This pause in the race season has caused me to reflect on how I began cycling, and the things I wish I knew when first starting out. I was quite young when I started mountain biking at the age of 13 in a program called Kids of Mud in my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. After several years of building up cycling skills, I was noticed by the provincial team coach who recruited me to road cycling, and I started racing at the age of 15. I would like to share with you some lessons and tips I picked up in my experience that could be helpful to new riders in the sport.
Invest in proper clothing
I had a unique fashion sense when I first started racing. My cycling uniform was a purple technical t-shirt, paired with a pair of blue and yellow Hawaiian board shorts. I was opposed to spandex until I started road riding, and only then realized how practical it is. A local pro gave me some of her own kit, and I not only felt really cool wearing it, but I also felt way more comfortable on the bike. There are so many options out there these days to fit any individual style and to suit any weather conditions!
Get a bike fit
Along with proper clothing, it is worth it to get a proper bike fit, and I would emphasize finding the right saddle! We have come a long way in saddle design, with so many female specific designs now available. Along with saddle discomfort, I experienced back and shoulder pain, and it was a bike fit, along with stretches and exercises off the bike that improved this issue. A proper fit can improve comfort and enjoyment on the bike, and will also help optimise the power you can produce.
Learn to change a flat
If there is one bike maintenance skill to learn, it is how to change a flat tire. I certainly felt more independent and capable once I learned how to change my own flats. This one basic skill will allow you to explore far from home without the fear of getting stranded. Look up a youtube tutorial, or ask a knowledgeable cyclist friend to show you how it’s done. There are even some useful innovative products that make the process even easier than before. Team Sunweb uses Fumpa pumps, a small rechargeable portable pump. I appreciate this pump for speeding up the whole process, and getting me back on the road in no time.
When I first started out riding, a large amount of time was spent developing basic skills on the bike through games and drills. I would also spend hours riding around with friends on the river trails around Winnipeg playing around on my bike. This kind of skill development is highly emphasized for youth in sports, but I think adults can also benefit from embracing this learning attitude. It only takes a few minutes at the start or end of a road ride to focus deliberately on a certain skill. Trackstands, jumping, dismounts, picking a bottle up off the ground, riding in circles, and cornering are all basic skills that will improve your confidence and ability to ride in the peloton. My teammates and I have recently been challenging ourselves to learn new skills while away from racing, making these challenges fun by turning them into a game.
New riders may be surprised at the amount of fuel required for training, especially when tackling longer rides. If you feel empty at the end of rides, then try increasing the amount you eat throughout. I would also emphasize the importance of hydration. As a young rider, I always focused on eating enough, but suffered often from gut rot. Thinking back, I realize my issue was probably dehydration, coupled with taking in too high a concentration of carbohydrates from a lot of gels. You don’t have to accept gut problems on the bike. You can improve overall enjoyment by reaching out to a sport dietician, or educating yourself on the subject. I recently picked up a new book called The Athlete’s Gut by Patrick Wilson, that is a great resource if you want to dive into the fine details of the topic.
Don’t be scared to reach out to more experienced riders in your area if you have more questions about getting started in the sport. Cycling can be somewhat intimidating at first, but the reality is that most cyclists want to help others enjoy the sport!
I will be back soon with another post about my training back home in Canada. In the meantime, you can find me online on Instagram at @Ieahkirchmann and on Twitter @L_Kirch.