Noob Mistake: Helmet on Backwards

It’s spring. In most parts of the country anyway. And that means organized rides are springing up all over. Lots of noobs turn out for their first organized rides ever, and they make their share of mistakes. Here’s one that I noticed a few years ago.

I was walking across a parking lot toward the ride start, when I passed a couple also headed in that direction. They were obvious first-timers. As I looked at the woman, something struck me as odd. She had the weirdest looking helmet I’ve ever seen.

Except on closer inspection, it wasn’t the helmet at all — that turned out to be a fairly common variety. It was the way she wore it. The black scalloped rear was facing forward.

“Your helmet is on backward,” I said quietly, as I walked past them.

She stopped, pulled off her helmet, and stared at it.

“It is? On backward? How can you tell?” she asked.

“The smooth part goes in the front,” I replied. “It’s more aerodynamic that way.”

She looked at her husband. He looked back and shrugged. She turned the helmet around and put it back on, the right way.

She’s not the first I’ve seen making that mistake. Lots of people figure that since the helmet slopes down in the rear, and had lots of openings that must suck in air, that’s the front.

This is not the front.

This is not the front.

This is the front.

This is the front.

But as we all know from basic physics, the airfoil shape of an aircraft wing is rounded in front, and tapers toward the rear.

I can understand why a noob might be confused.

I can understand why a noob might be confused.

If you see a newbie looking extra dorky on a ride this spring, come to their rescue. Show them the proper way to wear a helmet.

Noob Mistake: Not Replenishing Protein

There’s a plethora of material out there, both online and in print, about nutrition and exercise. For the most part, I have ignored it. That’s because I’m a procrastinator. I just don’t get around to reading up on stuff I know I should be up on.

Take tiredness after long rides. It’s a particular problem for me, one I’ve written about before. I just could never figure out why, after a couple of hours in the saddle, I would crash on my bed for a long nap. Those naps were more trouble than they were worth, because they threw off my sleep schedule for the next 24 hours, and I had a lot of trouble readjusting my internal clock.

My routine after a long ride is to settle in at a coffee shop or restaurant or even the living room at home, and have a large drink of something. Usually, it’s iced tea. That takes care of the liquids I lose on a ride through sweating, but doesn’t do much to refuel my body.

I remember riding once with an acquaintance — an experienced cyclist — who couldn’t wait to get some food after we’d finished the ride. “I have to have some protein within a half hour of the ride,” he said. I chalked it up to his personal idiosyncrasy.

Turns out, he was right on the money.

When you take a long bike ride, you’re using up branched chain amino acids. When these essential nutrients are depleted, that leads to the doubling of tryptophan, another amino acid. Once it’s in the brain, tryptophan converts to serotonin, which makes us drowsy.

That drowsiness can set in during the ride itself, as fatigue. If you overtrain, you’ve probably experienced it. But if you maintain adequate levels of branched chain amino acids, you should be able to ward off fatigue. So as my friend does, try to get some quality protein into your system immediately after a ride.

Where do you find quality proteins? Meat, dairy products, and legumes. That might be why cyclists are adopting chocolate milk as a recovery drink.

Today, after two and a half hours riding over rolling hills, I whipped up a ham sandwich right after getting out of the shower. Sure enough, although I felt my eyes get a little heavy while sitting in my chair watching football, I soon snapped out of it. Any other day, minus the sandwich, I would have been crashed on my bed.

It’s a simple solution, but one I’ve bypassed for far too long. I guess I’m still a noob.

Noob Mistake: Never Resting

Riding hard is fine — as long as you build some rest into your training schedule.

During the summer months, I find it easy to hop on the bike and for at least part of my ride — if not the whole thing — really push it. After all, if I’m going to become a better cyclist, I have to push myself, don’t I?

The trouble with that thinking is that it piles too much stress on the body, and instead of being a way to improve, the rider who always pushes it can easily become fatigued and ride slower, not faster.

But even when I’m pushing it during the summer, I build rest days into my schedule. Partly, that’s dictated by work. Sometimes, I just can’t get home early enough to get in a quick 15-20 miles.

Mainly, though, it’s a self-imposed layoff. I usually bike four days a week, so I have some rest days built into my schedule. If I do manage to ride a lot during the summer, I still won’t go more than five days in a week. I have found that at my age, rest is vitally important.

Endurance coach Joe Friel points out that fatigue keeps your body from breaking down entirely. It forces you to rest. But newer riders who are trying to get fast to keep up with the A riders in their group, or who push themselves six or even seven days a week run the risk of overtraining  — when they’re putting in a lot of effort, but not showing much in the way of improvement. They could even be getting worse.

So you’ve got to rest from time to time. Friel recommends three days doing a low intensity exercise, such as swimming. If you decide to ride, stay away from other riders, so you don’t give into the urge to race. If those three days of light work don’t help, get off the bike altogether and rest. Sleep. Sit around. It’ll do you good.

Now that winter is approaching, most of us will be doing a lot less cycling, although some of us will set up the trainer and go hard at it several days a week during the off season. Calmate! Take it easy. Work on building your endurance for the upcoming riding season. There’s no need to approach that with a sense of urgency.

Experienced riders know this. It’s the noobs who push too hard. Now’s the time to build some much-needed rest and rebuilding into your routine. You’ll be better for it when spring comes along, and you decide to get in shape for that first big organized ride. With enough rest, you’ll be able to build up to it quickly.

Noob Mistake: Don’t Brake In a Turn

While out riding recently, I found myself in a rare position: I was moving pretty quickly. Speed is a fun sensation, and when coupled with a twisty route, the fun is doubled. Another bend was up ahead. That’s where the trouble started.

The curve tightened. Since I’d never been on this stretch of road before, I was unprepared for it. I grabbed for the brakes, and applied them.

Dumb. Noob mistake.

You don’t want to brake in turns. Braking while turning can cause you problems. For example, you must lean your bike into turns, but if you brake while leaning, you’ll affect your balance. The front wheel could slide out from under you.

Braking before a turn can cause problems as well. You could scrub off all your speed, and lose ground in the turn.

So, what is a cyclist to do?

Learn to lean. When I took my League of American Bicyclists Road I course years ago (now called Traffic Skills 101), we practices the emergency right turn. We flicked our handlebars left, which got the bike to lean right. Then we made the right turn at almost a right angle. It’s amazing how far over you can lean the bike without it sliding out from under. But, you must keep the momentum going. Braking won’t let you do that.

Like all things, it’s a matter of practice. Overcome your fear of falling by practicing the hard lean.

If you do have to brake while turning, use the rear brake only. Braking with the front during a turn could cause that slide that you don’t want. Even if the rear should lock up, you probably won’t fall.

But…for a contrary point of view, refer to our old friend Sheldon Brown, who advocates using the front brake in turns. He maintains that using the front brake shifts weight to the front, which gives it greater traction. Using the rear brake could cause the rear tire to slip, so he preferred not to use it at all.

The key is staying centered over the bike, whether riding down a straight street or leaning hard in a turn.