Have you been planning a workout to get in shape for bike season? Or are you more likely to wheel your now-dusty bike outside on impulse during a warm, dry day and hop on the saddle without even suspecting the karma that lies ahead?
This isn’t the ride karma, where you’re forced to deal instantly with situations like a maladjusted derailleur that won’t go into the gear you need, or tires that have slowly lost air over the months and are now nearly flat. No, this is afterward—the pain in your ankles, calves, knees, groin, butt, stomach and so on. Most casual skiers know they have to work out to get ready for the new season; why don’t casual cyclists and bikers?
Whether you use your bike for exercise, transportation or racing, your muscles and respiratory system need to be prepared for the work involved. Tanya Swenson certainly knows how to prep; she’s a bike specialist at Cole Sport in Park City, and an expert-level mountain-bike and cyclocross racer. Her son Keegan is on the U.S. junior national team and races on the Cannondale factory team.
Swenson, 48, says that consistency is the key for a casual mountain or road biker, “but not in the gym so much as outside. People think a gym alone will get them in shape for cycling, but I think you need both. Outside in the wintertime is the only way you’ll get that perceived rate of exertion,” a self-measurement of how hard your body is working.
“The gym is good for stretching and strengthening, but don’t do all your bicycle workouts on a gym bike,” she says. “Instead, get a trainer and work out on your own bike, the one you’re used to.” A bike trainer securely holds your bike stationary while allowing you to pedal at the speed and resistance level you choose.
She adds, “You definitely need to take time and warm up. Some people who aren’t in shape, their warmup is the workout. The problem with doing long and slow is that it makes you slow. That’s why you should do intervals. A good training program will include some type of interval, to prepare a person for the intensity of a race.” Even if you never plan to compete, being fit enough to go fast can be important—especially in a traffic situation.
Swenson’s current workout for bike season is cross-country skiing, and she recently began using kettlebells. “It’s a combination of aerobic and resistance; it gets your heart rate up while building strength,” she says.
Go easy on yourself when re-starting your bike season, allowing time for endurance and strength to build. As Swenson says, “Choose something that’s obtainable, like a smaller hill, before going for something like Little Cottonwood Canyon.” As a side note, don’t forget to hydrate yourself thoroughly before setting out for a ride, and if you don’t already have a bottle holder on your frame, get one.
Here’s another biker-cyclist and skier comparison: No skier would ever go skiing without first making sure their boots fit. Why do cyclists ride without making sure their bicycle fits?
Having your bicycle adjusted to your body is not just for advanced riders or racers. Tim Bochnowski, who owns Mountain Velo in Park City, is a nationally known bike fitter. “I’d say 90 percent of my fits are just to get people more comfortable on their bicycles,” he says.
For example, few casual riders think about having their pedals adjusted to the angle of their feet, but that’s one of the things a good fitter will do. Bochnowski says it’s especially important for those who use clip-ins: “You want to make sure you have the pedal axle in the right position so your foot is properly placed over the pedal.”
Sometimes the shoe is what needs adjusting. “If people were to sit on a bench and let their feet dangle, most of them would have their big toe hang higher than their little toe, because their foot is angled,” Bochnowski says. “They might require a wedge in their shoe or an inexpensive ready-to-wear orthotic.”
A custom bicycle fit at Mountain Velo starts at $50. Fitting details and prices are on the shop’s website, MountainVelo.com/bike-fitting. Before it turns warm, get both your bike and your body fit for the season.