BOB ROLL’S 10 BEST TIPS TO BECOME A BETTER CYCLIST

Do these things to be a better rider

By Bob Roll

Let’s face it. Most of us will never race in the Tour de France, and the average enthusiast will never perform at the level that elite pros maintain on a daily basis. However, we can all enjoy an enhanced cycling experience by emulating some of their habits. But before we get to those, there are habits of the pros that I strongly suggest you do not emulate.

Strong Suggestion #1

Do not suffer like a pro! Bike racers at the highest level have a pain threshold that will take your breath away. They hover just below cardiac arrest, suffocation, and lactic acid induced asphyxiation for many hours each race day. Most professional sports that the masses enjoy are variations on the theme of hand-eye coordination. Baseball, tennis, golf, cricket, basketball, hockey, football and even race car driving are hugely popular. But for me, the thought of commuting to a stadium and planting my behind on a Frisbee-sized piece of plastic to observe others play a game of glorified keep away is not very savory. On the rare occasions that I have done something of this sort, it has appeared to go something like this: Guy catches ball, his team wins. Guy drops the ball, his team loses. So then, I ask myself, did they really go anywhere with that?

Bike racing is different. As a pro, you launch yourself into an inferno of misery and abject suffering. For the pros, this is a meaningful and worthwhile endeavor. If you do it well and frequently, you will be paid handsomely. For most people, though, the depths to which the pros descend into Purgatory are to be avoided. It is fine to creep up to the edge and look down into the lake of fire, but better to back away from leaping into the place where bad folks go when they die.

“As important as being one with your bike is being smooth. To be smooth requires an ideal position on the bike.” 

Strong Suggestion #2

Do not take drugs to pedal your bicycle faster. While most pro riders don’t take drugs, some of them do. The few who do the drugs get caught and become enablers of a press corps chomping at the bit to go berserk with a bank of superlatives at the ready. I personally could never see the value of climbing any mountain with a pharmacist tagging along for the ride. I always wanted to know what I was capable of and have been fiercely reluctant to compare myself to any drug-bloated Euroturd with self-esteem issues and a grim future in the factories and gulags of Europe. Drugs have saved my life but will never help me ride my bike.

Strong Suggestion #3

Never use your riding to define your self worth. For far too many pros, riding bikes is closely tied to feeling good about themselves. The faster they ride, the more personal worth they feel. Believe me, somebody will
eventually be able to push on the pedals a little bit harder than you can. I admit to not having been
immune to this phenomenon at times in my life. And those times have been the least gratifying of my riding career, even though I may have been traveling at a high rate of speed. As always, the challenge of the open road, including the camaraderie with good friends, and a sense of accomplishment after a hard ride are much more sustainable byproducts of swinging a leg over my machine. Now, here are some things that pros do that help us all enjoy our riding a little bit more.

Tip #1

Become one with your bicycle. To see a pro laid out on his bicycle streaking effortlessly down the road is a thing of beauty. The hours, days, weeks and years of riding that most pro riders put in to rise to the top form a unit of efficient transportation where the rider and machine are virtually inseparable. The point where the bicycle ends and the rider begins is so seamless that it becomes impossible to differentiate between the man and the machine. Over the years, I have come to believe that this is the difference between the pros and everyone else. Proper bike fit is a big step in the right direction.

Most good bicycle shops have a fitting area and qualified personnel who can get you started with a good position. Bike fit is so dynamic and includes such an amazing array of measurements that Euclid himself would never have had time for geometry if he were a bike racer. Here are just a few of the key measurements to consider: seat height; seat set-back; seat width, length and angle; crank length; crank Q-Factor; shoe cleat set-back; shoe/cleat/pedal spindle height; reach to handlebars; drop of handlebars; handlebar width; brake lever height and so on. Getting all these parameters close enough to enjoy riding is critical for every cyclist. After many miles and due diligence, anybody can achieve the ideal relationship between bike and rider.

Tip #2

As important as being one with your bike is being smooth. To be smooth requires an ideal position on the bike. And a good position goes a long way toward being relaxed, which in turn makes you a much safer cyclist. A rider who isn’t rigid and uncomfortable can pedal smoothly for miles. This relaxed, supple, seamless propulsion of rider and bike is the foundation of a truly satisfying ride. Delightfully, this balanced relationship enables one to absorb terrain changes, respond to dangerous moves by others, avoid obstacles and ultimately achieve a level of awareness and safety that makes each ride more memorable than the previous one. The pros are so relaxed and smooth that thousands of miles pass under their wheels in insanely tight quarters with miraculously few accidents. Observe and report to your own group.

Tip #3

Massage is good. The pros get a massage almost every day. This level of commitment is not necessary for everyone, but you should get a massage as regularly as you can. You will thank me if you do this.

“Before my collarbone was vaporized by that Swiss lightpole, I had crashed hundreds of times. Do not crash! It is so easy to say, but impossible to do. Crashing will ruin your pursuit of happiness on a bicycle. Crashes hurt.”

Tip #4

Do not crash! It is so easy to say, but impossible to do. Crashing will ruin your pursuit of happiness on a bicycle. Crashes hurt, crashes require varying degrees of recuperation, depending on the severity of the injuries sustained. Crashes can be lethal. And, crashes are inevitable. 

From the simple I-can’t-get-out-of-the-pedals tip over at a stoplight to the full-blown, booty-over-tea-kettle, high-speed cartwheel, crashes stink. My worst crash was also the easiest to avoid. I crashed into a concrete lightpost going about 30 mph in Switzerland and shattered my left collarbone. Silly me, I was looking at my feet instead of at the road ahead of me. 

During my racing career, I was fixated on getting my feet aligned so that they were straight as an arrow. In fact, it was more than a fixation, it was a coping mechanism that allowed me to dwell on something besides being slaughtered daily by my peers. Before my collarbone was vaporized by that Swiss lightpole, I had crashed hundreds of times. In all those tumbles I jumped up as if I was made out of flubber.

When I think of the danger I presented to myself and those around me because of my distraction with my shoes and pedals, I am amazed a much worse crash never occurred. My position on the bike was an ongoing vexation to me that eventually came to a miserable conclusion. I am happy to report that most cyclists are not nearly as pathological as I am and avoid crashing into perpetuity by being smooth, relaxed, alert and well-fitted on their bikes.

Tip #5

Don’t lie about your fitness. One of the most aggravating things about the Euro-schloogs is that when asked about their readiness for the next race they all say, “Oh no, I am totally out of shape.” Then they proceed to rip your legs off at the first chance. Don’t be this stripe of rider. If you are fit, then say so when queried. If you are tired, do not sit on the back wheel of your friends waiting until you feel better before dropping them on the first climb when your legs come around.

Tip #6 

Do not race the pros if you encounter them on a ride. Believe me, they are not impressed if you sit on their wheels and race them up hills. They are even less impressed if you sit on their wheels and hurl questions at them as you go down the road. Least impressive of all is when you speed up to get to their group and then crash your brains out in front of the same men you are desperately trying to impress (don’t laugh—I’ve seen it happen). Let’s all be safe and not even ride with the pros unless asked to do so. And even then, do not crash until you are back on your own.

Tip #7

Hygiene and common sense. Lastly, I’d like to discuss some issues of hygiene and common decency. Hairy legs are acceptable so long as they are not matted with liniment. Leave the dreads for your head! If you use liniment, it should not have spoiled nor smell like the bilge pumps in Barnacle Bill’s tugboat. Your kit should be freshly laundered when you put it on before you ride. It should not be laden with soap suds due to improper rinsing. If said latent suds happen to be resurrected by rain, it will look like your buttocks have rabies. Not good. Your bike should also be in good working order—especially the brakes.

You should be able to perform all simple tasks necessary to keep your bike moving in case of a reasonable mishap. Reasonable mishaps include flat tires, broken spokes, a broken chain or loose bolts. You should also be able to notify back-up transportation is case of some catastrophic mechanical failure. Never engage cars in combat; you will lose. You should strive to be an asset to your group and not a liability. White shorts are not permissible if there is even the slightest chance of rain or if you sweat profusely. No sharp objects in your pockets, no glass containers on your bike, and when in Belgium, no window shopping for beer.

Bonus Tip

Point out obstructions to the rider behind you—especially if it happens to be me at your back.

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