The Benefits of Solo Cycling

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Aidan at the top of Kippure

We are on a war footing. Humanity is battling an enemy that attacks us from within, striking from the closeness of our loved ones, neighbours, colleagues, club-mates – the people we are most comfortable with.

Talk about our sport seems such a trivial thing at this time. 

But keeping our health, physical and mental is crucial now.  It maybe true to say that many cyclists are addicts  – exercise junkies. And the “fix “has been taken away.  The “ fix “might have been the Easter weekend races or  an upcoming sportive or the weekend club or group ride.

It’s bound to seem like a kick in the teeth to be told no events for the next month or two when you had made so many sacrifices and trained so diligently through the cold winter months. The motivation is gone  – you may feel like chucking the bike.

Lets look at some of the positives first:

 As cyclists we are among the luckiest of exercise junkies.  We can still ride our bikes individually and comply with social distancing

Riding your bike alone allows you to dictate the pace/ effort, duration  so you can work on specific aspects of fitness.    

Turbo trainers, rollers, Wattbikes are excellent training and social distancing tools ( when used at home !) Most other sports people don’t have similar options

 A change of focus from competition and event participation to perfecting yourself as a cyclist in preparation for the return to normality is what is needed now.

Every cyclist has strong and weak points. This next month or two is a perfect opportunity to address some of the areas in which you feel you could improve. It is difficult to do the specialist training needed to improve specific aspects of fitness and performance when you are totally focused on hanging on to a fast moving group of riders who are simulating a mini race.

So now is the time to take an honest look at your weak points and neglected areas as a cyclist and  set up a plan to improve just one or two of these over the coming weeks. Write this plan out so that you have a schedule to follow.

Below are some suggestions to consider. All of these should be done solo. On longer rides bring plenty of food and drink so as to avoid having to go into a shop to buy food. And coffee stops are out of course until things return to normal. Make sure to bring a rain jacket in case the weather changes or you have a mechanical problem.  

Most importantly:  Be extremely careful. Descend slower than normal. Ride more defensively than normal.  You really don’t want to go to hospital at present and you really should not be taking up the time of the emergency services. 

Basic Endurance

This aspect of fitness is important to stage racers, multi day events, long sportives  or any event that takes over 2hours . It is also an advantage in dealing with several consecutive days of training.   Riding on your own at a low intensity for several hours is a great way to build basic endurance. Don’t be put off by talk you will hear of  “Junk Miles”. Riding for a long time requires your body to use particular energy delivery systems that involve breaking down fat. If you don’t use these systems they don’t get better. Riding at max or near max capacity will not work these energy delivery systems.                                                                                                                            Basic Endurance training can be most enjoyable if well planned. Try to ride in scenic areas on low traffic roads. Explore roads you haven’t ridden before or have not been on for along time – make it an adventure. Do take plenty of food and drink with you as stopping at a cafe is not good social distancing practice. For these Basic Endurance sessions you should use time rather than distance as the measurement.    

Aerobic Endurance/Sweet Spot 

Aerobic Endurance involves working the aerobic system at the top of its game or at Sweet Spot. This should feel like you are working, heart rate raised but not wild, breathing strong but not gasping. You should feel like you could keep going at this level for hours. If you  know your FTP  your Aerobic Endurance/Sweet Spot training should be done at 10 -20 % below FTP watts. Aerobic Endurance  is often thought of as the engine. Like Basic Endurance it works specific energy pathways which may not be stimulated  in your usual group riding.  Riding at an effort level as described above for intervals of 10 – 30 min with recoveries of 5 – 10 min will develop this system. Remember that you want to stimulate this system so it will adapt and develop. You don’t need to smash it. 

   FTP/ Anaerobic Threshold

If you have ridden a time trial of 30 – 50km this is the area you will have been working in. It is the point where you can just about clear the lactate that results as quick as it occurs. Any faster and the lactate accumulates. This is hard work and breathing and heart rate are elevated to approx 90% of max. If you know your FTP numbers then that is what you work at. As with Aerobic Endurance the trick is to stimulate the system rather than smash it. This means riding at this effort level for 4 – 8min with similar recovery periods.  Build the number of work intervals from 3 the first week to 5 over a few weeks 

Speed

Find  a flat, low traffic road with no junctions of 2 – 3km . When you have warmed up well ride this road with the wind behind you as if you were doing a time trial. Use gears that keep your cadence on the high side of your normal cadence. You should be just beginning to fade when you get to the end of the “time trial”.   Recover riding easy for 7 – 10 min .Two or three of these efforts are usually enough as the quality of the effort will deteriorate. 

Climbing & Strength Endurance

The ability to work against a relatively high resistance for a prolonged period is important for any event which involves long climbs.  You can improve Strength Endurance by riding on medium grade hills (6 – 10%) using gears higher (greater resistance) than you normally would on this slope. Do this sitting in the saddle using good technique (see cadence pedalling technique below) Your legs should feel the load but heart rate and breathing should be around Anaerobic Threshold/ FTP level. Do this for 4 – 6 min with recovery periods equal to the work interval. You should ride at an effort level/pace you can maintain for the full 4 – 6 min. Start with 3 X 4 min  and  increase the duration work interval  each week. Then after a few weeks increase the number of intervals.   

Cadence & Pedalling Technique  

Out on your own on a flat road is the perfect time to work on pedalling technique and cadence.

On a low gear try ridding at as high a cadence as you can without bobbing about on the saddle. Hold this cadence for 30sec. Relax the upper body and keep it still. Try this a few times during your training ride. Increase the time spent at this cadence gradually over the next few weeks.

When on hills or drags – think about rotating your feet. Think also about taking the weight off the pedal when it is coming from the bottom of the stroke (6 o’clock) to the top of the stroke (12 o’clock) This means the foot pushing down does not have to lift the other (lazy) foot. Be conscious of what your upper body is doing. Try to keep it as relaxed and still as possible.

 Strength

Explosive Strength is big factor in attacking and sprinting in road races. Time spent on resistance training in the gym helps develop this quality. Older cyclists should pay particular attention to strength work to counter the natural loss of muscle mass that occurs with age. (Use it or lose it syndrome) You can do some very effective specific strength training on you bike. Slow to walking pace on a climb. Using a big gear (high resistance) accelerate maximally out of the saddle for  50 -80m.  Repeat this 5 -10 times allowing  2min recovery between efforts.  

It’s a stressful time for everyone at present and our outlets,our recreation-  getting out on the bike with our club mates and friends is also off limits. Below are some suggestions to keep you sane, fit and ready for the return to normal cycling activities – because that will happen.

Skills

If you are new to cycling or spend most of your training time on a turbo trainer its likely that you will have not have spent sufficient time on the many skills that are needed on the road. Some of these are basic abilities such as taking a drink from your bottle while riding along or looking around while maintaining a straight line. Others are more complex such as cornering at speed and dealing with obstacles on the road. The best place to work on these skills is in a deserted car park.  Try the above basic skills in this type of safe environment. Set up an imaginary course which will require you to practice several of the skill areas you feel you need to improve.