Just because you call yourself a runner doesn’t mean you should avoid other sports. In fact, cross-training with a sport like cycling can actually make you faster, and since it’s a low-impact activity it can help you stay injury-free while you build strength and add to your aerobic base.
Whether you’re looking to try something new or just want to become a better runner, this five-step guide is designed to help get you familiarized with the basics of cycling so you can get out on the road and have fun while you get fit.
Step 1: Get the Right Gear
While running requires little more than a good pair of shoes, the cost to get into cycling will require more of an investment upfront.
If you’ve done any window shopping for high-end cycling gear and the latest and greatest super bikes, the price tags could put you on the fence about taking the plunge.
The good news is if you’re only looking to supplement your running and plan to cycle a few days per week, you can find a great entry-level road bike for around $1,000. If you’re willing to put in the work, you can always search for a good used bike online too – just make sure you get the bike checked out by your local bike shop beforehand to make sure the frame is solid and the components are all in good working condition.
Here are a few other basic items you should put on your checklist:
Protecting your head should you happen to crash is priority number one, and a helmet should be worn at all times no matter how far or fast you plan to ride.
Cycling shoes and pedals
Rather than using the flat pedals that are on most bikes, clipless pedals and shoes will help you utilize more muscle groups like the hamstrings and glutes rather than just relying on the quadriceps for power.
Cycling jersey & shorts
Cycling jerseys are breathable, have pockets for storing gear, and are more aerodynamic than wearing a t-shirt. The chamois pad in cycling shorts will make things much more comfortable, particularly on longer rides. Investing in at least one good pair is recommended.
A heart rate monitor
You may already have a heart rate monitor for running you can use, but if not, it’s an investment you should consider.
A multi-sport heart rate monitor will help keep you in the correct training zone so that you can get the most from your workouts and build your fitness by targeting a desired training effect. It’ll also track your mileage, calories burned, and other important metrics that will help to track your progress.
Along with protecting your eyes from the sun, sunglasses will keep dirt, bugs, and other debris from getting into your eyes, which can be dangerous at high speeds.
This can help to prevent blisters and sore hands from holding onto the handlebar and can protect your hands should you take a spill.
Everyone will get a flat tire sooner or later. Knowing how to change a flat is something you’ll need to learn before you head out, and to do it right you’ll need to carry all of the tools you need in your saddlebag. This includes a spare inner tube, tire levers, and either a mini pump or a CO2 inflator.
Step 2: Get a Bike Fit
One of the most common reasons cyclists get injured is by having a bike setup that doesn’t fit their body properly.
After you’ve acquired the correct size frame for your height, it’s a good idea to go to a bike fit specialist at your local bike shop (LBS). These experts will be able to take your individual measurements and take things like flexibility into account to properly adjust things like seat height, handlebar reach and width, and stem length to ensure you don’t end up with pain in your lower back and neck.
Getting a bike fit will also make you a more efficient at spinning the pedals, help you get more from a variety of muscle groups, and help you ride for longer distances before fatiguing.
All totaled, it’s one of the best investments you can make – especially if you want to avoid frequent trips to your physical therapist.
Step 3: Know the Rules of the Road
Cyclists should also always ride in the same direction as traffic and avoid riding on pedestrian sidewalks, as it is illegal in many countries.
Safety should always be your primary concern when you begin road cycling. In general, cyclists are required to follow the same rules as all other vehicles on the road. This includes signaling when turning or changing lanes, stopping for all traffic signals, and riding to the right-hand portion of the lane if you are moving slower than traffic.
Riding with a few other knowledgeable cyclists until you get comfortable is always a good idea. If you don’t know anyone else that rides, joining a cycling club can also be a great way to learn how to stay safe on the road along with the basics of cycling with others.
Step 4: Practice Your Technique
Cycling can be intimidating for beginners because there’s so much to learn. Don’t feel pressure to learn everything at once, and instead concentrate on having fun and taking it easy. As you gain comfort, you’ll be able to work on your pedaling form and position on the bike to improve your efficiency and speed.
In the meantime, here are a few basic techniques you should be aware of for your first few times out on the bike:
This refers to how many revolutions that pedals make per minute. For maximum efficiency, you’ll want to maintain a cadence of about 90 revolutions per minute (rpms) regardless of the terrain. Shift to easier or harder gearing as needed.
Always try to shift to an easier gear before you need it. This includes stop lights and approaching climbs. If you wait until you’ve already started going up, the tension on the chain could cause it to slip.
Sit in a more upright position on climbs, with your hands on the bar tops. Try to pedal in circles instead of just pushing down, and pull up on the backside of the pedal stroke (6 o’clock to 10 o’clock) to get the hamstrings involved and improve your power. You can also stand intermittingly to give your back a break and use different muscle groups.
Pulling only the front or rear brake lever can be dangerous. Instead, feather both the front and rear brakes when you need to stop, and avoid sudden braking when possible. In wet conditions, you’ll need more time to brake, so start sooner when you need to come to a complete stop.
Always control your speed when descending to stay safe. Never reach outside your bike handling limits. Lower your center of gravity to make steering easier by riding with your hands in the handlebar drops. Use both brakes to control speed.
Step 5: Build Your Fitness
Like any other sport, it will take time to build your fitness. If you’re using cycling to supplement your running, two to three days per week should be plenty. Start slow with low mileage (10 miles is a good goal) and work your way up each week until you reach your goal. When you start doing long rides or include interval training, treat these sessions the same as a hard run by giving yourself time to recover afterwards.
Once you settle in and get comfortable, cycling will help you build your aerobic base, gain strength, and is a great way to lose weight. It’s also a ton of fun, and since you can cover a lot more territory than you can on foot, exploring new routes away from home can be a great way to mix up your training and stay mentally fresh.
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.