Starting out in road cycling - building up fitness and distance tips?

by madindehead   June 8, 2014  

Hello there,

I have just purchased my first road bike, a lovely Specialized Allez Elite 2014. Super bike after only 2 outings.

I was wondering if you guys could give me some advice on starting out, such as distances to aim for (currently done around 8.5km the first day (yesterday) and 8.4km today. I feel a bit pathetic to be honest with you.

Do you have any tips on building up distance on the bike, how to improve stability on the bike when signalling and reaching for my bottle (I'm weak at signalling, and I don't want to drink whilst riding until I'm more stable (does building core strength improve this).

Any other advice for a novice roadie would be appreciated Smile


14 user comments

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I find thinking about the quality of kms you are riding rather than the quantity a good starting point- for example I am doing a 110km hilly ride in July and a 140km one in August that is less lumpy-it is the shorter of the two that I need to train for. So think about how flat your routes are before getting too worried about distance at this stage- 10km with hills could benefit you more than 25km or rolling roads.
I find the best way to build up distance is to map out a few loops that you can do- this means it is easier for me to get the kms in before work because if I am in a rush I can do a loop maybe twice, or if I have a later start then I can do it a few more times. That means you are never too far from home at any point which can be a useful in case you bite off more than you can chew. I have a variety of loops- one nearly flat which is good for building up core speed and for recovery rides, another with a hill that has a loop at the top, meaning I can practice my climbing by repeating it as often as I need to but still a relatively short distance from home.
The best bet is just to get riding- you will find that you build the miles quite quickly-a person I knew struggled to do 6km but after a couple of goes he was then up to 32km- once you break the 20mile barrier in your head you will find it easier to rack up the mileage.

I used to have issues reaching down and drinking but again it is more mental than anything. You can get bottle cages that allow you to take the bottles from the side which can make it slightly easier, but really it is just practice. It is also about reading the road ahead and timing your drinks so that you don't suddenly come on a pothole when you might not have as full control of your bike as you would like. But practice it on your own first before going out in a group-I have been on some sportives where people have been training on their own and never ridden in a group before and they suddenly realise they are unable to drink because they are afraid of causing a pile up. If you do it often enough though it does become a natural action-if you have two bottle cages see which one works best for you- either the one on the seat tube or the down tube-I have always found it slightly easier to reach for the downtube bottle, so I make sure that it is the one I favour, then just switch bottles between cages when I can after the first is empty. It really is just a confidence thing and finding out what works best for you. The longer you spend on the bike, the easier the stability will become.

Otis Bragg's picture

posted by Otis Bragg [164 posts]
8th June 2014 - 18:06


Thanks Smile

I probably should have mentioned that I am a bit unfit (80 kg at 25, so yeah, a bit fat) so this is mainly to lose weight, but I plan on mixing some gym work in with the cycling to help shed the weight.

I like that loop idea, I will look at planning a few, so I can do multiples of say an 8km loop. 8km for now feels good, but I guess after a few weeks, I could break it.

I actually have a cage where I can bring the bottle out the side, so I'll start practising on quieter roads!

posted by madindehead [44 posts]
8th June 2014 - 18:54


Google bikeability and bike training courses in your local area. Strong signalling and confident shoulder checks are key to your awareness and communication with other road users.

+1 on loops. Keep riding little and often, and gradually increase the distances. Rest lots, eat sensibly, and drink loads of water. May be easier to stop for drinks during rides until you get more confident.

And some - hopefully useful - links.

I know the more grizzled roadies might get a bit sniffy at Sky Rides, but stuff 'em. It's organised riding in groups. Even if not with a shiver of chaingang sharks on more carbon than a space shuttle and tanlines sharper than a Brazilian beachbunny. It's riding with other people, and this is good.

It won't be long before you can take on 30-50 miles at a moderate speed. With a half decent level of fitness, you may be able to do it already.

Nothing organised for June, but with the weather as good as it is, is worth keeping them on your radar anyway. Thames Velo are also not far from you, but I'm guessing you'll want to cut your teeth on a bunch of easier rides first.

posted by Argos74 [345 posts]
8th June 2014 - 19:30


Thanks for that advice. I tend to stick to the quietest roads I can find, and I am definitely looking over my shoulder a lot Smile

I find it easier (for now) to stick to left-hand turns, I find raising my left arm easier.

Is it better to place my other hand on the tops when signalling, rather than the hoods?

Sorry for all the questions Worried

I think working on my core fitness and strength, with my current short rides, and some longer gym sessions, should stand me in good stead Smile

posted by madindehead [44 posts]
8th June 2014 - 19:39

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If your main aim is weightloss then concentrate more on building up distance rather than speed. Longer rides at a moderate rate will burn fat better than shorter, quicker rides. Plus I agree on looking at local clubs though check them out first-some are very welcoming of new members with "no-drop" rides whereas others take pride in the fact they drop people with a lot of alpha-male nonsense- I tried 3 clubs before finding the one I am now a member of (and it is based 18 miles from home as opposed to the 3 miles the other ones are-still at least I get a nice warm-up spin before meeting for the Sunday morning ride!). It may seem intimidating at first but a well planned and managed club run really brings riding on leaps and bounds, and will help building up the confidence and stability issues. The weight will go- I shifted almost 2 stone, (and could lose more if I just spent a but more effort on watching my eating) without really realising it.

Oh and one thing that is particularly important to remember to keep motivation up- just thinking about riding in bad weather is worse than actually riding in it! Keep saying that when the rain is falling and you will get out and you will find it enjoyable!

Otis Bragg's picture

posted by Otis Bragg [164 posts]
8th June 2014 - 19:48

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Thanks. There are at least 2 clubs around here, which I took a brief look at, but I wasn't so sure on them to begin with. I really wanted to do stuff my self at first, and aim to lose about 6 kilos before I even look at them. But I might do it sooner.

As I'm starting, is it wise to only cycle about 3 times a week, and rest the other days/do gym workouts to shift more weight?

posted by madindehead [44 posts]
8th June 2014 - 20:29

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Like others have said on here just build up your distances gradually, be realistic ie; dont try going as fast as everybody else, expect to be overtaken (who knows two years from now it will be you doing the overtaking) there's nothing wrong with steady rides and it will help build your confidence on the bike as well. Join in on a sky ride lead/guided ride (steady pace) the guides are good (blowing own trumpet) and it's a good intro into riding in a group plus nobody gets "dropped" and it may show you a route or an area that you can go back to another day.

Buy some decent (not the most expensive ones in the shop) padded shorts when you get to the 20km mark yes there not flattering but they stop saddle sores and you will learn to love them.

If your using flat pedals carry on then when you feel ready fit a cage and toe strap to them then eventually (when ready) go to clipless. Then fall over whilst trying to get your foot out, that's a right of passage and believe me everybody on here has done it

But mainly the number one bit of advice is have fun and enjoy YOUR cycling.


posted by FATBEGGARONABIKE [723 posts]
8th June 2014 - 20:46


Echo what others say about building up distance, I'd put another spin on it. look at building up time out on the bike. Like one of the other posters said 10k hilly ride is better than 25k flat. Likewise 10k into a head wind is harder than 25k with a tailwind. However, I read somewhere that it takes around 40 mins riding at a reasonable pace beforee you start burning fat. So there is little point doing 10k in 30mins. The other thing to be aware of is muscle is heavier than fat, so whilst you may not be losing the pounds, you may well be hell of a lot fitter.

There's two ways you can build distance and time. You know you can ride 8.5k, find a linear route and ride out for 5k, turn around and head back, and then next time push it to 5.5k and so on. Or ride out for 30mins and turn around. Then ride out for 35mins etc..... Once you can ride 15k, then double the loop you already do.

We all where as pathetic as you feel once, so don't worry get out there and enjoy the ride.

posted by Yorkshie Whippet [469 posts]
9th June 2014 - 9:06


I've probably a slightly different take on this, I've never had problems with bike stability or confidence - I used to do a lot of MTB and BMX when I was younger.

I did however discover beer and pies in my twenties and became a right fat bastard (5'9" & 16 stone). When I first decided I had to do something about it, I changed my diet to be a bit healthier (i.e. swapped coke for water, stopped putting sugar in tea, no more pint + burger for lunch etc) and started off going to the gym a few times a week.

I got down to a slightly better 13.5 stone without too much drama but stayed there no matter how much time I spent in the gym.

The real breakthrough for me (take this with a pinch of salt, everyone thought I was ill considering how quickly I dropped the weight), was commuting to work 2-4 days a week + calorie counting.

Essentially I was already doing the gym 4-5 times a week for 40 minutes in my lunch break - but this was mainly weights with a ten-fifteen minute run or ride tacked on - I'd been doing that for a couple of years with no appreciable change in my weight.

I got one of those calorie counting apps and started limiting myself to the recommended 2200-2400 calories a day (and I was pretty hardcore about this, hunger-be-damned). At the same time I started commuting on the bike (~17 miles each way) a few days a week based on weather and tiredness, along with maintaining the gym sessions.

I ended up loosing 3.5 stone in around 3 months, getting down to 10 stone. I've put a tiny amount back on, since I changed jobs and can no longer ride to work, but it seems like that's mostly muscle in my legs as I do a lot of weekend riding.

This may not be a sensible approach for you, I'd had many years of gym work as a basis for this which stood me in good stead for ramping up the training. It shows that with a simple change in diet and a steady increase in calories expended - you can loose weight very easily if you push yourself.

posted by sergius [257 posts]
9th June 2014 - 9:34

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Well done on the weight loss!

Out of interest, have you had any problems keeping it off now? I guess not?

I actually used to swim a LOT when I was younger, from about the age of 4 to 14, 10+ hours a week at my peak. Because of this, I would say I have a decent baseline body to work from (good cardiovascular system and good lungs).

I think I'm going to increase my gym work, as well as playing football on a Tuesday night, and aim to cycle 3 times a week for now. I think this should get my fitness up quickly, and give me the chance to build base mileage on the bike.

posted by madindehead [44 posts]
9th June 2014 - 9:58


No problems keeping the weight off, but then again I do eat way less cake nowadays and try and keep the beer to one night a week.

Now I do a lot longer distances on the bike (I tend to make it out for 4-5 hours most weekends, 60-80 miles or so). One of the things cyclists watch out for is "bonking", essentially when your body runs out of readily consumed calories. For what you are trying to achieve I'd probably not go much above 30 miles (~2 hours) for the moment - that's a good distance that you can do without taking on any extra food beyond your normal meals - more than that and (I at least) have to start eating extra food while on the bike.

I'd second the loop thing as well, for me I have box hill 12 miles away, so if I'm in a rush I can just head over there and do as many loops of the Olympic circuit as I can be bothered with. There's nothing worse than being 40 miles from home when it starts tipping down or if you start flagging/pick up a niggling injury.

One other little tip, I was getting some back and shoulder issues after long periods on the bike. On this forum a book (Tom Danielson's Core Advantage) was recommended to me, I've been following the core training programs over the last few weeks which has helped me a great deal. There's a load of stuff in there about building up stability and fixing muscular imbalances that I've found interesting/useful - with the added bonus that I no longer wander all over the road while eating/drinking when on the bike.

posted by sergius [257 posts]
9th June 2014 - 10:21

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I find an easy way of motivating your self is that you combine drinking/eating with a target. When I reach the top of the hardest hill about half way through my regular loop I simply stop, perch myself on the bench at the village green and down some sports drink and a bit of flap jack. It's not like someone is chasing me so I am not feeling any reason to re hydrate or eat on the move...

posted by MKultra [384 posts]
9th June 2014 - 10:38


You don't have to lose weight to join a club! If you like the idea and they seem a nice bunch then just do it.

The thing that will make the biggest difference is riding your bike. Practice, practice, practice. Once a week do your long ride. If you're feeling good then try to ride further than the previous week. If you get home and your legs feel weak then you've done it properly Wink

To lose weight the simplest way is to cut down on treats and snacks. Eat more fresh fruit and veg (esp. the veg) and less of starchy and processed food. Try not to load up before you ride. Start empty and, if it's more than an hour, nibble on stuff every 30mins - a banana or fruit/cereal bar, half a flapjack, a fig roll. Aim to drink up to 500ml of plain water per hour of riding.

Bikeability is worth investigating. Or read Cyclecraft by John Franklin and online articles (there are loads) e.g.
Bikeradar have some decent nutrition articles in their fitness section:
Just pick out the highlights, don't get bogged down in the detail.

Core strength and gym work can be useful if you have a specific weakness but they won't make you a fitter or more proficient cyclist.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2372 posts]
9th June 2014 - 12:43


So, I found a nice loop near my flat, it's around 2.5 miles long in total.

It's only around about 2 miles from my flat, so nice and close if I need to suddenly turn back. Going to give it a try tonight!

Hopefully I can manage a good few loops before I get too tired! Sub 20 miles is safe for now I guess Smile

posted by madindehead [44 posts]
11th June 2014 - 14:46

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