In a perfect world, nothing would get between us and our plans to ride. Weather would be mild, crashes avoidable, sick days unheard of, schedules manageable and motivation abundant. But, as they say, life happens. Even the best-laid plans often go astray, sometimes for long periods at a time.
Returning after a lengthy hiatus can be a challenge, both physically and mentally. If your bike is calling out to you from the storage room, consider the following as you get back to biking.
Analyze what got you out of your routine. If your break was unplanned, examine why you’ve been off the bike. Did you overdo it and get burned out? Something change in your schedule? A riding partner stopped showing up? A mechanical problem with your bike? Sometimes the reason isn’t obvious, but you’re more likely to enjoy a sustained return if you grasp what slowed you down in the first place.
In my case, the idea for this post came after a period of forced inactivity due to a nasty crash in a race last month. Accidents like these are traumatic, and the fear of going down again always lingers. But I’ve devoted a lot of thought to understanding exactly what caused the crash and how to avoid it next time. With the element of mystery gone, it’s easier to resume racing with the same confidence as before.
Pull out your equipment. An object at rest will stay at rest, and sometimes the mere thought of making a committed return to cycling can make you want to quit even before you start. But if you’re like me, simply beginning a new task is the hardest part. Force yourself to take the first step, and the rest might follow naturally.
Instead of resolving to go ride a hundred miles or start commuting every day, start by simply pulling your bike or another piece of equipment out of storage. Leave it where you’ll see it, preferably near the door. You’ll be on the road in no time. (This trick works on other people too.)
Check out your bike. Just because your bicycle was safe to ride when you stuffed it in the closet doesn’t mean it will be that way when you pull it out. The most perishable parts of your bike are the tires and tubes. Over time these can develop “dry rot,” which is when the rubber dries out and weakens. If you see tiny cracks on the sidewalls of the tires, it’s time for a new pair. Check the tubes (and hopefully trick yourself into going for a ride) by inflating them, and make sure they still hold air after a couple hours. Also grease the chain, since synthetic lubricants tend to dry out over time.
(It’s always wise to verify that your wheels spin freely and are securely attached, especially if you haven’t kept an eye on the bike. Also make sure that the points of human-bike contact—handlebars, saddle, and pedals—are secure as well.)
Ease into it. The perfectionist in me tries to prove on every ride that I’m capable of performing my best. After my recovery from crashing, this meant overdoing it to, the point of cramping, on the first ride back, when the same workout would’ve been a cinch only one week later after giving my metabolism a chance to catch up. But impatience got the best of me.
The key to a successful return is keeping perspective on how simply hopping on your bike—for any distance, time, or speed—is a step in the right direction. A true misstep, on the other hand, would be to stay off because you don’t expect to live up to some consistent routine or level of riding that you’ve been capable of before. Even if the first spin isn’t as inspiring as you hope, have faith that your confidence and abilities will quickly return.
Photo: Vicki Hunt