By Fred Matheny
I know several fast, strong and accomplished cyclists who won’t let the word “training” pass their lips. They feel the word connotes a level of seriousness that’s unhealthy at the least and, at worst, could dim their enjoyment of the sport. They simply “go for a ride.”
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with riding in an unstructured way, cruising along with the breeze in your face, going fast when the spirit moves you, slowly when the spirit lags. Riding like you feel can generate fine fitness.
That said, there are still some great reasons to allow the “T” word in your vocabulary.
Reasons to Train
The Challenge of Improvement. All of us like challenges, especially when we can see improvement that’s commensurate with the effort we put in. That’s why training on the bike (as opposed to “just riding”) is so exciting. When you make the decision to go from occasional rides to a regular schedule, you’ll experience big fitness gains. Add one more step — a modest increase in intensity once or twice a week — and you’ll bump up your performance another notch.
The Ability to Ride Like an Athlete. Increased fitness means you don’t have to merely sit on the bike and plod along. The greater your strength, power and endurance, the more you can ride with the verve and style of an athlete. Get out of the saddle and jam over small hills. Sprint for county line signs. Outrun a snarling canine attacker and laugh in his doggy face. Take on long, tough hills that used to reduce you to a gasping wreck — and top the summit with a smile.
Build your fitness and you’ll feel like LeBron (who loves to cycle, himself!) on two wheels.
The Fun of Going Fast. Bicycles, scientists tell us, represent the perfect marriage of a machine with the human body. We bipeds on bikes can go faster and cover the miles with less effort than with any other method of human locomotion.
Think of the bike not as a device for transportation but rather as a machine for creating fun — zooming around corners, flattening hills, dropping your buddies. When you’re fit, you can use this remarkable invention to its fullest.
The Dynamics of Group Rides. When I got into cycling, I rode alone. In the early ’70s, no one else in my small Colorado town had discovered the sport. But when experienced rider Don Christman showed up, he invited me to ride from Gunnison to Montrose, a rollicking, 65-mile roller coaster of a road. On the flats heading west he introduced me to drafting. It was a revelation. Soon I sought out groups to ride with and began road racing.
As I wrote at the time, “Part of the thrill of cycling is how bikes handle around other bikes — the vacuum, suction, lightening sensation of a big pack, the psychedelic patterns of alloy and jerseys, the sense of shared enterprise and momentary alliances, the way the pack develops a mind and will of its own, independent of, and yet connected to, each rider’s perceptions and personality.”
It takes a minimum level of fitness to ride in a group and have all this fun.
The Fitness to Go the Distance. Among the most popular cycling events these days are weekend charity rides and weeklong cross-state rides. Many riders dream of doing a transcontinental — riding across the United States (or Australia, Canada or Europe).
It takes training to be able to pedal between 50 and 100-plus miles day after day. But it’s achievable on a surprisingly limited time commitment.
The Cultivation of Riding Skills. When you build fitness, bike-handling ability comes as part of the package. Remember that old saying about practice making perfect? It’s true when it comes to riding a bike like you were born to it.
Gaining fitness requires you to get on the road — and that’s where you’ll also accumulate the experience necessary to feel connected to the bike.
And Don’t Forget Those Buffed Legs! Vanity may not be the purest of motives for getting fit, but so what? Cycling strips the excess fat off your legs and torso. It tones your quads until they look like they’ll rip through the skin. But best of all is what happens inside where you can’t see it — better cardiovascular fitness, an improved cholesterol profile, more stamina for daily activities, and the post-ride calm of a Zen master.
Now that’s something to be vain about.
During more than 30 years in cycling journalism, Fred Matheny has written hundreds of fitness & training articles for top bike magazines and websites. Many of his best eBooks and eArticles are on sale in the RBR eBookstore. As a rider, he has raced to medals in state and national championships, plus a senior world record in the Team Race Across America. As a coach, he has worked with hundreds of riders at PAC Tour Training Camps, Carpenter/Phinney Bike Camps, and Dirt Camp.