How to learn about cycling?

Most cyclists are self-taught. We learn on the job – when the bike stops working, we either read a manual and try and fix or we give up and take to a bike shop. Some people are quick learners, and are adept at learning all the necessary requirements to look after a bike. Others, like me, are a little embarrassed that after 20 years of cycling we’re still not 100% sure where the seat tube is.

How to train – is a whole different learning curve. In the beginning, you can get faster by riding a bike, but then you become aware of a whole world of heart rates, training zones and recovery. So you try and read a few books and absorb the information which you like the sound of.

But, just as you think you’re getting to know all about cycling, there is a scientific revolution, leaving a battery of new training terms related to power and critical threshold power. Just to increase the complexity, usually, these training terminology are abbreviated to three letters like FTP, CTL, and TSS.

If you can wade through that, you are now ready to worry about your  CdA (aerodynamics) and Watt / CdA. Which requires several hours of testing, plus the required computer skills to punch in the numbers and get something meaningful out of the other side.

How to learn about cycling

I remember reading Ned Boulting’s ‘How I won the Yellow Jumper – an entertaining look at someone thrown in at the deep end of professional cycling. Boulting was asked to cover the Tour de France with pretty much zero knowledge of cycling, Ned endured a crash course in how to talk about a sport you don’t really know anything about. (Ned was doing pretty well, until he got the Yellow Jersey and the Yellow jumper mixed up)

Cycling is one of those subjects where you have to learn everything by the process of osmosis – slowly picking up on the jargon and knowledge as you go along – without ever really admitting you didn’t know about it in the first place. It’s very rare someone will sit and down and explain the mechanics of adjusting your gear cable or even worse – Never try asking what a peleton is, 1 km from the finish of a Tour de France stage (note to family members! see also: Explaining the Tour de France) The only way to learn about the jargon of the Tour de France is to  many hours ever day for three weeks over several summers, like I did. I don’t see why anyone should get any shortcuts.

typographic-bike-aarline-500

From: Aaron’s site

It is only fairly recently that I’ve worked out the different parts of a bicycle – and that was thanks to a pretty handily marked diagram.

Cycling – learning by osmosis

This cartoon gives some ideas of how we can all learn all about the art of cycling

cycling cartoon

Cycling cartoons.com

The thing I like about this cartoon, is that there is a lot of truth in it. I spent a lot of time reading cycling magazines from the 1980s. I didn’t really learn very much, they are mainly lists of time trial results. But, you can definitely learn a lot from hiding behind a curtain at a village hall during a 10 mile time trial. The only thing I would change is – rather than “loitering in the vicinity of bike sheds”, I would change to “loitering around cycling forums – whilst trying to make sense of so much conflicting advice.”

Other ways to learn about cycling

  • Take your bike apart. You may never be able to put it back together, but you will definitely learn your bike is comprised of a surprisingly large amount of different parts.
  • Trial and Error. Trial and error is the good cyclists motto. It would be helpful to read manuals, but often the best way to learn is to fiddle around with gears and brakes and hope for the best. This method of trial and error always involves a lot of  frustration, but, you can very slowly add to your bank of useful cycling info.
  • Cycling forums. If you have a reasonable question about cycling – make sure you visit one of the many enlightening, informative and welcoming cycling forums. You can guarantee that you will gain an immeasurable wealth of knowledge on cycling including, but not exhaustive of:
    • Several contradictory answers
    • Three people to tell you that you are a fool for asking the question.
    • Two people to disagree with the above and that asking the question was actually perfectly legitimate, but they can’t help with an answer.
    • Two people to start an argument about whether electronic gearing is needed anyway.

    A cycling forum may leave your head spinning, but will definitely teach you everything you need to know about cycling. The proof of this is that actually before the advent of the internet and cycling forums, people had no clue about anything related to cycling, and spent many hours trying to mistakenly superglue tyres on to their wooden rims.

  • Fall Over

falling-off

  • You can’t beat falling over for giving yourself some of that real life experience so essential to cycling. You’ll learn that most cycling is about bravado and entertaining stories. No one really cares about your CTL, but if you have a few good scars, then it is proof you’re a real cyclist.
  • Ride a bicycle. A bit revolutionary. But, some people base their knowledge on cycling from repeatedly riding a bicycle. When training for the hour record Graeme Obree’s philosophy was to cycle as hard as he could for an hour – then recover for a few days, then try and go even further for an hour. He ate marmalade sandwiches too, showing you didn’t necessarily need a degree in nutrition to get through cycling.

Other ways to survive cycling – 1. Don’t bother learning

The other option is not to bother learning anything at all, and stick to riding a bicycle and hoping for the best.

I have Golden Cheater installed on my computer. I do upload rides to Golden Cheater in the hope that one day I will learn by osmosis what it means and how I can use the data to improve my performance.

The problem is that when I login I see things like this

goldencheater

It makes my head spin for five seconds, and I make  a resolution to try and understand all the tabs ‘another day’ But, instead of learning and reading the manual, I always seem to end up going out on my bike and doing some training.

So I don’t learn about CdA and TSS, but instead spend a lot of money on expensive carbon fibre to save some weight and stick to riding the bike, wistfully thinking cycling was a lot easier in the 1950s. At least I know how to change a puncture now.

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