One thing I get asked a lot by various people in my cycling community is “how do you get better at cycling?”, so I thought I’d provide a few tips that will not only improve your riding, but they’ll hopefully help improve your body and mind, too.
Mind, body and cycling all work in tandem and in various orders. Improving your body will improve your cycling. Improving your cycling will improve your mind… and so on. Or, for anyone more into CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) then getting your mind into a good place will make you more open to riding, which will then benefit you physically, etc.
This post will touch on some things you can do to get your body and mind in the best possible shape to improve your cycling. If you like what you read here and find it useful, then you can find the whole, original chapter in the book, "Road Bike Cycling: The Ultimate Beginner's Guide - Your Road Bike Wingman From Unwanted Moobs to Cycling Up Mountains" (Download the eBook or Audiobook on Amazon).
As with most things, the more you do something the right way, the better you’ll be at it – practice makes permanent. If you do something correctly, repeatedly, then you’ll become better at doing it perfectly.
Continuously doing something the wrong way won’t make it perfect - quite the opposite in fact - you’ll get better… Doing it badly!
But, unfortunately, it’s not always possible to get out on your bike – poor weather, your bike is in for repair, or it’s the time of the year where it’s pitch black outside as soon as you leave work – but it’s good to keep those legs moving when you’re at home to maintain /improve fitness. One way you can do this is by indoor training on a turbo trainer.
There are two options when it comes to transforming your road bike into an indoor training bike, and they are wheel-on and wheel-off.
Both options range in price from a couple of hundred pounds right up to thousands – a bit like your bike. The wheel-on option allows you to hook your bike up – as is – to a machine that puts your back wheel onto an inbuilt roller. This option can be a bit of a faff… the friction between the machine’s roller and your tyres tends to cause your rear tyre to wear down more quickly, so it can be costly and annoying making regular tyre changes. You can buy special tyres that are made specifically to be more durable for this type of friction heat and wear, but personally, I can’t be bothered with:
Changing my tyres around every time I switch between indoor and outside riding, and;
I don’t want to spend money on a spare wheel that I can swap out depending on whether I’m riding in- or outside.
And while no indoor trainers are silent, the friction of a wheel-on machine can often be quite noisy.
Finally, if you’re into your data and want it to be accurate, then this might not be the best option for you. If using a ‘smart trainer’ - which is one that connects to your computer or mobile device and automatically adjusts the resistance depending on the training program you’re following - then you’re going to need to ensure the tyre is pumped to the correct pressure. This will ensure it’s making the right contact with the machine’s roller and is providing you with more accurate readings.
Wheel-off direct drive trainers are ideal if you can stretch your budget to buy one. You simply remove your back wheel and attach the back of your bike to the machine - your rear derailleur simply fits over the cassette that’s on the turbo trainer.
Direct dive machines offer a more realistic experience, transferring resistance from your trainer to your drivetrain through your attached cassette. By doing this, the smart-trainer versions can automatically adjust your ride to virtual course climbs, descents, and road conditions with more accuracy.
No matter how much you enjoy cycling, there’s no getting away from it… indoor training can be as dull as dishwater and incredibly intense. I’m not really selling it with “Dull” and “intense” am I? But I’d be lying if I didn’t share that it can often take a lot of discipline and motivation to get through.
There are no exciting landmarks to look at, no final destination and no motorists angrily honking their horns at you for no apparent reason – and who doesn't want that when they’re riding?
But there are ways to make indoor training more enjoyable, at least. And for me, that’s through an app called Zwift – although there are other providers out there who offer a similar experience and features. Zwift contains pre-loaded training sessions that run from anywhere between 20 minutes and over two hours – which makes the whole experience that much more entertaining. You can also 'free ride,' which means simply cycling around one of Zwift's virtual roads and adjusting your gears to your liking depending on the incline /decline you're riding on, virtually, at any given time in your virtual ride's route.
You can even ride along with others in a virtual world and receive excellent coaching tips from ex and current professional riders. You can also join online races where you see the other riders around you. Honestly, without my Wahoo Kickr connected to Zwift, indoor training would be unbearable for me.
Give it a go but be sure to be in a well ventilated room and don’t forget to grab a bottle of water and a towel or five! One for over your handlebars - to protect your bike from sweat and to also wipe it from your eyes. And one for the floor, under your bike - to catch the waterfall that is guaranteed to drip from you.
Legs. Lungs. Heart. Head (LLHH):
When it comes to making sure I’m always bicycle-ready and improving, I live by a very simple 4-pronged mantra I personally remember as LLHH - legs, lungs, heart, and head.
I find that when all these parts are in sync, we’re on to a winner when it comes to becoming a better rider. Working on each element even goes a little further than helping you take down a few PBs, they can make you a stronger, healthier, happier person, too!
For the purpose of this post, and in keeping with a primary m2M Cycling objective of wanting to support people's mental health, I'll focus on the 'Head' part here. You can learn about the legs, lungs and heart advice by grabbing the book linked to above.
This deserves an entire book itself, but I’ll simply highlight a few of the cycling-related mental struggles we all face at some point – at least I have, anyway – and how to overcome them. We'll also cover some advice on how to switch your mindset and improve your mental health with the help of your two-wheeled therapist!
Even when you're madly in love with cycling, you’ll still have days when you just can’t find the motivation to clip in. When you do talk yourself out of a planned ride, you not only miss out on that much-needed pump of endorphins, instead, you might find you’ll beat yourself up for not going out – and that can often make you even more miserable and moody.
Without the right mindset, that day can become days, then weeks, followed by months without riding – so it’s vitally important to overcome these moments of demotivation.
I know the feeling all too well… Your alarm goes off; you hit snooze and tell yourself you’ll be ready to go in another 10 minutes. Another three slams of the snooze button go by and you’re thinking of every excuse possible not to go out: “I went the other day”, “The weather’s a bit shite”, “The roads will be too busy”, “My muscles are a bit stiff”... but when you have these thoughts, remember, once you’re up, you’re up, so getting out of bed means you’re over halfway there (that’s how it works in my head anyway).
For me, the hardest part can be getting dressed and leaving the house. Leaving your gear out the night before so it's literally lying on the floor next to your bed, ready to go, is a good way of making the 'getting dressed' part easier.
As soon as you drag your arse out, you’ll be so happy you did. I find one of the greatest feelings as a cyclist is getting back home on those days - after an early morning 15 - 20 miler where, at first, you really couldn't be bothered. Your ride seems to feel like more of an achievement.
My inner monologue in the post-ride-shower often goes a little like:
“How amazing do you feel now?...
And you weren't going to go were you, you lazy bastid?!...
Why don't you treat yourself to a McDonalds breakfast, big man?!”
Okay, so I was kidding about that final bit (honestly!) but when those endorphins are whizzing around your body, you wonder why you ever considered staying in. It really sets you up for a great day.
Going that extra mile… or 10. On any ride, there may be one stage where you’ve just had enough. You’re miles from home, you think you've used up your energy reserves, your energy-boosting snacks have been munched away and you can’t face another single rotation of your pedal.
What do we do in this situation? Get a taxi? Cry? Smash our bike to pieces? Well, unless you’re really bonking (in which case you must stop and refuel as quickly as possible) it can often just be a simple tweak of your mindset.
There’s a famous US Navy Seal, David Goggins, who, in his book – Can't Hurt Me – (which comes highly recommended) speaks of the 40% rule. For many athletes, particularly endurance athletes, learning of this 40% rule has had an incredible impact on their performance, and it can really help you when you hit that wall – figuratively speaking, of course.
Goggins is a firm believer that we, as humans, give up when we’ve only reached 40% of our potential. So when you’re out on a ride and you’ve given up, there’s actually another 60% effort left in the tank ready to go… You just need to tell yourself you can and will keep going!
The reason we tell ourselves we’re tired in the first place is because your brain instinctively sets up boundaries and barriers to protect you from uncomfortable situations – like pedalling non-stop for 60-plus miles!
Goggins explains that your mind has a huge advantage over you. It knows your fears, it knows your insecurities and all of your self-doubts, which has the ability to stop you in your tracks and make you give up. The only way that you can combat this is to build the mental toughness to overcome it.
So, if you ever feel like giving up, tell yourself that you have 60% more effort left to give! It’s not a case of ‘Just Do It’ (as Nike would say). It’s: you CAN and WILL do it.
No matter what your background, happiness, mental state, or ability… one thing's for certain: cycling will always help your mind. It gets you out in the open and unlocks places you’ve probably never seen before, and would never have discovered if it wasn’t for riding. It’s proven to reduce anxiety, too – often to the point where it has prevented feelings of anxiousness from developing into full-blown panic attacks.
Scientific studies have even shown that 18% more people who cycle every day have reported that their lives are happier and more enjoyable than those that have never cycled or started and gave up. Plus, cycling can often be a very social activity leading to lifelong friendships and camaraderie with fellow riders.
So that wraps up just a few tips on how to keep mentally and physically motivated to ride, even on those days where you can think of 101 things you'd rather be doing.
You'll find more helpful advice on improving the more physical elements needed for cycling HERE 👈 🔊 📖 🚲