The Cycle Path to Fitness

As the wheels on the bike go round and round, you will reap the fitness benefits


Posted: 12 June 2006

Learn Something New
Though bicycling is a close cousin of running, don't take it for granted. Cycling requires different muscles than running, and a fair amount of skill in terms of pedal stroke, use of gears, climbing, riding in groups, taking corners and navigating safely in traffic. And you will also need to learn how to fix a puncture (it's easy with a few inexpensive tools).

Consider The Bike
If you think running shoes are complicated, wait until you buy your first bike. You can spend anywhere from £200-£5000 on a road bike, although something in the £400-£800 range will give you a good entry point into lightweight road-racing bikes. You don't necessarily have to buy a road bike (although if you are planning to race in a triathlon, it will be your quickest option), you could also try ‘hybrid' bikes. They offer the smooth ride of a road bike with the comfort and versatility of a mountain bike. One big benefit of choosing a hybrid bike is that you'll be able to train off-road, thus avoiding car traffic.

Whichever bike option you select, buy a helmet, a pair of bike gloves to protect your hands and a cycle computer to keep track of speed and distance. If the weather's bad or you live in a high-traffic area, you can do some of your cycling at home with a stationary bike. With the help of a turbo trainer, which your back wheel slots into, you can also turn your own bike into a stationary one.

Make Sure The Bike Fits
Forget the ins and outs of titanium vs steel vs aluminium. One thing matters more than anything else when you select your new bike - that it fits you. When a cyclist fits their bike well, they ride more comfortably and efficiently. They ride with more power, and yet the effort comes easier to them, their body is relaxed and their bike-handling skills are almost second nature. Although there are plenty of formulas you can follow to provide a rough idea of frame size, go along to your local bike shop and get measured by a professional.

Train Accordingly
In terms of training effect, one running mile equals around three cycling miles, but cycling can take considerably more time. For example, a five-mile run may take you 45 minutes. An equivalent bike ride of 15 miles will take you closer to an hour.

Spin Your Wheels
The most common cycling mistake that novice triathletes make is pushing big gears. That is, using higher gears hoping that it will get you in cycling shape faster. But this can lead to knee injuries - and stalled progress. Instead, do what cyclists call ‘spinning': stay in the lower gears at a cadence of at least 90 revolutions per minute.

Pull On The Pedals
When pedalling, don't press down with the balls of your feet, because that's also tough on your knees. Rather, press with your heel, then pull back and up with your calves in a circular motion. This generates power and speed, but it can take time to master the motion.

Beware The Saddle
Just as you need to gradually increase your running mileage, you need to gradually increase your time on the bike. Otherwise you risk painful saddle sores, knee injuries and other setbacks. And don't think you need to kill yourself to get a decent training session. Because cycling is non-impact, it may feel “too easy” at times. That's fine. It's doing the job.

Suggested Cycling Work-outs

  • Once a week, go for distance. Work up to two hours or more, depending on the length of the triathlon you're training for.
  • Every other week, do 20-30 minutes of tempo riding at an equivalent effort to tempo running. Begin and end these sessions with at least 10 minutes of easy riding.
  • Every other week or even every third week, do some speed. After 15 minutes of easy cycling, push hard for a minute, then go easy for a minute. Repeat 10 to 20 times, finishing with 15 minutes of easy riding.

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