The snow has melted away…The street sweepers have been out getting rid of all the nasty salt and sand from the Winter…The road shoulders are starting to appear again…The temperature is on the rise…The race calendar is starting to take shape…SPRING HAS SPRUNG! This can be an exciting time for the veteran cyclist who understands how to make the transition seamlessly from the trainer to the road, but can be equally terrifying for the beginner who may have only begun riding their bikes on a trainer this Winter and/or have been participating in Spin classes and have an interest in riding on the roads. However, with some advice, tips, tricks, and maybe a few hacks, there is no need to be fearful of getting outside.
Gear is perhaps the most misunderstood, confusing, and above all, overly chronicled thing in cycling today. Even to this day, I sometimes mistakenly overdress (and especially underdress) in the Spring! Gear really should not be this way though and if you break it down into it’s most basic parts it becomes easier to understand:
- Clothing – I wrote a previous blog post about dressing in the cold, but how much or little clothing is very subjective as some people naturally run warmer or colder than others. I can tell you this though, if you have been riding indoors and are used to 68 degrees F, 50 degrees F with a head wind is going to feel REALLY brisk, so dress according to how your body heat naturally runs, but also what you are used to exercising in. Also, I would suggest over-dressing initially, but make sure the clothes have zippers to allow air in if you overheat, and it is also a good idea to invest in some arm/leg warmers that can easily be slid off if the temperature climbs during the ride. Or, if you are really trying to get hardcore (or just embrace your inner-Belgian), try some leg embrocation. PSA: Remember to put your bibs on BEFORE your embro! I made that mistake once, and that was one too many times for me …
- Tires/wheels – I run tires that are more robust earlier in the season (think Conti Gatorskins) as the roads tend to be more pothole riddled and generally feature more sharp things that can puncture a tire. I also run shallower and more robust wheels than can take a bit more abuse. Basically, run tires and wheels that can take a beating and get you home – Leave the shiny new Zipps for the Summer time.
- Frame – Just like salt will eat your car and rust the metal on it, salt will do the same thing to your bike and especially it’s components. So, make sure you wash your bike frame after each ride in the early spring to prevent the salt from corroding anything.
- Fenders can help keep you dry and warm if there is a lot of road melt, or if you are riding after a rain storm. These are easily clipped onto your frame.
- Drivetrain – The drivetrain consists of the chain, cassette, and chainrings, with the chain being the most important aspect of the system. Make sure you keep your chain clean and well-lubricated. I suggest using a “wet” lubricant earlier in the season when the weather tends to be, you guessed it, wetter, and transitioning to a “dry” lubricant in the late Spring/early Summer. The chain is also crucial because it will wear the other parts of the system faster if’s not replaced on a regular basis. So, do yourself a favor and either take your bike to a local bike shop on a consistent basis, or purchase a chain wear indicator and measure it yourself. Doing this regularly will save you a lot of money as you won’t need to replace your chainrings and/or cassette as frequently, plus it will prolong the life of your bike’s drivetrain.
Riding a trainer puts the bike in a fixed position. Riding in a fixed position is NOTHING like riding a bike outside with all of the changes in the road, taking turns, and the side to side movement of the bike under you while you are pedaling. This is why you may notice it being more difficult to keep yourself balanced and pointing the bike straight ahead during the first few outdoor rides of the season. You can work on this indoors by riding on rollers, or outdoors by trying to maintain a set distance from the road line. Doing this will retrain your brain quickly and prevent your bike from swerving as much. Remember, nobody likes a squirrelly rider…DON’T BE THAT GUY OR GAL!
You also tend to ride for less time on a trainer and can sit up to take pressure off of your middle back and neck muscles during rest periods. Riding outdoors is when athletes tend to ramp up their volume and practice their aerodynamic positioning. This can cause aches and soreness in your middle back and neck especially, but also your lower back and hips if your hamstrings are tight. Give these stretching exercises a whirl if you experience neck soreness or back soreness post ride. It is also a good idea to slowly ramp up your training volume to give your muscles time to become stronger and to prevent excess muscle soreness.
Finally, as mentioned in the first paragraph, the trainer keeps the bike in a fixed position which decreases the engagement of the stabilizing muscles in the hips and core. This can cause some riders to experiences deep hip, groin, or knee pain initially. This should improve over the course of a week or so with consistent outdoor riding, and ideally some core stability work. If not, give your doctor a ring, and as always, get a professional bike fit.
Stay tuned for part II where I will discuss road safety as well as overcoming the fear associated with getting outside for the first time.