To even be a cyclist, you obviously have to have a bike. Yes, that is your biggest investment and probably the largest one. After that, I hope you have bike shorts, pedals, shoes, helmet, gloves, water bottles, bottle cages, jerseys…well, the list can go a bit further but at least those are the absolute basics. Question is, what is next?
WHERE NEWBIES GET HELP
Well, there are several angles I can approach that question but my choice for now is to take the one as though you are fairly new to cycling; I’ll get to those of you who have been riding for a while next, so hang on. OK, you have your bike and all your accessories, so what else is there? Hey, great question. Probably the hardest topic to decide upon is if you are going to start out with clipless pedals or not. I always advocate ‘newbies’ to start with clipless pedals, as I can teach them how to stay in control and balance and never fall…right from the get-go. It amazes me how SO many cyclists tell newbies to get use to falling, that that is just part of the learning process. Are you kidding me? They have no idea they just set that newbie up for failure, not to mention a highly negative root in their minds. No wonder so many I have come across are literally scared of making the switch. I’ve lost count how many clients I’ve helped who showed up and literally had never clipped in, but about 30 minutes later, they looked like they had been doing so for years AND never fell in the process. Shame on any cyclist that tells a newbie this. I forgive you if that happens to be you. Next time, just refer them to me and I’ll take it from there. OK, end of small soapbox and back to the post.
Cyclists spend $100’s, even $1000’s of dollars on super light, fancy accessories and bike bling but rarely invest in their personal safety. I get it of how this exists. Bike shops are in business to sell you bikes and accessories; they are not in business to teach you ‘how’ to ride. That’s a completely separate piece of the puzzle. Therefore, those getting into cycling look to those who have been riding for years as experts and tend to take whatever advise is given. I don’t know about you but that is very scary!!! How do you know that the advice you just heard is even accurate? I’ve heard some humdingers over 19 years; even advice from weekly website posts from guys who have been riding much loner than me. Yep, it’s like that commercial I’m sure many of you have seen. Click on image to watch.
It was a couple of years ago when I was reading a VERY popular national cycling website, where they have weekly articles posted by several cycling coaches. This particular one was spawned by a viewer’s question that he sent in regarding how to best divert holes and/or hazards, even though he rides to the far right of the lane. Great question, by the way.
The coach took the angle of taking about making quick diversion and still stay in control of the bike; great insight. The coach stated that if cyclists push forward and down on the right side of their handlebars, their bikes would automatically veer to the left. I couldn’t believe what I just read so I went back and re-read it several times to make sure I was reading it correctly. I remember saying out loud that I hoped no one actually followed his advice. Why? Because the bike does the exact opposite to what this very popular coach just stated on the internet. Wait, it’s on the internet so it HAS to be true, right?
Here’s what I want you to do, so you can find out for yourself. Next time you get on your bike, I want to to have both hands on the hoods and I want you to be riding in a straight line. Next, I want you to purposefully push down and forward with your right hand on the right hood. Oh, you better be prepared because the bike won’t veer to the left, like the coach stated; it’s going to veer to the right. Don’t believe me? Go out and try for yourself and then send me your comments to this post afterwards. In other words, if anyone followed that bogus advice, then they actually caused the bike to veer in the exact opposite direction than where they want the bike to go. That means if there were any hazards/holes, etc. when this rider went out and tried this, I can guarantee you he got he surprise of his life. Instead of getting away from the hazard, he was now heading right towards it. I can give you countless internet examples like this all day long.
Pertaining to riding in groups, there are endless articles, posts, etc. that sort of piece-mail this subject together and with having so much inaccurate information floating out there, I decided to write my first book. The result is an eBook called, It’s NOT About Speed: The Lost Art of Group Riding. It took me over a year to write but I wanted to create a single resource that covered every single dynamic that is present in group rides, whether riders were aware of them or not. I even went to the degree of embedding video, so you can actually see what I am explaining. The only catch is Apple is the only eBook self-publisher that supports embedded video in eBooks, so you have to have an Apple device (computer, iPad, etc). Hey, if you don’t have one, just ask your friend to borrow it.
Final example that really bugs me; clipless pedals. I’ve lost count how many new cyclists have been told by ‘seasoned’ cyclists, that they are going to fall, that that is just part of the learning process and eventually they will get better at clipping in, etc. REALLY? If you were a brand new cyclist, then you were just told that falling, crashing and potentially getting hurt is the accepted process of learning to ride clipless pedals. If you don’t think that plants a very bad negative seed in the newbie’s mind, then you are sadly mistaken. No wonder I come across so many cyclists who are afraid of making the switch.
I met a cyclist a few weeks ago who was fairly new to the sport. Their first comment was they were scared of clipless pedals, mainly because the hearing the type of comments I just mentioned. I absolutely assured them that clipless pedals are not an issue…if you learn how to ride them correctly. As we talked more, I could tell they wanted to learn so I mentioned my Riding Skills session. I told them I could have them riding clipless pedals in about 30 minutes and would never have to fall in the process. At first, they thought I was crazy because of countless riders telling them of the crash and learn method. To combat that, I told them I’ve been doing this for 12 years and I have taken countless cyclists who had never been on clipless pedals and after about 30 minutes, they were in more control of riding their pedals and had the accurate knowledge to do so than many cyclists who I know who have been riding for years. Here’s a portion of their feedback:
Good morning coach,
I deliberately took a week to respond because I had to really sit and review the amount of progress I made in such a short time after our skill session. This investment was not in vain. I am reaping the benefits big time. You have empowered me with tools and skills that will serve me well until my last ride in this body-
- Overall I am more confident on the bike- mind you I still have a lot to learn but my basic foundation is secure.
- I had no clue about the importance of balance in relationship to COG (center of gravity) on the bike. I am very aware of it now.
- Whereas fear was the dominant factor in my mind (pre-session), I learned that safety is of the utmost importance. Once that became apparent, my mind began to focus on being a rider who is confident, in control, and safe on the road.
- As a novice -who only knows ‘pedal, just pedal’- there are a lot of things I do not/ did no know.
WE KNOW ALL THAT: IT’S SPEED
Next, I want to spotlight the next group of cyclists and then tie both groups together to make my main point of this post; your best investment. Obviously, the first group was newbies so the second group is everyone else. As cyclists progress in mileage and performance (specifically speed), what typically happens is their mindset and perspectives tend to close and be less and less open to constructive criticism or various cycling tips. Also, I have personally found that when I ‘call them out’ for doing something unsafe, etc., they tend to be super quick to add many adjectives to my real name and/or point the finger at me. Not sure if it’s pride, ego or both but man have I been chewed a new one when I’ve done this.
I mention this scenario for two reasons: 1. if/when you ever call out faster riders, don’t be surprised if they respond this way, and 2. just because someone can ride fast doesn’t mean they are a good, safe and knowledgeable rider….it just means they can ride fast. In today’s cycling world, it seems EVERYTHING is about how fast one can ride. Bottom line, speed has become the biggest focus (or investment) of those who are beyond newbies. I would assert that this investment is the wrong one. Just show up to the majority of local group rides and you’ll find out real quick that speed is everything. I wonder how many of you reading this right now have shown up for a ‘group’ ride that was advertised as a No Drop ride with Re-group points; I bet a ton. In reality, this really means that if you can’t keep up, you WILL get dropped, but those who are faster than you have graciously agreed to stop at designated spots and wait for all the slower riders. Once these slower folks ride but, everyone else takes off again. The ride repeats this cycle until you get back to the parking lot. Hey, this isn’t a No-Drop ride, this is a DROP ride with re-group points. The only group slower riders will experience are those who may be left in the dust like themselves and they tend to try and bundle together. Again, the point for all this is speed has become the biggest investment and focus…at the expense of those who aren’t as fast.
Let me preface this next part to what motivates me as a cyclist; I mean at the very core of who I am as a cyclist. It stems back to racing motorcycles at 200+mph and dragging knees in turns with the motorcycle leaning on the very edge of the tire tread. On the edge, baby!!! I was young and oblivious to the fact that I could actually die from this. My team mates and I took every step to be as safe as possible but when you get on the track and twist the throttle in your hand, all bets were off. Sound familiar? Speed…period. It wasn’t until I had my ‘high speed get-off’ in Alabama doing 155mph in a high speed turn and I was catapolted forward off my bike. I was thrown 250 feet on the asphalt and because I had SO much momentum, I continued flopping like a rag doll thru the outfield grass for another 250 feet. I stood up and walked away from that crash with a tiny cut in my ankle; that’s it. Thank you leathers!!! The biggest lesson I took from that whole experience was to ride at my extreme limit but with temperament. On a bicycle, we don’t wear full leathers, all we have is lycra. Once I married my bride Kelly, my goal every time I clipped in was to return to her in the same condition I left. Did that mean I stopped going fast? Heck no!!! Just watch my videos of all 6 descents of 6GAP and you’ll know that’s not the case. I DO go fast and I still go fast but I temper that with a heightened sense of safety and staying within my comfort zone.
I know full well my capabilities and my limits, however the BIGGEST investment I’ve made in me is making sure I know as much as I can physically know about how my bike acts and reacts to ANY given scenario. Yes, I have a HUGE advantage in that I raced motorcycles at ridiculous speeds and you can’t do that if you are not in total control of that motorcycle. The same goes for bicycles. Way too many cyclists are riding (and have been riding for years) and have no clue about how their bike will respond in any given scenario. Want to know why so many cyclists fear fast descents? It’s because they don’t know how to be in control of their bikes and Heaven forbid that they have to do some emergency braking on the way down.
Want to know why Peter Sagan is one of THE BEST descenders EVER? Look at all the video there is on the internet of him doing all sorts of crazy stuff on his bike that we wouldn’t dream of trying: riding extended wheelies over all kinds of changing terrain and even some times hands-free, bunny hopping up and down stairs and over roofs and anything else that is in his way. See my point? He can’t do those very impressive acrobatics if he was not in total control of his balance, handling and control skills on the bike…AND the bike. For him to do all those things, does it really surprise you that he can descend like no one else? I hope you see the connection.
The bottom line point of this post is where do you put your investment in cycling? Is it becoming a gram-weenie? You just gotta spend $100’s of dollars to save a gram here and there. Is it this slick carbon aero wheels that is most certainly great cycling eye-candy? What about all the electronic gadgets? Now that’s a long list. Best color-coordinated ride? Wait a minute…that’s ME!!! You see the list is endless. All those things are good and fun to have but show me your list of all the areas you have spent money on cycling and point to where safety and accurate knowledge of balance, handling and control skills are on the list. BOOM… Do you know as much about these three areas as you do about carbon accessories, electronic gadgets, etc.? It’s not hard to see what the typical priorities are. I’m just saying that among this list, that these areas I’m advocating should be at the very top.
The same skills and drills I teach in my Riding Skills session, I still practice every time I clip in. Don’t you think after 210,000 miles on a bike that they would be instinct and second nature? You bet they are!!! If I stop practicing these, then I willingly choose to let my guard down and literally sacrificing my safety. Not as long as there is a breath in THIS body. I value my bride way too much for that. Hey, I realize safety is not the sexiest subject or one that you can show off to your riding buddies, but if I had a dollar for every crash I’ve witnessed that was absolutely avoidable, then I’d have a new bike in my garage right now…and not a cheap one, either. Also, the vast majority of these crashes were from cyclists who had been riding for years.
In closing, I’ll end with point #3 from that client’s feedback I mentioned earlier:
“Whereas fear was the dominant factor in my mind (pre-session), I learned that safety is of the utmost importance. Once that became apparent, my mind began to focus on being a rider who is confident, in control, and safe on the road.”
After that session, her whole mindset and focus changed. She now knew accurate information and skills that put HER in control of the bike, not the other way around. The result was she felt confidence for the very first time. Folks, if you had witnessed her body language when the session first started and compared it to at the end of the session, she literally was a different person.
Accurate information results in confidence and control. What’s your biggest cycling asset? I’m hoping you realize that it’s NOT the most expensive ‘thing’ you own. I’m praying that you realize it is YOU!!! Maybe it’s time to consider investing in YOU and not all that cycling ‘stuff’.