Last spring, I decided that mountain biking was going to be my thing. I’ve always loved both riding my bike and being outside, so this combination is the perfect fitness activity for me.
But up to this point, my riding had been inconsistent and lacked planning. I liked to hit the trails, but only did that a few times per year. And my knowledge of riding, fitness levels and bike maintenance weren’t where they needed to be.
Nampa bike shop Rolling H Cycles was already handling the tune-ups and flat repairs for my bike. Last year, I also sought out the experts at the shop for help with cycling locations, gaining confidence as a rider and learning some basic trailside skills and general bike maintenance.
My goal last year was to ride twice per week — weather permitting on the trails, of course. I exceeded that goal and wanted to do more, but the winter weather soon got in my way.
For this year, I have some bigger biking goals, and I want to use the off-season to prepare so that I’m ready this spring.
Since I’m pretty new to the sport, I went back to where it all began — Rolling H Cycles — to seek out some advice from owner Adam Haynes.
Haynes shared some some tips that are great for all riders — from the beginner to the more seasoned rider and for mountain bikers as well as road cyclists. Most importantly, don’t forget the bike prep!
1. Set a goal early.
This is essential if your goal is to improve your rides and riding skills. Many cyclists never put something on the calendar to shoot for and then, too often, the appropriate training never happens.
It’s one thing to say you want to ride a century (a 100-mile ride). It’s another thing to choose the century you want to ride, set the date and register. That action takes it from something you hope to do to an actual goal.
Or if your goal is to ride 500 miles during the year, break it down into segments with dates for each goal within that larger goal. For example, you need to ride 250 miles each quarter, or you could choose to ride the 500 miles between March and October, with at least 75 miles per month.
Haynes helped me pick a couple of events based on my riding experience and the amount of time I have to train. In June, the Wyman family will be riding in the Knobby 9-5 in McCall. (You can learn more about the race at knobbytireseries.com.) I’ll also be riding in the Cascade Cream Puff, Fritter 50 option, which is a 50-mile mountain bike ride. That’s a big goal for me, and I’ll need every bit of planning and training between now and August. Just one reason that it’s so important to plan early and ride often.
Do this step early in the year. Plan what your training schedule will look like. Make sure the goal is tangible, measurable and has specific dates.
2. Focus on one thing to develop.
Reflect on the previous year and identify a weakness you can improve during the off-season.
For example, it could be that your lower back always hurts during and/or after riding, and you want to focus on flexibility and core strength to offset the lower-back pain with some specific off-bike exercises or workout strategies. (In a future column, I’ll discuss more about yoga for cyclists as well as offer some nutrition tips for bikers.)
Another issue could be your mental toughness in an event. People underestimate how strong their bodies really are and often stop short of what their bodies are capable of. I’m guilty of this one.
Reflecting on the 12-hour race I did last year, I look back and know that I had another lap in me. I just wasn’t willing to push through the mental part to make it happen. While I’m still proud of what I accomplished as a new rider, I know I was capable of more.
Haynes also advised me to put myself in situations that are difficult. It could be aerobic or strength training; it’s different for everyone. Consider working out with athletes who are more fit than you are. That will help you rise to their level.
For instance, I committed to making it to trainer-ride nights at the bike shop. That leads us to the next point ...
3. Find a support system.
Examples would be group rides or finding a riding partner and scheduling rides together. Consider also hiring a personal trainer or coach to keep you accountable and encourage your progress.
Success is contagious. Having a group cheer you on will help you toward your goals.
I’m also looking forward to the road-bike group rides. Rolling H Cycles, for instance, hosts outdoor group road rides at 10 a.m. Saturdays (starting March 5) and 6 p.m. Wednesdays (starting on March 23). You can look at the calendar at www.rollinghcycles.com. The Wednesday rides are “no drop” (meaning no rider is left behind and an experienced rider will usually watch out for you). On average, the group goes 15 to 18 miles per hour for about 1.5 to two hours of riding.
Check with your favorite bike group or bike shop for information about their rides. There are several cycling clubs and stores in the Treasure Valley that welcome new participants.
4. Have your gear and bike ready.
This is a big step to success that I want to stress as I’ve been guilty of not doing it in the past.
It’s easy to pack up the bike at the end of the season and not think about it again until the first bluebird spring day. With a sloppy grin on your face, you excitedly get your bike out, itching to ride. Then you realize your bike needs some maintenance stat.
Take your bike in for its annual tune-up before you need your bike. If you wait until that first sunny day, you’ll be standing in line behind every other person who didn’t plan in advance.
And don’t forget about regular maintenance. In the past, I never really thought about my bike needing regular care. But just like your car needs regular oil changes, your bike has moving parts that need care as well. A small investment upfront in maintenance can save you from having to prematurely replace parts because of breakage and other issues — saving you money in the long run.
If you’re new to riding and never had a bike fitting, consider working with your local bike shop for a fit check. A reputable shop should have someone who can make sure you are on the right bike and the right-sized bike. Not all frames and geometry are right for every rider. A better fit could be as simple as a few adjustments to your current bike, or you may need to consider a new bike for your body type. One bike style does not fit all!
While cycling is considered low impact compared with other sports, an ill-fitting bike can cause knee damage, so take the extra step for a proper fitting.
A smooth-running bike also makes the ride more enjoyable and increases the likelihood of sticking with your goals — and that’s the whole point, right?
Jessica Wyman is an Idaho native, author, speaker, nutritionist and mountain biker. Visit her blog at Jessica-Wyman.com for recipes and lifestyle advice.