CYCLING—ROAD BIKE TECHNIQUE TIPS
Ever since I was a kid growing up in Denver I’ve done lots of cycling. From the age of 12 to 16, I delivered the Rocky Mountain News from my bike every morning from 5:00 to 6:00 to some 150 customers. And before I got my driver’s license I rode everywhere around town. Even after I started driving, I took long-distance cycling trips on my old coaster brake bike with my best friend into the Colorado Mountains including one up and over Loveland Pass. In the 90s and early 2000s I rode my trusty mountain bike everywhere including the ups and downs of Incline Village, Nevada. And I even raced my first triathlon in 2005 with my mountain bike. But for my birthday that year David, my oldest son, and Jennifer, my daughter, surprised me with a Motobecane road bike.
I soon came to love my road bike. In time, I changed some of my cycling techniques to improve my speed, safety and all-around fun. I began to change my hand position on the bars (and thus my body position) as I practiced to produce more power. When on flat or gently rolling roads, I now remain in “neutral,” with my hands on top of the hoods (which cover the brake levers) so I have access to the brakes and shifters. When I’m descending down longer or steeper stretches of the road, I drop my hands to the C-shaped lower portion of the handlebar—called the drops. This bends my torso from my hips and lowers my center of gravity. I’ve also learned to shift my weight slightly backward in my seat towards the rear wheel to give me more traction. And to keep my hands, arms and rear from getting numb, I stand every once in a while (especially in climbs). I also got a proper bike fit at my local bike shop, getting my saddle and handle bars positioned to ride more efficiently and painlessly.
Still, I’m continually learning to be more “one with the bike.” As a senior, I think that you too—if you aren’t already cycling—can find more fitness plus a heck of a lot of fun riding the roads on your bike.
Pedaling, gearing and braking require a combination of experience and common sense. Here are some detailed cycling tips from the article How to cycle with the technique of a pro (Read article) by Peter Drinke
Pedaling technique is a much-debated issue, with many cycling gurus advocating the concept of “using the whole of the pedal stroke” by pulling on the upward stroke as well as pushing on the downward. Peter Drinkell is not a great believer in this philosophy. He refers to studies by Dr Jeff Broker, who has dedicated over a decade of research to the art of pedaling
According to Dr Broker, pulling up on the pedal does not increase maximal power output, and in fact it can cause injury. Pulling the pedal up puts a lot of pressure on the hamstrings and the hip flexors because the muscular system cannot contract and relax quick enough to deactivate one group of muscles and contract another. As the left leg pushes down, the right leg cannot get out of the way quick enough to create negative pressure on the pedal, let alone generate force in an upwards direction. In short, pulling on the upstroke does not work. Dr Broker advocates directing all your power into the downward stroke, starting the stroke at 12 o’clock, and ending it at 6 o’clock. This is termed the drive phase. As the drive phase is coming to an end on one leg, it should be beginning on the other leg, while the first leg relaxes. Peak torque during the drive phase should occur around the 3 o’clock position.
We need to use our cycling gears efficiently. When moving from one gradient to another, it’s crucial to shift gears swiftly so as not to lose momentum and precious energy. A good way of thinking about gears is that they are the means of keeping your cadence (pedaling rate) steady at 80-90rpm over a long period of time and a variety of gradients.
Too high a cadence will lessen force and elevate heart rate, whilst laborious, lower pedal frequency will increase power per revolution and burn through fuel stores more swiftly. Switching gears nice and early will keep your pedaling more consistent, making your ride smooth and fluid.
Try to avoid using the opposing extremes on your chain and cassette. You don’t want to be in the big chainring on the front and the big sprocket on the back or the small chainring on the front and small sprocket at the back. This will result in a less than optimal chain line that will increase stress and rate of wear on your chain, front chainrings and rear cassette.
Most chain drops result from changing up and down from the small chainring to the large chainring on the front whilst under continued load. It’s best to ease off pressure for a split second to allow for the change to occur more freely, similarly to the way you engage the clutch in a car before changing gears. Start by moving the chain towards the center of the rear cassette a couple of clicks, and then move the front chainrings up or down. This will lessen the chance of dropping or jamming the chain. The key to efficient gear use is anticipation. If you know what’s ahead, whether it’s a climb, a descent, a wet surface or an obstacle, you can have your gearing prepared.
Drinkell says that one of the best pieces of advice he was given when he started out cycling was not to be scared to get on the drops when going downhill. Basically, the lower your center of gravity is, the more control you have over the bike (and the faster you go). Like anything else on the bike, this is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced, with confidence being a massive factor.
It’s helpful to distinguish between straight line descending and the more complex art of cornering when discussing descent techniques:
Straight Line Descending
- Get on the drops. This lowers your center of gravity, gives you greater control and also makes you more aerodynamic.
- Keep a relaxed grip on the bars. Tensing up will make your bike handling less efficient. Remember to breathe, drop your shoulders, bend your elbows and try to keep it loose.
- Sit slightly off the saddle. This will give you a natural form of suspension, allowing you to respond to undulations in the road without bouncing around.
- Keep your legs turning over if you can. As well as keeping you fluid with the bike, this will stop your heart rate from coming down too muc
- It takes longer to react when tearing down a mountain, so keep a good buffer between you and the rider in front.
Cornering is the key factor when it comes to descending. Do this well and it feels fantastic. Get it wrong and you risk crashing, leaving a lot of skin on the road.
- Get on the drops with your fingers on the brakes. Again, this increases your traction and control, and also distributes your body weight more evenly between the front and rear tires. Sitting up on the hoods will make you top heavy and less stable.
- Always look beyond the corner. If you focus on the obstacle coming up at speed, (i.e. the bend), you will just freeze up. Focus on the exit – past the corner to where you want to go.
- Keep your body in line with your bike as much as possible. Lean into the corner with the bike, not just with your body.
- Brake before you enter the corner. You want to wash off some speed before you hit the corner, not when you’re already in it. Braking hard while cornering will severely compromise your traction on the road and could cause you to ski
- Once you’ve established the corner, set up your approach. Enter the corner as wide as possible, cutting in as close to its apex as you can, then exit as wide as you can on the opposite side – thus straightening the corner out as much as possible.
Braking is a surprisingly complex cycling skill. It’s important to use both brakes. The front brake is most effective at stopping you. Some cyclists shy away from putting too much front brake on, fearing they will go over the bars or the front wheel will slide out from under them. However, in normal, dry conditions, applying more front brake – or even solely front brake – will stop you faster and 99 per cent of the time will not result in a skid.
When traction is poor (e.g. in wet conditions, when there is a lot of loose gravel on the road, or in the unusual circumstance of braking whilst cornering), the front brake is a riskier strategy, and may well end up in a skid. In these conditions, use the back brake to slow you down. Rather than grabbing handfuls of brake, increase the pressure slowly, giving yourself plenty of time to slow and stop.
While braking, shift your weight as far back as you can comfortably go. By keeping your center of gravity low and far back, you’ll maximize your traction and minimize the risk of going head over handlebars. As a rule, feather your brakes to slow gradually. Especially in a group ride, avoid grabbing handfuls of brake.
I hope these tips help you improve your cycling techniques. And your cycling pleasure!