Your Beginner’s Guide to Outdoor Cycling

You’ve been grinding gears inside for a while. You might even consider yourself a pro. Now you are ready to trade your stationary driving skills on the road. All you need is a beginner’s guide to outdoor cycling, and we’re here to help.

It’s true that there are similarities between indoor and outdoor cycling, including working the same muscles – the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius and soleus (calf muscles) power your stroke. no matter where you ride – as well as the same energy systems. But there are also big differences between following an instructor’s voice through miles, hills and sprints, and then tackling those same fitness feats on your own, on the road.

For starters, navigating indoors means you definitely don’t have to worry about “red lights, cars, apartments, or the ever-creepy squirrel scurrying your way,” says Jonathan Cane, physiologist at exercise, trainer and co-author of Anatomy of triathlon. Inside, he says, “you can focus on your workout without interruption, which can make it very effective and efficient.”

For peloton instructor Matt Wilpers, your indoor training also means “you can really get the details on what you’re aiming to improve”, whether it’s top-end performance, endurance or your threshold. power.

That’s not to say that indoor cycling is “better” than outdoor spinning (or vice versa), just that there are variables. But if you’re interested in taking your rides outside, we’ve got a few things to keep in mind to keep your workouts running smoothly and successfully.

7 tips for switching from indoor to outdoor cycling

1. Learn your bike

To start, you need to find a bike to ride outdoors and a bike you’re comfortable on.. Wilpers suggests testing as many bikes in your price range as possible and buying in person, so you can gear up properly. (Getting a professional bike fit is one of the best steps to finding a bike you love to ride and stay comfortable as you put in the miles.)

Once you have a bike to pedal, you will notice that an outdoor bike has a different geometry than an indoor bike. “The saddle height is much more adjustable, the handlebars are different, your body position will probably be a lot different,” Cane says. “Also, a spin bike may not have clipless pedals, which are much more effective at promoting an efficient pedal stroke.”

Cane also says that your pedaling technique can even change when you get out, because “a spin bike’s flywheel, which keeps you from coasting, is more analogous to a fixed gear or spin bike. track, rather than the freewheel system more common on most road, triathlon, gravel and mountain bikes.

2. Focus on the fundamentals

Before channeling your Julian Alaphilippe or Marianne Vos within you, strengthen your skills. Cane says this is the biggest stumbling block for those transitioning from indoor cycling to outdoor cycling. “Corners, braking, shifting and descending are all super important skills that you can only learn while riding your outdoor bike,” adds Wilpers. These manipulation skills are also an important element in improving performance.

Gear shifting is particularly important to master. “It’s not as simple as turning a knob,” Cane says. “Get used to using your gears to help level the playing field effectively.

Denice Williams, Licensed Cycling Instructor and Shero (Captain) of the Black Girls Do Bike San Diego (BGDBSD) Chapter, recommends knowing the ABCs of your bike (air, brakes, chain/crank) before you ride. She also recommends riding on multi-purpose or dedicated bike lanes that have buffers, as opposed to roads, at the start. All of this can make you more comfortable and confident before you start sharing the road with cars.

3. Pay attention to your surroundings

Yes, riding outdoors provides fresh air and stunning views, but it doesn’t provide the controlled environment you’re used to on a peloton. “When you’re out in the real world, you’re likely to encounter changing terrain, the need to accelerate out of corners, and hills that challenge you differently,” says Cane.

Remember: trying to climb a very steep hill with the sun beating down on you will be very different from climbing a hill in your air-conditioned den. Wind and tarmac can also be factors, adds Williams. Make all of these changes in stride – get comfortable, don’t worry about your pace and just see how the ride feels outside and what adjustments you need to make before you start worrying about performance.

When it comes to outdoor cycling, there are a few things you’ll encounter on the road that you won’t encounter indoors. Here’s how to handle them…

When it comes to taking turns:

If you’re going through a bend with gravel or rough terrain, try to keep your bike as straight as possible and lean your body into the bend, Cane says, which keeps more rubber on the road.

When it comes to slowing down:

Typically, you want to shift your weight rearward when braking or descending, to help maintain better control. Also crucial: “Never use your front brake without your rear brake,” advises Cane. “Otherwise, you risk throwing yourself over the handlebars,” and no one wants to be in that scenario.

When it comes to tackling the hills:

Your first thought when approaching a hill is probably to get up, and you’re not entirely wrong. From an energy expenditure perspective, getting out of the saddle is an effective way to get more pedal power, Cane says, but it’s less efficient than sitting down, so “use it wisely.”

When you get out of the saddle, “the bike should rock under you—something that can’t happen on a stationary bike or 99 percent of trainers,” he says. “Keep the front wheel pointed where you’re going, keep your shoulders straight, and let the bike swing under you.” How do you know you’re doing it right? Cane says a good clue is that you should feel the tip of the saddle brush the back of your legs when you’re not in the saddle.

Cane also says you want to use your gear to effectively turn hills into “corner flats.” In other words, “shift early and often, taking advantage of your likely wide range of gears,” says Cane. Also: “Don’t think of descents as recovery, but don’t think of climbs as torture, with a drop in cadence and an increase in your heart rate.” Maintain a consistent level of effort throughout the ride.

4. Get used to cutting (and cutting)

Raise your hand if you’ve ever struggled to unclip from your indoor cycle? If it was a class, several people would have their hands raised. “An indoor cycling bike will stay upright and wait for you for as long as you want,” says Cane. “But, if you come to a red light and you can’t get your shoe off the pedal, it can get ugly.”

Wilpers suggests practicing starting and stopping with clipless pedals in a large, flat parking lot until you feel comfortable. Williams also recommends starting with dual-sided pedals, where one works with clips and the other with regular shoes.

Pro Tip from Cane: Learn to cut and lean your bike to the side opposite the drive (usually this means leaning to the left). However, he admits it’s good to be comfortable with either side, as sometimes traffic or road conditions will dictate that it’s best to cut to the right.

While you don’t need clipping in to ride outdoors, it can make your rides much more efficient and powerful, so it’s always a good idea to learn.

5. Don’t give up on indoor rides

In many cases, hybrid driving makes sense, and Wilpers is an advocate for it. “Work on building that stronger (fitness) engine on the inside, then work on being able to use it to good effect on the outside,” he says. The stamina and strength you build on the inside transfers to what you need to push the pedals and tackle the terrain on the outside too. Research even shows that indoor cycling is a great way to improve your aerobic capacity, which you’ll need to hit the road and put in the miles.

Plus, having a solid indoor training option is a great way to help outdoor cyclists stay consistent. “[An indoor trainer is] my go-to when I can’t ride outside,” says Williams. “I can adjust or program it to suit my particular training needs.” This is also how she gradually returned to outdoor riding after a break.

6. Find a Crew

Everything is better with friends, and cycling is no exception. Williams says a band can be a great way for rookies to acclimate. With BGDBSD, she says: “We take care of our cyclists. We teach them the basic techniques of cycling, then we ride together as a group. No one is ever left behind. Wilpers notes that riding in a group is also safer. Remember to follow group driving etiquette.

7. Practice, Practice, Practice

Ultimately, to get better at outdoor cycling, you just have to do it. Yes, Williams, who is a 30-year cycling veteran, says there’s a learning curve, “but the more you cycle outdoors, the more comfortable you become with the bike outdoors. the outside.”

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