How to Find the Right Cycling Coach for You

You've got goals and you're ready for some direction. Here's how to figure out which cycling coach is right for you.

looking for a coach

Choosing a cycling coach can be tricky. It’s tempting to just hop onto USA Cycling’s site, click on coaches, and opt for one who lives near you, or seems inexpensive. But before you blindly jump into one of the most important relationships in your sporting life, take a step back and consider what exactly you’re hoping to improve.

Know a new cyclist? Welcome them to the sport (or treat yourself!) with our Get Someone Riding Gift Pack, including the Bicycling Big Book of Cycling and other goodies to get you on your way. 

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If you're looking to improve MTB skills...

Look for a coach with IMBA certification, or a background in mountain biking. Because riding a mountain bike is, obviously, very different from riding on the road, you want someone who has that skill set and knows how to share it. IMBA-certified instructors have gone through a clinic that teaches them how to teach basics like bunnyhopping and cornering on dirt.

Since it’s such a skill-based sport, you’ll want a coach who’s capable of teaching you how to get up and over obstacles on the trail, explains Tammy Donahugh, who coordinates IMBA’s program. A local coach who can offer in-person skills sessions is ideal, but even a remote coach who can point you to how-to videos and who is willing and eager to look at videos of you practicing can be a great help.

      RELATED: One MTB Skill to Rule Them All

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If you want a serious training plan and love gadgets...

Look for someone with TrainingPeaks certification. "TrainingPeaks Certified Coaches have a proven expertise in workout planning and advanced analysis of training data,” says Kelly Stueven, TrainingPeaks’ program manager. You’ll end up with a coach who’s well-versed in connecting all of your tools together, from power meters to heart-rate monitors to food diaries, and while the certification doesn’t guarantee that your coach will be on top of the latest app for athletes (like HRV4Training), it’s a good sign that he or she is staying current with new and exciting tech that can take your riding to the next level.

     RELATED: Your Guide to Training Metrics

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If you’re an aspiring triathlete...
Don’t assume that you need a swimming coach, a cycling coach, and a running coach; you want a coach versed in all three disciplines so your training plan is cohesive. USA Triathlon’s coach finder is a great place to start your search. If you already work with a cycling coach but want to try a couple of triathlons to see what the fuss is about, consider contacting a triathlon coach for a consult. You can show them your current cycling-specific plan and ask how to work in swimming and running.
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If you’re hoping to lose weight...

Look for a coach who also has a nutrition-science background so you can combine your exercise with your diet, and work with someone who understands both. "If you want to get leaner, be more purposeful about what you eat,” says Nate Dunn of Data Driven Athlete. Dunn holds a USAC Level 1 certification in addition to being a Certified Sports Nutritionist. His advice: “A coach with a certification in sports nutrition can help you make smarter food choices on and off the bike. Smarter nutrition will improve the quality of your rides and accelerate your weight loss."

      RELATED: 10 Secrets to Help You Shed Pounds

group of cyclists
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If you're a social butterfly…

You might think a coach can become your best friend or riding buddy—or help you meet new people. Unfortunately that’s not how most coaches operate when coaching monthly clients. But you can get up close and personal by signing up for skills clinics hosted by coaches or pro racers.

If your main goal is to meet new people, consider skipping formalized coaching altogether and set a goal to just attend a different clinic once a month. Check for camps and clinics near you; you’ll make new friends, and meeting a coach at a clinic gives you a chance to see what his or her coaching style is like before committing.

     RELATED: Group Ride Liability: How to Lower Yours

women riding
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If you're a female rider...

Just because you're a woman doesn't mean you need a female coach. But if you think you’d be more comfortable with one, make sure you find one that fits your needs as a rider—i.e has the right certifications, experience and coaching format—and you’re not just choosing her because of gender.

The good news is that your options are growing rapidly: Recently, British Cycling reported a 70-percent increase in female coaches over the past three years. There is also a growing number of options for women’s-specific clinics, like The Vida MTB Series or Ladies AllRide, which can be great for meeting new riding buddies, as well as getting female-specific instruction.

     RELATED: 6 Summer Camps (for Grown Ups!) to Improve Riding Skills

cyclocross riders
johnthescone via Flickr
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If cyclocross is your jam...

Find a coach who runs a weekly skills clinic or cyclocross practice, like coach Chris Mayhew does in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. "There's really something to be said for seeing a coach in person if you want to learn skills, especially when it comes to cyclocross. Basketball coaches don't work remotely,” he says. That’s why he recommends that his cyclocross-racing athletes go to a weekly practice to dial in their 'cross skills.

     RELATED: Test Your Cyclocross Knowledge With This Quiz

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If you’re a beginner and not sure what to do...

Assuming you don’t have an endurance sport background and you’re just looking to ride more, you might not need a coach at all. There are plenty of free training plans out there to give you a basic framework for getting faster on the bike, and the best advice is truly just to get out and ride.

     RELATED: Why You Might Need a Cycling Coach

If you feel like you’re lacking in motivation, you could also consider joining a local riding group. Being part of a group gives you accountability similar to what you’d have if you were reporting to a coach. You’re almost guaranteed to get faster as you spend more time riding, you’ll learn a lot of tips and tricks about group riding as you go, you’ll make new friends—and eventually, when you feel like you want to take it to the next level, you can ask them for coaching recommendations.

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If you’re kind of broke...

Skip a full-time coach, and opt for someone who does one-time phone consultations to get you started. Many coaching companies offer phone consults for around $25, and this 30-minute talk can give you a bit more direction than blindly poking around pre-made training plans. After your chat, you’ll have a better sense of what kind of training plan to look for. You can buy one of the cheaper pre-made options or use on of Bicycling’s pre-made plans armed with some intel on how to put it into practice.

     RELATED: Can Power Data Be Reduced to One Number?

puzzled rider
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If you still don’t know where to turn...

Think about a fast local rider or racer you admire. Don’t ask him or her to coach you—just because someone is a great cyclist doesn’t mean they're qualified to help you become one—but do ask who their coach is.

And before you commit to a coach, spend a few minutes doing an informal, quick interview with them to see if you ‘mesh.’ (If a coach won’t take a call or answer an email before he or she gets paid, that’s usually a red flag.)

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