The 10 Biggest Cycling Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)

Whether they're mountain bikers or roadies, cyclists are often their own worst enemies when it comes to training. Repair your routine by eliminating these ten common mistakes

   Photo: Joe Ferrer / Joe Ferrer/Shutterstock.com

From pro riders to weekend warriors, these ten mistakes are the plague of the peloton. Luckily, they're easy to correct. With the help of renowned coaches Dr. Allen Lim of Skratch Labs and Chris Mayhew of JBV Coaching, we came up with these tips to help you avoid cycling's most serious pitfalls and tighten up your workout routine more than ever before.

Cycling Mistake #10: Training Like a Pro
Cycling Mistake #9: Worrying About Fat, Sugar, and Salt
Cycling Mistake #8: Doing Too Much Long Slow Distance Riding
Cycling Mistake #7: Relying on Bars and Gels
Cycling Mistake #6: Thinking More is Better
Cycling Mistake #5: Not Timing Your Meals
Cycling Mistake #4: Getting an Amateur Bike Fit
Cycling Mistake #3: Neglecting the Rest of Your Body
Cycling Mistake #2: Forgetting to Practice Bike Handling
Cycling Mistake #1: Ignoring Sleep

Cycling Mistake #10: Training Like a Pro

George Hincapie wins the 2011 q
George Hincapie wins the 2011 queen stage into Aspen   Photo: Courtsey USA Pro Cycling Challen

Recovery is the key to adaptation and increased fitness, but the pros aren’t your best role models. While a three-hour-long ride may be an easy day for Cadel Evans, that likely makes up more than a quarter of your weekly training volume. No matter how easy you ride, you’re not going to be recovering if you’re out for three hours, Mayhew says.

The Fix: Take recovery days, but realize they don’t have to be on the bike. Spend the day doing yard work or catching-up with family instead of fretting over your heart rate. Total rest might work for the pros, but you don’t need to confine yourself to the couch.

Cycling Mistake #9: Worrying about Fat, Sugar, and Salt

Don't obsess over sugar, fat, and salt.   Photo: Elena Schweitzer/ShutterStock

It’s true: most people eat way too much of all three. But you’re not most people. “The things that can kill us when we’re sitting on our ass all day can be highly ergogenic while we’re active” says Lim. Salt, sugar, and fat—the unholy trinity—are vital to performance. Neglect sugar from your pre-race diet and your legs will fall flat. And ditching salt will only cause dehydration down the road.

The Fix: There’s a time and place for everything, Lim says. When you’re training, you need to eat salt, sugar, and fat. Make sure your energy drink is loaded with sodium and you’re eating enough simple sugars to stay fueled (try these six surprising and effective fuels).

Cycling Mistake #8: Too Much Long Slow Distance Riding

Sprint for the line.   Photo: JohntheScone/Flickr

If you spend all winter and spring in the little chainring, you can’t expect to win your local crit—or even keep up on a fast-paced training ride, says Mayhew. Base miles will help build a strong foundation of fitness, but too much time in any zone will impede your progress. It takes variety to improve.

The Fix: You need to find a middle ground between too much and too little intensity. If most of your solo training time is spent cruising, mix it up with a weekly group ride for some high intensity. And add variety into your rides by sprinting for signs or other landmarks, Mayhew says. But don’t go overboard: a cycling diet comprised only of high intensity intervals will also prevent you from reaching your peak performance. Keep the LSD, but don't let it overwhelm your training plan.

Cycling Mistake #7: Relying on Bars and Gels

You’re afraid to eat real food because you think bars and gels are formulated for peak performance. But they aren’t always. Especially in hot conditions, bars, gels, and many sports drinks can cause severe gastrointestinal distress, says Lim. Many companies still use maltodextrin, a larger molecule which requires extra processing in the liver. Beyond that, their overly-sweet taste may stop you from even eating them in the first place.

The Fix: Whip up some real food, like these two options by Lim. And don’t be afraid to hit up your leftovers. A slice of cold pizza makes a fine addition to any long training ride, he says.

Cycling Mistake #6: Thinking More is Better

Don't overdo it.   Photo: Tomas Fano/Flickr

You miss your Monday workout, so you double up on Tuesday. Bad call. “It’s about consistency and controlled damaged,” says Lim. On the bike, you improve by slowly chipping away to build fitness. Monster days in the saddle have their place, but consistency is your best friend.

The Fix: Ride as frequently as you can, even if each ride isn’t as long as you’d like. While you can increase volume ahead of a longer race to prepare for the duration of effort, without a base of consistency, your training will be futile. Aim for at least five days of riding per week for best results.

Cycling Mistake #5: Not Timing Your Meals

Don't forget to get in your protein.   Photo: Deymos/ShutterStock

Everyone knows to pound down a recovery drink post-ride, but there’s more to meal timing than your recovery drink. If you eat a large snack within an hour to an hour and a half of your ride, you’re going to go hypoglycemic as your insulin levels spike and blood sugar crashes, says Lim. In other words, you’ll feel like you’re bonking.

The Fix: Plan your rides to finish with a protein-rich meal (eaten within 20 minutes of pulling off your shoes), and wait three hours between a large meal and hitting the bike to avoid bonking.

Cycling Mistake #4: Getting an Amateur Bike Fit

Don't buy a bike without getting fitted.   Photo: Glory Cycles/Flickr

You buy online, adjust your saddle height by feel, and wonder why your back hurts, knees ache, and nether regions are covered in golf-ball-sized saddle sores (yes, it happens). While bike fitting still remains a mix of science, art, and trial by error, a quality fit will prevent some of the most common injuries and concerns riders face.

The Fix: Ask around, and find a reputable fitter in your area, says Mayhew. But opt out of any spin-scan analysis. While countless coaches and fitters extol the virtues of pedaling in circles, some of the sport’s top athletes have the least circular pedal strokes when they’re really putting out the power. Instead, ask to focus on comfort and aerodynamics—the power will come.

A good fitter will also help you swap out the components on your contact points—hands, feet, bottom—to maximize comfort and performance, so test out a variety of saddles before you give up on your bike.

Cycling Mistake #3: Neglecting the Rest of Your Body

Try yoga to remain limber.   Photo: Lululemon Athletica/Flickr

“Cycling is so two-dimensional,” says Mayhew. You’re moving your legs in one plane and hardly ever engaging your upper body. Over time, your posture deteriorates and you’ll develop a nasty set of imbalances based on how you perch yourself in the saddle.

The Fix: Incorporate another sport into your rest days and make yoga (try these cycling-specific moves) a new part of your morning routine, says Mayhew. For more remedial cases, find a trainer who specializes in functional movement screens. By watching you squat and perform a variety of other movements, a qualified trainer can pinpoint your weakness and prescribe specific exercises to counteract years of damage.

Cycling Mistake #2: Forgetting Bike Handling

Practice your bike handling skills.   Photo: Wayne Large/Flickr

“Biking is about much more than watts per kilo,” says Mayhew. You might be able to go fast in a straight line, but if you can’t tune-up your bike, hop a curb, or rail a turn, you’ll have a hard time winning the race—or even making it home alive.

The Fix: You can’t learn this stuff on the Internet. Find a group ride and ask one of the older, more experienced riders to help you learn the basics: how to fix a flat, jump a curb, brush shoulders without crashing, and rail a turn, says Mayhew. Get a bunch of your riding buddies together and practice your bike handling by purposefully rubbing wheels and shoulders while riding at slow speeds on some grass. Just leave the race wheels at home.

Cycling Mistake #1: Ignoring Sleep

  Photo: JJP3D/Flickr

“The biggest mistake people make is not sleeping enough,” says Lim. “They sacrifice sleep in order to do more work” by waking up early to jam in a bike session before work. But your body cannot adapt from training, let alone recover, without adequate shuteye.

The Fix: Ditch the complicated periodization formulas and let your sleep dictate your training schedule, says Dr. Lim. When you’re feeling tired or had a late night, cut down on volume and intensity, but amp up the intervals when you’re feeling rested. “It’s way better than any complicated math,” he says.

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