Updated: Apr 21, 2022
Cycling is one form of exercise that is acceptable in terms of social distancing suggestions made by the government and the CDC. How can we make cycling an even more enjoyable experience in these trying times? As a coach, I know the psychological benefits are great but since I’m not an expert on those currently, I decided to look at what I do know - adaptations! Only a few adaptations are going to be included in this article, but hopefully, it can get you started thinking about creative ways to solve your problems and get out and ride!
Adaptations can take place both inside and outside the body and can simultaneously make cycling more comfortable and more efficient (therefore, faster). It’s true that a cyclist is only as good as their ‘engine’. I’m the biggest supporter of that. It’s the first thing I suggest when people ask what they can get to become faster; I say, “A faster engine." But, here I’m going to focus on the adaptations we can make outside the body to become faster, stronger, and more competitive cyclists, and also those that allow us to enjoy cycling more. These are not adaptations we do instead of training, but adaptations to make training better.
There are many race-legal ways to adapt your bike to be more conducive to your body geometry, capabilities, and comfort. I’m not just a triathlon, paratriathlon, and cycling coach, but a para-cyclist myself. So I'm familiar with adaptations made to bikes to replace what a para-cyclist does not have, but some can be used in the able-bodied world as well. Bike adaptations can be anything from adding an aero water bottle to your bike to adding a brake splitter and shifters to operate only on the left side. First, if you’re going to use ANY adaptations for any race, check to see what approval must be obtained in order to be in compliance with racing rules and regulations.
The first section of this article is about all the different types of bikes a para-athlete may need. “But Coach Becky, I don't need to know these adaptations because either I’m able-bodied or I have my bike already figured out!” It’s fine if you skip ahead to the next section, but I encourage you to go ahead and read it - it may spark some creative thought for a problem you’re having with your own cycling! Para adaptations are a bit more obvious than able-bodied adaptations. Some of these changes can be entire bikes, like changing from an upright bike to a handcycle or an upright trike. This seems like an obvious adaptation, but it is an adaptation nonetheless.
There are smaller adaptations you can make to your upright bike, handcycle, or tricycle to make riding and training more efficient. Lower classifications in handcycles may need some extra straps, non-flexible gloves or grips, etc. to assist with gripping and handling. Handcycles may also require a special pad behind their back to support the cyclist in their optimal and most efficient position. Brake splitters, which make both the rear and front brake operable with one hand, may be necessary for the safety of your bike. It may also be necessary to adapt your electronic shifters to shift only on one side. Tandem bikes may also need to have the bike modified to fit both cyclists efficiently. This may take the knowledge of a professional bike fitter.
Able-bodied adaptations can be for anyone and include everything from adding a particular water bottle holder to changing out the seat to a more ergonomically and anatomically correct one for your particular body. Speaking of which, one of the potentially best (in my opinion) adaptations to your bike that you make is changing out an uncomfortable saddle for one that better fits your glutes and the shape of your unique structures. This alone saved my rear...literally.
Another easy adaptation you can make to not only give you a more comfortable ride, but a cleaner one at that (and we know how important that is in today’s world…) is to change your bar tape. “But Coach Becky, changing my bar tape isn’t going to make me faster or more efficient!” Well, not directly it won’t. But it will add grip and cushion and get rid of years of sweat and germs.
Another very simple way to modify your bike is to add a hydration system. Whether it’s an aero hydration system, water bottle cages on the frame, or a system where you wear water on your back and have (essentially) a giant straw you drink the liquid from, this is a necessary adaptation to take your cycling further - literally! If you are planning on going great distances without planned breaks, you, along with your coach or an educated friend, need to plan for your consumption needs.
These are just a few of the many small, almost minuscule adaptations you can make easily to your bike, trike, handcycle, or tandem a much better experience. How have you created small adaptations to your cycling experience?