Punxsatawney Phil was wrong. We didn’t have six more weeks of winter, we had eight more. But the weather is finally warming up a bit and the snow is almost gone here in Iowa and we are starting to get out on our bikes after a long, long winter. It’s hard to believe that in three short months it will be steamy hot here. This article will touch on some items to keep in mind as you get out on your bike again this spring, especially if you haven’t, ahem, ridden in a while!
Bike: Before you start putting a lot of miles on your bike it’s a good time to check it over and tune it up. Be sure to check your tires. Inspect them carefully in good light looking for gashes, holes or fabric showing through the tread and be sure to check the sidewalls for cracks. If you see any of these, replace the tires right away. Run through the gears and make sure they all are working correctly. Check the brakes to make sure they aren’t rubbing and to also determine that they are grabbing the rim tightly when you pull in on the levers. Lube the chain and inspect the bike for any cracks in the frame. Spin the wheels and make sure they are true and don’t rub on the brake pads (or frame!) as they turn. While you are at it, clean it up nice as it is more fun to ride a shiny clean bike. Also change the handlebar tape whether it needs it or not (it will). If you find any of these problems, take care of it right away and if you aren’t mechanically inclined, have your local bike shop take care of it for you. It is money well spent for the reliability and peace of mind while out riding miles from home. And be sure to check that you have tire levers, a pump or CO2 cartridge and spare tub in your saddle bag. It’s a good idea to take the spare tube out and pump it up to be sure it holds air. A leaky spare isn’t much help.
Body: Even if you have been doing spin classes or riding your indoor trainer over the winter, you will find that it didn’t entirely keep you in road cycling shape. Use chamois cream as your derriere will have become a little more tender over the winter. Start out by riding a nice easy pace on a level course just to get your legs and body back in the groove. So start out gradually and build up your mileage slowly (5-10 miles more each week). Save the hills and harder riding for later. If you have ridden a lot in past years, it will come back quickly. The spring usually brings wind. Ride into the wind at your own pace. The wind gets tougher the faster you ride so if you don’t feel like killing yourself, just gear down and take your time. However, the wind can do wonders for increasing your power on the bike so don’t avoid it. Also as the temperatures are cool this time of year, be sure to dress warmly enough. Wear two or three layers of clothing so you can unzip or take off the outer layer if you get warm on the ride. One word of caution about riding with other cyclists. While it is more fun to ride with others, it may not be the best thing for you right now. Depending on your fitness level, if you are riding with other cyclists who are stronger than you, especially early in the season, it will force you to ride much harder than you should first thing. So you may want to get out for a few rides by yourself to get your legs back under you before trying to keep up with Joe Fastguy in your club.
Food and beverage: Once you start riding more, you will notice your appetite wakes up and you will be more hungry throughout the day. You need to remember you have to eat on purpose again. All winter you probably tried to stop yourself from overeating, now you need to intentionally start eating more. Before you head out for longer rides (90 minutes or more), be sure to eat some extra carbs. If you have a few pounds of hibernation weight you have accumulated since last fall, now is a good time to try to burn that off. But rather than starving yourself prior to rides, go ahead and eat so you have energy during your ride. If you go into a ride short on energy (carbohydrates in particular), your training won’t be very enjoyable or effective. Instead, cut back after your ride and in the evening. Your riding will increase your metabolism and will burn fat when you aren’t riding as well as when you are. Be sure to drink more during the day as well so you are well hydrated for your riding. And don’t forget those water bottles as you head out the door. Some of the most simple things seem to get forgotten over the winter.
Every spring reminds me of the spring when I got my first real road bike (yes, a 10-speed, I’m old). It’s an exciting, fun time, and a new beginning with a set of new goals ahead of us. Let’s make this the best year yet!
Coach David Ertl
David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 (Elite) Coach. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team and is a national head coach for the the JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes and he coaches individual cyclists. He also provides cycling training plans and ebooks at his website: http://www.CyclesportCoaching.com . He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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