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Gear Prudence: I’d like to get more out of my bike, but I’m out of shape. I don’t see the path between racing in spandex and what I’m doing now, which is, well, commuting to work some days. I’m intimidated by my friends who race but ride more than friends who don’t ride at all. What are some starting steps to getting faster and fitter and maybe one day—not quite now but maybe by spring—upgrading my bike and investing in a lifestyle? —Friends Are Strong, Terrifying Entry Rider
Dear FASTER: GP supposes that you could recognize that improved speed and fitness is a longterm project, adopt incremental changes, put yourself on regular regimen of workouts (both on the bike and off), assess your diet and nutrition, set goals, be disciplined, and hold yourself accountable, but this sounds very hard and time consuming. What if instead you just make slower friends? D.C. Public Schools is now teaching all second graders how to ride bikes, so find a gaggle, challenge them to a race, crush those wobbly noobs, and feel better about your comparative cycling aptitude. That’s vastly more expedient.
Fitness goals, and the means to achieve them, are highly individualistic. Different bodies are going to respond in different ways to various forms of training, so it’s important to craft a personalized plan that works for you and the time you have to commit to it. The key will be to accumulate more miles on the bike and find the time in your schedule to do it. Weekend group rides—of which there is no paucity in and around D.C.—are a great way to start to make the transition from sometimes bike commuter to More Serious Cyclist (whatever that means to you). The spectrum of rides catering to differing levels of speed and endurance will allow you to steadily progress as your fitness improves. Don’t overdo it and don’t get discouraged if you find yourself falling off the back of the pack a mere few minutes after the start. Invariably you will chance upon a ride that surpasses your abilities, and it’s OK to admit that rather than scrap the whole enterprise.
If groups aren’t your thing, solo jaunts can certainly help build speed and stamina. Keep your expectations realistic, diligently track your progress (there are apps), and figure out what will sufficiently motivate you to keep at it (for GP, it’s exploration and tacos). Be sure to mix up your route. Repetition can be stultifying. But consistency and hard work are key. It’s not like you can just take some drugs and magically get faster at cycling. —GP
Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee, who tweets @sharrowsDC. Got a question about bicycling? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.