Vlad recently asked me for some advice with biking and getting start again, it made me thing about how getting people into sports is so important. I’m so grateful that various folks like Brad, Steve or Mark got me into cycling and skiing. When I think about it, I realize that most of the time people’s entry into a sport is super terrible.
Does this sound familiar? Trier-Rejector
Most of the time when you try something new, it is just terrible. You find someone who really loves the sport and then you get the cheapest possible gear because you don’t know whether you want to invest in the sport.
The person takes you for your first time out and of course there is both the difference in ability and the natural human tendency to want to show off and for you want to put in 150% effort into it.
The result most of the time, for me, is incredible soreness, painful blisters and the realization that you both can’t ever be good at it and never want to try it again
Advise for the mentor
If you are helping someone get into the sport, try to remember a few things, at least this is what I do:
Make sure they have a great time and enjoy the view. The point is not to prove how completely macho you are or that the sport is incredible, but to make sure the person has a great time. Most of the time that means making sure that it is the funnest possible thing. When they are first getting into a sport, take them to the most incredible view point with the minimum amount of pain. The idea is the best five start view with one star effort. If we didn’t need the “fun” part then we would all be happy exercising with some water buckets in the dark in our shower while running in place for six hours. So people need more than just exercise to keep doing it.
Never bonk or over do it, make it easy. Most of the time, the starting person gets way beyond their lactate threshold are are sore for days afterwards. Don’t let them do this, if you are riding or skiing with them, you should feel like your pulse is at 48. the idea is not that you are getting exercise, but they are having a good time. Remember that even a minute above lactate threshold means hours of soreness particularly for someone not experienced. Most of the time, you want to make sure they have a heart rate monitor and it never goes super high. Similarly if you are doing something endurance make sure they are drinking every 10 minutes and eating every 20 minutes. Most folks do not know when they are thristy.
Be strategic on fit and spending money on “fast gear”. Ok this is the hardest thing to convince people. But most of the time, there really is a threshold where it is not fun. Riding a $25 bike is not fun. Getting into rental ski boots is definitely horrible. I normally recommend to people that they spend money on the fit of things. In every sport, there are key things that make the sport comfortable. Look at it this way if you spend $25 with a 0.1% chance that you will continue, then spending $200 on something with an 80% chance is way more likely to be successful on an expected value basis. Put the other way, if the person is really just dabbling and won’t commit to the minimum spend, then find another sport (hiking or walking) where the bar is lower. They can later on get all the fancy stuff, but most sports have a level where the bike is stiff, the skis are responsive where it becomes both fun and easier.
Recommendations of getting into biking
With that in mind, suppose that you want to get into biking, what are the key things to recommend and what’s the stack rank order:
Bike Fit. Most people don’t know that they are riding poorly, the bike just feels horrible. Spending the time to find a good store and get a bike that really fits is super important. There are some basic rules, like the height of the seat. Most noobs are scared and want a very low seat because they are scared of falling when the reality is that higher is more efficient and way less tiring. I would rather get them a $1,000 bike that fits than a $15,000 bike that doesn’t. For most people that is going to be a so called “enduro” road bike, that is something with drop bars but also a relaxed more upright position.
Light and stiff bike. Most new folks are going to want a bicycle that is designed for the worst possible conditions. It’s the same bias that leads people to buying a 7-seat SUV to do a 2 mile solo commute to work. This doesn’t work for bicycles for the simple reason that a light (that is 17 pound bike) feels amazing and easy to pedal compared with a heavy one (25 pounds). It seems silly that eight pounds makes such a difference, but it does. Bike are fun when you hit the pedals and you just scoot. The head rush is part of the core fun of biking. That being said, there is a minimum price for a bicycle like that. A $100 Wal-mart bicycle is just never going to do this. Right now that knee of the curve is about $1,500-2,000. Now many will say they will never pay that much for a bike, but in my experience, riding correlates strongly with fun. There are some great bikes in that range from the “big three” of cycling that are all pretty similar with aluminum or carbon (better yet) frames with 11-speed shifting (105 or Ultra) and 28mm-30mm wheels. The Specialized Verge, Cannondale Synapse and Trek all have bikes that are in that range.
Bike Shorts. Ok this is one that is not obvious, but fit matter and also comfort and people tend to focus on the saddle, but the really important thing is a combination of chamois cream (to keep the pad soft) and as good a bike short as you can find. Then what is a painful one hour suddenly becomes three hours of effortless. Personally, I swear by Castelli Progetti X2, these are in shorts that cost $150 but they will literally last 20 years (mine have!) and they are so comfortable.
Heart Rate Monitor. Most of the time beginners are going to go out way too fast. That is a huge problem because biking like many sports has a problem. If someone goes above their aerobic threshold, then the acid in your muscles and it is horribly painful. So you want to spend the $80 to get a Sosche heart rate monitor and tie it to your phone, then you can see your heart rate and make sure that folks stay in zone 2 and well below threshold. Most of the time that means 130bpm or there abouts.
The first routes on flat bike lanes. Ok the biggest problem with starting is let’s face it cars. Even a single block with cars is terrifying. So when I start this, I normally drive to a bike trail that is super flat and go for an easy ride. With the right equipment above, an hour ride is going to feel super easy if the route is flat and there are no cars. It may be boring for you, but it is impossible to learn or have confidence if you are terrified. This is where they will get the confidence to do three things: a) steer and brake gently, b) spin quickly, most beginners diesel which is very tiring, so get them to 80 revolutions a minute and c) look around and enjoy.
Lead out and Go at their speed. Never push someone just to follow you, your threshold is likely higher, so as you are spinning away they are dying and not going to come back. It’s tricky, but you basically want to make sure you are in front because you are breaking wind for them and making it easier and make sure to keep your pace moderate.