Plan of Attack
Other than yourself, the bike is your most important tool, so before you do anything, and obvious though it sounds, take the time to check that it fits you. Adjustments can be made to fine-tune the saddle and bar position, but make sure you’re starting with the correct-sized frame. Take advice from a qualified coach or a good bike shop – many now offer professional and modern bike-fitting services.
You’ll be spending a lot of time attached to your pedals so take care when fitting cleats to your shoes. Position them so that the ball of your foot is over the pedal spindle and your leg moves without twisting – especially at the ankle and knee. Get a mate to watch you ride and keep adjusting until you’re pedalling smoothly. Tighten the fixing bolts securely once they’re correctly positioned and check for looseness from time to time – a loose cleat will not release from the pedal in an emergency. Also check your cleats and pedals regularly for wear.
Most people realise that it is necessary to look where you’re going when riding a bike, but it is just as important to clearly signal to others where you intend to go. This makes a lot of difference to the safety of the people you are riding with, as well as other road users, so make sure you know your hand signals. Communication is key. Don’t be frightened to call out your intended movements, particularly when riding in a group – see page 58 for more advice.
Learn to dress for the weather. Look at the thermometer rather than the calendar. Allow for changes in the weather during the course of the day and always carry at least a lightweight rain jacket, especially when riding in the mountains.
Get used to checking and pumping tyres to the recommended pressure for both efficiency and safety before every ride. In wetter weather consider a lower tyre pressure to increase grip.
Check brakes, tyres, wheels and transmission before every ride. Remove debris from tyres, check brakes for wear, look out for loose spokes and ensure your quick releases are fastened and your gears are running smoothly. A couple of minutes pre-ride can save a lot of pain on the road.
Don’t go spare
Always carry at least one spare inner tube or puncture repair kit together with tyre levers, and make sure that you’ve got a working pump with you on every ride, together with a small multi-tool. Even if you have difficulty handling repairs it’s a good idea to have the gear with you so that a tech-savvy Good Samaritan can help if you encounter any problems.
Always carry a bottle of fresh drink on rides and discard unused liquid, especially if using proprietary sports drinks. Choose bottles made from soft plastic, as these are much easier to squeeze when riding. Practise drinking while on the move without wobbling or slowing down during training rides.
Record everything you do when training, noting the effects. These records will prove very useful when planning later schedules and be invaluable as background for anyone involved in arranging a future coaching or training plan specifically for you.
For more efficient riding, consider your pedalling action. To maintain a good cadence, treat your pedals like a treadle-operated machine. This will involve your ankles and with practice will help you to develop a smooth, complete pedalling action. Avoid the temptation to just push down on the pedals – think treadle rather than treadmill. Turn to page 70 for more advice on perfecting your pedalling technique.