To boost your skills, temporarily switch to flat pedals on your mountain bike. They will help you use your whole body for balance, speed, strength, and handling, instead of depending mainly on your legs to manipulate the bike. The swap will also force you to build core and upper-body strength, which will translate on clipped-in rides. Practicing front- and rear-wheel lifts with flat pedals on your mountain bike can help you quickly avoid unexpected road debris—and hop a curb in an emergency.
Seek Out an Expert
Fresh eyes can tell you volumes about your weak spots—especially when they belong to a coach. You may not be at the point where you need full-time help, but even a one-off session with a professional—like at a group clinic—can help you identify flaws in your form or training. Often local clubs or shops offer such clinics at the beginning of the riding season.
Rev the Engines
Shave pounds by boosting your metabolism first thing in the morning. "One of the top things you can do is to start your day with protein for breakfast," Hunter says, because that flips on your metabolic engine. Try one cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt with two tablespoons chopped raw walnuts, 1/4 cup fresh berries, two tablespoons honey, and a dash of cinnamon. Then add a quick strength workout: Do as many rounds of three push-ups, 10 sit-ups, and 15 squats as you can in 15 minutes.
One Less Beer
Dropping one brew out of your postride diet is a bigger step toward getting lean and fit than you might realize. Think of it this way: "One beer equates to roughly 4 miles on your bike," says Hunter. "Those calories add up fast."
Go to Bed Hungry
Or at least not with a full stomach. Finish eating two hours before you turn in, Hunter says. This allows your body to digest and normalize your blood-sugar levels, which among other things will aid in muscle recovery and help you sleep better. Remember: Sleep is a performance enhancer.
Pick a Battle
Find your Achilles' heel on the bike and spend a season focused on fixing that one flaw. Steep, twisting descents get you uptight? You aren't able to hold your line when you grab for your bottle? You find yourself braking in fast corners? Concentrating on one element of your technique keeps you engaged on long rides and can bring small victories that mean big payoffs later.
Come Full Circle
Train your legs to use more of the pedal stroke, and you'll become a more efficient cyclist, which means you'll go farther and faster with the same effort. "A full stroke uses a lot of muscles when done correctly: glutes, hamstrings, quads, psoas, calves—nearly all the muscles in your legs," Cree says. Many beginners focus only on the downstroke. "That will keep you upright and propel you forward, but it's far from efficient," he says. During rides, incorporate Cree's pedal-stroke intervals, below.
- Do one minute focusing on both the front and back parts of the pedal stroke. Repeat this five times.
- Then for 30 seconds do slow-rpm drills at 50 to 60 rpm, focusing on keeping tension on the pedals throughout the 360-degree rotation. Repeat that five times.
- Finally, do 30 seconds of fast pedaling, again maintaining tension on the entire stroke, while keeping good form: no rocking or bouncing.
Train Your Mind
Rides, like life, are sometimes uncomfortable. You can train yourself to endure hardship better by making a point of going out for a ride when the weather is lousy. Nervous about wet roads? Pedal in the rain to learn how to handle them. Hate the wind? Ride on blustery days to explore ways to work with it. By facing the enemies you know, you'll build the mental agility to face the ones you don't expect--such as mechanicals, getting lost, and bonking.