Don’t burn out

It’s hard to continue anything, but it’s especially hard to continue riding a bike, and it’s virtually impossible to continue racing one. The average life span of a bike racer is 2-3 years. I made up that fake number because in my experience that’s about how long it takes for a person to realize how out of whack the risk-reward arithmetic is.

Enthusiastic sport cycling may last a bit longer, but not much. Every year I see people get into riding, buy all the gear, do all the rides, make a bunch of friends, and then vanish, which is the time you can pick up some great deals on bike stuff with a well-placed phone call. The people who stick around have a few things in common.

  1. They actually love riding their bike, however you define “riding” or “bike.”
  2. They have a schedule.
  3. They wake up early.
  4. Riding is an end unto itself.

The people who burn out are a much more diverse group, but here are the warning signs. The problem is that these warning signs also exist among people who’ve been doing it for decades. When a new rider does all of these things, though, get ready for a Roman candle flame-out.

  1. Extremely competitive.
  2. Bikes for multiple disciplines before they’ve gotten good at even one.
  3. Strava/data/power obsession.
  4. Coaches and/or training plans.
  5. Huge miles.
  6. Only talks about cycling.
  7. Haven’t had their first big crash.
  8. Extremely focused on gear.
  9. Huge progress in a very short period of time.
  10. Big job or family stresses.

If you’re the kind of person who throws herself fully into new things, and you have a pattern of burning out in other new endeavors but really want to hang onto cycling, here are a few tips that will help.

  1. Make sure that half your rides have no competitive element whatsoever.
  2. Only own bikes you regularly ride.
  3. Do half your rides (or more) without a Garmin or Strava.
  4. Come up with a “longevity” plan with your coach. Coaches hate burnout worse than anyone.
  5. Halve your mileage.
  6. Read a (non-cycling) book.
  7. Set a monthly/annual gear spending limit.
  8. Don’t do more than 5 races a year.
  9. Ride with your significant other.
  10. Learn the names of your children



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31 thoughts on “Don’t burn out”

  1. “Ride with your significant other.”

    Tandems are definitely NOT for everyone, but we sure like riding ours!

    (Click on our avatar to see some pics.)

    1. We’re on our 3rd tandem in 10 years. You probably know the saying: “Wherever your relationship is heading, the tandem will get you there faster.” We’re celebrating our 36th wedding anniversary next month. Enjoy your rides twogether!

  2. Tim Joe Comstock

    Yeah it helps if you know that not riding will ultimately end in suicide.

  3. Probably not a coincidence that all your tips involve reducing risks or increasing rewards.

  4. Ride with your significant other. Boom! Nicole and I ride together regularly, mainly on the mountain bikes, and it’s literally impossible to burn out on enjoy the outdoors with your love. Nearly. haha.

  5. Good points, I’m a lifer but I love my garmin, uploading my rides to Strava and training peaks. Perhaps because by choice I mainly ride alone, I like to track my progress and improve even as I fall in to leaky prostate decline.

    1. The problem with lifers is that they share a lot of qualities that newbie burnouts do, the difference being that the lifers gradually become obsessive and imbalanced after years of trial and terror, whereas the burnout candidates adopt everything from day one.

  6. Not that I’m keeping track (I’m not, honest), but what’s the deal with three list-filled/based consecutive posts?

    1. I’m writing a blog post about how to make blogs that contain bulleted lists, and this one was my third list of bulleted lists on the bulleted list list.

  7. Outside of Southern California, there are these things called “seasons”. They tend to help. Perhaps this phenomenon can be simulated somehow?

    1. Interesting. Where does one purchase a season and how exactly do they work?

  8. Another tip to avoid burn out: eat regular food and enjoy it. Don’t: starve yourself, follow a fad diet, eat only one type of food, avoid foods that taste good, e.g., be the weird person at a party that doesn’t eat what everyone else is eating.

  9. If you want to stay in the game, earn your upgrades. Especially if your old (on the downside of your physical peak age). Don’t start out at S-Works. Shocking how many recreational cyclists (as in those who aren’t getting paid to race and risk severe injury or worse) are actually even riding S-Works bikes or the like. The beauty of earning your more affordable upgrades (that slightly more aero or ventilated helmet or stiffer sole) is that they allow you to offset the damage father time is doing to your hopes. As for that first crash, if you don’t come even back hungrier and chomping at the bit to push it even harder, you probably don’t have the makeup for cycling.

    As a side note, noticed Kwiatkowski hit 70mph on a descent in stage 12 I think in the TDF. Another thing only pros should be doing.

  10. For me it was getting up out of a warm bed with wifey and suiting up at 5:30 am in 40 degree November weather to ride in hopes it would pay off in March of the next year. I’ll still go watch the races though 👌🏾

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