Mountain Biking Magazine Beginner's Guide

Nine Tips To Better Riding

1. Warm Up. Warming up before riding does a number of things. First, it loosens your muscles, which can help prevent injury. A loose muscle can perform at its peak. A tight muscle can1t. Loose muscles have a full range of motion, tight muscles don1t. Finally, loose and warm muscles help you do more activity with less effort, thereby increasing endurance. Cycle very easily for five to 10 minutes. Follow that with five to 10 minutes of off-the-bike stretching. Be sure to stretch your legs thoroughly, as well as your back, neck, and arms. When you get back on your bike, go easy for the first few minutes. Get into a rhythm and slowly increase your speed.

2. Eat Right. You1ve got to have an adequate supply of food to sustain you throughout your ride. If you drag yourself out of bed and jump on your bike without eating, chances are you1re not going to perform well, and will probably not have very much energy. Make sure to eat a meal with a balanced mix of carbohydrate, protein, and fat (about 60/30/10 percent) at about two hours before riding. If you can, you should also eat some carbohydrates (pasta is a cyclist1s best friend!) the night before. Experts tell us that we can only keep around an hour-and-a-half to two hours worth of usable fuel in our systems before we start eating away at our reserves. Plan on replenishing the fuel supply to coincide with the depletion. On a long ride, a good trick is to start eating about an hour after starting your ride. A banana, some apple slices, a food supplement such as an high carbohydrate energy bar, or some similar product will do the trick. Keep eating as long as you're riding. Constant nibbling is better than big, heavy meals. If you1re doing a half-day or all-day excursion, keep eating small amounts throughout the ride. Eating toward the end of the ride can often help you recover more quickly afterward. Try to get carbs into your system within an hour or two of finishing your ride. (This helps prevent the zombie syndrome of novice riders collapsing for hours on the couch after a long ride.)

3. Drink A Lot. It seems obvious that you should drink lots of water on a ride. But most cyclists do not drink nearly enough. Try to drink lots of water throughout the day, and tank up before you ride. During your ride, drink approximately 16 ounces of water an hour. Even if you don't feel thirsty, your body needs the water to help replace the fluids you lose while exerting yourself. If you wait until you're thirsty to drink, it's already too late. What about sports drinks such as Gatorade and Body Fuel? If you like them, go ahead and use them. They're particularly effective at keeping your energy stores replenished on long rides, especially when you1re riding for over an hour. You may want to have straight water along as well.

4. Spin. "Spinning" is a term you may hear other cyclists use. It refers to your cadence, the number of crank revolutions done per minute. Cyclists often refer to "spinning around 85," or something similar to that. (A cycling computer can tell you your cadence.) What's the big deal with cadence? You need to find the cadence level you're most comfortable with, then always use that as your target cadence. Now don't just pick any cadence. For performance road riding you should be in the zone of 70-95 revs per minute. Cross or mountain biking generally uses a slower rpm, about 60-80. This is the optimal zone that has proven to be the most efficient for cycling. Obviously you'll have to increase and decrease your cadence frequently as you go up and down hills, but what you're trying to do is establish a comfortable rhythm that you can sustain and one that you can come back to after changes in cadence caused by stops,

5. Gear Up. Once you understand the basics of shifting (see "Shifting Simplified"), go out and practice, practice, practice. You want to get to the point where shifting is second nature, where you don't have to think before you move the lever. The trick is to shift into a gear that is comfortable and efficient to pedal in. If you're pedaling too slowly, you're wasting energy in the form of strength. If you're spinning madly, you're wasting energy aerobically and in endurance. Whether you're riding on flat land, up a hill, or down a hill, always get into the right gear.

6. Push The Hills. You'll improve your fitness by pushing yourself on the hills. Start with conquering short hills, or going hard on the first part of a hill then taking it easy the rest of the way up, or even taking it easy the first part of the hill and then hammering the last part (this is actually the preferred approach with most hills - save something for the top!)

7. Go Aero. Cutting wind resistance is the key to fast, efficient cycling, especially road cycling. It's estimated that as much as 70-80 percent of a cyclist's expenditure is used in breaking through the wind. By "drafting" behind a rider in front of you, you can greatly reduce the amount of effort you're expending. Start by riding at a comfortable distance behind a rider. Slowly creep up on the rider (it1s best to let them know you're there by saying something like, "I'm on your wheel"). Try to keep your front wheel about a foot away from the front rider's rear wheel. Here's where trust comes in. If you don't know the rider in front of you, you're gambling as to whether or not he or she will pick a nice, smooth line to ride in. But if you're riding with a couple of good friends and you can trust each other's skills, staying behind each other's wheel is a performance trick that will really help. Be sure to trade time at the front to be fair. This is a good way to extend your endurance. Splitting the work with a friend, especially when there's a headwind, can definitely ease the work load. Another way to battle the wind is to tuck. This works the best on downhills. Instead of sitting upright on your bike, lean over, tuck your elbows in and flatten your back. In this more aerodynamic position you can go faster on the downhills and carry your momentum longer. 8. Jump To It. In cycling, a jump is a short, fast burst of speed. A jump is basically a brief sprint. It can be used by all cyclists for more common situations, like catching up to a friend, making it through an intersection before a light turns red, or getting away from an angry dog. It's also a good way to increase your overall heart strength and aerobic recovery. How do you practice jumps? Pick one of your riding days to do five to seven jumps (also known as intervals). During the ride, preferably on a straight and flat stretch, simply stand up out of the saddle and increase your speed until you reach full speed. Keep it up for 10-15 seconds, then settle back into your regular speed. Don't slow down below your regular pace! Repeat this exercise five to seven times through an hour-plus ride. 9. Cool Down. Cooling down at the end of a ride is just as important as warming up. If you stop cold after a hard ride, your muscles can stiffen up, and even cramp. The next day you're more likely to be sore than if you had taken the time to cool down. Your cooling-off period should really be a reversal of your warm-up. Slowly decrease your effort until you are spinning easily and your breathing and pulse come down below 100 beats per minute.