Improving Cycling Skills

When training for a Ride, you should focus on getting you ready for the following components:

  • Skills: make sure you master using your gears, brakes, and general bike handling
  • Distance: you should be comfortable riding 75% of the distance required each day
  • Endurance: get in plenty of “time in the saddle,” if possible on consecutive days
  • Climbing: the ride is hilly, and you should be prepared for both the ups and downs
  • Challenging Conditions: we ride rain or shine, so you should be comfortable adapting as needed
  • Group riding: try to ride with a cycling group or participate in a local community ride

For information regarding local training rides in your area, please contact us at info@israelride.org.

Skill Building and Gearing

The more comfortable you are with your bike, the easier your training and, ultimately, your Ride will be. Riders have often commented that after a multi-day ride they have felt “one with the bike” by which they mean they have figured out how to handle the bike to its best ability. Ideally, you should get as much of that handling down before your Ride. This can involve a few things:

Using GearsĀ and Cadence

This is the hardest to master but is one of the most useful tools to learn. On terrain that has rolling hills, knowing when to shift your gears up or down can be key to maintaining your momentum and saving you a lot of energy on longer, hillier rides.

The system of gears on multi-speed bicycles lets you choose different pedaling rates (cadences). Your cadence is the pedal revolutions per minute, and ideally, your cadence should not fluctuate too much when you ride. Skillful cyclists use a brisk, steady cadence of 90-100 pedal revolutions per minute, using the various gears to maintain a constant cadence over varying terrain (you will eventually drop on tough hills, but generally try to maintain a constant cadence).

Spinning in a gear that is too low (making it “easier” to pedal) is tiring and makes for a choppy ride; pushing a gear that is too high (making it “harder” to pedal) is a primary cause of knee problems and the major reason people must stop cycling on a tour. (This is an especially common error but remember, when you’re riding long distances, you don’t want to feel like your legs are working hard!)

At first, a cadence of 90 may seem that you are moving your legs much faster than your comfort level, but if you train to adapt to that pedal speed, you will find it less tiring on a long ride.


While our rides are on-road, there are still obstacles to avoid, such as glass, sewer grates, and other debris on the road. Knowing how to comfortably handle your bike to maneuver around such road hazards will increase your safety and the safety of riders around you. You should also be comfortable to move your body while on your bike.

To practice, find a painted straight line in a parking lot or a cycle path and follow it as closely as you can. Practice looking back until you can do so without veering to either side. Though not required, a rearview mirror attached to your helmet or handlebars will make checking behind you easier and safer.

Don’t make abrupt steering movements, especially when riding down hills or on slippery surfaces, or your tires may lose traction. Avoid pedaling when you’re leaning into a turn; your pedal or toe clip could catch on the pavement and cause you to fall.


Whether it is on long descents, going around turns, or stopping at red lights, being confident in your ability to maintain control of your bike is key. Only time in the saddle can help you improve your confidence in these areas.

A cardinal rule of bicycling is to brake before you must, especially on curves and down hills. Brake just before going into a curve; then, if you need to slow down more, brake gently with the rear brake while in the curve. Always apply brakes gradually so you do not skid and so that you do not surprise anyone behind you. Apply right (rear) first, and then ease on the left (front) break, so as not to flip over your handlebars.

If you are new to riding, consider finding a skills building class at a bike shop or cycling group near you.

Watch this video on changing bike gears

Stamina and Endurance

This may be the longest ride you have ever trained for. Even if you have ridden longer distances in the past, cycling for multiple days is a tough challenge. While you should focus your training on skills, speed, and hill climbing and descending, proper endurance training will help you enjoy the whole ride.

The most important part of building stamina is to increase your time in the saddle. This doesn’t mean that you need to go on multiple long rides each week. Rather, you should try to get out on your bike multiple times a week, even if just for a half-hour for a short ride. This will train your body to be ready for the multiple days of cycling.

In addition, you should try to do one longer ride per week, two hours or more, which you should increase in length and difficulty as the ride nears. If you are just starting to train, you do not need to be setting speed records or conquering hills on these rides but should focus on building stamina by riding steadily for long periods of time.

Some riders find it beneficial to track their cycling to see improvement over time. Getting a cycling computer, or speedometer, for the bike can help your training as you track your mileage and speed. A computer with a cadence, or pedal speed meter, can help you keep a consistent tempo in your pedaling, which in turn leads to a smoother ride for your knees and body as a whole.

Watch this video on how to build cycling stamina



The Israel RideĀ covers a wide variety of terrain, including many challenging hills. Most of the days are rolling hills – but sometimes there is more up than down. It is important to train for these hills, both in terms of endurance and cycling technique.

For rolling hills, the key is to attack the hill. Most climbs are preceded by a descent, however short, or a flat stretch. You should use the descent to gain speed and use that momentum to carry you up as much of the hill as possible. The key to this is to pedal fast down the hill, and then to shift your gears as you transition to the climb so you keep up the fast pedal speed as you ascend.

You will find that hills are much more manageable if your momentum has carried you up a portion of the climb. For longer climbs, remember that you can always stop to take a rest – especially if it is hot out and your heart rate is high.

On the challenging climbs, we often have crew cheering at the top or along the climb!


Along with the climbs, there are many long descents. Remember that you do not need to set any speed records while going downhill – the most important thing is to remain in control at all times. Follow these steps for easy descents:


  1. Brake early. Don’t wait until you are on the brink of going too fast, but control your speed the whole way down.
  2. Use both brakes, feathering them as needed. Holding down on your brakes for extended periods of time wears out your brake and does not give you the control you need. Rather, pump your brakes as needed, given them time to rest so they do not overheat. You want to use mostly your rear brake, but pump the front as well for more control. Do not just use your front brake – that can make you stop short and fall.
  3. Shift your body weight further back on the saddle. If you move your hips back in your seat, your center of gravity changes, and you can control your bike better at the faster speeds.
  4. Remember to remain calm – relax and take a deep breath while descending. If you feel that you are going to fast, try to slow down, and pull over if needed.

Urban Cycling

    • Drive slowly and alertly. On country roads it’s easy to get lost in your thoughts and enjoy the scenery. In the city, be aware of your surroundings – watch out for pedestrians, children, pets, and of course, cars. Assume they are not watching for you.
    • Watch out for car doors. “Getting doored” can be very painful. While hugging the line of parked cars may put you just a bit further out of traffic, it puts you at greater risk of cars pulling out. Ideally, bike two to three feet away from parked cars, even if this means you will take up a car lane.
    • Take up a lane if needed. In most places (including California and New York) a cyclist has a legal right to occupy a full lane, but be aware many motorists won’t know this. Most of the busier roads have two lanes, so it will be easy for cars to go around you. If there are two lanes and cars are just inching by you on your left, move over into the lane so cars switch lanes instead of almost hitting you.
    • At a red light, move to the front of the line. If there are cars stopped at a red light, and it is safe to do so, scoot around and get in front of the cars, just behind the crosswalk. This way, when the light changes, you can go ahead of the cars and position yourself on the road safely.

For more safety tips about biking near cars check out www.bicyclesafe.com.

Challenging Conditions

If riding the rain, heat, or in cold weather, you need to be sure that you are prepared. If rainy or at night, make sure that you are visible with lights and reflectors, and are aware of any potential obstacles. If the weather is extreme, be extra aware of your body conditions.

The weather may be wet while you train, and there is a chance of rain on our rides. Here are some tips for rainy riding:

      1. Wear proper clothing – Even an inexpensive poncho helps, but have a good rain jacket or even rain pants and shoe covers.
      2. Make yourself seen – Turn on any lights on your bike, ideally a headlamp in front and a strong blinking light in the back.
      3. Ride slower – Your brakes will not work as well when wet, increasing the time it takes to stop. Pump your brakes when going downhill to maintain control.
      4. Watch out for obstacles – Puddles can be deep and cover potholes and other items that can give you flat tires. Wet leaves and other debris can be very slippery and cause you to fall, especially at high speeds or while turning. Be careful of painted white lines – they can be slick.
      5. Be aware of traffic – Cars have less visibility when it rains, and drivers are less likely to be aware of cyclists.
      6. Know your limits – riding in the rain for long periods of time, even if not especially cold outside, can lead to hypothermia. If you feel that your body is losing too much heat, stop riding and find someplace warm.

There are four different levels of heat illness that can strike an athlete:

      • Heat Cramps. You experience muscle spasms, heavy sweating, and fatigue. The body temperature stays normal.
      • Heat Syncope. Your blood pressure temporarily drops, resulting in lightheadedness or fainting.
      • Heat Exhaustion. Extreme weakness, exhaustion, headache, dizziness, nausea, profuse sweating, cool skin, rapid pulse, and sometimes unconsciousness. Again, your body temperature remains normal.
      • Heat Stroke. Headache, nausea, confusion, and a loss of physical control. Your skin is hot and dry, your body temperature extremely high. There can be collapse and unconsciousness, and, in extreme situations, death.

In order to prevent serious injury from the heat:

      • Keep yourself fully hydrated. Even water that has become lukewarm will replenish the precious bodily fluids that pour out of a rider’s body on a hot summer day.
      • Energy drinks and electrolyte replacements can be useful for sustained exertion and competition.
      • Do yourself a favor by buying a good pair of shorts. The padded crotch will protect you against chafing and the Lycra used on most shorts today will allow perspiration to seep away from your skin.
      • Protect yourself from the sun. Use sun block, with an SPF of at least 15, on exposed skin. A waterproof brand is more effective against dilution by perspiration. Putting it on 20 to 30 minutes before going out will make sure it penetrates the skin well.
      • Remember to bring your water.
      • GET USED TO IT – SLOWLY! Few people have a natural knack for riding in the extreme heat, but most can improve with practice. If you’re planning a century ride in July or August, be sure to get in lots of shorter warm weather rides before you tackle the big 100. In short, acclimatize yourself.
      • Training is always important, but it is especially valuable for helping your body get accustomed to the heat. Oh, and be sure to drink plenty of water.

From Sports Injury Assessment and Rehabilitation by David C. Reid (Churchill and Livingstone, 1992)