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Lifelong Fitness: Longevity in Cycling

By: Patrick Carey  February 05, 2020

One of the best things about cycling is that it is a sport you can do for the rest of your life.

Cycling is something most people are exposed to as a child with that first two-wheeler and it’s something we can keep doing late in life to support lifelong fitness. It’s also something we can experience in countless ways. From cruising down a quiet dirt road, to group rides, races, even bikepacking, there’s always a new facet to explore. As a coach, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to help athletes be healthy, happy and fulfilled in the sport. Of course we work on getting faster, but that’s almost automatic if we hit those first three goals. Here are some of my best tips for having a lifetime of enjoyment in cycling.

Find Your Tribe: Local Bike Clubs

It doesn’t matter at what level we’re riding - this has got to be fun. Even for riders with lofty goals of improvement, it’s crucial to make the journey enjoyable. Group rides with a local bike club can inject a great deal of fun and comradery. It’s important to find the right group that will be fun, motivating and encouraging. Local shops and bike clubs are a great resource. Can’t find a ride? One of the upsides of social media is that it’s easier than ever to start one. Don’t be afraid to throw out an open invite. You might just start the next big weekly coffee shop ride. And if most of your rides are solo, sharing them with friends through Strava can be a great way to keep each other motivated. Just don’t let every ride turn into a competition or race. For those looking to maintain lifelong fitness through low impact activities it is especially important to avoid burnout and enjoy casual rides whenever possible.

Come Up With Goals

One of the most fulfilling things we can do as people is to learn and grow. It’s hardwired into us to be satisfying when we accomplish new things. A lot of riders might think goals only apply to competitive racers, but they are just as important for those who want to enjoy their sport for a lifetime. The easiest way to start the process is to pick 1-3 goals you want to accomplish this season, or in the next couple seasons. It could be something as simple as getting up your local climb in a certain time or riding smoothly through a section of trail, or it could be as big as taking a trip on your bike. Then back up and come up with a plan for how to get there. It won’t happen overnight, so be patient and chip away. If you haven’t done this in a while, I can guarantee it will be a recipe for improvement and satisfaction.

Explore The Diverse Sport of Cycling

There are a multitude of ways to experience the sport of cycling. From road to mountain, to gravel, to bike paths; racing, group events, and just getting out for a quiet ride by yourself. There’s always another facet of the sport to explore. One of the most exciting developments in the last few years is the rise of group events like gran fondos and gravel rides. These mass-start events allow for all levels of riders to share in the experience in a safe and encouraging environment. Want to push yourself? There’s folks at the front doing that. Want to take your time and enjoy the scenery? There’s folks doing that, too. The big point here is to not be afraid to try something new. In fact, the majority of athletes I work with are active in more than one discipline of cycling. Many of them now focus on a part of the sport different than the one they started with. This is your sport to explore.

Constant Improvement Means Lifelong Enjoyment

A surefire way to get tired of any activity is to feel stuck on a plateau. What I’ve learned over the years of working with even my most experienced masters athletes is that we always have something we can improve. This is a great thing, because there’s nothing more satisfying than experiencing growth. Yes, it may take work, but that only adds to the lifelong enjoyment. Think to yourself, “It would be really fun if I could do ________.” Now what’s in that blank? How will you get there? It’s totally OK if you don’t know how. There are a lot of great resources out there, one of the best being to work with a cycling coach. Think coaches only work with racers? Think again. Most coaches work with all experience levels of athletes. The right mentor can help you avoid the pitfalls of years of trial and error in order to keep you healthy enough to enjoy cycling as a lifelong physical activity. Many offer consultations for athletes who simply have questions and aren’t looking for full-time coaching.

Invest in Your Skills

The best investments you can make in yourself as a cyclist is to improve your bike handling skills. It doesn’t matter what discipline you enjoy. There are two great ways to work on this. One is simply to add in some regular practice in a safe environment. Start with a flat, grassy field that you can find at every local school and park. Spend ten minutes a few times a week working on balance, turns, getting your bike off the ground will make an immediate difference in your riding. If you’re nervous about doing that with clipless pedals, wear sneakers. From there, you can take it to a smooth open parking lot - free from traffic, of course. And if you really want to improve your riding, seek out an in-person skills coach or group clinic. A couple hours with a great teacher can turbocharge your skills. For performance-focused riders this means free speed (going faster without pedaling harder). For everyone, this means rides that are both safer and more fun.

I hope you’ll consider these ideas and find some new ways to grow and increase your lifelong enjoyment in our wonderful sport. There are no limits to what we can do and how we can experience the world on a bike. If you have thoughts or questions, please reach out and I will be happy to answer them. Cheers!

About The Contributor

Patrick Carey is a USA Cycling and IRONMAN-Certified coach and professional skills instructor. He is the co-founder of Speed Science Coaching in upstate New York. Patrick works with all levels of athletes from first-timers to national champions, mountain bikers to triathletes. You can learn more about Patrick, read other articles he’s written and learn more about the services Speed Science offers here. (www.speedsciencecoaching.com)

*Written before COVID-19

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