Philippe Gilbert seems to have gotten around parenting commitments while making his way back on the podium, and Jens Voigt wass still going hard at 42 years old with six children. In fact, many pro cyclists need to juggle family commitments while on a full-time race schedule. Various pro riders who are also fathers have facetiously said to me that they look eagerly forward the Grand Tours because that’s when they get the most rest! But that doesn’t mean that regular folk like you or I have the same ability, resources or desire.
I won’t profess to being a parenting expert. Six months in as a new father I’m still trying to work it all out and I’ll learn a lot more from most of you than the advice I can offer.
However, I’ve been a cyclist my entire life and can perhaps give some perspective to those of you with family commitments who are eager to fit in some riding and perhaps satisfy that competitive edge.
First of all, one thing that I can say about cycling is that “form” comes and goes throughout your life. It’s never there for good. Sometimes it’s there when you don’t need it, sometimes it’s not there when you’ve been working so hard to build it. There is method to the madness, but sometimes life gets in the way and keeping a structured training schedule is all-consuming.
Don’t let it consume you
The other thing I can say about cycling is that there’s always someone better than you, and you’re only as good as your last race. Endurance sports can attract a rare breed of competitor. I’ve seen far too many people who jump in neck deep and train more than the pros within their first year. That’s a hard thing to compete against, no matter how motivated you are.
It all takes me back to a short post I wrote years ago about the two-and-a-quarter rule. In essence, the rule suggests that you have two-and-a-quarter points to spend as you see fit. Your work takes up a point, your family takes up another point, and you have 1/4 left to slice however you wish. Have a look and see what points you’re sacrificing to be a better cyclist.
I love riding and need it to be there in my life, but there’s no way that I’ll sacrifice something as important as my family. I can pull a sickie and cut points out of my job once in a while, but that’s become the exception rather than the norm. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Until I hop back on the bike more regularly there’s a few things that I do during my week that help keep the weight off and make my infrequent rides much more enjoyable.
Keeping in the game
Since cycling has taken a backseat for the first time in my life, I figure that keeping the weight off is key to staying in the game. No longer am I able to attack, counter-attack, and stay out in a breakaway for hours, but I’m just trying to eat sensibly and do some general fitness to stop myself from having to shed 10kg. One of the hardest things to do is getting back into lycra when you’re overweight.
I’m taking this time off the bike as an opportunity to do some different types of exercises that have very little to do with cycling. Things like running and crossfit, and anything else to stay generally fit. These types of exercise don’t do anything to improve your cycling but they do keep the weight off and make my body do something it’s not so used to doing. I’m actually enjoying something else other than cycling for a change.
For those of you who are further ahead in family life than I and are ready to set some goals and perhaps take on a big challenge, I was given some good advice from a friend. He told CyclingTips that you’ll have a much easier time if you get buy-in from all stakeholders when training up for something big and time-consuming.
Let those who are close to you know what’s going on and what your goal is. That means your wife, your kids, your boss, your co-workers. Tell them it’s only temporary and this way you involve them in the process and they’ll understand what you’re training for. If you get their buy-in and support it will be much easier.
Growing up and having real commitments in life is something almost everyone has to come to terms with. I admire those people who seem to be able to fit everything in — family, career, racing, etc — but everyone’s circumstances and motivations are different. Which is why I was keen to hear from you.
A couple weeks ago we asked CyclingTips newsletter subscribers (you can sign up here) a handful of questions about how having kids has changed their cycling. We aren’t claiming that these results are scientific in anyway, but they do provide an interesting perspective.
We asked people how much riding they did, on average, before becoming a parent:
And how much riding they did after becoming a parent:
The results suggest that many riders who were averaging 250km or more per week before having kids, dropped to between 50km and 250km per week. Interestingly, it seems that having kids led many riders who were doing less than 50km a week to doing more kilometres.
We also asked our subscribers what the biggest change to their riding has been since having children:
And finally, we gave readers some space in which to tell us more about the effect having kids has had on their cycling.
There were a number of interesting themes that came through in the hundreds of responses we received. One of the most common was that having kids means you need impeccable time management skills if you’re going to keep riding. One person wrote:
“You cram in a ride whenever you can now.
Another provided more detail:
“Cycling since becoming a parent is all about time management and guilt management. I love my wife and my daughter and also love cycling. I get grumpy if I don’t get my fix of all of these. I commute nearly every day to work (17km each way) and without that I just wouldn’t maintain my fitness.
I think if you adjust your mindset, it’s very easy to cope with. And yes, I am now getting up [before 5am]. You can do 90km in the hills and still be home by 9am.
Meanwhile, some people were able to take an objective view of their cycling in the context of everything else in their lives.
“Bike riding is a fantastic hobby, but under no circumstances should it be the top priority for any new dad or mum. Anyone putting their bike before their newborn child needs to have their heads read!
Cyclists (including myself) can be quite selfish beasts when you consider how much time is needed to be a relatively competitive club cyclist. From my perspective, to make sure I’m still getting ‘enough’ exercise, I’ve been branching out into the odd run which has proven beneficial, far more time efficient, and good for my bone density! How many 25-minute rides can you do where you finish satisfied!
Other readers wrote about other cycling-related opportunities created by having kids.
“1. I’ve discovered baby wipes – and have never had a cleaner bike (or cleaner hands after mucking about with the groupset)
2. The syringe from the baby Panadol is perfect for putting grease into Speedplay pedals
3. I get some slow miles in on the ride to school and various bike trips with the kids
4. I get to satisfy my interest in new gear by buying the kids bike stuff, and then tinkering with it. I recently bought my son a Kona Jake junior, and then replaced the shifters and a few other bits with stuff I had not tried before.
Others were less pragmatic, but were hopefully joking.
“Kids have ruined my life.
And finally, other readers provided a welcome reminder that riding a little less isn’t a huge problem in the long run. One wrote:
“As a parent of older (17-21) kids I am now getting back into riding and enjoying it more than ever. While there were times of real frustration at having to curtail my riding while they were younger, those years pass so incredibly quickly.
I really do think young parents should get the most out of their time with kids, By all means reserve time to ride themselves, but be content in the knowledge that in no time the kids will have gone and you can get back to biking.
So what about you? Do you have kids? How has having kids changed the way you approach cycling? And what advice would you give to new parents who are looking to maintain their fitness?