To become a better cyclist you need to build cycling specific technique and strength. The best, and one of the only, way to do this is to simply ride your bike. The more your ride, the more efficient you will become. But before we get to that training part of the equation, let’s look at the bike itself.
When you walk up to your local triathlon you will see all kinds of bikes, from the $10,000 aero time trial super bike to a the flat pedal hybrid mountain bike. If your goal is to finish a triathlon it doesn’t matter what kind of bike your ride. If you swim, bike and run to a finish line you are a triathlete. Do not let all of the high tech bike gear scare you off. Trust me, if you are new to the sport, you will quite often see people who are passing the aero time trial machine on a Canadian Tire special. Sure, a fancy bike can make a difference, but in the end it always comes down to the rider.
Whatever type of bike you ride, it is imperative that you make sure you have a bike that fits. Since the best way to establish proper technique and strength is to ride your bike you want to make sure you have one that is comfortable and fits you properly. Spending hours on a bike that doesn’t fit can be counter productive in that it can leave you NOT wanting to ride and the ill fitting position can actually lead to injury. When purchasing (or borrowing) that first bike, make sure that you take the time to have the bike fit by someone who knows what they are doing. Bike fitting is a skill that blends art and science. Ask around and find a qualified bike fitter. This should always be step 1.
Once you have a proper fitting bike it is time to ride. Riding in a group is a skill unto itself, so before you go out and join your local group ride I highly suggest getting comfortable riding on the road by yourself or with one or two friends who have some experience. Knowing how to navigate traffic, construction, parked cars, pedestrians etc. is a skill that requires attention and this skill can’t be overlooked. The roads can be a dangerous place and it is imperative that you know how to ride safely before you set out with a large group of other people.
Should you happen to be riding with clip in pedals then you will want to start out by learning how to get in and out of your pedals smoothly and safely before venturing out onto the streets. When starting out with clip in pedals you WILL likely fall over once or twice simply by forgetting to unclip in time or unclipping the wrong side when you go to get off. Is this embarrassing? Yes! Has it happened to everyone at some point? Yes! Consider it a right of passage.
Once you are confident in your abilities to ride on the road the best thing you can do is go out and ride. When we are young and we get a bike it is one of first feelings of freedom we ever get. As a kid you can now go and explore the neighborhood on your own. Riding a bike as we get older gives us the SAME type of freedom. You see things you might not see cruising by in a car. You ride roads you might not ride in a car. This is one of the joys of being on a bicycle. This simple act of going out and exploring on a bike WILL make you a better and stronger cyclist. Starting out it need not be much more complicated than this. If you are new to riding, simply riding is going to make you stronger.
When it comes to preparing for that first race you want to establish the confidence to ride the distance of the event you are training for. If you are starting out with a sprint triathlon than you want to know that you can comfortably ride 20km. If you are training for your first Olympic distance race than you are going to want to be confident in your ability to ride 40k. If you are starting out doing a long course event (70.3 or Ironman) you will want to make sure that you gradually build up to those distances without getting injured. Again, this falls back on fit. When you consider that you should be pedaling in the 90rpm range on most of your rides, you can imagine how many revolutions you will be taking on any given ride and how a poorly fit bike can lead to a whole host of problems.
As we move closer to the season I will look at the intricacies of riding and specific workouts that will accelerate your speed and power, but for all of the new triathletes out there, simply get out there, get comfortable and go explore on the bike. This simple act will make you a stronger and more efficient cyclist.