates as you ride. Many beginner cyclists do not drink during rides, and quickly become dehydrated. This leads to decreased physical performance and health risks. Most bikes are set up for water bottle cages. You can buy cages at any bike shop, and the mechanic may even attach them for you.
- All Push and No Pull: It’s normal to hop on a bike and push down on the pedals. But, if that’s all you do, you’ll never develop a smooth, efficient pedal stroke. Practice this instead: When the pedals reach 3 o’clock on the pedal stroke, pull back with a swiping motion as if you are wiping mud off the bottom of your shoes. You’ll notice an immediate boost in power, especially on hills. And, if you focus on this technique for only a few rides, your pedal stroke will smooth out and become far more efficient. In time, you’ll do it automatically.
Biking can be a great way to enjoy all the beauty Boulder has to offer. Be safe, follow the rules of the road, and have fun.