Cycling tips from a former athlete

(Also known as Fake it ’til you make it!)

Once upon a time I was the darling of the Newfoundland cycling community. Ok maybe I wasn’t the darling, but I was one of a handful of teenagers who took up road cycling at a time when cross-country and downhill were all the rage. The five girls on the provincial cycling team were favoured in the pack and afforded extra training, special advice and encouragement from the older generation of cyclists in NL. It was the same for the six guys. I don’t think I am making that up, or looking back at that time through a nostalgic lens: For the first time in a long time the province had a full roster of young cyclists to send to national events, and even a couple shots at making the top 10 nationally. Naturally the close community in the province was going to embrace the next crop of cyclists.

It’s been a long, long while since I’ve raced any kind of bike. That’s ok. I kind of gave up on that dream when I moved to France and imbibed bottles and bottles of wine. I was soaking up the cycling culture, sure, I just wasn’t doing a whole lot of cycling while I was at it.

But I’ve always liked riding. And even though I haven’t pedalled more than a few kilometers in the past few years, there are a number of reasons why I can still kick your butt (maybe) on a bike.

Muscle memory is one of them. But then there are these tricks:

1. Don’t stop pedalling. Even when you could be coasting, letting gravity and the wind roll you along, don’t stop pedalling. Even if you’re going 74 km/h and you’re legs aren’t actually applying pressure to the pedals, even when your feet are just along for the ride, don’t stop pedalling. There’s something about interrupting the rhythm in your legs that make your muscles less effective, so don’t stop pedalling. Lesson learned from Joe, the owner of Canary Cycles, who was in fact married to my Kindergarten teacher, because NL is a small, small world. When I was hit by a van while on my bike, I sat out the next race in the summer race circuit. Joe saw me at the startline in my street clothes and asked me why I wasn’t riding that day. I showed him my epic road-rash, and threw in a limp or two for good measure, but he only asked again, “why aren’t you riding?” So the lesson should also go, don’t stop pedalling even when you get hit by a van and are sporting road rash of epic proportions to your boyfriend’s graduation.

2. When climbing a hill, go up a gear whenever the hill flattens out a bit. Keep your legs moving at the same pace and the extra few chain links will edge you to the front, and ahead of the group. This works even when you’re not racing – gearing up for the gentler pitches will get you to the top faster. This is the one I use most often, even towing 60lb of Chariot, toddler and groceries. It makes me feel like a super-human every time: instead of backpedalling in my granny gear, I am GOING PLACES. Lesson learned from Keith, the team coach, on a particularly gruelling ride around Petty HarbourMaddox Cove. Those are some steep, steep hills.

3. When cycling on the highway, transport trucks and tankers offer some pretty sweet draughts. But don’t take them as a free ride – gear up and hammer until you pop out of the slipstream – it’s the closest feeling you’ll get to flying on a bicycle. Lesson learned from Dave, team manager, on any number of training rides on the TCH out of St. John’s.

4. Just ride in a straight line! All that wibble-wobble back and forth wastes energy, and makes whoever is riding behind you very, very nervous. Lesson learned all by myself when I swerved in competition and caused a crash behind me. Oops.

5. Hit all obstacles straight-on. I don’t mean walls or cars, obviously, but ground-level obstacles like potholes and railway tracks. Lesson learned from my father, who never failed to point out to me where Mom Crashed That One Time She Hit A Railway Track On An Angle. Please note that the railway has been gone from NL for 20 years – that will tell you how big of a Teaching Moment that particular crash was.

6. Just ride. Don’t worry about your speed or distance, just put in time – lots of time – in the saddle. Lesson also learned from Joe.

7. Don’t attempt motor-pacing, unless you’ve got a real pro behind the wheel. Joe, again.

8. Stopping to pick blueberries is a perfectly acceptable reason for placing last in a race. I learned this one all on my own. There is never a bad time to stop to pick blueberries. Apply it to your own bike rides and you’ll never be sorry.

We’ve been doing a lot of riding these past two weeks in Drayton Valley. The sun has been shining (sorry, NL) and we live directly on the network of cycling trails the cross the whole town. I’ve been taking Sylvia to daycare in the Chariot at least once a day. The route there is a bit of a slog, usually with a headwind, so I get into time-trial position with my two hands in the center of the handlebar and my elbows tucked into my sides. I don’t stop peddalling – not on the slow grade up or on the long downhill to the daycare. And when I get there? I’m treated as the hero by the other kids because I’m riding a bike! And that feeling is probably worth every bit of road rash and vicious uphill climb and fourth-place finish and flat tire and sunburn and tan line and even all the wine in France combined.

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4 responses to “Cycling tips from a former athlete

  1. Love this one, Bee – topical, too as I just got my bike fixed 😀 Looking forward to putting your tips into practice.

  2. Love this one Bee 🙂 Especially topical as I’ve just had my first ride on my newly-repaired road bike. Will try to apply your wisdom on the next ride.

  3. This is great, I used to ride a ton when I was young too… endless Bike a thons etc….not a racer like you, but I did practice a lot of those tips! I should get on the bike again……..

    • That’s great, Bobbi! I should do a follow-up post about the bike I’m riding here in DV: a $25 thrift-store special. Proof that cycling is a very forgiving sport!

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