LATE ONE AFTERNOON, ABOUT 10-YEARS AGO, when I was just getting started in serious road cycling, I was riding toward home when I noticed a group gathering at the local bike shop. I pulled in and quickly discovered that I was amid preparations for the Thursday evening shop ride. I watched as people were making final adjustments to their bikes and locking up their vehicles. At the last minute, I decided to join them.
I already had about 15-miles in my legs, so I felt warmed up enough to ride with this younger-than-me group of about 20 cyclists. Plus, I had a brand new carbon fiber bike that I wanted to put through its paces. We all took off down the divided highway at rush hour. The lineup was a little messy at first, with everyone jockeying for position, so I felt most comfortable being one of the last in line. As we headed south down the busy road, things got more organized and the speed picked up rapidly. About six miles into the ride, we made a sharp right onto a less busy road -- one that was unfamiliar to me.
The group cranked up the pace
Within minutes the friendly banter had stopped, and all I could hear was the wind and the whirr of many tires rolling on smooth blacktop--these guys were serious. We wound through treed lanes, over creeks and at times into the low setting sun. I was getting tired. A space opened up between me and the rider in front of me. The few riders behind me began to pass and fill up the void. I continued to spin as hard as I could, but I was losing ground. Within a few minutes I was dropped. Not only was I alone, but I was in strange territory, and in my supreme effort to keep up, I hadn’t been paying much attention to how I got there.
My confidence level evaporated
It was too late, of course, but I realized I had hooked up with a group that exceeded my abilities. Whoops! Lesson learned the hard way. It also bruised my confidence. Now, as twilight was setting in, I had to find my way back home, weary from a couple of hours of hard riding.
Preparedness will help you feel confident and comfortable on your next ride. Here are eight tips that I recommend:
1. Know your bike
Know how it feels, reacts, handles. Does it fit you properly? Do some of the components need adjusting? Is it making a weird noise? Get it fixed. You don’t need distractions when you’re 20 miles from home and you're exhausted.
2. Know how to fix basic things
Little things can go wrong and ruin a ride. Learn how to quickly repair a flat tire, or make a minor derailleur or brake adjustment.
3. Know the rules of the road
This is very important. You ARE traffic. You should ride your bike safely, and so other users of the road can anticipate your next move. Go to Cycling Savvy to learn more.
4. Know the terrain
Will you be riding where steep climbing is required, or where super fast, curvy descents will test your bike handling skills? Will you be riding on gravel, or paved roads with lots of potholes, or narrow roads with no bike lanes? Knowing in advance what you’re getting into will increase your confidence level.
5. Know your endurance limits
Can you ride 20-miles, 30-miles, or more? Can you ride at 24 mph for extended periods? If you’re a casual rider think twice before you agree to ride with someone who rides 300 miles a week. Bonking can be miserable and embarrassing.
6. Know your group rides
First, do you know the etiquette and techniques associated with group rides? If not, group rides can be dangerous for everyone involved. Second, match the group ride level with your own abilities. Groups are often graded as A, B, C rides, etc. A-rides are normally fast rides, where C-rides are often casual or social rides.
7. Know the best time to ride
Do you really want to ride during rush hour--do you have the skills to do so? Mid-summer afternoons in Florida are very hot and humid, so I often ride in the morning, right after rush hour. But I don’t like to ride east first thing in the morning because the rising sun is blinding--for me and for motorists. What’s the best time for your ride?
8. Know what you need to carry
Do you have tools and supplies to get you out of a minor mechanical jam? Do you have your hydration and nutritional needs covered based on how far you’re riding? Do you have some cash (some rural retailers don’t take plastic) and a cell phone? Do you have lights in case you don’t make it home before dark?
By following these guidelines you're more likely to ride free of major problems that could ruin your ride or make you wonder why you didn't stick with golf. Preparedness and knowing what you’re getting into will go a long way toward riding with confidence.
If you’d like to add your own tips, please comment below, and feel free to share this post with others.