Being fast on a bike over 60 years old
By Alan Palmer - Pushbikes Ambassador
I discovered competitive cycling in my 60’s although I had been a recreational cyclist for a decade before that. It was the discovery of bike packing that really got me started.
My first adventures were long day trips on Banks Peninsula and through the Clarence River Valley. These were soon followed by overnight trips to Little River, Pigeon Bay, Mt Herbert, Lake Coleridge (mid winter), a 4 day Hanmer/Tophouse/Murchison/ Matakitaki Valley loop, the Heaphy track and the Old Ghost Rail Although many cyclists are time poor, it is amazing how much adventure (AKA Micro Adventures) you can pack in from midday Saturday to midday Sunday.
In 2018 I completed TA (Tour Aotearoa), NZ’s 3000km bike packing odyssey from Cape Reinga to Bluff avoiding the highways (mostly) and travelling through trails most NZer’s will never see. This experience really fuelled my appetite for bike packing adventures but also got me interested in becoming a stronger endurance cyclist. And later that year I was lucky enough to be in Perth at a conference and stayed on to do the 900km Mundabiddi off-road cycle trail from Perth to Albany.
TA got me thinking about how far and how fast we can go. A TED talk caught my attention when the speaker talked about developing our potential. He said if you want to get really good at something - get a coach. He went to list all of the people on our community who routinely use coaches for their own development. The idea appealed to me and I approached a cycle coach. At that time I had no thought of racing competitively.
Training required me to make a paradigm shift. It started with fitting a power meter to my bike. I upped my training to 12 hours per week.. Winter was tough especially at -5 deg C but having the right clothes made it quite doable and a bit of an adventure. For decades of my life, I had not seen a sunrise. Now I now rise at 5am most days and get to see the sunrise in the most beautiful places. Before most people get to work I have cycled for a couple of hours around the Pegasus coast and the Port Hills.
Power meters have revolutionized cycle performance training. Just 10 years ago it was only the elite pro riders who used these tools. Now they are affordable by all categories of rider. The combination of a power meter and an online coach gives me daily structured workouts and immediate feedback on my planned performance versus my actual performance. The psychology is similar to the addictive qualities of gambling where a little bit of positive feedback leads to a desire to repeat the activity. The only difference is that power meter training encourages improved performance and health outcomes.
I have been training with a cycle performance coach for 3 years now. My workouts are the same as pro cyclists with the workout durations and intensities altered to suit my cardiac capacity and physical strength. We both keep expecting my performance to plateau. This does happen from time to time and then there will be a breakthrough that leads to higher performance. Each time I improve, my workouts are modified and the intensity increases. These improvements often follow long days on the bike or multi-day tours at low intensity.
Each year I aim for around 6 local MTB and road races. I thought I would be satisfied with participation but didn’t realize what a buzz it was to be competitive and get the odd podium finish.
The COVID situation has forced me to rethink my goals. In the short term, the opportunities to race are limited and it is hard to be motivated to train without goals. I find my thoughts returning to long bike packing rides and all of the adventures within 24 hrs. riding from my home. Interested to know more about this healthy activity that is sweeping across the globe? Check out https://bikepacking.com/ and https://www.highlux.co.nz/blog/. Caution – this activity can be addictive!
See you on the trails.