Small Changes Huge Results, Bicycling, September 2014

smallchangesSome things are complicated—traffic jams, climate change, and deciding if a Tour de France winner will still hold his title in five years. These tangled problems demand nuanced solutions. But finding bliss on your bike can be simple and, as these 11 quick fixes illustrate, transforming your cycling life is as straightforward as turning on the faucet every morning.

Wake Up, Drink Water
Unless you’re hooked to an IV drip all night, you’re more dehydrated in the morning than at any other time of day. Yet most people chug coffee and wait until afternoon to uncork their water bottles, which can result in a sluggish midday ride. (Coffee’s high water content delivers some hydration, but it’s not as potent as straight-up H2O). “Water helps carry nutrients and oxygen to working muscles,” says Jennifer McDaniel, CSSD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Sleep an Extra Hour
Any time you ramp up your training or start riding more, you need extra shut-eye to recover from the additional work, says Will Dillard, a coach at the Ultimate Cycling Group in Boulder, Colorado. Why? Sleep is when the body rebuilds muscle so you get fitter and stay injury-free. “Under resting,” Dillard says, “is as bad as overtraining.”

Eat Like Eddy
“Eddy Merckx ate sandwiches,” says Allen Lim, PhD, an exercise physiologist who developed a chemical-free drink mix for Team Garmin-Sharp. The riders had complained of belly distress after using packaged sports formulas, and “the bitching didn’t stop till we started making them foods from scratch,” Lim says. Scientists haven’t pinpointed exactly whey packaged, processed fuels are hard to digest, but Lim believes it has to do with the additives in those products. “The body is like a bus that’s designed to carry only people,” he explains. “If everyone gets on with two chickens and a goat, it’s going to be an uncomfortable bus ride.” He suggests fueling up on unprocessed, whole foods such as white rice, cane sugar, sliced mangoes, sweet potatoes, and—yes—sandwiches (made from whole ingredients).

Breathe Dammit!
Decades of studies have confirmed that mindful breathing can trigger a relaxation response that defuses stress and lowers blood pressure. We’re not talking about just sucking wind: Inhaling and exhaling deeply is effective for focusing before a big ride, says Darren Treasure, PhD, a sport psychologist with the Nike Oregon Project. DO IT Inhale from the diaphragm (located just below your ribcage), drawing air up through your chest until your ribs and shoulder blades expand. Hold for a count of five, then exhale. Repeat a few times a day.

Go Tubeless
Ditch inner tubes for a smoother and more comfortable ride, and maintenance-free convenience. “Since I switched to tubeless five seasons ago, I’ve had just one flat,” says Greg Ralph, cyclist from Salida, Colorado. The extra cushion he enjoys by riding at a lower tire pressure makes a big difference on Colorado’s chip-and-seal pavement. Switching to tubeless is easier than you’d think: See how it’s done at And on the rare occasion that you do flat, simply install a regular tube and fix the tire when you get home.

Join a Pack
Motoring along in a paceline doesn’t just save you energy, group workouts also fuel motivation. A 2012 study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that cyclists who worked out as a team exercised twice as long as those who pedaled alone. “We’re social animals,” says Nike’s Treasure. “There’s a performance benefit to training in a group, but it also feeds a part of you that needs to be connected to others,” he says. No local group rides? Download an app like Strava or Map My Ride, which helps solitary cyclists ride with a virtual pack.

Size Your Saddle
“The human crotch is not designed to bear weight,” says Sean Madsen, Body Geometry Fit manager at Specialized. A great-fitting saddle allows your sit bones—rather than your soft tissue—to support your body. Find out if your sit bones match your saddle width:
1) Place a piece of corrugated cardboard of florist’s foam on a step or chair.
2) Sit on it and lean slightly forward, keeping your back straight (as you would on a bike).
3) Stand up and measure the gap between the center of each divot.
4) The widest part of your saddle should measure the same or wider than that number, with about a centimeter extra on each side. If it doesn’t, consider finding a new saddle.

Go Low
Many cyclists focus on keeping a high cadence, but forget about bike-specific strength work, which helps you ride stronger and faster, says Kelli Montgomery, a Connecticut0based multisport coach. She recommends doing one workout a week in a big gear at low cadence. ON A TRAINER Do up to 20 sets of 60-second all-out efforts in a hard gear at 40 rpm followed by 60 seconds of very easy recovery. ON THE ROAD Find a hill with a 4- to 6-percent grade. Shift into a big gear and aim for a cadence of 50 to 55 rpm. Do four to six 5- to 8-minute hard efforts with 2 to 4 minutes of recovery in between.

Roll With It
It takes 10 minutes of massage to enhance post-workout recovery so you can ride strong day after day, according to a study at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. Do it yourself with a foam roller, available at most fitness retailers for $50 or less. QUAD SOOTHER Lie face-down on the floor with a foam roller under your hips. Lean on your right quad and roll between your hip and knee, then switch legs.

Swing for Strength
Use a kettlebell to strengthen your pedaling muscles (legs and glutes) as well as stabilizing the muscles in your midsection. “A strong sore helps transfer power to the bike, resulting in more effective accelerations and less fatigue,” says Olympian and retired pro cyclist Timmy Duggan, who relies on kettlebell workouts to maximize his fitness. THE BASIC MOVE Grab a 10- to 15-pound kettlebell with both hands and stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width. Squat until your thighs are nearly parallel with the floor.Stand and swing the weight up to shoulder height. As the kettlebell arcs back down, squat and let the weight swing back between your legs. Do three to four sets of 12.

Be the Giraffe
Last year a dude in a giraffe costume stole the show at a ‘cross race in New Hampshire and lit up social media for weeks afterward. We’re not mandating you trade your club kit for animal print. The point it: Make it fun, people! “When you do nothing but keep your nose to the grindstone, you burn out,” says endurance coach Josh Smollen, who leaves space in his athletes’ schedules to do what makes them happiest. “Don’t forget to take care of your soul.”