Whether you’re doing long distance steady rides, interval training or mixing it up, riding on the road is much easier to manage than, say, mountain biking – it allows you to select routes to challenge your fitness in specific ways, without worrying about the rocks and roots.
You can also pedal the whole time, without the need to slow down for obstacles. This is why so many racers from all disciplines of cycling, including BMX and mountain biking, choose to train on the road too.
Build up your Rides
Long rides at a steady pace are the best way to get started when training on your road bike. This usually means 3-4 hours in duration, but if right now 2 hours seems like a long time to be out, go with that and gradually build it up.
The idea of it being “steady" means you’re never getting your heart rate up so high that you feel stressed or in need of a rest. You should be riding at a level where you can chat to someone fairly easily, whether it’s on the flat or up the hills.
This means you need to get into the habit of shifting down the gears rather than pushing harder on climbs, so you maintain a constant level of exertion. Think of your legs as an engine ticking over at a steady, manageable pace.
If it gets steep you can’t just let the motor burn out – so keep the legs spinning at 80-100 rpm but drop down the gears until the climb becomes do-able without ever getting out of breath.
Road Riding Skills
As well as mastering your energy output you need to develop a good pedal action. Spin your pedals smoothly and make sure your ankle flexes. You sweep the toe down using your calf muscles as you come to the bottom of the pedal stroke, then lift the foot up again as you come round the back of the stroke, then push forwards over the top.
[related_articles] The aim is to learn to put power through the pedals right through the turn, not just ‘mash’ them up and down.
If you’re clipped in using SPD, then try riding along a short stretch of road with just one foot, and see if you can make it smooth. Once you’re clipped in you should be able to power up, forward, down, back and all the way round again without any jerkiness.
Once you’ve enjoyed a few LSD rides (Long Steady Distance) add some variety to your training with faster, shorter runs or some interval training on your road bike.
If you want to apply accurate science to this you can get a heart rate monitor, work out your maximum heart rate, then develop a series of rides at various percentage effort levels of that max heart rate. But if your mission is general fitness, then just head out for an hour at a pace which makes it hard to chat but never so hard that you build up painful lactic acid in your legs.
You can also go for a gentler ride with a series of interval sprints in the middle of it. Once you’re warmed up choose a nice level section of road, set your countdown alarm to 30 seconds, and then begin your sprint training.
There are many ways to do this but a simple option is to go flat out for 30 seconds then drop a few gears and pedal gently to recover for 2 minutes, then sprint again. Repeat 6-8 times. As you get fitter over time you can shorten the recovery gaps, lengthen the sprints, do more reps or try a combination of all three.
As your fitness builds it’s great to set a goal, or some kind of personal challenge to focus your efforts towards. If you want to go for a big ride and enjoy some level of support, there are many superb cyclo-sportif events around the UK.
These vary in distance and challenge, but the idea is simple – there’s a route mapped out, waymarked, with feed stations and marshals, so you just show up and enjoy the ride!