How to take your cycling to the next level

Riding a bike with all the right kit... Photograph: RB Create at Etape Caledonia

Riding a bike with all the right kit. Photograph: RB Create at Etape Caledonia

With so many Scots embracing the 21st-century cycling revolution, we reveal how you can step up your riding goals.

It’s not difficult to see the proof. On roads and trails across Scotland, there are thousands more cyclists. This revolution of riders involves men, women and kids.

Among the many different types and styles of cyclists are those who favour road bikes. And in this group, firmly sits the MAMIL (Middle Aged Man in Lycra).

(Note: MAMIL is only a gentle dig at the guys who might traditionally have turned to fast cars, motorbikes or golf in their middle years. Now the new golf is cycling and their new toy is a carbon bicycle.)

It’s the road cyclists – and especially the MAMILs – who are usually the most keen to take their cycling to the next level. This might mean better and higher quality kit, lighter and pricier bikes or aspirations of being able to ride further and faster.

The steps to better road cycling

The miles count: You can spend time at the gym improving leg muscles, lose weight and read every training programme in the popular cycling magazines but what will really make the difference to your cycling ability is to ride.

There is no substitute for pedalling your bike for miles or hours on the flat, up hills, on fast descents and in all kinds of weather.



The key, as with all exercise, is to build up your mileage and the amount of ascent in each ride. Increasing your training mileage by about 5% to 10% each week is about right but always listen to your body and take it easy when you feel too tired.

Include a week of less cycling every four weeks if you are training for a specific goal and give yourself a couple of easier weeks on the bike prior to a big event, such as a sportive.

Each week you should cycle one longer ride for endurance, most likely on a Saturday. If you have the time, you could enjoy another long-ish ride on the Sunday, too.

On weekdays/evenings, where light allows, a couple of shorter and harder cycling sessions will improve your strength. Try interval sessions on the flat or on hills.

Set a goal: Everyone trains better if they have something to aim for. It could be a goal to ride 50 miles in one outing, or to take part in a sportive, or to score a personal best in a 10-mile time trial.

For other cyclists the goal could be to lose a stone in weight or to conquer a hill without getting off the bike.

Whatever the goal, it’s important to build up sensibly so as to avoid injury and becoming disheartened.

MCCC Etape Caledonia 2014

Ride with others: Cycling is a sociable sport and if you ride with other people you will find yourself motivated and encouraged onwards.

You could join a cycling club (most clubs welcome all levels of riders of either sex) or cajole some likeminded friends to meet for regular rides.

The benefit of joining a club is the experience you’ll gain from other cyclists who have been on their bikes for decades. Most clubs feature several older cyclists who seemingly defy age and have a wealth of riding knowledge that they will happily impart during a long bike ride or in the pub afterwards.

Club sessions also include shorter timed outings and longer rides so you will benefit from both strength and endurance building outings.

Find the cafes: One of the joys of longer bike rides is the café stops. Cycling burns a surprising number of calories and it’s important to refuel as you ride, so a café stop, for cake or bacon rolls, is almost essential.

And, you’ll find, planning long bike rides with café stops in mind is heartening.

Comfort and joy: Spending many hours on a bike can lead to discomfort, especially in the nether regions. The best advice is to wear padded cycling shorts (buy male or female specific) and to choose a bike seat designed to suit your gender.

Our physiques are different and require different designs of padded shorts and bike seats. As a female cyclist I can’t praise a women’s fit seat more highly for comfort.

If you suffer a sore back, hips or shoulders it might be worth having a bike fit. Small adjustments to saddle height, crank length and/or handlebar stems can make a huge difference in terms of comfort while riding. Many bike shops offer bike fit sessions for around £100.

Planet X carbon fibre lightweight bike.

Planet X carbon fibre lightweight bike.

Lighter bikes: One of the questions I am asked most – usually by MAMILs – is how to buy the lightest bike for their budget. It’s claimed that lighter bikes, such as those made from stiff but super lightweight carbon fibre, will ride faster.

Lighter and stiffer carbon does create a faster bike, on average, but it’s also worth remembering that if you lose a few pounds of body weight and build up your leg strength you can also achieve greater speeds on the bike you already own.

Still, if you have some spare money, a carbon bike is a dream to ride and you  could buy second-hand or buy a frame and add your own components for a more budget-friendly option.

It is also worth noting that carbon will give a stiffer and less forgiving ride. Carbon forks can make it feel harder and bumpier through the arms and shoulders, and you will notice the stiffer ride when sitting on your saddle.

While you will have the advantage of a better power output because you will lose less energy pedalling on a carbon bike, you will also lose some comfort.

The same goes for deep rim carbon wheels. These range from a few centimetres deep to full carbon wheels and the aim is to provide a more aerodynamic ride for greater speeds.

In certain conditions these will be useful but you may find it precarious riding a bike with deeper rims in a side wind.

Aerobars are another item that cyclists will consider for go-faster times. Borrow a pair first to see how you cope with the less balanced riding position and make sure you will be able to cope with the back-bending ride for mile after mile.

Upgrade your bike kit

I’ve mentioned lighter bikes and male and female-specific cycling shorts and saddles. If you want to take your riding to the next level another great buy is clip-in pedals.

Using a system of cleats (fitted to the bottom of cycling shoes) and clip-in pedals riders will find they have more power through the full cycle of the pedal motion. Put simply, you’ll benefit from both upward and downward power.

Clip-ins can be a bit nerve-wracking to start with because you need to make sure you unclip before stopping the bike so you can get your feet on the ground. A little practice in a traffic-free place quickly pays off.

Speedplay pedals.

Also, it’s worth buying easy-in-and-out clip-in pedals or ones that allow you to adjust the pedals for easier clip-in access and dismount. For example the Speedplay Light Action are ideal for newbies to clip-in pedals.

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 09.33.06Helmets can also be upgraded for lighter and more aerodynamic styles. It’s so much easier to wear a helmet that is lightweight and has increased ventilation. Taking this a step up, if you are doing time trials, you might consider a full aero helmet.

Many cyclists also discover the benefits of bibbed shorts or cycling tights. Bib shorts offer greater protection from the cold around the back and stomach area and do not slip down, like many waist-high shorts tend to do. See a good choice for women’s bib shorts with an easy access back zip.

Cycling jerseys and t-shirts with back pockets offer a useful space for carrying spare kit, snacks and tyre levers.

Cycling socks are designed to have a higher ankle so they do not slip uncomfortably down your heel while cycling.

Cycling gloves with padded palms offer greater comfort while riding longer distances.

Then there are arm warmers, leg warmers, bike shoe covers and warmers, gilets, waterproof jackets, under-helmet caps, wraparound glasses… The list of kit and bike upgrades could go on and the more you cycle – and hang out with other cyclists – the more “must-have” items you will come across.

Essential bike kit

A puncture repair kit and a pump are vital for more serious road cycling. The further you ride the more likely you are to become stranded miles from home if you suffer a puncture. It seems obvious to say but you should know how to fix a puncture, too.

lezyne-pressure-drive-2012-med

There are all kinds of quick fix puncture products including Slime Bike Tyre sealant, CO2 cartridges and Skabs Bike Tube Peel and Stick patches.

A lightweight but effective pump is a good buy, too, such as the highly rated Lezyne mini pumps.

Tell us about your tips for taking cycling to the next level.



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