Cycling goals: how to set them and how to achieve them

Rebecca Bland
5 mins

Like with anything, if you want to improve, goals are a great way to get motivated and measure this improvement. In cycling, it’s easy to measure improvement, whether it’s by riding a mountain bike ride loop more quickly, or raising your FTP. But sometimes, it’s easy to feel a bit lost and unsure of the next step to take if you begin to stagnate, or perhaps you’re feeling overwhelmed at all the possibilities and don’t know how to take charge of your riding. This is where goal setting comes in.

The beauty of goals is that you don’t need to be a professional racer or Tour de France winner to set and achieve them. They can be really small, the important thing is that they are measurable and personal. It’s no good setting a big goal that’s exactly the same as your friend - everyone is different and at different stages of their cycling journey.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to set cycling goals, some examples of ‘good’ performance goals, but also why goals are not the be all and end all of improving on the bike.

How do I set my cycling goals?

If you’ve identified you want to improve on the bike, the first thing to do is to decide what your overarching goal is going to be. It could be an event, or something like increasing your FTP to 4 w/kg for example. It’s totally personal, but it should be something that you are really motivated to do. So try not to focus on what other riders are doing, and set cycling goals that mean something to you personally.

You’ve probably heard of this method before, but the best way to set out your performance goals is by using the SMART acronym. This stands for:

Specific - Specify a tangible outcome. I.e. “I want to lower my 10 mile time trial time to below 22 minutes”.

Measurable - It can be measured or tracked, i.e. by using power or time.

Achievable - It is within the bounds of possibility - i.e. rather than “I want to win the Giro d’Italia”, perhaps “to podium at a regional race”.

Relevant - Make sure your goal aligns with your longer term objectives, and that it is worthwhile to you. You need it to be something that motivates you.  

Time-based - There is an end date or applicable time frame.

Now that you’ve decided on a reasonable goal, you will be able to work back from it and break it down into smaller pieces and achievements. You can even go as far as to break it down day by day, and focus on the habits that will help you achieve your goal, but we’ll get to that shortly.

In Spoked you set your goal priority, start / end date and your goal focus

What is a good goal in cycling?

‘Good’ or appropriate goals in cycling will depend entirely on what YOU want to get out of your riding. An example of a SMART goal might be, “To lower my 10 mile time trial PB to below 24 minutes by 23rd August/regional 10 mile championships”. It’s specific, measurable, relevant, time-based, and assuming you’re not a stranger to TT’s and have the time to train, is achievable.

In essence, a good cycling goal is something that’s going to motivate you to get out on the bike when it’s raining, or make you want to kit up. Of course, motivation fluctuates, but having a key goal that’s important to you is the first step to making meaningful change on the bike.

However, this is a big overarching goal. These goals are usually months away, and to be honest, in the depths of winter or a hard training block it can be easy to put the end date to the back of your mind, or relax a little on your training sessions if you don’t feel like riding. That’s why you should break down these goals  into more manageable pieces. Knowing what you need to get done each week can make it more palatable rather than staring at the big end goal and wondering how you’ll ever get there. This is where we get into smaller goal setting, and understanding how using this technique can take place over little changes, daily alterations that can become habits.

Pick between an event or performance goal. Performance goals focus on an element of your cycling.

How do you train goal setting?

Goal setting isn’t just something that will help you in cycling. Being able to set goals and plan things will help you get more organised in your career, and other aspects of your life as well. It’s not just about being able to sit down and decide what you want out of your cycling training and fitness, it’s about being consciously aware throughout your day, by making little choices that will help you determine your longer term successes.

This isn’t going to be something that will happen overnight, however. Changing the way you think and bringing goal orientation into your everyday life is something that takes time. Habits aren’t created in a day, so try and focus on the small changes, such as your nutrition - doesn’t have to be a big swap, for example, cutting out all sugars. It can be something as simple as swapping your afternoon biscuit for a piece of fruit.

Once you start to question what you’re doing and think to yourself, will this help or will this hinder my goals? Then you’re well on your way to training your goal setting mindset.

How do I start a cycling training routine?

It’s all well and good telling you that making a goal is the easy part, you just need to figure out how to break it down and work your way towards us. But, this is where it gets tricky, and why people pay a coach.

If you don’t know the science behind the tasks you need to complete to reach your goal, then you’ll not know how to break it down. The Spoked app can do this easily for you, simply enter your goals into the app, tell it how much time you have to train (specifically on each day, but this can be altered during the week) and it will create structured sessions for you!

It’s the easy way to start your cycling routine, but if you don’t use Spoked (or don’t want to), then the other option is to manually work out what needs to be done. This is typically done by working backwards from your goals if you’ve given yourself a time frame, or from a target event, and figuring out how to break down the goals into smaller more manageable chunks so you learn what you need to do down to the week/day in order to progress and hit your targets.

You’re in control of when you want to train. Spoked will ensure you ride the right balance between intensity for the volume you set.

But what if goals aren’t all they’re cracked up to be?

Here’s a counterpoint. Sure, goals are great at setting up the direction you want to go in. But, they can be pretty black and white - either you achieve them or you don’t. You succeed or you ‘fail’. So what if we argued that the end result shouldn’t necessarily be the thing you judge your success on?

Say you’ve been working hard for three months on completing a target sportive route in under four hours. You’ve trained well, hit the key sessions and focussed heavily on improving your nutrition, your off the bike strength, and your sleep. The big day comes and the weather is terrible. It’s 30mph wind, it’s raining like hell, and you puncture halfway round. You ride the sportive but end up finishing over your marker of four hours. Is this a failure?

According to your goal, then yes. But think about it another way. You’ve improved in so many ways, that the time it takes you to ride this route is almost arbitrary now. Your nutrition is better, you feel much better on and off the bike, and you’re sleeping well. Instead of being disappointed about the result, shouldn’t you be celebrating everything you’ve done well over the last three months instead?

Even if you think this is a bit far fetched and you are disappointed in your result, use it as a lesson. What did you learn about yourself throughout your training sessions - are you an early bird or a night owl? Do you not agree with bananas while you ride? Keep a positive mindset and reframe failure. This is important on and off the bike and is key to moving forward in life.

Within your Spoked session you receive personalised feedback on the habits you need to focus on to achieve a good ride.

Final thoughts

Overall, goals do and can have a place in improving on the bike. They can help power your direction, put you on the right path to ‘success’. But sometimes, if you focus too heavily on the end result you can lose sight of all the positive changes you’re making in the short term.

We’re not saying you should post a congratulatory selfie on Instagram every time you eat a piece of broccoli, but remembering how far you’ve come is important in maintaining motivation and moving closer to achieving your cycling goals, whatever they may be.

If you know what you want to achieve in 2023 but are not sure how to plan for it, why not sign up to Spoked? It’s free to download and use on the App Store and on Google Play, and each new user will be offered a free 30-day trial of our Pro plan. Want to leverage the Spoked technology in your business? Read more here.