By Chris Carmichael,
Founder and Head Coach of CTS
While cycling plays a central role in our lives, for the general public interest in bicycles comes and goes in waves. Ridership and new bike sales are soaring in 2020 as more people turn to cycling for transportation, recreation, exercise, and commerce in response to the pandemic. And for the long-suffering cycling industry, it’s about time global events tipped the scales in favor of local bike shops. It’s great to see so many new and returning cyclists on the roads and paths, and we all play a role in helping them stick with it long term.
I have been coaching for more than 30 years, from teaching people how to clip into pedals to developing and mentoring coaches who work with World Champions. I believe humans have an innate desire to pass on knowledge to younger or less experienced people. That doesn’t mean everyone needs to be a teacher or coach, but as a community of experienced cyclists we have a lot to offer new riders who have recently joined the family.
If you’re riding with someone who is new:
Maybe there are new faces at the local group ride, or your niece or brother-in-law wants to go for a ride because cycling is now a common interest. If you are going to spend an entire ride with a novice cyclist, whether it’s 30 minutes or their first 50-mile ride, here are some ways to help them finish strong so they’re excited to go again.
Stop more frequently than normal
Experienced riders eat and drink while moving and are accustomed to riding an hour or more between breaks. Newer riders often forget to drink or feel nervous about reaching for a bottle while riding in group. They are even less likely to feel comfortable reaching into jersey pockets and opening wrappers, no matter if it’s just the two of your or a whole pack rolling down the road. And don’t wait for them to request a stop; they’re following your lead and may not know or tell you what they need.
Ride their pace, not yours
If you are riding with one or a handful of new cyclists, crushing them on the flats or riding away from them on the hills isn’t going to inspire them to train harder so they can be as fast as you. It’s demoralizing, but even before that it makes them dig deeper in an effort to keep up, which quickly depletes their limited cycling-specific strength. You both pay a price for that; later in the ride they’re exhausted, and you’re stuck going excruciatingly slow all the way home. The feeling a rider has at the end of a ride sticks with them, so the best thing experienced riders can do is help novices finish strong.
If you’re welcoming new riders to the local group ride, understand that it can be an intimidating environment and go out of your way to help newcomers feel comfortable. Introduce them to some of the regulars so they know who to turn to with questions during the ride. Give them the facts of the ride, like “We’re going about 30 miles with no stops, we mostly ride two-by-two for the first half at about 18-20mph, then the pace picks up in the second half and at that point we don’t wait for riders who get dropped.” Most important, if it’s a ride that doesn’t wait for dropped riders, make sure newcomers have the information or technology to find their way back.
Put yourself in the wind
Don’t assume new riders know how to draft or understand that the wind direction sometimes means the draft isn’t right behind you. Move to a position that puts them in your draft. Not only does it help them get comfortable with drafting, but it also evens out the differences in fitness so you get a good workout and they have a great experience.
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Don’t try to make them experts in one ride
It took you a long time to learn all of cycling’s small nuances. Don’t try to give a newcomer all that information at once, because overwhelming an athlete with too much information prevents them from executing any of it well. Some athletes – and new coaches – are so enthusiastic to share what they know that they try to explain everything. Help with fundamental skills first, and leave the nitpicky details for later.
A little encouragement goes a long way
Don’t just blow by people, particularly on hills. You don’t have to slow down and have a heart to heart, but a greeting and “nice job” on your way past can have a bigger positive impact than many people realize, and for that rider it feels much better than being invisible.
Cycling is having a moment, and as the world gets back to normal many people will be drawn back into car-centric lifestyles. As a community, we have an opportunity engage new and returning cyclists and ensure this is more than a temporary surge in sales and ridership.
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