Tip from top female cyclists from La Course—the inaugural, one-day women's race—of the 2014 Tour de France
Tired of spinning your wheels and going nowhere? Hit the wide open road this bright and beautiful summer with these 10 tips from the top female pro cyclists, including some superstars who participated in La Course, the inaugural, one-day women's race that took place in Paris on the final day (and most prestigious stage) of the 2014 Tour de France in late July.
Here's a fun excuse to pick up new footwear: It's important to get used to the feeling of being “clipped in” to your pedals wearing your own shoes and not the loaners some spin studios include with the class fee, says Megan Guarnier, a Boels-Dolmans rider. Locking your feet to a pedal can be nerve-racking, especially on a non-stationary bike, but if you make it part of your regular spin routine, then the transition to the road will be smoother.
When you're on the road, you won't have a mindful spin instructor reminding you every 15 minutes or so to hydrate. Instead, the onus is on you. “I know it can be challenging to drink sometimes when your heart is pounding out of your chest, but dehydration is the quickest way to ruin a good workout,” warns Guarnier, who swears by Osmo, a powdery hydration supplement that combines sugar and electrolytes for fast fluid absorption to help delay fatigue and improve performance. “Practice drinking while in spin class so that it feels like second nature when you ride outside too,” she says. Be sure to keep throwing back bottles when you get off the bike as well to help your muscles recover.
Instead of your own reflection, however, you should meet a pair of unfamiliar eyes. Making eye contact with drivers on the road is crucial for safety. You should never assume the person behind the wheel can see you, especially at intersections, says Carmen Small, a Specialized-Lululemon rider and the 2013 National Time Trial Champion.
Spinning is nothing without a killer playlist. But listening to music while you bike in traffic can be killer in another way. Leave your distracting headphones at home when you're on the move on two wheels, recommends Evie Stevens, a former self-described gym rat and Wall Street finance associate turned pro with Specialized-Lululemon.
You might be churning out some major wattage in spin class, but how you produce power on pavements will be different, says Lizzie Armitstead, a Boels-Dolmans rider and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist in the road race. The biggest change will be learning how to shift to the appropriate gears depending on the terrain changes, such as hills and straightaways (flat stretches of road). “There is obviously a lot more skill involved riding on the road,” she explains, “but take your time to feel road safe and build confident. The best way to do this is always in a group.” Always look ahead and plan for what's coming. The goal is to keep your cadence (the pace of your pedaling feet) the same, so you should shift to easier gears for hills and harder gears for flat road.
You already know the gal pedaling in spin class next to you loves to ride. Maybe she's curious about crushing some loops in the nearby park too, but doesn't have anyone to ride with, like you? Finding someone who is at a comparable fitness level is a great way to start this new cycling adventure. “Make it a fun social ride for the first couple of times until you feel confident about heading out on your own,” says Small, who has won two back-to-back Team Time Trial World Championships with her teammates, including Stevens.
Some indoor cycling classes may let you bring your own saddle or bike seat, to put on the stationary bike, Guarnier says. Call ahead to see if your fitness facility is willing to let you make the swap. If they are game, this a great way to test ride, get used to and/or break in a new saddle before going out for a ride outside. Same goes for the chamois, or padded bike shorts. “The chamois and saddle can make or break your enjoyment for riding, so make sure you are comfortable,” she says.
Steamy spin studios can rival a hot yoga class complete with fogged mirrors and sweat puddles. While you may have the urge to strip down to your sports bra in class, it can get cool outside on your bike, Stevens advises. “I always like to ride with a jersey and vest or arm warmers in my back pocket in case the weather changes or I have to descend a long downhill. When you're flying downhill, the wind can be chilly,” she says. We love this chic, soft Moxie Charcoal Merino Wool Bolero that also tames BO ($68).
The best perk of spin class is that you don't have to maintain the bike. When you become a bike owner, however, you'll need some basic knowledge to keep your equipment functioning properly and safely. For starters, you should always be prepared to fix a flat. “If you don't know how to change a tire, you can watch a how-to video online,” says Stevens. Check out this great instructional clip from OutsideOnline.com starring the one-and-only Lance Armstrong, the seven-time winner of the Tour de France (or so says the script). His sense of humor (love the line, “See this black thing, don't ever put it back on your bike, ever”), makes it a particularly entertaining lesson.
Just because you're finally pedaling on pavement doesn't mean you should blow off your fave indoor cycling studio forever. “Spin class is a great way to boost your aerobic fitness, get your heart rate up and rev up your metabolism,” says Guarnier. Riding indoors isn't a better workout than riding outside, but it's a perfect option on bad weather days or when you're tight on time. “For seasoned cycling veterans, stationary biking can be used for base miles when it's raining or snowing. It can also provide a valuable tool for cadence work (a.k.a., leg speed), too,” she adds. Learning to keep your cadence smooth and steady is key for gaining speed, torching calories and going far.