Six Bad Cycling Habits - and how to fix them

There are few simple joys in life that can compare to riding a bike. It provides us with a healthy way to explore the world, a competitive outlet, and a wonderful excuse to eat croissants at a coffee shop.

As we dive deeper into the cycling wormhole, we acquire more gear and gadgets, learn the wonders of structured training, and sometimes pick up some not-so-helpful habits.

Here, we look at six bad cycling habits that might be holding you back from reaching your peak performance.

1. Riding too hard

The top thing most riders do that drives me nuts as a coach is riding too hard.

We always want to be getting the most out of our training, but consistently riding too hard builds unnecessary fatigue and neglects the goal of that day’s workout. I see this most during the base phase. Tempo becomes Sweet Spot, Sweet Spot becomes threshold, and a steady four-hour endurance ride becomes two hours of Zwift racing followed by two hours of sitting on the floor.

We design plans based on steady progression and building a foundation for the real hard work down the road. Neglect the base foundation and the rest of the season will crumble.

2. Doing too many group rides

Similar to riding too hard, too often I see three or four group rides during the week followed by an email saying “coach I’m completely cracked” the following week.

While the social aspect of cycling is one of the best parts, too much intensity and not enough aerobic foundation work is a sure fire way to be cracked before the season has begun.

I do like athletes incorporating a group ride to maintain a level of organic intensity each week, however, I shake my head when I see long zone 2 endurance day become a smash fest because you couldn’t let your friend Fred win the townline sprint.

My recommendation is stick to the prescribed zone 2. If you ride with a group, sit on the wheels and resist the urge to do any real intensity.

3. Bonking

Eating whatever you want after a long day in the saddle is one of the many joys of cycling. But properly fueling the ride itself is one of the many things athletes neglect. As a coach, when you see the word 'bonk' in an athlete’s post-activity comments, you are, yet again, left shaking your head.

A simple reminder is that you never sacrifice fueling before, during and after the ride. That means an ample carb-forward, pre-ride meal 3-4 hours before the ride, 60-120g of carbs during the ride, and a post-ride meal that has close to 80g of carbs and 20g of protein.

Have your food planned beforehand! Don't bank on gas station roller dogs and Snickers. Buy some quality ride food, stock up on gummy worms, and most importantly never bonk!

4. Not recovering properly

I regularly see athletes riding too hard on recovery days. You don’t get faster on the day you smash a new Strava PR; you get faster on the recovery day that follows. All the adaptations we want happen because we allow our body rest and recovery.

A recovery spin does not mean an hour of zone 2 with some surges up a climb. Zone 1 recovery spins should be painfully slow. It should feel like no effort. Heck, take the day OFF!

5. Prioritizing workout specifics over common sense

This bad habit has become worse as technology improves. We have become obsessed with following exactly what the little computer on our bike tells us. Yes, FTFP, but there has to be some wiggle room for stoplights and downhills and common sense.

The workout function is wonderful, but some athletes don't know how to use the lap function on our computers to start and stop intervals. Rest does not have to be perfect between intervals. The difference between 5 minutes rest and 6 minutes rest is minimal. It could mean the difference of starting your next interval in the middle of an intersection or at the base of a nice steady climb.

Erg mode is another one of those wonderful bits of tech that becomes almost second nature. No need to do anything but pedal and let the trainer drive. But that’s not what riding outside is like. Terrain variation, gear selection, and the engagement of real world riding take practice like anything else. So turn off that erg mode every once in a while!

This brings me to the final bad habit...

6. Not having fun! 

In the end, most of us are out here just to have a good time. Whether it’s crushing a PR, completing a race, or just riding with buddies, we don’t want training to feel like a second job. Like many of our northern hemisphere friends, we are destined to the indoor trainer realm in the garage for months on end. It can become monotonous chugging away on erg mode with winter’s end nowhere in sight.

Winter is a great time to mix it up! Maybe do some cross-training. Do a Zwift race or two. Do your workouts on courses where you’re more engaged. Even during the summer, athletes forget the joy it is to just go out and ride their bike without worrying about power numbers. Throw that computer in your pocket every once in a while and just ride!

We all want to get faster. The best way to do so is by following a plan. Whether you just hopped on the Optimized app, or are interested in a 1x1 coach, following a well-thought-out plan is the easiest way to get faster. If you want to be the best you can be, avoid these six bad habits in 2024, go out and have fun and FTFP!


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