There’s a famous quip attributed to any number of world champions. When asked, “What’s the secret to becoming a great cyclist,” they look straight in the eye and reply, “Ride your bike.”
This canon has served many cyclists well, and it deserves to be the first rule of training. In our books, riders should ride. The more the better. But unlike in times past, there are numerous modern training aids that can make the miles even more worthwhile. Here’s a look at 9 of the best–from the highest of the high-tech to the lowest of the low.
When members of BICYCLING’s Fitness Advisory Board were asked which training aids are most important, one item was on everyone’s list: the heart-rate monitor, especially models that record data so you can analyze workouts. The best ones are wireless. You wear a chest belt that transmits to a wristwatch-like receiver on the handlebar. These are comfortable, durable, and reasonably easy to use. There are also cyclecomputers with built-in heart monitors, including models from Vetta, ACT, and Cateye. All are great for gauging progress, planning workouts, and evaluating effort during training and racing.
Basic units (around $100) display heart rate only, which is enough for many cyclists. Fancier models feature high and low alarms so you can set a target zone. They may even record your heart rate at set intervals so you can later analyze the workout or race. Ultimate models, such as the one shown at right, Polar’s Vantage XL (800/227-1314), even allow you to download the information to a computer and print graphs. For our latest buyer’s guide to heart-rate monitors, with tips for using one, see “Tune Your Engine” in the May ’94 issue.
If you’re training scientifically with a heart-rate monitor, the next step is to track your results. Sure, you can write in a notebook, but a computerized diary is much more effective. Like database programs they make short work of calculations, helping you quickly determine such things as cumulative mileage, how your average speed is improving, or how many feet of elevation you’ve totaled. This could be helpful in the weeks before a hilly century or race, for instance. In addition, training programs can put information into easy-to-interpret graphs. And software, unlike log books, doesn’t have to be replaced yearly. Prices run from about $15 for shareware programs (which are somewhat limited) to about $90 for fully featured ones. In our last review (“Computer Coaches,” April ’93), we found 2 good $50 programs, Athlete’s Diary (800/823-4279) and CycleSoft (507/375-4346, MN).
You can’t record workouts accurately without a good cyclecomputer. Distance. Speed. Average speed. Pedal cadence, Elevation gain. Temperature. Elapsed time. These are just some of the stars modern computers disclose. In our August ’94 article, “Tricker Tickers,” we looked at 10 popular models priced from $35 to $99, some with unusual features. For instance, Performance’s CM-400 ($50: 800/727-2453) has dual interval timers with audible alarms, workout memories, and a means of calculating calorie consumption.
Fluid Delivery System
Dehydration limits performance, so training suffers if you don’t drink enough. A couple of water bottles are fine for many workouts, but for longer or hotter rides consider a 36- or 72-ounce CamelBak (abound $40). It’s worn like a backpack to deliver plenty of liquid through a convenient hose that hangs over your shoulder. You bite the mouthpiece, and a natural siphoning action lets liquid flow. Ahhh. You can also stuff small items such as energy bars or tools into the CamelBak pouch, or use a special bag that has pockets and straps for carrying items.
You can’t train effectively if your fuel light is blinking, so find a brand of sports drinks and bars to use before, during, and after riding. There are many to choose from. Taste is important, of course, but so is digestibility. Some riders do fine with products that use fructose as a sweetener and carbohydrate source, while others find it produces gastro upset. Experiment, and don’t neglect common low-tech foods such as fruit, fig bars, and bagels. The idea is to use stuff you enjoy eating, so you’ll eat enough of it. Ample food and liquid is the key to strong performance on any ride that lasts longer than 3 hours.
Stationary cycling has become the buzz now that Graeme Obree and Marry Nothstein have shredded the competition with power attained by pedaling in place. But these park-and-ride devices have always been handy. For instance, by training inside, you can ride and watch the kids. No matter how stormy or dark it is, you can still pedal. Plus, think of the intervals you could do while watching the chase scene in “Bullet” or listening to cranked Pearl Jam. There are many well-made magnetic units, such as Blackburn’s RX-6 TrakStand ($210; 800/776-5677). These support your bike’s rear wheel and provide varying degrees of resistance. Or you can splurge for a computerized model such as Racermate’s CompuTrainer, a $1,200 device that does it all. It’s an indoor trainer connected to a PC, which displays power output in watts so you know what you can generate for how long. It also tells cadence and heart rate. There’s even a little electronic guy you can race, and you can do it on famous courses or enter your own, programming distance, head-winds, climbs, etc. It’s virtual reality training that makes it easy to put in a high-quality effort. Racermate, 206/524-7392 (WA).
In most states it’s illegal to ride on public roads while listening to headphones. But they’re plenty safe when you’re spinning indoors. Wear a jersey and you can slip the player into your hack pocket for instant access. Using a radio equipped with preset stations, you can quickly switch among talk shows, sports, and music.
A good coach can help you achieve your potential by customizing a training program for your needs and goals. And the cost may be much less than you think. To find one, contact local shops, cycling clubs, or check classified ads in the USCF’s Cycling USA (for roadies) or NORBA News (for mountain bikers). You can reach these organizations at 719/578-4581 (CO). Some coaches have a national clientele, relying on periodic phone conversations and data collected with your heart-rate monitor and cycle computer to make training adjustments.
We probably wouldn’t have included Net Weight Racing’s “Race Weight” if we hadn’t seen it being used by the national team. This training aid is nothing more than a lead weight that’s attached to the bike’s down tube. There are 3 versions: 5.5 lbs. ($52), 7.7 lbs. ($56), and 9.9 lbs. ($60). The theory is, you have to work harder when carrying a hunk of lead so you can fly when it’s removed. The Race Weight attaches with hook-and-loop straps, has rubber pads at contact points to protect the paint, and is coated so you can’t touch the lead. Net Weight Racing, 415/381-3155 (CA). A similar product is made by PIGG Cycle (800/252-9299), which also makes weights that fit into a bottle cage.