Episode 15 – The Art Of Cycling with Tim Ramsden
01:07 – In the beginning, it was pretty much about Sundays
08:04 – There’s nothing new–you can improve cycling by circuit training
10:30 – Recommendations for a busy person looking to start cycling
14:32 – Know your threshold and heart rate, and how to use them
18:00 – It will gradually get easier
21:32 – Core principles to follow, regardless of your level
28:23 – Understand why you’re doing it
33:09 – Cycling doesn’t have to be expensive
40:15 – How to structure nutrition for cycle training
47:23 – Know when to get nutritional drinks
50:07 – Five key actions to either start cycling or to make a change in your cycling
52:51 – You will have at least three years of improvement
Welcome to the Fitter Healthier Dad podcast, where you can learn how to improve your diet, lose fat, and get fitter in a sustainable and fun way, without spending hours in the gym. Here is your host, Darren Kirby.
Darren: This is Episode 15 of the Fitter Healthier Dad podcast and in today’s show, we’re going to be talking about all things cycling and how this can be one of your foundations for a fitter, healthier lifestyle, without needing to spend hours on the road. Joining me on the podcast today is cycling guru, Tim Ramsden. Tim is part of the Association of British Cycling Coaches and has a first class honours degree in physical education. Hi, Tim, thanks for joining me on today’s show.
Tim: Hi. How are you doing?
Darren: Yeah, very well. Very well, thank you, and thanks for taking the time out. I know you’re a very busy guy. For those people that may not have come across you before, Tim, would you be able to give us some background on Tim, you, and how you’ve come to where you’re at today?
Tim: Yeah, sure. First of all, it’s great to be invited on and to connect with your listeners. My story from the beginning to where I am now is pretty much about Sundays. When I was 11 or 12 years old going to school, I really didn’t like Sundays at all. I was growing up in Leeds in the 70s, it was pretty grey, and all I could think about was going to school the next day. And a friend of mine, his dad was a cyclist and he started taking us out on the bikes that we had. And his dad was a club cyclist and he wore lots of bright colours and had an Italian bike and things like this. It was just a massive change for me to look at this whole different culture, if you like.
So on a Sunday, my Sundays started to become going out with my friend and his dad with some sandwiches in our back pockets–in our short at times of the year–and going out into the Yorkshire Dales and generally enjoying the countryside. Riding the hills that we could, walking the ones that we couldn’t. That’s pretty much where it started for me.
But to go from there, cycling is like an old friend and you kind of… Sometimes there isn’t room for it in your life and sometimes it’s the one thing that you need. And it just keeps coming back. You know, you meet people who are cyclists and it’s almost like a form of Freemasonry in a way. You just know who they are, you know? And basically, I picked it up again when I was about 18 years old and I’d become really quite overweight at that time. I’d started a new job and I was still living at home. My mom was feeding me and I was feeding myself at work. And I thought, now come on. Look, you used to be pretty fit here, let’s get the bike out again.
That luckily coincided with me making a geographical move and coincided with me joining another club. And just really sort of getting more into the racing side of things which I had started to do in my late teens and into my early 20s. And as I did that and became more aware of training and looked at people around me and what they were doing… I was also lucky enough to have someone who was a qualified coach but was very forward thinking, who looked at a number of us doing things like circuit training in the winter that was very specific for cycling. And I began to become very interested in coaching as well as my own performance, and particularly to improve my own performance.
So as I went through my 20s, I sort of picked that up with using the most basic sports science stuff that was available at the time. This is back in the early 80s and there wasn’t a great deal out there. I eventually stumbled upon various methods of improving my performance, very simply, very basically and involving not too much time. That was (important) at the time. I had a job like everybody else and I didn’t have a great deal of time. And as I went through my 20s and became more into the family side of things, then that became much, much, much more important.
I’m now actually in my 50s and obviously have a family and have, if anything, less time than I had when I was in my 20s and 30s. But the thing I’ve learnt over the years is that the quality of your training and what you do with it and the way that you structure it, makes a huge, huge difference. And I’ve passed that on as I’ve become a coach and I’ve coached, I guess informally from in my 20s, but professionally from my late 30s. And I’ve been doing this now as a full time career for a long time, for 10 or 12 years now, and it does very well.
But the vast majority of people who come to me, although I coach from national and international level, the vast majority of people who come to me now are people who, one, have never been in a club, two, have never raced, three, have got a bike and four, really just want to improve. And a vast majority of those people are people with little time to train, maybe less than six hours a week, less than five hours a week. They have families. So it’s a subject that really, I suppose it’s been 30 odd years in the making for me doing this, but I’m very, very, very much of the opinion that if you look at what you’re doing with even just a basic level of knowledge–and that’s all you need–you can really improve.
Darren: I think that’s so key, what you brought up there and I don’t think that that’s just related to cycling, necessarily. I think it’s related to all kinds of areas of fitness. And that’s this notion where we either have to go out and spend an hour in the gym or we have to go out on a two, three-hour bike ride. All of that’s good if you have the time and you really enjoy it. I’m not knocking that but the angle in which we’re coming to this from is that both you and I have busy lives and we also have families. So you know, family comes first but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t do cycling or you can’t do a specific sport.
If you apply some intelligence around it and some structure around it, you can still achieve the same outcome. So I think what you said there is really, really key because the kind of picture you have in your head, or I do at least, anyway, when you talk about cycling, is these kinds of what we call MAMILs: middle-aged men in lycra on a Sunday morning, out with all their friends. They’ve got time on their hands, spend all morning out on their bikes, taking up the road, annoying drivers, and that’s kind of cycling. Where, as you’ve said, that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case. The other point I wanted to pick up on where you were introducing there is around the alternative ways in which you can improve cycling and that is by circuit training.
Because again, with any sport, if you want to participate in that sport, the kind of general approach is that you just go and do that sport. Whereas if you do that sport and some other things around the outside of it, you can actually improve in the sport that you want to participate in. So I think that’s, really, really important to point out. Sorry, go on. You were going to say something?
Tim: Just picking up on the circuit training side of things, it’s interesting because the pendulum swings in terms of training. There’s nothing new under the sun in terms of what you can do from a sports science point of view, from a nutrition point of view. Everything has been the same for about 20 odd years. The training side of things, all you’re doing now really is just using more metrics to measure rather than anything else.
The circuit training and what we used to call weight training which is now known as strength and conditioning, again, hasn’t changed. If I showed you my training programme from the 1980s that was set up by a coach, you’d see that in the offseason, very few of us did very much cycling. We all did circuits, weight training, swimming, all of those kinds of things. That all kind of went out of fashion for a while in the 90s and the early 2000s and now it’s all come back into fashion.
But the basic premise here is that whatever you do, you are keeping fit. So it’s important, if you’re just sitting on a bike all day, not even all day but just five or six sessions a week, there are certain things that you will miss. Core training, things like that, weight bearing exercise. And as you get older, if your listeners here like me are into decade number five, for example, you need to balance up what you do, definitely with something that’s weight bearing as well. So it’s an interesting one. The pendulum swings always with training, with everything in life. Some things go away and then they come back again under a different guise. But I think it’s very important to mix things up.
Darren: Yeah, I think you’re right. Everything does go in cycles. If you look back over history, everything does go–pardon the pun–in cycles. But yeah, I think that’s a very important point. So, with guys that are listening to this that are like you and I, that perhaps they really like the idea of cycling. They’ve got young children but they perhaps… there’s just no way that they can spend an hour on a Sunday or an hour on a Saturday out on the bike because of family commitments. What would you recommend is the best way for somebody just to kind of get started?
Tim: Okay, so this really also comes back to, I suppose here, a little bit of theory as well and a little bit of science. The principles here are really quite simple. If you’re someone who’s just coming in, and you’ve got limited time, then the temptation is to look and to kind of overthink it a little bit and to think, okay, well, I’m looking at what other people are doing, I’m looking at the amount of training programmes, for example, that are out there that I can find. I can cherry pick this or that, I can do some of this. But actually what you lack is an overall cohesion and structure.
So the very basic thing to look at is, okay, if you’re going to come in and start training and improve your performance, you don’t need to make it particularly complicated. You need to allocate a certain amount of time in a week, but it could be as little as, to start with, 20 to 30 minutes in a session and that could be four times a week. Something like that. Now, if you can spare… Most people can spare 20 to 30 minutes, then you’ve got a good start.
The theory really with doing less is it comes down to structuring things, essentially. So if you’re just picking workouts out of going on the internet and saying what do I do for 20 minutes? I’m using heart rate, maybe I’ve got some heart rate zones I’ve worked out or I’ve invested in a brand new turbo trainer and it measures power and things like this. And I can use this with something like TrainerRoad or Sufferfest or anything like that to make me better, it’s all fine and you will improve up to a point.
But unless you actually know how to structure it and know how to progressively overload your training, then you will get to a point at which you plateau. So the kind of the theory here is: first thing is, when you structure it, you need to be working at a certain level. So unless you really are sort of a complete beginner and you’re just conditioning yourself, in which case well just get on and ride for 20 minutes or so, certainly, for the first two or three weeks, just until you get the hang of it. I’m talking here about primarily, say, about using a gym bike or an indoor trainer.
If you’re going on the road, it’s the same. If you’ve got half an hour, you go out, you just ride. If you’re just starting this kind of a thing, that’s all you need. Do that three times a week, just to get into it. But once you start looking at structuring things, then it becomes important to look at the quality of what you’re doing. So for example, let’s take a rider who’s just got onto a hill. So they’re climbing a hill and you all know this sensation, and anyone who’s listening who’s ridden a bike knows this sensation. That it’s all great when you’re going along on the flat; as soon as the hill comes up, all of a sudden, it’s a lot harder.
And let’s say for argument’s sake, that you’ve got a friend with you who’s decided to do this with you and you’re having a chat. So in the course of this chat, as the road climbs and your effort level goes up, you’re going to find it a little bit more difficult to talk. So you’re going to find that actually you’re giving words, maybe three or four word answers before you take a breath. How did you get on at the football yesterday? …We lost… three-nil… You know, that kind of thing.
At that level, you’re actually working pretty closely to what people refer to as threshold and that’s a term that’s bandied about a lot these days. But actually, research shows that that level, what you call a gossip threshold, pretty much equates to threshold power in terms of a lab. And you’ll hear with cycling now an awful lot talked about threshold.
Darren: Sorry to interrupt. Just to kind of describe thresholds. The threshold for me is at the point where you are exerting your body to the point where you’re really deeply breathing, right? It’s difficult to hold a conversation, your body’s nearly at its max heart rate. Is that a fair comment?
Tim: Yeah. I mean it’s a little bit below that but yes. If you think in terms of the actual words, it would be four or five words in a sentence before you could actually breathe. Not before you breathe, that’s the wrong thing to say–before you would have to breathe. So it’s that sensation, whereas at your max, you’re pretty much your breathing is out of control. It’s quite ragged. I suppose the difference here would be just in terms of you could keep going. Okay? It’s debatable. It’s hard, but you can do it. That’s the threshold level.
So yes, if you’re riding up the hill at that level, then that kind of level and just below it is ideal for training. If you’re going and doing a training session and you only have 30 minutes, if you’re working primarily around that level, you’ll get a lot out of it. You get a lot more out of it than you will do getting on and being at the situation where you could have that full conversation, tell your friend the football score, tell him who got picked, etc, etc, without taking a breath. So it’s that level.
And obviously, in between those two levels or just below that four or five words, just below threshold, it’s pretty much ideal training for someone who’s just coming in. It’s strenuous, but it’s not too hard. You’re out of breath but you’re not hugely out of breath. And if you wanted to put that into a context, and I’ll come to that a bit later on with giving you more specific advice but you can use heart rate for that.
Darren: Okay, yeah. And I think that’s really important. One think that I want to kind of bring out of that, and that is: if you are coming to this new or coming to it cold, so to speak, and this is one of the first few times you’ve been out on your bike, on the road, and you experience what Tim was just described and that is this kind of getting to threshold where things are tough. To kind of get to the point where it becomes slightly easier, takes quite a while for your body to start conditioning and start getting used to raising its level of fitness to be able to kind of climb that particular hill that you’re used to climbing without too much trouble.
And I think one of the things that I always find, when I speak to people who are new to this. The first time they experience that kind of threshold or the burning sensation in their chest and they’re short of breath, they kind of assume that there’s something wrong with them and there’s not. And it’s just the fact that you’re exerting your body more than you’ve experienced in the past. What I’m trying to say is that you have to get used to this and over time, it will gradually get easier. Is that fair to say, Tim?
Tim: Yes, absolutely. This is the thing. I suppose the vast majority of people wouldn’t experience that kind of sensation at all unless they’re trying it and until you’ve done it, you don’t know what it feels like. And actually, as you say, quite rightly, you might feel like actually I didn’t like that very much. It was really quite unpleasant and I’m not sure I want to do that again. But the whole point of training is that whilst once you get into training, you’ll want to push yourself like that, and that’s just something that happens as you get more enthusiastic about it, the more you work like that initially, the more you’ll find that your speed on the road, that your ability to go up the hill is easier. It improves.
And you don’t have to spend every session at that level. As I say, if you just take a little bit below that kind of threshold level, that level there which in cycling parlance might be known as tempo. You’ll hear people talk a lot about zones and more kind of zone three, I suppose. And I’m not going to go into zones today but basically low threshold but you’re still working quite hard. That kind of training really, really makes a big difference.
Of course, the other kind of training that really makes a huge difference is to go very, very short and very, very hard. In recent years, the research with regard to high intensity interval training which most people will probably have heard of in one context or another… Things like the Japanese sports scientist who trained spin skaters. The big, big, big improvements that you can make by doing very, very hard full gas intervals for say for example, a Tabata principle protocol would be 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, for four minutes. Very, very tough. But you have to do it all very hard.
Those kinds of intervals give you the best bang for your buck over everything else, right across the board. They improve your threshold power, they improve your fitness all around, and they also burn more calories as well, but they’re incredibly hard. And because of that, I wouldn’t recommend that if you’re starting off. That would be something you build to.
Darren: Yeah, definitely. And I think that’s a key point, you know. You have to look at this as… I’m hinting this kind of cliché word ‘as a journey.’ If you enjoy cycling, it’s something you want to incorporate into your fitness, just look at it as something which is just an ongoing thing that you do. You can either start at the level that you’re at currently or you can push yourself slightly each time to improve. But you have to look at it as a long term thing.
So you touched on there, Tim, a few, kind of core principles, but what would you say… There’s obviously going to be various different levels of people listening to this, from beginners to more intermediate and advanced cyclists. I’m working on my own area at the moment and that’s I’m trying to increase my power, trying to increase my average speed. So what kind of principles? I would imagine there are some core principles that you can follow, regardless of what level you’re at, what would you say that they are?
Tim: The main thing really is to look at training. And we’ll take this and look at it as a whole and say, well, how many times should you train a week, for example? The key here is four sessions a week is great. Whether those sessions are 15 minutes, 20 minutes, an hour, it doesn’t matter. But the frequency is what is important, rather than the duration. So three sessions you can improve on, four sessions are 50% better than three. The science all says that, basically.
If you go to five sessions, that’s even better than four but proportionately, it’s not much better. So your four sessions is an optimal. Three is good, four is better. So always aim for four, even if those four sessions are very short sessions, it doesn’t matter. Try to get the frequency going first. That’s the key. For people who have busy lives, that’s often easier because they’ll be able to find four slots of 20 minutes somewhere whereas to find three slots of two hours or two slots of three hours is more difficult. So on the principle that this is for everyone at any level, four sessions is your ideal, that’s your gold standard.
In terms of how you might do that and what you might look at, one of the things that you can use here that’s very, very effective to start off with, is using your heart rate. People who are listening will think well, how do you do that? Nowadays, if you’ve had any experience with the gym or anything like that, there have been options for a long time to use heart rate. It’s just that I think heart rate to a degree has fallen a little bit out of fashion in training, but it is extremely effective. And it’s very cheap to access.
So the first thing that you would need to know is really that hill that we were talking about earlier, where you’re going up there and you’re talking four words a minute and you’re at that point. What you’d need to do on that hill, just towards the top of the hill, is just go from that level that you are at and just go a little bit harder so that you’re going over the top of the hill and you think, you know what, I couldn’t have gone any faster there. Once you get to that level, you can take your pulse for that.
Now you can do it the old fashioned way, you can find your pulse in your wrist, you can find your pulse in your neck, you can have a watch on or your phone with you and you can time that over six seconds and multiply it by 10 and that will give you a pulse rate. Or you can go out and you can buy for less than 30 quid, I think £25 I saw one for the other day, a very inexpensive but very effective heart rate monitor. And believe me, if you’re starting doing this… Listeners who are listening now and they’re thinking, I want to take this up and I want to improve my fitness, I want to lose weight, and I want to get better overall fitness–heart rate monitor is a massively, massively important investment to make and it’s not very much money. It really isn’t.
Once you’ve got that max heart rate, you can start using it. And this is what I did back in the 1980s. This was what was available at the time, but it works very effectively. So let’s say for example, you get to the top of that hill and your heart rate is 200 beats a minute, okay. 200 beats a minute sounds a lot. But remember, never compare your heart rate with anyone else’s. Everybody’s different. So you get up to the top of that hill and you’ve got 200 beats a minute, you make a mental note of that, you pedal home. And when it comes to your next session, you look at that and say well, okay, for me to make progress, I need to take 45 beats a minute off that. Okay, so 155 beats a minute. That would be your floor level, if you like.
Every time you go on the road, every time you get on an indoor trainer, you warm up and you get your heart rate to about 155, which is about 45 beats a minute below your max. Whatever your max is, take 45 beats off. Then within that again, as you do the sessions, just think okay, well, from that 45 beats below my maximum, I can take it up as high as 25 beats below my maximum. So for the guy or girl who’s got 200 beats a minute max, they can work at 155 to 175. And that’s aerobic training.
That’s all you need to know with that. Every time you get on and you do your sessions, you warm up and you work somewhere in that window. What you might want to do is you might want to say, okay, I’ll start off, I’ll do a warm up, I’ll leave my heart rate around 155. And then towards the end of the session for the last five minutes, I’ll just push it up a bit into the low 170s beats a minute. You’ll feel, when you do that, you’ll feel the difference in effort. Now your heart rate on a longer session will go up indoors. It happens, it’s cardiac drift. You get hot, it goes up. But over 20 minutes, 25 minutes, it’s not going to go up that much.
If you’ve got a cheap fan, a desk fan, that’s even better. If you’re on the road, it’s not going to make a difference to you. Your heart rate won’t be affected, not in the UK, not unless we have a summer like we did last year. That kind of training is really simple. In a sense, it sounds complicated because you’re using a heart rate monitor but actually, once you get to know your heart rate, you know your max more or less, you can actually feel the difference there and feel the difference between just riding your bike or going out and trying a bit too hard on hills, and actually training. And the differences is substantial once you get used to it.
If you start doing and working like that, a fitness response takes in between five to eight weeks for a normal… A normal fitness response for an individual is in between five and eight weeks. But doing that kind of training with those kinds of parameters, three times, four times a week, even for three weeks, you’re going to start to see a difference. When you go on the road, you’re going to be moving faster. You’re going to find that the gear that you were in before on your bike, that you were struggling to get the gear around, all of a sudden, you can get that gear around. All of a sudden, when you go to a hill, you maybe don’t need to change down your gears. You can maybe get out of the saddle and push up the hill a little bit better. So you will notice that even within the short space of time.
That would be something that I would advise for a beginner and I guess the main thing with that is to look at the key points, which are four sessions a week is great, but three sessions is fine. They don’t have to be long sessions. And have some kind of metric. If you can use your heart rate, great, that works really well and it’s relatively inexpensive.
Darren: Yeah, I think that’s great advice and I think one thing that I would add to that, and that is around the structure and understanding before you do any kind of exercise, what you’re doing it for. Because if you don’t do that, you’re less inclined to actually make progress and you’re also less inclined to understand that you are actually making progress. Where you started from and in five to eight weeks where you’ve kind of got to, you’re not going to know. And it’s important that you do know that because that helps on so many levels.
It helps obviously for motivation, it helps to see that you are progressing, it helps to see that you’re doing the right type of training. I could talk about this topic for ages in terms of information. Tim, you probably know this as much as me, there is so much information out there and you could go on Google, you could go on YouTube, and all the rest of it. But unless you have structure around it and unless you understand how it fits with you, you’re not going to get the results that you want. Yes, it is good information, and I’m not knocking any of it. But it has to be tailored to what you’re looking to achieve, where you’re coming from or where you are going to.
Tim: A 100%. And the danger, I think nowadays is that, as you say, there is so much information. And there are so many people who will say, well, this part here, you could do; you could do this type of training, but there might be pitfalls with that so you might have to do this type; you might need to mix this in and you should consider this. And it becomes that sort of cliché–paralysis by analysis–and all you’ll end up doing is nothing in the end.
In terms of coaching up, there are people who you coach who can be sometimes sort of put into a category… And not that I like putting people into categories and it’s not often the case. But you do occasionally get people who can do all the numbers, they’ll have all the software, they’ll have power measures, they’ll have heart rate, they’ll have everything–metrics of measuring things–but they do very little training. Because often they’re looking at it and saying, well, why has this gone down? Or why has that gone down? And then I will say to them, well, actually, if you look back over the last three weeks, you’ve only trained twice. You’re too hung up on this.
The important thing is get a basic structure, understand what you’re doing on a basic level. It doesn’t matter beyond that what it is; put the structure in. And when you start to do it, have some form of measurement if you can. Most people that would be they’ve got a five mile loop on their bike, that they go out and they ride it and they see what speed they do or they see what time they do it in. Now that’s not always the most reliable because you’ve got the weather–one day it can be windy, one day it can be beautiful. But generally speaking, it gives you a pretty good idea. Am I going a bit quicker here? You’re going to get quicker as you progress.
Darren: Yeah, definitely. And I think the other thing is the fact that if you have a plan, you don’t have to think about it so much. You know, I still have a coach now and my coach every three weeks, he’s changing my plan, he uploads it to the app, I just look it a week ahead and I know what I’ve got to do. So you know, when things get busy and life gets in the way, you don’t have to go, oh, I’ve got to go training, what am I going to do when I go training? You’ll have a plan. If you go and look at a plan and say, right, I’m just going to execute on that and providing I execute on that, I know where I’m going to, I know where I’ve come from, and well, l start to make progress in the right direction. I think that’s very important.
But in terms of cycling itself, it’s now become–for me anyway–from when I did it when I was young, it’s now become such a… I guess you can have all the gadgets and all the bikes and everything that it’s become such an expensive sport if you want it to be. You can buy a Cervelo P5X now for 15 Grand. And it can be quite daunting for some people when they’re first starting out. They think they’ve got to spend thousands on a bike and then you’ve got the gear and all the rest of it. What would you suggest, like the entry level person who’s listening to this, how they would approach buying the kit in the first place?
Tim: That’s a really valid point. Cycling pound for pound has got extremely expensive now, very expensive. But the nice thing is about cycling is that actually the stuff that was very expensive 10 years ago, 15 years ago, in terms of bicycles and in terms of what bicycles are made of, is now much less expensive. It’s an awful lot more accessible. So just a quick troll round, you can you can find three or four big name cycling websites in the UK who will supply you a carbon fibre bike with pretty good equipment on it and a reasonable set of wheels for somewhere in between £800 and £1000 pounds, brand new.
Now, with that, if you’re working for an employer and they’re part of the Cycle to Work scheme, then you’ve already got a tax break on that as well. It’s not quite the scheme that it used to be but it’s still pretty good. But also what you have is once you start looking at bikes, and let’s face it, if you’re going to go into this, you’re going to have an interest in bikes. You’re not necessarily going to be someone who goes, any bike will do. It might do, but it’s all part of the fun. Saying I’m going to get something that’s a little bit nice that I can afford, it’s within my budget.
You’re going to know your way around bikes and you’re probably going to spend a couple of weeks having a look at bikes and thinking, I like this one, I don’t like this one. So the nice thing about that is that once you find something that you like in the price point that’s new, you can then use things like eBay and have a look and see if anyone’s selling something second hand. Realistically, you can get something that’s half decent for even less than 800, if you don’t mind not having carbon fibre. You can have an aluminium bike–that’s £500 or £600. It’s still perfectly good. The kind of the carbon fibre stuff, it’s nicer to ride to be fair. It might not necessarily be any lighter at that price point, but it looks an awful lot nicer, and if you’ve got something that’s nice, you’re going to ride it. That’s the other thing.
So in terms of bikes, I would say anywhere between £500 to £1000 pounds new and have a look for those bikes second hand. I’m not going to plug names here, but there’s at least two very big UK-based websites that have very good quality bikes that are in that price point. So that’s worth looking at.
Equipment-wise, you really have to have, on the road, a helmet. You’ve got to have a helmet. Again, don’t get blown away with this. Have a look at helmets and you’ll see a staggering array of choices. But again, those kinds of websites that I’ve mentioned there, you can get a really good helmet that basically it’s certified so it’s safe, so you have all those safety checks on it. It looks really good, looks very professional, and you can get one of those that… I’ve seen those and in fact bought a couple the other week for £15 each. That’s an absolute bargain when you consider a similar kind of helmet that looks the same but by a bigger name manufacturer might be over £100 or £150 pounds which is crazy.
So you’ve got to have a helmet. You should really look at having cycling shoes and again, you can pay an incredible amount of money for those, or you can just keep it really simple. For someone who’s starting off, they’re probably going to have something that they can walk in as well. So maybe what you call an SPD cleats which is more applicable to mountain bikes. And of course, remember, you don’t have to have a road bike. You can have a mountain bike. It doesn’t matter.
From there, you’re going to need some sort of clothing and that’s really where you kind of stop and say, well, how far down the route do I want to go and what clothing is going to be suitable for what I do? But helmet and shoes, I’d say are a must. Beyond that, you might want to buy a computer for your bike. Now, that’s particularly true if you’re going to do indoor training, in which case, you might want a turbo trainer as well. But you don’t have to have any of these things.
The turbo trainer, if you’re someone who wants to get fit, enjoy cycling, maybe drop some weight as well, but crucially, you want to make the most out of your time, in terms of training–a turbo trainer, I would say, just a very basic model, again, £70, £80 worth, is a must. Or if you’ve got access to a gym bike, a spin bike or anything like that, that you could use. But a turbo trainer is better because all you need to do is put your bike on it, it’s there, you can come in and get up in the morning or come in from work, it’s all ready to go. You get your shorts on, you get on the bike, and you’re gone. You’ve got your 20-minute workout, quick shower, and that’s it, you’re done. I might say that that would be it. If you want to put an overall spend on this, you’re probably looking, for cycling, on a budget level, you might be looking at £600, £650 or less. You certainly don’t need to spend thousands.
Darren: I think the other thing about this as well is that you don’t need to go out and buy everything at once that you need to buy in a sense. When I got back into this about six years ago, I literally went out and bought the bike, bought the helmet, I had one set of clothes and I had the shoes, and that was it. I’ve only recently in the last couple of years started to use an indoor trainer. I never used to like them but the fact of the matter is for me to do the level of training that I need to do now, I have to use a trainer. It’s just not feasible for me to go out in the week for hours on the bike. In between the kids’ dinner, my dinner, I can set the turbo up, I can do an hour session, interval session on the turbo, and that’s my session in. I’m already in the house, I don’t need to go to the gym.
But then equally, some mornings I need to train and I can’t do the turbo. So I go to a gym and, like you said, I use a spin bike. I use the power metres that are on the bike. My point is that just, again, look at it as a longer term thing, and as you gradually get into this, you can just add to your kit, essentially. Unless you’ve got an event that you’ve got planned, that’s the gear essentially to get started.
Tim: You’re always going to be upgrading and one of the things as you get into cycling, you meet lots of people who’ve got lots of bikes. And along the way, your best bike becomes your training bike and then it becomes your winter bike. This is just part of the fun. You just need a bigger house!
Darren: That’s a whole other expense that we can talk about. You mentioned actually in the beginning, Tim, you were saying that you’d go out with your friend’s dad you’d stick your sandwiches in your back pocket and you’d kind of fuel yourself like that. But now cycling has become very scientific around nutrition. And I mean sport in general–sports nutrition is a massive industry now. I spend hundreds of pounds a year on my nutrition for events and things like that. What would you say? Nutrition is such a big part of this now and I don’t think it used to be back in the 80s and the 90s. I might be wrong. But what would you say? How would people structure their nutrition for cycle training or just in general? What’s your general thoughts around nutrition?
Tim: The nutrition industry is multibillion pound, multibillion dollar, and it’s designed mainly to relieve you of your money, as in all industries. But the advances in cycling, in nutrition… Certainly, I remember that the 80s and late 80s in particular that once you started to get glucose polymer drinks, which are basically a carbohydrate mix drink. Once you got that, it was a massive game changer and that really only came in in the mid to late 80s. The professionals had that in the mid 80s but once it started in the late 80s and into the 90s, everybody all of a sudden had that.
And that basically meant that my Sunday rides where I had my sandwiches often on the way home, particularly on a Sunday, you’ve run out of energy. You’ve completely run low and you’d be looking for a garage on a Sunday that was open that you could buy a Mars bar. Anyone who’s done this and had this feeling of, oh, I’m never going to see my family again here, knows what it is. But once these drinks came along, that went completely. And now of course you’ve got a bewildering array of carbohydrate drinks, bars, recovery drinks, etc, etc.
The main thing is, when you start this, it’s the same with the bike side of things. Just keep it really simple. If you’re starting off and particularly if you’re doing this and you want to lose some weight, this is the first thing really. The principle is quite simple. If you eat less, you exercise more. But if you start off by exercising more and keep what you’re eating the same, you’ll start to see some weight loss. I wouldn’t suggest that you try to manipulate food groups at all.
I mean, recent research, which is the biggest piece of recent research that’s come out, and that was from Stanford University. 609 adults in this study, completely randomized as well, so very, very, very much a valid piece of research, says that whether you cut carbohydrates and eat a low carb diet, or whether you eat a low fat diet, the result is exactly the same. That study is the largest one that’s been done. So it’s very much a matter of personal preference as to whether or not you look at what you’re eating and decide I’m going to go on a diet that’s lower in fat, or I’m going to go on a diet that’s lower in carbohydrate. But I’ll come back to the carbohydrate bit in a minute.
The main thing with all of those people in that study was that all of them ate less for that study. Their calorific… They actually all cut calories even though they weren’t told to for the study. And then none of them ate things like low fat or low carbohydrate-labelled products. So the stuff that comes out with a low carb bar or something like that, they didn’t eat things like that. They were encouraged not to eat things like that. But they all ate less during the study.
So that tells you something straightaway. You want to lose weight? Put in less calories, put in fewer calories. The carbohydrate thing, this has become very much… I think it’s less of a hot topic than it was. But certainly in cycling, you see this now with the, I don’t eat carbs before this, or I don’t do this here. And effectively what you’re doing is just manipulating carbs, which has been done for years and years with carbohydrate loading. And all you’re doing is just micro loading, if you like.
But the main thing to stress is going back to that hill and you’re going back to the effort level where you’re speaking four or five words. When you do that, the fuel that powers that is 90 to 95% carbohydrate. You have got enough carbohydrates stores, glycogen stores in your body for about 75 to 90 minutes of exercise. Beyond that, it’s gone. It’s all gone. And also, if you deplete that each time and don’t put it back, then you will not be able to train at that level. And that’s the bottom line.
I see that a lot now even with very experienced cyclists. That they’ll come in and say, I tried that session the other day, Tim, or I did a race the other day and 40 minutes into a cyclocross race, which is all at threshold or above, I ran out of juice. I just lost it. Why is that? I’ll say, well, what did you eat yesterday? I just had a salad. I was on a low carb diet. Well, there’s your answer. If you’re going to train properly, you have to as an athlete, you have to as a cyclist, have a significant amount of carbohydrates. It’s got to be the biggest proportion of what you eat.
If you want to lose weight, you have to restrict everything. Just take all the carbohydrate, fat protein, just restrict what you eat, rather than just saying I’ll take this bit away, or that bit away. It’s a preference in the end but for an athlete, and I’m using this for everyone. For anyone who’s training, you’re an athlete. You don’t have to have a gold medal. Anyone who’s training is an athlete so you need to fuel your training and you should eat carbohydrate when you’re doing these, these harder ones.
So I’d say keep it simple. Eat what you like but look at the final content that you’re eating and say, Well, am I eating too much cheese takeaways? Am I drinking too much? That’s a big one. Alcohol. Can I go three, four days a week without that? If I’m drinking every night, can I cut out a bag of crisps when they have the biscuits round at work? Do I have to have one every day? I don’t. I could go to two days or I could go to three days, etc, etc. Cast out the rubbish, the stuff that you know is bad, and keep the good stuff. And just watch the weight come off as you cut the calories down in that way. And it does work. And if you’re exercising and you’re putting your four sessions in, the calorific burn that you get after each session, again, you’re going to burn more calories, even after the session. So I say keep it simple.
Darren: I think that’s very important. And I think we overcomplicate this way too much. If you’re eating a nutrient-dense diet, you don’t need to worry. This whole thing… And I think you’re right–I think it’s slowly losing traction around not eating carbohydrates–is just an absolute myth because your body needs carbohydrates, like you say, to get energy, glycogen stores in its muscles. And it’s so important that… Yeah you might, depending on what your goals are, you might adjust how much you’re having but as you say, you still need that carbs.
Because when you get up to your kind of threshold level, your body needs them carbs. If you don’t, there’s the terminology of hitting the wall or bonking, you’ll just run out. And I’ve done that on a four-hour cycle. I’ve hit the wall at four hours, which meant I had another four hours to go on the way back and it’s a horrible feeling. And you don’t want to be… Because the other thing, and Tim, you’ll know this better than me, is that once you are carb depleted, to get carbs back into your system again, where it can be used, takes a long time. So yeah, I would say that.
And the other thing as well, Tim, I would say is that people get far too carried away with all of these drinks and I think in some cases they actually don’t understand. So an isotonic drink is very different from a carbohydrate drink and you use it in very different ways. I see people going out for rides that are less than an hour and a half, loading up with these sugary drinks, loading up with sugar… You don’t you don’t need it. You just need to be hydrated. You might need some salts, you might need a little bit of sugar but you definitely don’t need to be loading up on all these drinks in general.
Tim: Yeah, I think that’s a whole other topic there, isn’t there? And in particular it’s like oral health as well. That too much of this stuff is really bad for your teeth if you do it all the time. But yeah, no, definitely. There’s so much choice out there, it’s important when you start off to just keep it simple and just think in terms of durations. If you’re training on the turbo trainer or on a gym bike, or even on the road for half an hour, the likelihood is you can do that on water. You’d be okay with that. I think it’s just keeping it simple at first.
Darren: Yeah, definitely. I completely agree. So Tim, before we finish up, what five key actions could the listeners take away today to either make a change to their cycling or just to start with cycling? I think we’ve covered quite a lot. Is there five key points that you can highlight?
Tim: The first one for people who are thinking of doing this. Do it. Buy a bike, any bike, just get out. Remember when you were a kid like I was just. Ride it, feel the wind, enjoy the downhills and suffer on the uphill. If you want to do it, do it. If you’ve got the budget, go out and buy something nice, it’ll make you ride. So that’s the first thing.
Two, really, I suppose the other thing is linked to that. And this could be an experienced cyclist as well. If there’s a piece of kit that you really want and you’re feeling like actually, I could do with a bit of a reward here, buy it. Because if it motivates you… Get into the colours, get into buying nice clothes, or a nice pair of shoes. Because on a dull day, on a day when you don’t want to go out, that’s what motivates you.
The one thing I’d come back to is if you’ve not got a lot of time at all and you really do want to train, I would remove what I’d call the faffing about factor and get yourself an indoor trainer of some sort. And with that, a whole other topic, but you don’t need to spend a lot of money. Something very basic. A turbo trainer you could put your bike on would be perfect.
Number four is just going back to the frequency being the most important thing. Not how long you spend on the bike but how regularly you do it. Don’t listen to other people that say, oh, you know, I don’t get on my bike for anything less than three hours. Doesn’t matter. Usually those people are just stuck at the same level for a long time. You go and you put your three or four sessions in a week, make sure you hit them each week, even if it’s 15 minutes, it doesn’t matter.
And I suppose the last one on that, number five, would be just what we were talking about. Don’t overthink the nutrition side of things. Just keep it balanced. Increase your exercise first and then just look at the rubbish that you’re eating and be honest about it, and the stuff that you’re drinking. And cut the stuff that’s high in sugar and high in fat, out and you’ll notice a difference.
Darren: That’s some great basic advice. Like he’s saying, just keep it simple. Don’t faff about. Get out there. And this is the one important thing that we sometimes miss as adults, and that is ‘absolutely enjoy it.’ It’s not supposed to be a chore. It’s not supposed to be, oh, I don’t really want to do this. Yes, there’ll be times when you don’t want to do it but that is the time when you should do it because I absolutely can vouch for this. And that is, once you’ve done it, you feel 100 times better, rather than just kind of shutting the door and going back inside. So yeah, that’s some great advice there, Tim. I really appreciate your time today. Before we go, is there anything that I didn’t’ ask you that you feel I should have done?
Tim: (For someone who’s thinking) I’ve got this gear now, I’ve been out and I’ve bought the bike and I’ve got a turbo trainer or whatever and I’m ready to go. For those people who are saying, well, how much can I actually improve if I structure things in the way that I’ve just said and talked about there with heart rate? With structured training, I can tell you now that I’ve seen riders add around about 30% to their threshold power. If you think about that climb again and going back to it, adding another couple of miles an hour faster going up that, just over about three to four months training. So when you start in cycling, you’ve got at least three years of constant improvement.
And often that’s unrelated to age as well. So you could be my age and you can have three years improvement. Once you get to three years, then you start to look at other ways of improving and refining things. But you make big, big progress in the first two. So that will be the takeaway from that one.
Darren: That’s perfect. That’s great advice and, yeah, I know from experience. There’s always little changes you can make and improvements you can improve. I would summarize it by saying that you’ve just got to understand that this stuff does take time but it takes consistency. You need to be consistent, particularly if you’re an intermediate level and you want to advance. You’ve just got to keep putting the effort in. So that’s fantastic, Tim, I really appreciate your time today. Where can people contact you, get hold of you if they want to find out more?
Tim: I’m on social media. Instagram @BlackCatCycleCoaching, also on Facebook, I’ve got a BlackCatCycleCoaching page and Twitter I am @TimBlackCatCC. My website is BlackCatCycleCoaching.com and you can get me on the contact form there. What I was going to say is that I’ll be more than happy to put together a little sheet with regard to the heart rate stuff that I was talking about, that would just give you an idea of what to do when you start. If that helps any of the people who are listening, just email me, [email protected], and I’ll ping that back to you.
Darren: That’s great. That’s really decent of you, Tim, to do that. And I think whoever’s listening and really wants to get into this, I highly advise you to contact Tim. He’s got a great website, put some great stuff out on Instagram, on Facebook. So head over to those and have a look. Thanks very much for your time today, Tim, and I look forward to catching up with you soon.
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