Advice for bike neophytes and slower riders

Have you never ridden a road bike before? Or are still terrified when you do? Are you in a panic to plunk down 1000€ on a new bike before the end of season sales are over?

Or alternatively have you already put in time on the bike, but still find yourself the “weak link” when you go out with a group?

First off, let’s put things in perspective about bike training. What are your goals? If you’re brand new to this triathlon business & all you want is to have fun and complete a sprint (S distance), keep in mind the bike bit is only 20km. You could pedal a Vélib for 20km. You see plenty of hybrid (VTC) & mountain bikes (VTT) in sprint races and even sometimes at olympic distances.

You won’t be able to join group road rides (it will be almost impossible to keep up) but there’s plenty of non-bike team training you can partake in.

Or perhaps it’s a question of time & money. If you’re not great at riding, getting better fast involves vast outlays of cash, research, decision-making and training time. Way more than the swim & run. Perhaps more than you are capable of right now.

That’s OK. Lots of people complete sprint triathlons who never otherwise get on a bike. You still have the swim & run to work on, which are easier to train for within the city, and require a lot less gear investment. You will not totally miss out if you do not become a biking ninja by next May. (And it tends to be the faster runners who do the best, anyways, sigh).

Still really want to get better on the bike? Read on.

If you are still learning to ride a road bike, the Club rides aren’t for you (yet). You need to know how to shift and brake safely and balance. Spend a few outings riding somewhere free from cars. The track at Longchamps (Sat better than Sunday) or Vincennes are good. You can also bike north along Canal de l’Ourcq at this time of year. Then go on shorter road rides, say 20-40km. Spin in easy gears. Learn to pedal fast before you pedal hard.

If you DO know how to brake, shift & all that BUT have only ridden on flats you’ll need to “embrace the suck” of climbing hills. Almost all the enjoyable areas to ride outside Paris have hills. Most are only a few hundred meters long. A 1 km climb is long in the Chevreuse. But it feels like 10km if you’ve only done loops of Longchamps or Vincennes (hint: if you find the “hill” at Longchamps tough, you will suffer en route to St Remy. Or worse still, the climb in Meudon).

Sometimes it IS about the bike. It may be too heavy for you, or it doesn’t fit properly. Or you desperately need to upgrade components. Invest the time to do this before you try to keep up fruitlessly with faster groups.

In general, if you are slow but want to join group rides without making them extremely slow for everyone else, you need to be prepared to ride more on your own, at a higher intensity than what you’re doing. In this way, biking is like running & swimming: you need to do intervals to get faster. If your rides are always at the same slow pace your body can’t learn how to go faster. And again, learn to pedal fast before you try pedalling hard.

If you can still count the number of road rides you did this year on one hand, attending clinics on gadgets & maintenance 95% of time will only add noise and do very little to improve your actual riding. On the other hand, actually getting your bum on the saddle more often, and doing bursts of pedaling with more power & speed than you have employed before, will get you faster.