Technique: Learn from your mistakes

By Nik Cook, Cycling Plus | Monday, June 1, 2009 3.00pm

A great maxim in sport is “get the basics right and the rest will follow”. Regardless of your fitness or experience, if you make a point of correcting all of the common mistakes listed below, success on a bike will come a lot faster.

Train right

Are you riding or training? There’s nothing wrong with just going out for a spin, but unless a ride has a definite purpose, you’re riding rather than training. Learn to differentiate and resist logging the three-hour social jaunt with an hour spent in a cafe as three hours of training.

Wrong intensity riding: Coaches commonly complain that their riders don’t ride hard enough when they’re supposed to be giving it their all and vice versa. To monitor your output, either go the tech route of logging heart rate or power, or study your perceived exertion. Whichever you choose, use the information to aim at the correct intensity for the session you’re doing.

Inconsistent training: Training has to be consistent, not logging 350 miles one week, next to nothing for a while and then posting another massive week. Be progressive: one week’s efforts should build on top of your previous week’s exertions.

Poor recovery technique: Training isn’t just about piling on more miles every single week. Do this and you’ll hit a volume where you won’t get any stronger, but you will get ill and pick up injuries. Schedule regular recovery weeks into your training every four weeks. These weeks give your body a chance to make the physiological changes that’ll make you a stronger rider.

Collapsing mid-ride: With the range of energy gels, bars and drinks available, everyone should be able to find something that powers them well. Take on fuel right from the beginning of the ride and, regardless of whether you feel hungry, keep topping the tank up every 30 minutes.

Ride right

Poor gear choice and shifting: Don’t be lazy with your gears, look ahead and shift in anticipation of the terrain to come. This particularly applies to chainring selection, because trying to downshift under the heavy pressure of a climb is a guaranteed way to lose momentum or your chain.

Shaky cornering: Good cornering is something you need to practise. If nothing else, get into the habit of having your outside pedal down and pushing your weight through it as you corner.

Tense upper body: When climbing or descending, excessive tension or movement of the upper body is a massive waste of energy. Try to keep relaxed and still from the waist up. Remember: Jacques Anquetil described his grip on the bar tops when climbing as being “as light as a concert pianist”.

Failing to practise descents: It’s no use being a super-strong climber if you lose all the time you’ve gained heading up on the way back down. There’s no such thing as a ‘born descender’, it’s a skill you have to learn and practise. If you’re planning on riding in the Alps or Pyrenees, definitely make focused descent practice part of your training.

Incorrect cadence: Just because Lance spins up climbs, it doesn’t mean a super-fast cadence is right for you. We’re all different physiologically, with widely varying muscle makeups. With experience you’ll find the cadence that works for you and if you happen to be more of a churner than a spinner, don’t feel you have to change.

Bad group skills: Not knowing the etiquette and skills of group riding will not only limit the social side of your riding but also, without the benefits of drafting and shared work, significantly slow you down. It’ll take you a few club runs to learn the ins and outs of it all, but it’ll be time well spent.

Gear right

Chain neglect: Too many riders spend hours cleaning and polishing their bike’s frame but neglect to clean and check the chain. Cleaning the chain will extend the component’s life and make for a more efficient transfer of power to the wheels. So, buy a chain checker and save yourself money and aggravation by replacing worn chains before they trash your bike.

Incorrect setup: If your bike isn't properly set up, you’ll be sacrificing performance and setting yourself up for an injury. Investing in a professional assessment is strongly recommended.

Forward-facing quick-release levers: Make sure you close your quick-release levers towards the rear of the bike. You see so many riders out with them facing forwards like miniature cow horns. All it takes is to catch your lever on something at the roadside, flip the lever open and your lawyer lugs are the only thing keeping the wheel on. Unlikely? It’s not unknown and, for such a simple fix, it’s just not worth the risk.

Over-tightening components: If you can afford a carbon bike, then you can afford a torque wrench. But over-tightening seatposts and stems is a recipe for disaster. We’ve seen a rather ham-fisted friend’s carbon handlebars snap clean in half because he’d been a bit over enthusiastic with his Allen keys.

Getting cold: Modern clothing and layering should mean that getting cold on a ride is a thing of the past. Unpredictable days in spring and autumn are the hardest to cater for, but gilets, arm warmers, knee warmers and toe covers should enable you to cover every eventuality. Another reason for getting cold is that you haven’t been fuelling properly and are beginning to ‘bonk’.

Losing 'free speed': A fully unzipped jersey might look (and feel) cooler but, on all but the steepest and most sweltering climb, it’s costing you speed. Similarly, a billowing jacket, badly attached race number or incorrectly inflated tyres can all slow you down. Individually, the losses are minimal, but add them up, multiply that over seven or eight hours in the saddle and you’re suddenly looking at whole minutes rather than mere seconds.

Not writing a kit-list: When travelling to an event, forgetting your helmet, shoes or photo ID for registration is far too easy. So, sit down and make a list the week before the race, laminate it and leave it permanently in your kit bag.

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