Words: Brett Kennedy
Image: Chris Auld

How to ease out of hibernation and slip back into the ride cycle.

There are two types of cyclist: those who ride through winter – and those who don’t. Oh, and those who have every intention of riding through winter and have the warmest wet weather gear, but if it so much as looks like rain, will stay inside. For the whole winter. Ok, that’s three types of rider, but the third one is probably the most common and it doesn’t sound grammatically correct to say there are three types of rider. The point is, a lot of us (me included) are probably talking about “getting back into it” as the days creep towards lighter hours, with beanies no longer required. And, if you’ve been sedentary-cycling (i.e, watching the Tour is the closest you’ve gotten to a bike) then you––or more precisely, your body––will be in for a shock when you do the annual (or bi-, tri- or really-high-annual) ritual of kitting up and hitting the road. But there are ways to deal with the comeback blues and look like you’ve just returned from a full season in Europe on a Continental team.

The First Ride Back (or even the First Block Back, for those who ‘train’ rather than ‘ride’) is probably the ride you’ll do the most. It’ll be the hardest ride you’ll ever do, too. You’ll do it so often that it should be easy, but it never is. Its frequency is such that it really should morph into all the other rides of its ilk, therefore negating the actual nexus of this necessary evil ride. But it never does. It’s always stuck out there on its own, no matter what the duration between it and the next one is. It could be months or it could be only a week, but it’ll never leave – like that mate who stays for ‘a couple of nights’, yet really should be paying rent after the first month, or at least offering a 20 for some food. This is the modus operandi of the FRB.

The best way to deal with the FRB is to keep it indoors. Get on the trainer and just spin it out for a while. You won’t have to worry about getting dropped or blowing up far away from home, and once you’ve finished you can just peel yourself from the bike into the lounge with a beer, and sob to yourself about how unfit you’ve become. Although, in these days of computerised training and racing, you may come out of winter fitter and faster than you went in. If so, this story is not for you – and your dedication makes me sick. For us lazy bastards who bought new lights and used them approximately once, give yourself a fighting chance before you head outside.

When you do venture out into the real world, you’ll realise the preceding week of half-hearted spin sessions didn’t really prepare you for the rigours of riding in a bunch of zwift-freaks in bloom, so it’s best to avoid the fast groups – or even the slow groups, for that matter. Instead, pick a couple of mates who are also not at peak condition, who you’ve seen more regularly at the bar than behind them. You can complain to each other and try out your new and improved excuses list as to why you’re coughing up enough phlegm to wallpaper a small bedroom, and have to stop to adjust your chamois every ten minutes.

Now, if you’ve been covered in a head-to-toe puffer jacket and have seen as much sun as a Twilight character in the last five months, you’re not going to look (or feel) like a cyclist. Dressing loose rather than tight at this stage is easier said than done, as all your previously loose kit is now tight for some reason. So wear dark clothing instead (it’s slimming, allegedly) and reveal the pastiness one bit at a time, while your body attempts to re-sculpt the bits that do the work.

As you get older, the FRB becomes more regular, unlike yourself. Heck, my recent FRB really shouldn’t have qualified for this status at all. But, such is the fickle nature of fitness at an ‘advanced’ age, that even a month off the bike is enough to send one into panic that the hard-earned fitness is somehow leaving the body at a rate many times faster than it was acquired. Jumping back into the Tuesday night jaunt brought the daunt. Begging for hostilities to secede always falls on deaf ears, and plea bargaining for no hills is as well received as a stripper at Sunday school. I took my punishment, content in the knowledge that the darkness would hide the outward signs of torment.

I recall reading an interview with Baden Cooke some years ago, where he spoke of his own FRB – an annual, rather than weekly or monthly, occurrence for him. Unlike mere mortals, he would no doubt have a pretty good base to draw upon, and even after a month or two off the bike (and probably partying hard, as Cookie was known to do) he would still have the kind of condition most of us could only dream of. Yet he suffered the same mental and physical barriers as any normal rider does, but with a distinctly different approach; namely a 300km ‘hell ride’ from which he’d return some seven or eight hours later with a sense that his season was now ready to start. A 40km roll with a couple of halfhearted efforts thrown in seems almost laughable by comparison, but mirth never seems to enter the equation until the bike is racked and the celebratory beer is poured.

By the conclusion of the FRB, everything always seems much better no matter how badly you’ve suffered, how far out the ass you were or what portion of your lungs you’ve coughed up. Just when you think you could take no more, survival instincts kick in and give your pride a swift kick up the ass for good measure. The next day you are renewed and can’t wait to do it again.

Just make it within the next month or so, ok?