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Cycling Legs; What They Are and How to Get Yours

September 2019
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The most valuable things I’ve acquired in all my years of cycling, other than happiness, contentment, and exceptional fitness, some awesome bikes, of course, are my cycling legs.  They’ve been just as important as the bikes I’ve chosen to ride.

Back in 2012, when I was just a pup, one of my friends mentioned that it would take about three years of solid, heavy miles to attain my “cycling legs”.  I didn’t know exactly what he meant back then, but I sure know now…

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This photo was taken at approximately 24-mph.  My friend, Doug, having just come off the front after a 2-mile pull, is obviously no worse for the wear and my friends are looking quite comfortable.  We’re 50 miles into a 100 mile day, after riding 100 the two previous days.

If we had to define “cycling legs”, it’s when one acquires the legs needed to put in the miles one wants to put in, without having to worry about the ability to complete a difficult ride (or several in a row).

For instance, after the four-day tour mentioned above, I didn’t take the day after off.  No, I went for a ride with my friend, Mike.  It was certainly an easy pace and we didn’t go very far, but we were out riding nonetheless (37 miles at 17.5-mph).  The day after I turned in a 21-mph effort on Tuesday night for the club ride (though I dropped off the back after 11-ish miles because I didn’t feel like working that hard – we were above 22 for the average when I dropped).  I didn’t take a day off till it rained that Friday.

That’s having your cycling legs.

So, how does one acquire them?

Well, that’s a little easier said than done.  Going all the way back to 2011, my first year on a bike, I put in 1,820 miles for the year.  Not near enough to begin working on my cycling legs.  2012 was much better at 5,360 – really, that was the first year that mattered.  2013 I barely broke the year before with 5,630.  2014 was the year I really took off, though; 6,000-ish (I didn’t keep any records that year, so I guessed low – 2015 was 7,620 and 2016 was 8,509… I’d say I guessed low by about 1,000 miles, give or take).  It was the three years in a row, north of 5,000 miles, that really got me there.

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Cycling legs are half physical and half mental.

The physical part of cycling legs is simply getting the miles on your saddle to get your body prepared for the regular load we put on them as cyclists.  That’s the easy part, and I felt different once I got my legs under me.  Now, I’m particular about what I’m feeling – I pay acute attention, so I knew within a month of when I hit my stride.  I didn’t hurt the same after a big effort.  I tended to recover a lot faster from hard efforts and could expect more out of my legs.

The mental side of cycling legs is knowing that if you go out for a 100k (or some other distance) ride, you’ll make it back home.   It isn’t “hoping”, or “speculating”, it’s knowing.  Not only that, it’s knowing how hard you can push yourself before you crack.  There are some extenuating circumstances, of course.  Maybe you bonk or you cramp up… but even in those situations, you know you’ll be able to spin home without too much trouble.

There’s one word that really encompasses the whole gamut; experience.

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I’ve been there, done it, got the t-shirt and worn it out – now I use it to clean my chains.  That much experience.

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4 Comments

  1. theandyclark says:

    Ok, this is one of the first posts I’ve seen where you’ve made an obvious mistake. Never, ever, ever, put out a list of the good things in life and fail to mention wife.

  2. Emma says:

    After six years pretty much off the bike I’m on a mission to get the road legs back – and this time keep them (no more kids!) It was a really good time for me to read this. 100 miles a week is a nice round figure to aim for.

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