Learnings from a new cyclist (for other new cyclists)

I am in my mid 30’s with 3 kids. Since high school, my primary exercise hobby has been weightlifting, besides a brief 2 year stint with running in college and more recently, ~3 years of cycling (gravel + half ironman). Looking back, there are two key things I would have done differently in my training (and have now adopted).

TLDR: Two key things I highly recommend to those just getting in to cycling:

  1. If your life situation results in needing to spend a large portion of your training on a trainer, get ROLLERS not a smart trainer.

  2. Complete your first year of training based on RPE and don’t worry about watts.

Now for why I recommend these things.

  1. Having 3 kids, traveling a good bit for work, my neighborhood layout (longest flat stretch ~1min, longest hill ~2min, constant small hills, peddle coast peddle coast) requiring me to drive ~20 minutes to get to a good riding location all meant, to get in the hours needed for Ironman training, I spent a lot of time on the trainer. At the time, I didn’t think much of it. Following my TR plan my watts were increasing and I was getting in much better shape! What I found when I got in to race scenarios though was, cramping more easily and terrible bike handling skills. My theory is, especially without any base in cycling, the trainer fails to work all the little balancing and stabilizing muscles that are hard at work when you actually hit the road. As a result, these muscles lack the endurance the rest of your body builds up and, in my opinion only, contribute to earlier fatigue that I didn’t see on the trainer. Now, that’s definitely a bit of a hunch when it comes to the cramping piece, but I do think there is a lot to be said for the stabilizing muscles. The more obvious gap that was created by the trainer was bike handling skills. In my first gravel ride in a race notorious for long stretches of deep sand, I ate it once and was basically terrified the whole race. Fast forward to today, I sold my smart trainer a ways back and purchased the Elite quick motion rollers (has resistance to ~425 watts or something and only like ~$285 and no this is not an affiliate I was just shocked at the good deal). After riding those rollers for my indoor training for a couple months, I did the same gravel ride and was amazed at how much more confident I felt riding the sand, it was night and day. In addition, when riding outdoors, I felt myself easily able to ride with no hands (something embarrassingly I wasn’t remotely close to doing before) with no practice at all. Now, anything below VO2 I do on rollers and I use my 2 minute hill for max effort intervals. I would never go back to a smart trainer personally. It’ll be a rough couple weeks when you start but it is well worth it in the end.

  2. I bought all in to watts and FTP as my measures for training. The results were clear, my FTP steadily climbed at a rate I was really pleased with. But again…when race time came, my impressive trainer watts didn’t quite hold up to the nuances of real riding (don’t get me wrong, I was in great shape relative to my old self, I just think it could have been even better). Now, the reason I mentioned I ran a bit, is because when I started running, it was because of a challenge from my roommate to complete a half marathon. I didn’t have a gps or even a watch for that matter. I just started running. I finished the half marathon in 1:53 and couldn’t walk for a week. For whatever reason though I was really enjoying running, and so I kept running. Again, nothing formalized, no plans, just running. Running until I got tired, running slow at the beginning and fast at the end as I warmed up. Running based on whatever I felt like I could do. A year later, I finished the same race in 1:27. When I started training for the half ironman a while back, I got a gps watch, I timed everything, kept to training paces based on a plan, etc - But what I noticed was, my pace targets for running were secondary to me, I could feel in my body exactly how much I had left in the tank, what my pace was based on effort, a very accurate sense for how long I could hold those efforts, adjustments I needed to make if I encountered hills, etc. Contrast that to cycling where I felt like I was flying blind. By relying so much on watts right out of the gates, my internal effort gauge for cycling never developed. So when there were hills, stiff winds, times I needed to accelerate quickly, hotter day, etc I couldn’t gauge what impact that was having…I just knew, try to ride at 200 watts! Again, don’t get me wrong, training based on watts enabled me to progress a lot. I just think it’s important to develop an understanding of your body first, because ultimately, that is going to play a bigger role come race time.

I hope this helps anyone new to cycling! These are two things I would have changed if I were to start over and are both changes I have implemented after my realizations and I have noticed benefits from both adjustments.

Anyone have a similar or different experience?


Agree with many of your points. I started road cycling in 2016, after 2 years of Stages spin classes in the gym. A lot of drop rides, learned how to walk a fine line between blowing up and holding on for a “long” time. Within 15 months I was pushing ftp watts over an hour. Then I bought a smart trainer and went backwards, at first I thought it was age (late 50s). Then I realized part of the problem was erg mode and holding a steady cadence. Another part of the problem was thinking structure would make up for decreasing the hours per week on the bike. In the end I kept the smart trainer, have it connected to an InsideRide E-Flex, run sim mode using Zwift or RGT, and use my bike computer to prompt me on power targets. Very very similar to training outside - work all the cadence and use power/HR to fine tune my perception. And then I increased hours, decreased structure, and got faster again.


Yea I think at a basic level this is what’s been plagueing me the last few years…subbing too many high intensity trainer rides in for higher hours.


I can relate to your journey. In college, I got into track and field and had to rely heavily on indoor training due to the lack of suitable facilities on campus. It was a struggle, and my grades suffered from all the commuting. However, I didn’t want to quit my passion for sports. I eventually found a solution to balance academics and athletics through https://ca.edubirdie.com/ which helped me manage my study workload. Another tip I’d offer is to listen to your body and prioritize recovery. Overtraining can be a pitfall for newcomers, so rest and self-care are key to long-term success. Happy cycling, everyone

I remember when I started my cycling journey so this post it’s perfect for beginners!