Your Gears & Hydration
Getting the most out of your gears
When approaching a climb, shift down to easier gears as you approach or where the incline is fairly shallow.
The more pressure on the chain, the harder it is to shift gear and more likely it is to jump or, worse case, ping off the drivetrain. So try to shift when there’s not too much force being put through, hence shifting before the climb gets steep. It’s easier to shift to a higher gear from a low gear if you feel like you can push harder than vice versa. It’s also better when climbing to spin your legs in a low gear than try and push through a high gear, but more on that later.
Another time to be aware of your gearing is when approaching junctions where you’ll need to slow down and, in some cases, stop. If you’ve been riding in a higher gear, you’ll find it hard to push through when you start off again. When approaching the junction, shift down to an easier, lower gear, and you’ll find it easier to pick up speed again when you recommence pedalling.
Use the chainring for big jumps in gearing
If you want to jump up or down a large number of gears in one go, then shift between the two chainring sprockets because these have the biggest differences between them. For example, if you’re approaching a hill and want to drop down lots of gears, jump from the big ring to the smallest. The opposite holds true if you’ve got up to speed and want to go up a number of gears.
Just be aware that the chain needs to be around the middle sprockets on the cassette at the back, and that shifting the front and the back at the same time is not a good idea because you can drop the chain completely. As a side note, if you only clean one thing on your bike regularly it should be the drivetrain. Gears will run smoother and last longer with a regular clean and oil.
The importance of fuelling and hydration
The dreaded bonk. If you’ve experienced it, you’ll know it’s best avoided, and if you haven’t, take it from the rest of us you don’t want to!
Bonking is where you run completely out of energy while out on a ride. Your legs feel like lead, your head feels heavy, and the thought of continuing your ride home is just too much. Fuel yourself properly and not only will you avoid bonking, but you’ll also find your on-bike performance is much better and, as a result, the whole experience is much more fun.
Before you ride
Stay hydrated during the day, drinking little and often is important because starting a ride dehydrated won’t help on-bike performance. Eat a balanced meal with carbohydrates. A breakfast of porridge with whole, rolled oats, sprinkled with dates or dried fruit makes a good base for a day of riding. O Pasta with protein and vegetables is great too. Aim to eat at least 3 hours before riding.
During your ride
Keep drinking during the ride. To replace essential electrolytes needed for good muscle function, which are lost in sweat, it’s a good idea to use a soluble hydration tablet. This is particularly important on long rides and in hot weather.
While riding, your body needs a steady supply of carbohydrates in the form of sugars to keep your muscles powered. If you go for low-intensity riding, your body will break down fat stores into carbohydrates to do this. However, go above this level and your body can’t break down fat quickly enough so will rely solely on the sugars, or glycogen, stored in your muscles, which quickly run out.
Once that happens, it’s bonk time, so it’s important to keep your body topped up with small amounts of easily digestible carbohydrates as you ride. There are plenty of nutrition products on the market to keep your energy levels topped up such as bars, gels and even waffles.
If you don’t want to use specific nutrition products, you can also try:
- Jelly babies or other jelly sweets
- Jam sandwiches
- Fig rolls
- Dried fruit and nuts
After you ride
Keep drinking water if you’re feeling thirsty.
A protein-rich meal or drink will help with muscle recovery, so try some of these tasty smoothie recipes or quick meal suggestions. And of course one of the of the most popular post-ride recovery foods is a big glass of chocolate milk.
Riding in groups
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of riding along in a pack, slipstreaming each other, sliding through the air and moving like a well-oiled machine. Group riding is thrilling but also requires a few essential skills to make it as safe as possible.
It can feel a little nerve-wracking riding so close to other riders at first, so you may want to build up by riding with friends or on social club rides. Consistency and communication are key: be predictable, don’t make sudden moves such as turning or braking without indicating that you’re going to do it, and keep talking to the riders around you.
There are specific types of formation and movements that you’ll encounter on group rides, watch the below short video guide.