The most essential requirement in the Cycling game is enthusiasm. A cyclist must love the game, and he must give it all he's got or he will never make the grade. No half measures will do, for cycling is an almost full spare-time job.
To be good yon must be fit and to be fit for competitive cycling you must have at least two to three months of diligent and continuous training.
Yes, cycling sure is a demanding sport, but I can assure you it's worth it.
To briefly cover some of the major points encountered by aspiring cyclists, let's first of all begin with the bike itself. The first essential here is a good and suitable frame. When I say suitable, I mean that it should be suited first for the purpose for which it is designed and secondly, that it should suit the individual.
Frame size is obtained by subtracting nine inches from the inside leg measurement, while head and seat angles of 72 degrees are normally ideal. These angles give comfort, speed and easy steering.
Wheelbase distances, that is the length from axle to axle, range from 39 inches to 42 inches—39 inches for track racing and 41-42 inches for road racing.
For the novice, 27 inch high pressure wheels and tyres give better service. Sprite is often fitted for winter use and de-luxe H.P. for racing. Tubulars are a necessity for the track man and for peak performances on the road.
Five gears, preferably 3/32, are a 'must' and later a double chain-wheel will give the very useful range of ten gears. Direct drive and quick change are essential for racing, and this is the reason why derailleur type is more suitable than hub patent. The total weight of the bike, with ten gears, should be around 25 pounds.
To be good, a cyclist must be comfortable. Never sit too high or too low.
The approximate height can be found by sitting on the saddle and placing the heel on the pedal. You should then be able to pedal with the heels without wavering from side to side. Always pedal with the ball of the foot. The most common fault is that of sitting too far forward. The point of the saddle should be about 2.5 inches behind the bottom bracket. If a cyclist is what we term a 'pusher', he may have his saddle a little further back. On the other hand, if he is a 'pedaller' he may bring his saddle a little forward to suit his style.
Never use a handlebars too low. If in doubt try this for a test: While holding the end of the handlebars, the line of the back should be parallel to the sloping tube of the frame.
Handlebars should always be fully taped with a non-slip brand. Do not use plastic type as it is inclined to become slippery when wet, and this, of course, can be very dangerous.
The brake levers are best fitted high on the handlebars to ensure comfortable riding when the cyclist is not at top speed. The difference between specification and material in the modern cycle is very little, but your cycle can be built to order.
Cycling shoes should be comfortable and should fit snugly on the foot when worn with a light stocking.
Over long distances, track gloves are very comfortable and prevent welts and sore hands. Racing jerseys should be wool with plenty of pocket room for food. When racing anything over 50 miles, two drinking bottles are necessary unless drinks can be had along the way.
A Personal Choice
Drinks are a personal choice and include cider, orange, blackcurrant and strawberry juice. Many long distance riders like hot tea, which they maintain is a life-saver. I cannot speak with authority on this subject, as I have never tasted tea on or off the bike.
Deep-slotted shoe plates should be used to grip the pedal. In that way it will not be necessary to tighten the straps too much, as tight straps tend to stop the blood circulation to the toes, and in addition, they make the feet sore and uncomfortable.
At one time I was an advocate of the very narrow saddle, but recently I have changed to a wider and more comfortable type.
A long run in the rain leaves saddles mis-shapen, but if a toe-strap is placed around the saddle and pulled tightly, it will be as good as new in the morning.
I have heard many old cyclists say: 'Never get out of the saddle.' Well, I agree to a certain extent that if a rider feels he can ride as well off the saddle as on, I don't see any reason why he should not have a spell out of the saddle while, say, climbing a hill or starting a sprint.
Racing during wet weather will be a pleasure if all the body is coated with olive oil, using capsicum for the knees and ankles. These latter items should not be used except during bad weather, as they clog up the pores and stop proper and free perspiration.
In the warm weather use talcum powder in your shoes and socks. It will keep the feet cool and free from perspiration. A mixture of Friar's Balsam and methylated spirits is great stuff for the seat of shorts.
The secret of training, in cyclists' language, is 'miles and miles'. The winter is the time during which a rider lays the foundation stone of success. This he does by going out well protected against the cold and riding low gears ranging from 62 inch to 73 inch. Speed is not the aim, but it is these miles that build up the stamina which later in the year stands to a rider.
Before starting to race, every rider should have about 3,500 miles in his legs. The first 1,500 are covered slowly, on low gears; then increasing the gears for the remaining 2,000. Delays should be avoided on road, as a chill is often the result of stoppages.
When training, even during the summer, for warmth and comfort, a jersey should always be worn.
Take It Easy At First
A cold shower is ideal after a long day's run. When setting out do not start at a furious speed—always give the muscles a chance to become supple. Try to avoid riding with cyclists who are too slow and get down to a fast, steady mile covering pace.
Until complete fitness is attained, I think a rider should train six nights a week, covering an average of 50 to 60 miles each run. If stage racing is in the offing, mileage should be increased. If short distances only, a little less mileage gets better results. Concentrate on fast starts and speed for time trials.
Food should always be taken on training runs, but not as much as when racing, as energy is not used at the same rate. Some of the great trainers have now banned oranges, as it is maintained that they are the cause of stomach trouble. Food for racing does not vary very much, and consists of pears, bananas, dates, raisins, chocolate, rice puddings, lump sugar and glucose.
During training, riders suffer from constant hunger. It is a practice to put two eggs, plus orange juice, glucose and salt in the drinking bottles.
The standard of road racing has improved enormously, and continued improvement can only be effected by the riders themselves. They should all forget about soft and slow racing, and instead of riding well within themselves to the finishing line, try and break up the bunch by spells of fast and hard cycling. It should be remembered always that for every competitor who falls out of a race, the chances of those remaining are increased. Also remember that for every pain you get during racing, the other fellow has probably got two; so if possible never give up unless you feel that permanent injury may result.
Remember also that the rider who tries and falls by the wayside is a better rider than the fellow who 'sat', even though the latter finishes many minutes ahead. When the spectator sees a rider struggling far behind the bunch, he should remember he is trying harder than many of those in the main peleton. He is not just bad, but has often the makings of a champion.
To conclude, let me say that I believe that there lies a great future ahead in Irish cycling. The game is growing in popularity annually and many of our youth who previously relied on football or the caman, are now turning to cycling. Speaking for Kerry alone, we have some great champions in the making, lads whom I expect will in a few short years out-do the deeds of Paud Fitzgerald, Mick Murphy, Pat Callaghan, John Switzer, Jackie Connor and myself.
The international ban cannot last for ever and when it goes, Irish cyclists will be ready to meet the best.