I’ve always been a person who has just enjoyed simply riding my bike, with no structure, no efforts, just pure freedom to ride as fast or as slow as I want.
This is something my coaches over the years weren’t so keen on, efforts are important and following a training schedule, of course. I adopted the term “champagne cycling” from Greg Henderson in 2015. He would put that on my program every now and then, where we would go for a 5-6 hours ride on our favourite roads around Girona. It had a nice ring to it, and now I am all about the champagne cycling.
I am now in a rare position in my life, for the first time in a very long time I have the freedom to ride as long as I want, for as far as I want, with whoever I want. When I was pro, if I was having one of those days, where after 30 minutes I felt like rubbish, and wasn’t enjoying myself, I couldn’t just turn around and go home, I had a set session, and I needed to complete this session, it was part of the job. It’s not laziness, no, it was just sometimes I did not want to ride my bike, let alone do 3 x 20 minute threshold efforts. I was never a super strict pro athlete, I guess could say I was always one of the more relaxed ones. That doesn’t mean that if someone invited themselves along on one of my training rides and rode too slow, I would just ride slow with them…maybe that’s where I got my reputation of half wheeling at times. I did like to work hard in training, and I enjoyed the challenge set in all training sessions, even if they were the ones I wasn’t that keen on, for example 40/20s (40 seconds full gas, 20 seconds rest x 10). After hanging out with some friends in Oudenaarde, the Grubers, I picked up some tips from Jered and Ashley on how to become a pro recreational rider. The first thing Jered noticed was my gearing…
GEARING: More is always better
Being a racer we usually don’t have too much say with what “standard” gearing is put on our bikes (to a degree depending on the team and who you are). Typically, pro women will run a 53/39 with a 12/27 on the rear wheel. So tip one, compact is key. To really enjoy the ride, when climbing hills, unless you want to race up the climbs, 50/34 is more than fine. I really enjoy riding really slowly uphill and enjoying the scenery and feeling the sensations of the bike. I want to stop and smell the roses, not slaughter myself, grinding away in a 39/26.
HIDDEN tracks – USING RIDE GPS
Something that is new to me, and is quite possibly my new favourite discovery is “RIDE GPS”. Jered and Ashley Greber swear by it, and have seriously got me on the band wagon. What’s great about it, is if you have a Garmin, you can create a really cool adventurous ride route, upload it and not have to think while you’re out training. Usually, I would have a specific set of efforts to do and would use the same familiar climbs and stretches of roads to get my efforts done. Now, I can go have a bit of fun and explore new roads and not worry about getting lost or ending up on gravel. In fact, I love finding gravel roads. RIDE GPS is great for finding gravel tracks, and small secret bike paths. There are plenty around in Belgium. These hidden bike trails are just wider than your shoulders, you wouldn’t see them if you weren’t not looking for them. Quite often they are hidden between two houses, or through a random open field.
MANDATORY bakery / cafe stops
Before departing on your ride, look up potential bakery and cafe stops around 20-30km from home. This is always the perfect time to stop in a 3 hour ride I find. 20km from home after a hot steaming waffle at the local bakery is always manageable. One thing I will miss about those rides in Belgium is the waffle bakery stops. I find when I’m riding in Girona it’s more along the lines of stopping for a “Boc” aka a boccadia, sandwich or the day I think it translate to sandwich of the day…maybe I totally made that up.
I always envied the fact that my friends could follow the trends in socks, and kit and shoes and helmets and sunglasses. Cycling kit and socks is a way to express yourself on the bike. I figure women in general spend a ridiculous amount of money looking good in every day life, so why not on the bike? When I ride now, I want to look good and feel good. It’s not just about getting the job done, but appreciating all the little things that go with preparing for a bike ride. I would much rather invest money into biking goods than clothing. I am always one who buys cheap clothes…because usually I accidentally wreck them in the washing machine or dryer!
Finally in a position to decide what brands I align myself with (I will say this, in all my years as pro, I was lucky to be sponsored some genuinely awesome brands), I want back to my roots and contact Kristy (old team boss from Specialized Lululemon days) about getting some kit. For me, the Velocio kit always felt best, and looked best on my body type. Plus, it was a brand I believed in, so it was a no brainer to stock up on Velocio once I could decide what kit I could wear.
I’ve been pretty lucky to ride a few bikes over the years (Giant, Trek, Bianchi, Colnago, Carrera, Specialized, Cervelo, Scott) and had a real chance to figure out what I liked, and what I didn’t like. Initially when I retired I thought I would go back to Specialized, as they are a good brand, and I liked what they did with the women’s products. Then an opportunity with Ridley arose, where I could get involved in the beginning of something “La Ridley”. The beginning of a new women’s cycling community, where we will share how the bike is apart of our lives. I had never ridden a Ridley until this year, so I was pretty excited about the idea of trying out something new, and hopefully creating something awesome with the new women’s direction. I opted for the women’s Aura, the climbing bike as around Girona and can get quite hilly, and I just liked the look of it, sleek and fast. PLUS I got to customise my bike, which was an added bonus to it all.
So much top tips to enjoying the ride is GEARING, compact is the way ; HIDDEN tracks, don’t be afraid to try new roads ; BAKERY stops, a great way to fuel mid ride as well as treat yourself #TreatYourSelf; CYCLING kit, invest in good kit, it is life changing ; the BIKE, find a bike you love, and commit to it, it will make the ride that much better.