Six weeks to get cycling

I recently rode my first 94.7 Cycle Challenge.  I was drafted into a team, which I must admit I was very chuffed about, as this raised funds for the Diepsloot Mountain Bike Academy.  To ride for a cause that promotes a sport in a community that otherwise would never have it is just fantastic! But if you exclude a spinning class or the stationary bike at gym, the last time I truly cycled was easily over 10 – yes, 10 – years ago! So this article, more than any of my others, was as much for me as it is for the newbie cyclists who want to get race-ready in just six weeks.

To those who have been riding for a while, we’ve got some great tips from industry experts that will enable you to up the ante and shave some time o‑ your next race! Six weeks is a doable timeframe in which to get race-ready, says Andrew McLean, director of Cycle Lab and SuperCycling TV presenter. He notes that 12 weeks is the ideal preparation time, but it is possible to do it in half that. “­The key is to ride consistently. Keep it one hour every day, as opposed to three one day, then being too tired to cycle for another three or four days,” he advises. McLean cautions that if you truly want to enjoy the sport and see improvement, you need to adopt cycling as part of your lifestyle. “Cycling keeps you fit and South Africa truly has world-class events for amateur and social riders.”

The sport has experienced tremendous growth over the last five years. Growth stats of 7,7% year-on-year have been reported by Cycling South Africa, and 78% of participants are active social cyclists not belonging to formal clubs. It also appears to be the new networking sport. According to the experts, it offers more in terms of developing ‑ fitness than sports such as golf, and a robust events calendar, including corporate challenges, means you could attend a race literally every week. As with any sport, cycling has its own culture.

This appears to be family-oriented, and about a third of participants are women. While it seems like the ultimate sport, the reality is you can’t just pick it up! You can’t use just any old bike to enter a race, although starting to cycle on your old jalopy from school may be a good way to simply get the legs moving again. It is a technical sport that requires costly equipment. If you’re fearful of venturing onto the road, with our road accident rate the way it is, join a good cycling club or train at a bike park, suggests McLean. “Education and making intelligent choices are important. ­There are safe areas to cycle in, and riding with a club provides peace of mind.” He says mountain-biking is safer than road cycling for obvious route reasons, and mountain bikes offer the hybrid opportunity of versatility, where you simply switch tyres to “slicks” that can be used on the road. In terms of cost, there are a number of options. “You can purchase a bike for as little as R2 000 to R3 000,” says McLean, but the more technical bikes can cost over R200 000.

­The best way to start is to go to a reputable cycle shop and speak to an expert, who can guide you on the best bike to suit your needs and bank balance. Once you have chosen your bike, McLean suggests that you have it professionally fitted. This includes the basics, such as saddle height, setback settings (how far your saddle is from your handlebars), and stem length adjustments (how low or high your handlebars should be). “Remember that the body is not designed to cycle; it is designed to walk and to run, and therefore getting a bike fitted to your body is your ‑ first priority after purchasing it,” says Cycle Lab master fitter Suandi Rakim.

He advises that beginners, intermediate and advanced riders alike learn to pay attention to their bodies. “­ ere are so many opinions in this sport, but the only opinion that truly counts is that of your own body. ­The bicycle needs to fit the body, not the body fit the bicycle. Sizing and making minor adjustments when necessary are important and, please, whatever you do, don’t change anything a week before the race,” Rakim says. When it comes to sports nutrition and getting race-ready, Debbie Nathan, the Cycle Lab sports nutritionist, concurs. “Don’t try anything new on race day. Every person has a different response and reaction to the same product,” she explains. She adds that it’s imperative to test-drive your nutritional products during training, and once you find what works for you, stick to it. “It might work for your best mate, but it may not do the same job for you,” says Nathan, highlighting that there is no one-size fits-all-approach to nutrition. She cautions that your nutritional approach post-race is important too. Effective recovery allows you to keep training and getting stronger, but you only have a 30-minute window in which to recover after training or a race. According to Nathan, training yourself to eat properly will be your biggest advantage.

She believes that if you eat correctly, your food will contain enough minerals and vitamins, particularly if you eat enough of the right foods. When working with top cyclists, she promotes food more than supplementation, and changes their diet before recommending any supplementation. “­ ere is nothing in pasta that will help you … in fact, if you want more energy, learn from Popeye and eat your greens!” For the more advanced riders, she recommends experimenting with caffeine. She offers a trick she uses with her professional cyclists: stop taking caffeine seven days before the race. Drink herbal teas and water instead. ­Then load caffeine an hour before the start of the race, such as a double espresso. You’ll experience a different kick, as your receptors have been emptied. She cautions that caffeine can cause you to cramp, and advises that you try this out a couple of times before race day to find what works for you. At the end of the day, the single most important piece of advice offered by all three of our experts is: just have fun!

Stacey Holland is a celebrity fitness fundi and well known television personality. She is a regular contributor to Longevity.