While true it takes months—even years—to see big leaps in cycling performance, there are things cyclists can do immediately to see a small but noticeable improvement in execution.
The following is a list of proven techniques courtesy of Bicycling Magazine's New Cyclist Handbook that will make you more confident, comfortable and faster on your next ride.
1. Hydrate Every 15 Minutes1 of 11
Easily the most preventable cause of cycling fatigue, dehydration greatly affects performance. On your next ride, set a timer on your watch, phone or computer to beep every 15 minutes; this is your cue to take a big gulp of water or sports drink. Eventually, you can rid your ride of annoying beeps, as drinking at these intervals will become second nature.
2. Pedal During Descents2 of 11
Yes, it's much easier to give your legs a break and coast on descents, especially after completing a climb. However, switching to a high gear and pedaling during descents increases stability and allows you to accelerate if you find yourself requiring speed. In addition, "soft pedaling," or pedaling when unnecessary, prevents your legs from seizing up in the cold and helps pump lactic acid out of the muscles.
3. Transitioning to a Standing Climb3 of 11
When you see a steep climb ahead that you know will require your posterior to break from the saddle, there's a way to transition without losing much speed. As you stand, lift your posterior as your dominant leg begins its downstroke and apply extra pressure as if you are slamming your foot down. This will prevent any pause that typically occurs during this change.
4. Fuel Up for the Ride4 of 11
It's not enough to pack your back pockets with gels and energy bars; you need to get sufficient sustenance pre-ride, too. Half an hour before taking on a long ride, eat one energy bar and drink 16 ounces of water. This should top off your fuel tank and delay any negative effects of dehydration.
5. Shift More Often5 of 11
Like an automobile engine, which has a mere five gears, you should constantly shift to keep a consistent cadence. Professional cyclists typically pedal at the optimal cadence of between 80 and 90 rpm. Shoot for these numbers if you're recreational cyclist—keeping a steady cadence minimizes muscular fatigue and knee strain. Too low a cadence means you're adding extra strain to your muscles and tendons.
6. Keep Your Elbows Bent6 of 11
Locking your elbows puts too much weight on your arms and ultimately puts you in poor, upright position. This can lead to damaging posture and neck and shoulder problems, too. A bent elbow allows you to absorb bumps better, react quicker and more easily stay in the proper riding position. Plus, it's more aerodynamic, which means you'll work less to ride faster.
7. Don't Fear the Big Chainring7 of 11
We've all made the mistake of staying in the big chainring too long and tiring out with many miles to go. But when used properly—namely, after warming up or on a long descent—pushing a big gear naturally helps develop strength and makes you considerably speedier on the bike. Once you switch back to a lower gear, you'll notice the ease with which you're now pedaling.
8. Breathe Properly8 of 11
When we breathe, we actively take breaths in and passively let it out. However, when cycling, it's best to do the opposite—passively take breaths and actively let air out. This basic breathing technique increases your airflow and promotes even breathing instead of panting.
9. Occasionally Stand During Long Rides9 of 11
During long rides, staying in the same position can become far too painful. Standing for 5 percent of your bike ride helps stretch your muscles, relieve saddle pressure, increase circulation and takes your body out of a monotonous chore.
10. Practice Common Repairs10 of 11
If you have yet to get a flat on a ride, you should knock on the closest piece of wood because it's likely to happen. Regardless, you should always prepare for the worst. Practice changing a flat tire and fixing a chain so you can get back in your saddle as quickly as possible. Don't get stranded on a far-flung road with all the right gear, but unsure on how to use it.