Road riding

Whether you want to keep up with a faster group, finish your first century, or stand at the top of a podium, it all starts with a goal and a plan

When you’re new to cycling, the secret to improvement is simple: Ride your bike…a lot. Then rest, and do it again and again. If you have friends who ride, join them. Once you’ve gained some experience, you need to pay a little more attention to detail: Do more group outings, go harder, step out of your comfort zone more often. At some point, however, you’re going to hit a plateau. It’s easy to be moderately good at something, but it takes lots of focused work to truly reach your potential. This is where the goal-setting disconnect begins.

To take your riding to the next level, every detail matters. All the catchy motivational quotes in the world mean nothing if you’re not willing to cover the appropriate bases. Things like coaching, smart training, nutrition, recovery, stress management, and motivation form the foundation of improved performance. While that all might sound intimidating, to get started you simply need to ask yourself, “What level of success do I want to attain, and how bad do I want it?” Then create a plan to go out and get it, one step (or pedal stroke) at a time. Here’s how.

Identify Your Goal

Then have a heart-to-heart with yourself about how realistic it is, given your motivation and life situation. (Think you want to tackle your first all-day mountain bike race the weekend before your wedding? Think again.)

Make a Plan

Plot your strategy—and identify the intermediate steps you’ll cover along the way. Don’t be shy about seeking guidance from a coach or trusted advisor.

Tell the World

Make your goal public: Write it, tweet it, share it with your family and friends.

Track Your Progress

Keep a training journal. If you’re missing the mark, having a record to look back on can help you figure out why. Do an 8- to 10-minute time­trial every couple of weeks to gauge your improvement.

Be Present

If you focus on the process, the positive outcomes will happen. For example, you might strive to ride hills a certain number of times a week, or log eight hours of sleep a night, or finish a half century the month before your 100-mile ride.

Put in the Effort

Get out there and do the work, or take a rest when your plan calls for a recovery day. Stick to the plan and success will follow.