An article by David Beard, 17 February 2015
David Beard is an Exercise Physiologist who has been cycling in Perth since 1996. He was one of the early Old Papas riders; probably Perth’s first non-club cycling group of middle-aged men riding to stay fit and enjoy their Sunday morning ride around the river.
‘All the press coverage last month about cyclists on the roads in WA got me thinking about how we cyclists may be contributing to the danger on the roads and whether we are in fact improving our health and fitness as much as possible.
I’ve been riding in Perth now for almost 30 years and in that time tens of thousands of cyclists join the sport and hundreds of new “rides” appearing each year. While that is great, I’m concerned that the way many groups ride is not only dangerous but also not as effective as it could be from a training point of view.
Most of us aren’t training for the Olympics or even to compete; it’s mostly to keep fit, stay healthy and maybe justify that coffee or an extra beer on Friday night. Even if you are training up for an event, the way many group rides function isn’t the best way to improve fitness and certainly isn’t the safest way to go.
Many rides I see, and some I confess to being involved in, seem to operate from the premise that going flat out all the way and trying to drop the other cyclists is the way to improved fitness. It isn’t. Athletes don’t train hard all the time. Every session isn’t going flat out all the time.
Sure, they have sections of their workout where they are going at full-speed but they do very little training at close to maximum. They may do short bursts at top pace or go-for-it up a hill, but then they ease off to allow their body to recover for the next burst of effort. This recovery time is when they get fitter.
Athletes also know that every training session doesn’t have to be all-out. They don’t get home from every ride ‘shattered’. Some training sessions are actually enjoyable and allow the body to recover and build on their fitness.
Too many riders in Perth seem to think going easy is a waste of their time, but it isn’t. That’s when you get fitter.
Not only does riding “flat out’ not improve your fitness it makes the ride much more dangerous.
When riders are struggling to ‘hold-on’ so they don’t get dropped, they make mistakes and they take unnecessary risks. How often have you seen someone run a red light or go through a stop sign because if they stopped they would get dropped? How often have you done it?
As a cycling community we need to get smarter about how we ride and train. Rides can certainly have ‘fast’ sections in them, but choose places where it is safe, where there aren’t lights, intersections or dangerous corners. Make these parts of the ride the recovery sections, where the faster riders sit up and wait for the others to catch up and recover.
Use hills a an opportunity to push yourself, but if you are one of the faster climbers, sit up or better still circle back and drag the slower riders up to the group. Don’t ride on and make the slower riders take risks to catch up. You have an obligation to make the ride safe for everyone.
If the ride isn’t fast enough for you, go find a faster group, but don’t put your friend’s lives at risk.
It is fantastic to see so many people taking up this amazing sport. If we can get even more people participating, it will be safer on the roads for all of us and it will do more for the health of West Australians than any new hospital ever will. We need to encourage more people to start riding, but bad press and reports of cyclists breaking the road rules, being injured or killed doesn’t help that.
I hope these thoughts make you stop and think about why you are cycling and what you want to get out of it. I hope it encourages groups to change their rides and the culture of their rides to make them more effective and safer for everyone.
Remember, you don’t get fitter riding hard all the time. You don’t get faster putting your mate’s lives at risk. You can’t get fit from a hospital bed and you certainly can’t get fit from a coffin.
Cycling is a great way to stay fit and healthy, but only if you ride smart and ride safe.’