How to start a new cycling discipline

With summer behind us, it’s time to look beyond the realms of road racing and time trials, says Dr Josephine Perry

The famous n+1 rule does not only apply to the right number of bikes to own. It’s equally true that it’s always worth trying one more cycling discipline.

If you currently compete only during summer in road races or time trials, throwing yourself into autumn, winter and spring competition opens up a wide array of alternative options: hill-climbs, cyclocross, mountain biking and so on.

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Taking on a new discipline can be a fantastic way to stay fit and motivated, learn new skills and possibly uncover a hidden talent.

The risk is, if you don’t adapt quickly to the new discipline, your ego takes a bashing.

Setting new, process-driven goals is key — focusing on mastering new skills, making new friends or getting in more hours on the bike, ensures you’ll feel positive whatever the outcome and allows you to focus on improvement rather than absolute ability relative to others.

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The essentials

  • A new approach keeps you motivated, teaches you new skills and broadens your horizons
  • There are lots of racing and riding opportunities, from duathlon to BMX
  • Set realistic goals that focus on improvement not overall achievement
  • Research as much as you can about your new discipline
  • Identify which of your current skills are transferable

Research is the next priority. Gaining insight helps you stretch out of your comfort zone. Talk to people who have done that discipline or go to watch a race.

If neither is possible, go online to read race reports, watch YouTube clips or join a specialist forum so you can ask questions and learn more.

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This will take away some of the fear of the unknown. It is also worth trying to borrow rather than buy specialist kit to begin with, so that if you don’t like the new discipline, you won’t feel pressured to struggle on purely to justify the investment.

Former multiple national time trial champion Matt Bottrill, feeling he had achieved everything he could in the race against the clock, decided to give duathlon a try.

“I found it refreshing and exciting,” says Bottrill, whose advice is to expect the transition to be demanding and to begin cautiously.

“Start steady. Prepare properly. Don’t just turn up and race, or you will trash your legs for weeks.”n

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Finally, with your goals in place and your research in hand, you can assess which of your current skills are transferable — not only technical but also mental characteristics and fitness strengths.

This will help make you more confident about becoming competent in the new cycling discipline.

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Key points

Do lots of research to understand the new discipline as well as you can. This will put you in a confident frame of mind and mean you are giving yourself the best chance possible

Do keep a training diary. You can log the new type of training you are doing and how you feel about it. If you start to struggle you can look back and see how far you have come

Do set yourself realistic goals. Try a few races first to get a feel for what is realistically achievable — and don’t get disappointed or frustrated with your performance

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Don’t expect success straight away. You need to approach a new discipline with a growth mindset. Just because you are great at road cycling doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be great at a different discipline

Don’t feel intimidated on the start line. Recite a mantra to remind you that this is new for you and is supposed to be fun. To start with, progress shouldn’t be about results

Don’t rush out to buy lots of new kit. This could make you feel obliged to stick with the discipline come what may. Treat yourself to new kit piece by piece as you make progress and become more committed