5 Best Tips for Beginner Cyclists
Whether you’re a true beginner getting into cycling or getting back into the sport after a long break, there are a few tips and guidelines to keep in mind. If your goal is to be competitive, and/or feel really strong on the bike often, then its going to take some time with a consistent weekly training plan.
The very first thing you need to establish is consistency with riding the bike every week. Consistent training can mean something different for everyone. Some riders may be looking to get competitive and want to train 4-6 days a week, while others just want to be fit and log 3-4 days a week with fewer miles. Whatever level of cycling fitness you’re looking for, consistency with training builds strength. You can read all about how cycling gains are made here. Without consistent training, taking a week, two or more between weeks with cycling will only lead to maintaining your current fitness level or a decline in fitness.
Learning Proper Training Intensity
Once you have the consistent training established and have developed a good weekly cycling routine, learning how hard to ride and how often is the next step. The easiest way to gauge training intensity is with perceived effort, or perceived exertion (PE). Basically, how hard does it feel while riding at any effort level. On a scale of 1-10 where 1 is standing still and 10 is riding as hard as you can, most of your rides should be in the 5-6 PE range. A few days a week should have harder efforts, in the 7-9 PE range and a few days a week can be easier, in the 3-5 PE range, with a few days in the 5-6 PE range as a general guide. If you want to learn training intensity on the next level, a heart rate monitor is the next step. Heart rate not only provides a guide to intensity, but it also provides useful information about training fatigue. Learn all about heart rate training in our article here. Once you have a grasp on perceived effort and heart rates, a cycling power meter would be the next training gadget to have. Power meters give your intensity in watts, and like lifting weights in a gym, how many watts you can pedal at for a given duration gives your current cycling strength. The best way to learn proper intensity is to use all of the above, with PE, heart rate, power and more such as overall form and feel on the bike. It takes time learning it all, but the best way is learning one thing at a time and learning it well.
Sample Training Week for a beginner Cyclist
Monday - Strength training day (Read our Article here on Strength Training for Cyclists)
Tuesday - Easy ride, 3-5 PE range
Wednesday - Moderate Pace, 5-6 PE range
Thursday - Hard effort day, 7-9 PE range
Friday - Rest day
Saturday - Moderate Pace, 5-6 PE range
Sunday - Easy fun ride, 3-5 PE range
Diet on the bike and off the bike are an obvious focus. You can’t eat a diet high in saturated fats all day, every day and expect to feel your best on the bike. It takes a balanced, somewhat well-timed diet off the bike and smart diet decisions on the bike. Its best when you have eaten any big meal at least 60-90 minutes before a ride, if not longer. Small snacks are ok up until ride time, but heavy foods, like proteins and fats, need to be digested and are best eaten way before or after a ride. On the bike, if the rides are 60 minutes or less, its best to have food just in case, but you may only need water. For rides longer than 2 hours, a food source is likely needed, such as energy gels, drink mixes or solid food like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, just keep it simple. A good rule is if you eat your calories (Like a PB&J) drink water to follow but if you drink your food like in a sports drink mix, only use the sports mix, no need to add more water or sugar with solid food on top. The goal for rides that are two or more hours is to keep a slow trickle of carbohydrates entering the system but not too much that it causes a backup in the gut, otherwise known as gut rot.
A proper bike fit is essential to feeling the best on the bike long term, and especially when training for fitness or competition. You’re spending a lot of time on the bike, and in a somewhat fixed position. A proper bike fit aligns your knees, hips, and upper body in a position that will allow for you to target the prime movers for cycling while preventing injury. A seat that is too low, or too far forward can cause pain issues in the front or behind the knee. Cleat placement too far forward or off to one side can cause the same issues. Therefore it is best to see a certified and experienced bike fitter to get aligned. Once aligned keep this position on the bike for at least 4-6 weeks, then assess and adjust from there. Muscles take time to adapt to a new fit, so give it time and with some consistent riding in order to figure out if the fit is best or needs additional adjustment.
The only way to know whether training is working or not is to keep a good training log and in today’s world an online log is the best option. This way you can see when you have been consistent and the training gains that have followed and when not, along with the type of training you have done. We use TrainingPeaks.com to keep all our training files and notes but other online logs are available for free as well. Training Peaks offers a free version, which allows uploads from training devices such as Garmin, Polar, wahoo and more. Other good training apps that allow you to follow your yearly progress include Strava, Trainer Road, Garmin Connect, and many more. Paper and pencil are another good option as well. Its old school but it works. Keeping a log and notes on how you felt in training allows you to look back to see what worked and what didn’t. Figuring out training is still a tall task for any cyclist, especially a beginner to the sport, so hiring an experienced and certified coach is an option. Either way, you want to note when you felt the best in training and when not, teaching you what type of training works for you.
Mike Schultz, CSCS