Guest Post from Hot Potato

Please enjoy a cycling post from Kate while I am off pedaling my heart out!

Hi, I’m Kate, a 28 year old, newlyish-wed triathlete from New Zealand. I blog about my training (and sometimes other stuff) at

Since Amanda is away doing a century ride (something I haven’t yet had the guts to do), I thought I’d write about my 5-year cycling journey from catastrophe to competent, and share some of my tips for making that journey a quicker one!

I started cycling (sort of) in 2005, when I was 23. I hadn’t been on a bike in 15 years, but I’d started getting interest both in fitness and in sustainable transport and my friend was keen to do some cycle racing. I was earning a paltry law clerk’s salary, and running in old cross trainers because the thought of spending NZD$200 on shoes freaked me out, so I couldn’t bring myself to spend serious money on a road bike like my friend. Instead, I arranged a 24 months interest free hire purchase, and bought myself a bright red shiny hybrid which I named Mike.

I was so nervous about riding that I was scared to test ride my Mike in the parking lot by the store, but the salesperson refused to sell it to me unless I got on, so I shuddered outside and gave it a go. For weeks from then, I diligently walked Mike from my Dad’s house to the car park down the street, where I’d get on and ride in circles until I started feeling safe enough to take Mike out around the coast, though I was still petrified of intersections, downhills and- frankly- anything other than riding along the road in a straight line.

I moved to the road bike (and my first clipless pedals) in mid 2006 when I started doing triathlon. I rode my brakes down even the teeniest winciest hills, panicked in traffic, and had my first crash. I had clipping out fails in my first du and my first tri, and dropped my chain twice climbing the easy hills in New Plymouth in my first *real* tri in November.

In 2008, I signed up for my first half IM so I had to learn to ride a bike, and ride it right. But I resisted with every fibre of my being. I spent a lot of time on the trainer, freaked out at the thought of riding any new route, and once gave up and went home because the strong wind was making me cry. I was too scared to take my hands off the handlebars to drink or signal, and most rides ended with me hungry, dehydrated and tearful.

But then, things slowly changed. I mastered tricky descents, endless climbs, lane changes and roundabouts. I bought a new bike (Eric the Strada), and new pedals. I conquered a tricky, winding, hilly 5-lap bike course, and checked most of Wellington’s major rides off my list. By the half IM at the end of the year, I was flying down Tarawera Road doing over 70km/h, whooping with glee.

In 2009, I built on that. I was living alone in a big, sprawling city that was almost pure hill, so I had to navigate myself through the traffic congestion, and the lightning fast SUVs. I gave Eric his first aerobars. I stopped being scared of every ride, and started enjoying exploring the city by bike.

Now I consider myself a competent (if somewhat slow) cyclist. And more importantly, cycling’s gone from being my worst nightmare to being my favourite discipline (oh- ok, you got me, I love them all). And in the rest of this post, I’m going to tell you my tips for skipping those years of nervous awkwardness, and moving seamlessly from nervous to natural.

Before you ride
Do invest your money wisely when you make your first bike purchase. My personal opinion is that if you have any interest in racing or doing events, you should go straight to a road bike- but you don’t need the flashest one out there. With road bikes, you’ll get a better deal if you look for something second hand- and spending $500 or $1000 on a second hand road bike is definitely going to be better than spending the same amount on a hybrid.

Do make componentry your priority. So long as your frame has some carbon (…essential not for speed, but for comfort, if the roads in your area are chip-sealed or otherwise rough) nothing else really matters. But good componentry is a newbie cyclist’s best friend. And compact cranks are awesome- especially for ladies. When I had Shimano Sora, I could barely change gears without dropping my chain- even on little teeny hills. With Ultegra, I once watched my husband shift from his big ring to his small ring while riding, standing, at a cadence of under 60rpm, halfway up one of the steepest hills I’ve ever ridden. Wow.

Do get a proper bike fit. It shouldn’t be very expensive at your LBS (cyclist jargon for “Local Bike Store”) and it will make your long rides a billion percent more comfortable. And yes, I have statistics to prove that ๐Ÿ˜‰

Do go clipless as soon as you can. If you’re not used to riding, there’s nothing wrong with spending a bit of time getting to grips with the bike, but clipless pedals are the best. But don’t just buy any pedals. Clipless pedals that aren’t right for you are the worst. If you can’t get in and out smoothly and comfortably after a few tries, try something else. I ride with double-sided Speedplays, and I adore them. The cleat is quite large, and there’s a lot of contact between my shoe and the pedal (a good thing- it allows you to create more power), and I can clip in on both sides- it doesn’t matter which way up the pedal is sitting.

Do buy a decent bike computer. One that measures cadence is an absolute MUST. I have the bike sensor to go with my Garmin 405, and it is just awesome.

Do consider buying a wind trainer if you can afford one (and unless you are really poor, you should be able to, because you can get something perfectly adequate for next to nothing). They are the devil, but they are also awesome. It’s great being able to ride your bike at home on windy, stormy dats, and doing wind trainer drills is fantastic for your technique.

Do make sure you know how to change a tyre and fix a dropped chain. Bring the right tools on all your rides.

Do get the right clothes. Jerseys with pockets. Bike shorts with a decent chamois. Don’t wear underwear with your padded shorts. You may feel icky about it, but thems the breaks.

Do use chamois cream. ‘Nuff said.

While you’re riding

Be safe. Do wear your helmet. Duh. If you’re riding somewhere with poor visibility or cars, do wear hi-vis. It may look a bit lame, but it makes a world of difference. Bright colours are not the same as hi-vis. If you’re riding in the dark, do light yourself (and your bike) up like a freakin’ Christmas tree. You can never be too safe.

Don’t wear an ipod unless you’re somewhere super duper safe.

Do ride assertively but carefully in traffic. Don’t be aggressive or rude, and do look out for idiots, but also assert your rights. Make sure you can be seen. Signal, signal, signal.

Do watch your cadence (and your heart rate, of course). You should be able to pedal along at somewhere around 80-85 rpm on the flat. If you can’t, change gears- it’s that simple. Unless you are super strong, or your hills are total pansy hills, your cadence will probably go down on some hills- but find a gear that means you can keep spinning up them at 80 rpm or so (or at as a high a cadence as you can manage). Riding in a big gear with a low cadence is called “mashing.” It’s hard on your knees, it’s poor technique and it’s hard on your poor bike too. Don’t do it (unless it’s a drill- see below).

And also, don’t pay attention to your speed. It’s nice to know how fast you are, but it’s actually pretty meaningless. I usually do a training ride at about 20-23 km/h. That sounds really slow to me. But I know it’s the right pace, because I’m watching my cadence and my heart rate, and I train on some tough, tough routes (again, see below). Cycling is more dependent on an infinite number of variables than other sports. If I’m riding into the wind or on a false flat and I look at my pace, I get grumpy and I feel down. But I am just as awesome (if not more so) when I ride into the wind at 19km/h than I am if I’m riding along a smooth, flat piece of road at 35km/h, and ignoring my speed means I don’t ever forget that.

Do ride hills. Hills are awesome. They make you strong. They also make you feel like the king of the world. On that point, I have seen some bloggers say that wind is similar to hills. But the only similarity is that wind adds resistance, too. Actually, wind and hills are quite different- they’re just both hard. If you are big and powerful, you can ride in the wind, but you probably aren’t the best climber. On the other hand, if you’re small, you can probably climb relatively well, but you tend to get lost in the wind. Climbing is about your power:weight ratio, wind is pure power.

When you’re riding all those hills, don’t save gears. I used to be tempted to try to get up a hill without using my baby gears. But then when your legs get tired partway up, you can’t change gears without dropping a chain, so it’s either walk or mash. Better to stick with an easy gear from the get go, and just cruise on up that hill, spinning like Lance (again, unless it’s a drill). With my baby gears, I’ve never met a hill I couldn’t climb- and believe me, I’ve climbed some nasty-pants hills. Also, make sure you focus on pulling. Your hamstrings and glutes should be taking it, not just your quads.

You don’t always have to pedal. Coasting is not generally a good habit, but learning to coast down hills, and learning to pause to drink (etc) has made me a far more comfortable and confident rider.

Do practice anything and everything. Nervous on the downhills? Find a friendly one, and practice letting go of the brakes a little more each time. Then move up to something a little steeper or windier. Nervous about taking your hands off to drink? Practice moving your hands around without actually taking your bottle out of the cage. Then take the bottle out and put it back, without actually drinking. Before you know it, you’ll be swigging away like a pro.

Do eat and drink. I was a marathon runner when I started cycling more in 2008. I could run for 3 hours on a bowl of porridge and a handful of sports beans, but to get through 3 hours on the bike, which is theoretically easier, I would need to take in more calories, or else my blood sugar would drop and I’d hit the wall. If you are nervous about drinking, bring a Camelbak while you get used to using your bottles (*but then ditch it, if you ever want the roadies to like you*). If you don’t like fiddling around in your pockets for food, buy a bento box.

Do drills. Invest in a trainer if you can afford it, as it allows you to do one-legged, standing, big gear and super-spin drills in a controlled environment. Look up some fun trainer workouts online, or go to a local trainer class, or buy some Spinervals. Coach Troy is a legend.

Do check your repair kit to make sure it’s all ready to go for next time. If you’ve had a flat, replace your spare tube.

Do get your bike serviced regularly. Your componentry will thank you.

Do stretch. Cycling is hard on your hips. My husband and I love the flexible warrior DVDs, with yoga workouts specifically designed for triathletes, and specific stretches for each of the swim, bike and run.


2 thoughts on “Guest Post from Hot Potato

  1. Pip says:

    Excellent post Kate. I’d agree with everything you’ve said! It’s really clear how far you’ve come. It’s probably about time you did that century, so how about Taupo then? ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Britt says:

    This is great Kate, especially for a wussy biker like me. It’s been so long since I’ve been on my bike now, I get more and more terrified to go! Thanks for the great tips (and the boost of confidence that I will, one day, be better at this!)

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