Category Archives: Training
We recently published an article about e-bikes vs road and mountain bikes, and it caused quite a stir amongst some of you. So, as owner and president of Bicycle Adventures, I thought I’d throw my 2 cents into the debate…
First of all, an e-bike is not a motorcycle disguised as a bike. It does not have an engine to start – or a throttle – and you do still have to actually pedal it. Or at least you do if it’s a good one.
Here is why an e-bike is so great…
I have been around bikes most of my life – for recreation, fitness, travel, commuting, athletics and as a profession – first as a bike racing coach, then owning a bicycle touring company. And in many ways I would consider myself a purist when it comes to bicycling.
To me, ‘purist’ means someone who loves to ride their bike for the sake of riding a bike. You won’t find me worrying about the latest technology or debating the merits of road biking vs. mountain biking. Just give me a bike to ride. That is the bottom line: be it fast or slow, short or long, riding a bike is just…fun.
But why is it fun?
Most people would say, “Because I know HOW to ride a bike.” Just about everyone knows how to ride a bike.
So let’s think about that a bit. When I was coaching bike racing back in the 80s and 90s, people would say, “You coach bicycling? What does that even mean? Doesn’t everyone know how to ride a bike?”
So what does it mean to know how to ride a bike?
The truth is, there’s a lot to know in order to really enjoy riding a bike – and to me, enjoying riding a bike is to not have to think about it.
I have mastered the skill. I have gone through the 4 stages of mastery.
I often use the analogy of a hockey player: hockey players are not thinking about skating; they are thinking about the game. They just happen to be skating.
Developing skill starts with not knowing what to do, or what’s to come. We’re unconsciously incompetent, ignorant of what lies ahead. Moving from stage one into stage two only requires that we read a book on the subject or talk to someone with experience. In the case of learning to ride a bike it’s incredibly simple: moving into stage two usually involves someone showing and telling us what we need to do.
I probably don’t need to say that riding a bike is all about balance. To ride a bike you need to be going fast enough, keep the wheel straight and distribute weight evenly.
But most of you are beyond this stage.
By gathering information and watching others ride a bike you now know what you don’t know – you have been enlightened by the opportunity to ride a bike. This might not seem like much but it is progress.
Getting to stage three is where the real work begins. This is the one thing that is required to be successful in any endeavor, whether it is riding a bike or managing your career. You must take action and you must practice. A lot. I’ve tried to get better at cycling by just watching the Tour de France but it doesn’t work.
Being consciously competent at something means you’re able to perform the act, but you still need to think about what you’re doing. This is where things become more interesting. You’re now able to ride a bike.
This can be incredibly satisfying, and this is where many – if not most – people stop.
When I was learning, I remember when I was finally able to ride a bike for a few minutes without stopping. I had to concentrate extremely hard. I would think about keeping the wheel straight, not leaning too much to one side and making sure that I didn’t go too slowly – all at the same time. I could ride the bike, but I was far from an expert.
From competency to mastering the skill.
So how do we get from consciously competent cyclist to the next stage? That’s easy. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
Not everyone wants to be an expert, and that is OK. Most of us have ridden bikes enough that we have reached that magical point where keeping the bike upright, balanced and moving does not require a lot of concentration as long as we are on a safe flat bike path. However, as our environment changes (steep hills, other riders, traffic, stop signs, shifting) we no longer feel quite so competent.
This is the point where an e-bike comes in.
An e-bike levels the playing field and allows you to leap ahead in your competence because it takes away the need to worry about several things -like your pedal cadence, which gear you’re in, and how to pedal up or down that hill.
Let’s face it. Maybe you’re a runner or tennis player who is coming to cycling later in life. You may not have the time or desire to become an expert, but that doesn’t mean you should sacrifice the joy of riding a bike that you loved when you first learned how. Or that you should have to forego a cycling vacation with the wind in your hair, the fresh air, exercise and the perspective you gain from the seat of a bike – the perspective that you can’t ever get from sitting in a car or bus.
In cycling, reaching this stage means you can ride a bike without having to think about stopping, starting, shifting, standing, sitting, signaling in traffic, looking over your shoulder, listening for cars, riding next to another rider, or questions like, ‘Am I pacing myself? Do I have the fitness to get up this hill?’
Mastery on a bike is not just the skill of riding a bike but knowing how to ride in traffic, how to ride with other riders, how to ride up a hill, down a hill, descend, ride in various sorts of terrain, how to ride at various speeds, how to pace yourself, when to shift and when not to (without thinking, “Should I shift now?”). Shifting has become as automatic as it is in your automatic car.
An e-bike will make up for a lot of things when it comes to mastering riding a bike, but more importantly it will help you master a bike tour – because you’re doing those things on multiple days.
Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it!
I had someone show up to a scheduled bike ride the other day who was a very fit individual. He was excited about the tour; he wanted to get some exercise, and he was too proud of his fitness to need an e-bike. I know this gentleman fairly well. I said, “Don, you are very fit and strong, especially for your age, but you don’t know how to ride a bike.”
He said, “What do you mean I don’t know how to ride a bike?”
“Well, you don’t understand how to pace yourself on a hill, or pedal in the right gear, or how to start and stop safely. Or how to anticipate unconsciously what to do next. You are having to think about all these things instead of simply enjoying the ride. So I recommend using an e-bike. Although it doesn’t get you past all the skill training, it gets you past most of the things that prevent people from enjoying a bike ride the way I do. Just give it a try.”
He agreed to give it a shot, just for the day. I spent a few moments showing him how to use the e-bike. Then off we went with about a dozen other riders.
Being as fit as he is, Don wasn’t about to give up on a workout. So he spent the first couple of miles experimenting with the amount of electric-assist. None. A little. A lot. Full power. Back to none. “Wow!” he exclaimed. “You can actually get a great workout on this!”
He spent the second third of the ride sneaking up behind his cycling buddies in the group, then upping the e-assist to full power and blasting past them, gleefully announcing, “On your left!”
By the last third of the ride, he was cruising joyfully ahead of everyone as he led the charge to the finish line. And by the time we caught up with him in the parking lot, he was already working on where to purchase a couple.
And that’s what I mean by being a purist, by the hockey player not thinking about skating. Don had gotten back to the fun. The point where riding a bike had nothing to do with traffic, or hills, or shifting. It was just plain…fun.
What’s not to love?
Still on the fence?
Here are the four things an e-bike will do for you to speed up or eliminate the learning curve – which, coincidentally, are the four “fears” we hear the most about riding a bike.
- Hills. Do I stand up? Can I stand up? What gear should I be in? Can I pedal slowly without tipping over? The biggest challenge with hills is not having the technique – it’s not always comfortable standing up, or maybe you haven’t quite got the fitness. An e-bike picks up where you left off.
- Shifting. Unlike your car, bikes aren’t automatic. They don’t know when to go to a harder gear with fewer RPMs, or an easier gear with more RPMs. Those are challenging decisions for someone who may not be comfortable spinning with a high cadence or powering through with a low cadence. An e-bike makes those decisions for you – the motor kicks in when you get into a situation where you need a bit of an assist.
- Keeping up. A lot of people’s biggest fear about going on a bike tour is of not being able to keep up, of holding others back, of getting stuck riding alone and being the last person to arrive. An e-bike fixes all of those fears. It gives you the flexibility to decide how hard you’d like to work without missing out on the fun.
- Safety. With an e-bike, a longer ride will be more stable because your legs won’t get to the point of fatigue. You can self-regulate, manage your fitness so you’re not in over your head. This allows you to continue on and ride more miles – farther than you might usually – without the worry of over-exerting.
So why not give it a shot…
So, as you can see e-bikes and purists can get along just fine. The 3 things to remember are that riding a bike is great for the environment, great for your health and overall it’s just a better way to see the world.
But what it boils down to in the end is that it should be fun.
We have plenty of tours where an e-bike is an option. So whether you’ve been turning your nose up at e-bikes because you see yourself as an expert, or you aren’t confident in your cycling abilities but were afraid to put your trust in the equipment, get in touch today and hopefully you’ll be e-riding off into the sunset very soon.
Todd Starnes, Owner & President, Bicycle Adventures
First things first—congratulations on your decision to go forward and embrace one of the most rewarding challenges you’ll ever undertake. From personal experience, I can tell you that this adventure will change you for the better, both physically and mentally. And I applaud your decision to prepare yourself for the big event.
Whether you’re embarking on an epic adventure like the Empire Builder, a 700-mile trek from Montana to Seattle, or a more leisurely “Rails to Trails” exploration of the Couer d’Alenes, a little preparation goes a long way toward enjoying your travels.
Of course, physical preparation isn’t just helpful for bike tours. As Todd Starnes, our president and resident fitness expert (he was a sports scientist before joining Bicycle Adventures) often says—”Getting old just plain sucks; our choice is either to grow or decay.” For me? I’ll take growth every time, and your bike adventure is a giant leap forward towards your own personal and physical growth.
I think it’s important to state up front that physical fitness doesn’t have to mean going to the gym. So many of the activities that contribute to a healthy body can be done right in the privacy of your home, like strength and resistance training, stretching, and even cardio.
And the work you do toward preparing your body pays benefits in all sorts of unexpected ways, whether you’re training for a bike tour or just want less stiffness and more stamina when you’re gardening, doing housework, or playing with your grandkids at the park.
Why exercise? Physical exercise can slow the effects of aging and prevent muscle atrophy and bone loss, too—a real concern for 50+ women. I think it gives you more physical confidence to try new things…and I love what it does for my energy level.
So if you’re ready to get started, here are five tips to help 50+ athletes prepare for a bike tour.
It All Starts with Strength Training
Strength training sounds complicated and even a bit intimidating, especially if you’re out of practice. But it really comes down to these five simple motions:
You’ll notice “lifting weights” isn’t mentioned—because it really isn’t necessary! Although if you want to join a gym and work with machines and free weights, that’s always an option. I’m going to give you exercises you can do at home, with no complicated machines, and a far lower risk of injury.
The American College of Sports Medicine suggests activities to strengthen each of the six main muscle groups: Chest, shoulders, arms, abdomen, back, and legs. Strength training will come in handy on a bike adventure in so many ways—supporting your back, chest, arms, and posture during the ride itself and giving you the muscles you need to pedal up hills (like the cliffs and canyons in our Southern Utah National Parks tour).
The classic “push” exercise is the push-up, which strengthens your arms, shoulders, chest, abdomen, and back—it’s an all-purpose exercise powerhouse. If you aren’t strong enough to do a classic military version, you can try this four-step plan to get you there (or you can just stick with the modified version that works best for you).
A good strength routine balances pushing and pulling. You don’t need a pull-up bar to build your pulling muscles, but a set of lightweight dumbbells is helpful. I like the alternating dumbbell row because you can really feel results with just a few reps.
Planking is great for strengthening your core, which underpins pretty much everything you do. If you’re a beginner at planking, you can learn good technique and modifications with this video, plus variations for more advanced moves.
No, this isn’t a “gotcha,” there really are sitting-type exercises to help you build strength. I’m talking about squats and lunges, which are great for developing your abs, legs, and back. Even if you have knee problems, you can do these exercises at home.
I don’t have to tell you how important it is to strengthen your lower back and core—doing laundry, tying your shoes…we’re bending all day long. Some great home bending exercises are back extensions and bicycles.
Build Your Endurance with Cardio
The CDC recommends that healthy older adults get at least two-and-a-half hours (150 minutes) of moderate aerobic activity (like brisk walking) every week, or 75 minutes of high-intensity (running, jogging, cycling) activity. The heart benefits of aerobic activity are not in dispute.
But the added benefits of increased endurance will help you on your bicycle tour, especially one like the Washington Cascades adventure where 100-mile days aren’t uncommon.
Simple things to do now to improve your cardio endurance:
- Skip the elevator and take the stairs.
- Pursue an active hobby like tennis, swimming, or riding your bike (especially riding your bike).
- Take a brisk walk on your lunch break instead of snacking at your desk.
- Go kayaking or paddleboarding.
- Get a jump rope and skip rope to music.
Add Some High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
Although it sounds complicated, HIIT really isn’t. It’s simply combining brief intervals of intense exercise with longer periods of less strenuous work. You can incorporate HIIT just by running for a few seconds every few minutes when you take your daily walk—or pedaling extra hard for 10 to 30 seconds periodically on your training bike rides.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends HIIT because it:
- Improves aerobic (and anaerobic) fitness.
- Lowers blood pressure and cholesterol profiles.
- Reduces belly fat and body weight while preserving your muscle mass.
Sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t. And the best thing is that HIIT can be modified to suit any fitness level and you don’t have to do it every day to see results. You can find a great HIIT workout for beginners here.
Our fitness guru Todd Starnes recommends observing these rules:
- Aim for “comfortably challenging,” there’s no need to make yourself miserable.
- Think quality over quantity—if you are working hard but struggling to keep the pace you had after your first couple of intervals, you’ve done enough for that workout.
- Four to six intervals no more than twice per week is more than enough to experience the benefits of HIIT.
Don’t Neglect the “4 Rs” of Recovery
Recovery is even more important for the beginning or older athlete, so pay extra attention to the four “Rs” of recovery—
If your exercise period is 60 minutes or shorter, rehydrating with water is probably enough. For longer sessions, use a sports beverage with carbs and electrolytes.
You need to eat to replenish the fuel your body spent and provide nutrients to help your body recover. For adults over 50, that means protein—at least 15 to 25 grams in the hour after exercise. Protein bars and shakes are a convenient option if you don’t feel like preparing a snack.
I’m not just talking about a short break after exercise (although that’s always important), I’m talking about a healthy amount of deep, restorative sleep at night to give your body time to recover and repair.
The recovery process looks different in everyone, but for older adults, alternating heat and cold therapy, soft tissue massage, or even therapeutic soaks are helpful for encouraging the muscle repair that occurs after exercise.
The tour guides at Bicycle Adventures take recovery seriously with an appropriate schedule of hydration, nourishing snacks and drinks, healthy breakfasts, and even special accommodations for your own diet and nutrition routine.
What You Eat Matters More than You Think
Your changing nutritional needs become even more noticeable once you hit 50. For one thing, your body may not absorb essential nutrients as well as it did when you were younger—and strenuous exercise impacts digestion, a potential “perfect storm” of nutritional deficits.
Here are some foods to eat if you want your body to be ready to go when you are:
- Probiotics set the stage for a healthy gut, the gatekeeper to a healthy body. Some people use a probiotics supplement, but you can naturally introduce these healthy bacteria into your gut by eating yogurt with live active cultures (look for the LAC stamp), fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, and aged cheeses.
- Fiber feeds the healthy gut bacteria and aids digestion. Get what you need with easy-to-eat foods like barely ripe bananas, oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, and asparagus.
- Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, help you burn fat, and are good for your heart. Incorporate more servings of fatty fish like salmon to boost this important nutrient.
- Protein helps repair and grow muscles and maintain bone and joint strength. Try to get some protein at every meal with foods like dairy, fish, poultry, meat, or plant-based sources (lentils, nuts, seeds).
- Vitamin D is essential to muscle recovery and maintaining healthy bones. Unfortunately, aging skin isn’t as effective at synthesizing vitamin D from the sun, so it’s important to add it to your diet with either supplements or fortified dairy products.
Hopefully, I’ve given you some practical tips and pointers to help you get started on a physical program of preparation for your tour. You’ll notice that none of the exercises I suggest require pricey equipment, a gym membership, or hours of your time—you can do it them at home and on your own schedule.
If you have any questions about fitness, preparation, and recovery, I’m always here to talk to you. And if you’re still looking for the perfect bicycle adventure for you—I can help you with that, too! Just send me a note at email@example.com and let’s have a chat.
If you’re preparing for a bike tour and need an indoor alternative to cycling – or if you’re just interested in burning a few calories and working up a good sweat – you might want to try out a spin class. These classes are typically offered at most gyms, and they’re usually about 45 minutes to an hour long. Spinning combines both strength training (mostly your lower body and torso) and cardio over a short time frame. So if you’re planning on trying a class out for the first time, plan on working very hard. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your first class.
First off, make sure to wear the right cycling clothes. Since you’re going to be doing a lot of cardio, it’s a good idea to wear workout clothes that are sweat-resistant and comfortable. Try to wear clothing that’s fitted—if your workout clothes are too baggy, they might ride up during the workout, which can be uncomfortable. Also, while some cycling classes require cycling shoes, many don’t, so make sure to check in advance with the instructor of the class you want to attend. Some classes even let you rent shoes.
When attending the class, don’t forget to bring a towel and some water. You will be sweating quite a bit during the workout, so you’ll want to hydrate as much as possible. Get there a little early for your first class and introduce yourself to the instructor. Often, instructors will ask first-time students to sit closer to the front row—that way, the instructor can assist with pacing and posture and keep an eye on them if they need any help. Your instructor can also help you adjust your spin bike’s handlebars, seat and pedals for the most efficient setup.
When you’re riding, go at a steady pace. If you feel like you can keep up with the rest of the class, go for it! But if you start feeling winded, don’t hesitate to pull back a bit. Once you’re finished with the class, don’t forget to stretch. Cardio can place a lot of strain on the muscles, so in order to avoid any build-up of lactic acid, take a few minutes after class to do some cycling stretches for your legs and torso.
Spinning isn’t just a great workout—it’s also tons of fun. Music, coaching and the companionship of other cyclists make a great way to get through the drippy, dreary days of winter. You may just be hooked. Have a great time!
What Should I Wear While Cycling?
You don’t have to wear specialized cycling clothing for a casual bike ride, but if you’re planning on doing some long-distance cycling (like one of our Epic tours) on a regular basis, you might want to pick up some apparel designed specifically for cycling. The best cycling apparel is designed to not only make cycling safer, but also make the experience more comfortable. If you’re thinking of picking up some cycling clothes, here are a few suggestions on how to choose the right outfit for you:
When you’re purchasing cycling jerseys, it’s best to go with one that’s made of Lycra spandex or another type of material that will wick away moisture and dry quickly. Also, cycling shorts and jerseys are designed to help you to reduce drag, so you don’t want to wear anything that might be too baggy—ideally, cycling clothes should be form-fitting yet comfortable. If your shorts or jersey are too tight or constricting, you may need to go up a size. Cycling shorts are designed to help prevent friction while your legs pump along; they also feature different types of padding in order to make sitting and riding for long periods of time a little more pleasant. Bike shoes should also fit snugly, and it’s important that they’re lightweight too—you don’t want anything that might weigh you down over the long haul.
Now that you have a good idea of how to pick out the right kind of apparel, here are a few suggestions on some popular cycling gear and apparel:
The Specialized BG sport road shoe is a lightweight, relatively inexpensive cycling shoe (around $100 USD) that’s perfect for the cyclist who wants to ride a little more seriously, but doesn’t have the budget for high-end, race-quality shoes (which can cost as much as $500 USD). The shoe features three rugged straps for closure, and it also comes with three-bolt, two-bolt setups and cleats (just in case you’re trying out a few different pedal setups).
The Nashbar Men’s Radius Jersey is extremely well made. It’s made from polyester (so it feel soft to the touch, and it will easily wick away any excess sweat), and it features three rear pockets, so you can stash away important items like your cellphone. Giordana’s cycling jerseys for women are also exceptional, and they’re made from a unique blend of fabrics that won’t cause any unnecessary friction. The company’s jerseys also feature the Aerofix Gripper System, which means that the jerseys will fit snugly and won’t ride up.
Craft makes bike shorts for both men and women, and their shorts are well known for being extremely durable, affordable and fairly comfortable. Some of their shorts, such as the Men’s Motion shorts, feature a unique silicone print on the end of each leg in order to prevent the shorts from moving around while you’re riding. If you’re on the hunt for durable cycling shorts that won’t bust your wallet, then you should definitely pick out some shorts from Craft. Giordana, Pearl Izumi and Castelli also offer award-winning shorts with different features depending on your budget and riding style.
When shopping for cycling apparel, make sure to do a little bit of research beforehand on exactly what you’re looking for. Talk to someone at your local bike shop about the kind of riding you do and ask for recommendations. And don’t hesitate to shop around a bit—remember, cycling apparel is all about being comfortable, so only pick up the apparel that works the best for your needs. Feel free to contact Bicycle Adventures if you’re packing for one of our bicycle trips!
They say life is about the journey, not the destination, and there’s no better way to experience that journey than on a bike. There are tons of multi-day bicycle tours you can do, whether you’re a novice or a veteran. Pick an area you’ve always wanted to experience—national parks, islands, deserts—then saddle up and get a firsthand taste as the miles zip by. Need some guidance as you prep for a long ride? Check out the following infographic from Bicycle Adventures for an in-depth look at all the bicycle tour essentials—training techniques, nutrition tips, and gear. You’ll be ready to hit the road and rack up the miles in no time.
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