Why are some riders more athletic than others, and what can I do to keep up?

more athletic
more athletic

If, like me, you’re not that fast on the bike, you may have pondered why some riders are just more athletic than others, seemingly without even trying. I guarantee you that every one of those amazing professional cyclists that you watch in the pro peloton is the athletic type so don’t feel intimidated. Do it your way. That’s what I decided when I took up road riding a bit over 11 years ago, and I observed this phenomenon.

So why are some people able to ride so much faster, even when they are relatively new to cycling? After doing a bit of reading it seems the answers are fairly obvious – genetics, attitude, and training.

If you’ve read my story you’d know that I’m a non-sporty person who has spent most of her life believing she couldn’t be involved in physical activities without being embarrassed. That was until I found cycling, which has changed my life and my attitude. But that hasn’t stopped me being curious about why some of us are just faster on a bike, seemingly without even trying.

I’ve done some research as to what makes you more sporty people so athletic. The most obvious reason is simply to do with individuals’ genetic make-up. Specifically genes that regulate cardiovascular endurance and muscle fibre type, which is clearly where I lack the right stuff.

Experts agreed that genetics also have a large influence over strength, muscle size and muscle fibre composition (fast or slow-twitch), anaerobic threshold, lung capacity and flexibility. One major limitation for endurance athletes is cardiac capacity, or the heart’s ability to deliver enough oxygen (via the bloodstream) to the working skeletal muscles.

The other limitation for would-be endurance athletes is the ability of muscle tissue to effectively use oxygen and create ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the fuel that allows muscular contraction and movement.

The good news for us non-sporty types is that despite our lack of cardiovascular endurance and muscle fibre gifts, some of us will respond better to training. I certainly know that if I ride more I improve my endurance and speed. I’m definitely never going to be an elite athlete but I can improve with even a modest amount of training.

The second factor that most gurus on this subject identify is the all-important attitude. This is certainly true for elite athletes but it can equally apply to casual cyclists. One of the things that holds me back is the negative voice in my head that constantly tells me ‘I can’t do it’. I know that many women have the same little voices holding them back.

The last major factor is the amount of time you actually spend riding. Even for sporty type people, they are only given the potential to excel at sport, they still need to ride a lot. I follow some of the pro cyclists on Strava and they pretty much ride every single day.

The most wonderful thing about cycling is that despite my lack of ‘sporty’ gifts I can still ride a bike and I can also improve through training. I know I’ll never be the first rider across the line, but I know that I never give up once I’ve set myself a goal. It’s just nice to understand why.

Share your experiences of riding with more athletic people via comments or the Women Who Cycle Facebook page.