5 Things I Learned from My First Fondo

February 5, 2015 in biking, Events, Exercise, Outdoor Activity, Race

Photo by: Sportograf

In September of 2014 I rode in my very first Whistler GranFondo, a 122km bike ride from Vancouver to Whistler, and it was an awesome experience. A Gran Fondo is defined as a big group ride that is usually longer than 100 kilometres or more. Riders of all skill levels and experience can participate and the ride is organized like a race; although it is not meant to be a race there are race elements built into it for more competitive riders. Whether you’re racing or just want the satisfaction of finishing the ride, gran fondos offer a challenging thrill for everyone.

As someone relatively new to road cycling, I learned a lot on the journey to my first gran fondo. Here are five (of many) things I learned from the experience leading up to the big day. Although these are not specifically about the day itself (maybe I’ll save that for another post) these were some valuable lessons learned along the way. If you are thinking about getting into cycling or want to ride in your first fondo too, I hope this provides you with some helpful insight.

1. Get fit. I don’t mean fit in terms of muscularity, endurance, and strength; although that will come with training. I mean ‘fit’ in terms of being properly fitted on your bike. A proper bike fit can help prevent injuries and reduce discomfort associated with a poor bike setup.

BikeFitting

Many specialty bike shops offer bike fitting services that can help fine-tune your bike to your size and riding needs. I had a bike fit done with a professionally certified bike fitter and it was a really valuable learning experience. I only wish that I had done it sooner. The session consisted of a thorough analysis of my riding needs, goals, habits, posture, flexibility, equipment, even down to the type of eye-wear I use when I ride. They hooked up sensors to different parts of my body and measured my movements while I rode my bike on a stationary trainer. The sensors were connected to a computer which projected a stickman-like figure of me on a screen analyzing all my numbers – I felt like cyborg! After getting my bike fit, we made some adjustments to my bike’s set-up to give me a more comfortable and efficient ride.

2. No shame in spandex. Wearing the proper gear can make a huge difference to the riding experience. A good pair of padded cycling shorts and a proper fitting cycling jersey with pockets on the back are incredibly practical, especially on long rides. It’s amazing how much you can cram into those little pockets on the back of those tight little jerseys; I remember stuffing pb&j sandwiches, energy bars, a banana, and energy gels with plenty of room to spare.

Sunny day at Porteau Cove

A beautiful day at Porteau Cove, Photo credit: Chuck

 

3.  Cycling is not cheap. The start up costs add up. At first you think that all you need is a bike but think again. Once you get a bike you realize there’s a whole lot more in store. Here are some additional items for consideration.

– helmet (I had an old one but as I learned with child car seats, they have an expiry date)
– clipless pedals
– cycling cleats/shoes
– accessories; bike bump or CO2 cartridges, water bottles, bottle cages, lights, sunglasses, spare tubes, saddle bag, a multi-tool, tire levers, cleaning supplies
– apparel: shorts, jerseys, gloves, vest or jacket (for those rainy day rides)
– bike computer

Now you don’t have to get all these things at once and instead gradually build up to it. So while it’s not cheap to get started, once you have most of the essential gear, you’re pretty much set to hit the road whenever you like. However, after riding for a while and seeing many other bikes on the road, you may be tempted to get a newer, lighter, flashier bike with better components! I’ve often heard amongst other cyclists that the appropriate number of bikes you should own can be boiled down to a simple formula, n+1. With ‘n’ being the number of bikes you already own.

At the top of Cypress Mountain.

Atop Cypress with the support of ride leaders Kelly and Rob of the JUST GIVER 4PD cycling club.

 

4. Chamois cream is a thing. Once I started going on longer rides, I was thankful this existed. You can apply it to the inside of your shorts or directly to your skin. I always did the latter. Chamois cream improves comfort in the saddle and can help prevent chaffing. TMI.

Taking in the view at Whytecliff Park, West Vancouver.

Taking in the view at Whytecliff Park, West Vancouver. Photo credit: K.Jablonski

5. There is a lot beauty to be seen out there and it’s better seen on two wheels. I feel fortunate to live in such a beautiful place but I’m sure wherever you live the beauty is magnified tenfold when you’re on your bike, or maybe it’s just the endorphins talking.

Some of the places I biked to during my training rides (in no particular order)

UBC
Spanish Banks
Queen Elizabeth Park
Stanley Park
Iona Beach
Deep Cove
Seymour demonstration forest
Cypress Mountain
Steveston Village
Porteau Cove
Whytecliff Park
River Road
Pitt Meadows
Westwood Plateau
Burnaby Mountain
Belcarra Regional Park
Anmore
Horseshoe Bay

These are all beautiful places in their own unique ways and sure you can also get there by driving or some other mode of transport but the journey of getting there by bike, the things you see along the way, the neighbourhoods you pass, the struggle, and the sense of accomplishment of getting there (and back) is much much more rewarding.

Happy to cross the finish line in Whistler, BC. Look at that smile!

Happy to cross the finish line in Whistler, BC. Look at that smile! Photo by: Sportograf

Thanks for allowing me to share my experience with you. If you have any questions/comments or if you would like to go for a ride sometime or just talk bikes, please use the comments section below.

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