If you find yourself getting a bit bored when out on your bike, or lacking the motivation to even get out of your house, here are a few tips that will help you keep things fresh … on the bike.
This article was originally published as a video, so if you’d rather watch something, check out the video above, else, read on!
I’ve got two sets of tips to share with you – things you can do while riding, and a number of ways in which you can find new riding destinations. These are tips I’ve collected over the last few years of cycling, and no matter what type of cyclist you are – novice, seasoned rider, roadie, or mountain biker, I’m sure you’ll find a tip here that makes cycling more fun for you [again]!
What You Can Do While Riding
Listen to Stuff – Safely
When you’re out riding with regular headphones or earphones, you’re compromising your spatial awareness by cutting off, or significantly reducing the intensity of sounds around you. Perhaps this is OK if you’re out in the middle of nowhere (and don’t care about being eaten by a large member of the cat family), but even if you’re riding in light traffic, this is a bad idea. Fortunately, we have a couple of new types of headphones that address this problem.
New Headphone Tech
Bone conduction headphones are placed over your cheekbones, and as their name suggests, sound travels via bone conduction, directly to your inner ear. Your ear canals are wide open, so even if you’re listening to music, you can still hear, very clearly, everything that’s going on around you. Aftershokz makes the best bone conduction headphones out there, I use the Trekz Titanium model that’s a few years old, but they still work very well. The best available right now are their Aeropex model.
Ambient noise headphones appear to be more commonplace, and they work by using microphones to pick up ambient sound, which is then played back to you using the headphones. Because the microphone may not pick up all sounds, as well as the fact that they are going to be played back to you using the headphone itself, this is quite different from how bone conduction tech allows you to hear ambient sounds … the way God intended. Still, this is definitely better than not being able to hear your surroundings at all, or using regular earphones, even if in just one ear.
What To Listen To
There’s no point having cool headphones if you don’t have quality listening material. Music is always good, but have you tried listening to an audio-book or a podcast? On longer rides, these will keep you far more entertained than music – you could catch up with current affairs, the latest tech, or learn something new.
You can also pair audio books or story podcasts like EscapePod (my favourite) with your surroundings for a richer experience as you ride along. Fantasy, like Lord of the Rings, or The Witcher, works very well when you’re riding through the countryside, while stories about space are superb at twilight, with the stars just becoming visible. Riding up a mountain? How about listening to some non-fiction mountaineering story? Or, you could go meta by listening to a story about cycling while you’re cycling – but I’ll stop here, I’m sure you get the idea.
Beating PRs & KOMs
If you don’t know what Strava is, well, you can think of it as a social network for fitness, on which you can record your rides, runs, hikes, etc. There are dozens of third party apps that work with Strava data to provide interesting analysis and visualizations, so no matter what you use to record your ride, synchronizing the data with Strava makes sense.
Segments, one of Strava’s best features, are predefined, smaller sections of your route, in a fixed direction. Strava will report segment times distinctly, so you can easily see how you’re improving, or not, as you ride those routes repeatedly. When you next ride that route, for a challenge, you can try to beat your own personal record (PR) or take the King/Queen of the Mountain spot by beating everyone’s time for that segment. This brings new purpose to well ridden routes, making them exciting all over again.
Increase your Eddington Numbers
The Eddington number is an interesting measure of how far you typically cycle. By definition, it’s the largest number X, where you’ve cycled at least X miles on at least X days. In other words, if you’ve cycled 47 miles on at least 47 days, but not 48 km on 48 days, your number is 47.
There are a couple of free sites that will give you your Eddington number from your Strava data, though by far, the best representation is by VeloViewer which is a paid service. Plan your rides to increase this number – my current Eddington number is 34, and to achieve a goal of 35, this chart shows me that I need to do 3 more rides that are at least 35 miles in length. Note that the Eddington number is typically represented in miles, and the kilometer number isn’t 1.6 times the miles figure, because of the number of rides required. All sites mentioned above will give you the km figure too though.
If you love riding up hills, you will find the Eddington climbing number interesting, where your elevation gain in meters (divided by 20 for scale) must be ridden in at least the same number of rides. For example, I have a climbing Eddington of 680, because I’ve ridden an elevation of 680 m in 35 rides (680 / 20 = 34). To get that number to 700, I need 35 rides with a 700 m gain, but I have only 33 – need to do 2 more.
Warning: Once you really get into it, people tend to get quite obsessed with increasing this number, so consider this fair warning before you start keeping tabs on this stat.
If you just ride leisurely, you can make things more interesting by getting some training into your routine. For instance, interval training, where you ride at max effort for say, half a minute, then ease off for the next minute or so before repeating, is a great way of becoming a faster, stronger rider. You don’t need dedicated hardware, an app like RunKeeper can do interval training for free, and there are dozens of training plans you get get on.
You could also work on your bike handling skills, and if you’re more adventurous, try learning tricks like track stands, bunny hops, endos and manuals.
Riding with upgrades is always fun, whether the upgrades are on your bike or on yourself. Riding with new tyres, a new cycle computer, a dropper post, or a just a new jersey makes me want to drop everything and go riding almost immediately. It’s easy to fall into the trap of not being excited about riding unless you have something new to try out.
My recommendation is to set yourself cycling related goals and only get upgrades when you reach those goals. Climbed a hill you couldn’t before – allright, time for some new shades. Finished a century ride – get a better saddle, and a new jersey, etc.
Where You Can Go Cycling
Let’s now get into the second category of tips – riding new routes, to new destinations.
Start Adventure Cycling
Riding the same routes, to the same destinations can get really old, fast. One of the best ways in which you can improve your cycling experience would be to try a new route or destination. There are dozens of ways in which you can find new routes, but it could be as easy as joining your city’s Strava club to see where everyone else is riding, or finding scenic locations on Google Maps, and well, just navigating to those points. Hills and ghats are almost always worth it, if you can manage the climb.
You Don’t Need to Start or End at Home
Don’t be overly stuck up with starting and ending your rides at home – rather than distance, focus on quality miles. If you want to get somewhere that’s outside your normal reach for the time you have – consider using a car to drive part of the distance. Or, when you’re done with the main bits of your ride – chuck your bike into a rick or a tempo to get home. Using a support vehicle in this way would open your rides up to dozens of new destinations.
Off Road / On Road
If you’re always riding regular roads, try riding some trails and gravel routes instead. These can be easy routes that run across hills, through urban forests, or on unsealed roads that you will find scattered around the countryside. Gravel riding is a completely different experience, there’s typically zero traffic and you’re much closer to nature. It’ll truly take you to places you can only get to on a bicycle. Off roading doesn’t have to mean intense downhill riding, but if you’re feeling adventurous, that’s something you could try too.
The reverse is also true – if you’re only an off roader, with typically limited trails that are available in our cities, you’ll find yourself riding the same trails over and over again. If you start hitting the road, even with your mountain bike, you’ll enjoy riding new routes and getting to new destinations. Since you’ll be able to cover much more distance on road, you’ll be able to reach, and experience parts of your city, or areas surrounding your city you would normally never get to.
Explorer Max Square
This is Veloviewer’s Activity map showing all my rides around Pune, and you can see that the map is divided into square tiles, which are colored red if I’ve ridden through them. Now the idea is to build as large a square as possible from adjacent red tiles, and that’s your explorer max square.
Mine is 7, because even though I have 9 columns covered across the map, I only have 7 rows covered top to bottom. To take it to 8, you there’s just one tile that I haven’t covered, and all I have to do is zoom in, and plan my next ride there. What this has forced me to do, is ride some new roads, in an area that I’ve never been in – great for exploration! Sometimes crossing squares off can be tricky, often there are no roads there at all, or the tile is entirely within a private/restricted area so you’ll have to do something like trek up a hill or risk getting shot (how exciting) to get those tiles covered.
Just like the Eddington number, increasing this square can get addictive, and there are people with massive squares (the current record is 101) that have done everything from carrying their bikes across swamps, to trying to enter military installations in order to expand their squares. You can read more about these escapades here.
Group Rides, BRMs & Races
If you typically ride alone, find a group to ride with. With a group, you should enjoy the ride a lot more as you get to shoot the breeze with other like minded people, during the ride and, of course, at the chai stops! There are disadvantages to group rides like not being in complete control over the route, destination, and when to stop, but, on the other hand, group rides are typically safer, you’ll find new routes and experts to guide you along new trails, especially if off-roading. Most groups will definitely help you become a better rider overall.
If you feel you’re ready for the next level, you could challenge yourself by riding Brevets – which are endurance rides of distances ranging from 200 km to 1200 km or even longer. Brevets aren’t races, but they do have cut off time for the entire route, and for checkpoints along the route. Here’s a link to the organization in India, and if not here, check out the global calendar for rides near you.
You could take part in casual cycling events, actual races or time trials. Whatever you choose, training for these evenings can get quite intense, the rides are always challenging, and they are a great opportunity to ride new routes and meet fellow cyclists in your city.
I hope this collection of tips has given you some new ideas on how to have more fun on the bike, and make you eagerly anticipate your next ride. I’d love to hear what you think, and if you have tips you’d like to share, do leave a comment below!