Road bike skills are so important to gain time and distance on your competitors. Learn these top 12 cycling secrets to get faster and quicker.Not many people focus on the technique of cycling.
It is easy enough to get a bike and start cycling and simply do more and more mileage as your fitness improves.
I do have some friends(and I’m sure you know people like this) who spend their spare time in bike shops every weekend buying every latest gadget they can to improve their performance.
They buy power meters, thinner wheels, lighter handle bars until their bank account is completely depleted and there are no more gadgets left to buy. But their road bike skills are still shocking!
A lighter bike and monitoring all your data at every moment can be valuable but there are more important things to focus on.
Road bike skills make dramatic improvements in your cycling performance
A friend of mine was like this.
Jason Bovington. He was dedicated to making improvements in his cycling times.To be fair to him, he actually did the training as well. He often got up at 5am to put in a 90 minute ride before work.
But he was approximately 2 stone overweight. Nothing wrong with that… except he kept trying to “buy” his success. At least twice a month he would proudly show me his latest purchase- one week it would be a new set of wheels for $1500 which would shave off 350 grams.
Another time, when he told me he had just paid $2000 on a set of lighter carbon fibre handle bars, I was actually shocked.
He proudly informed me “It will reduce the weight of my road bike by 500 grams and would therefore take 10 seconds off my time over 10 miles.”
I did not know quite what to say as I looked at his portly mid section as he was munching down on his second Snickers bar of the morning.
For most triathletes or cyclists who are a little overweight, shedding the pounds is the quickest, fastest and cheapest way to making a massive difference to your performance!
Imagine climbing a long hill on your bike with a 2 stone child in a carrier seat on the back of your bike?
Most people would simply not attempt it.
But if you are a little overweight, this is exactly what you are doing to yourself.
Getting to your ideal weight is the fastest, easiest, cheapest way to improving your road bike performance- and it is better for your health as well.
I am pleased to report, when there was finally nothing left to buy… (and he was several thousand dollars poorer!) Jason finally addressed his weight to continue his improvements. He lost 2 stone and his performance did skyrocket.
He won the club championship that year by a long way.
The other cheap, no-cost way to massively improve your cycling performance without any extra training is enhance your road bike skills.
Here are some essential things to work on:
1) Pedal Stroke
Focus on developing and refining an efficient pedal stroke. Power is most effectively applied throughout the pedal stroke- not just on the downward stroke.
Focus on making smooth circles with your foot. Focus on turning the pedal with your entire leg, not just pushing down on the pedals.
Concentrate on using the muscles in your upper legs and buttocks, not just in your calves.
You should also feel the hamstrings be engaged during the upstroke.
Excessive heel rise may also over-stress the calves, leading to fatigue and cramping.
2) Practice Heel Sweeps
Your heel position has a massive impact on your contractile force of gluteals and hamstrings through the pedal stroke. Watch this video to practice the correct heel action.
This will help to increase effective leg extension and develop maximum power from the leg muscles. Think of leading with your heel over the top of the pedal stroke to set up the most powerful pedal stroke.
3) Practice Heel Lifts
Similar to heel sweeps, heel lifts are simply focusing on pulling with your feet on the upstroke. This is very effective during climbing but can also be done at any time. Over exaggerate it at first to get a good feeling of what the pedal stroke should feel like.
Your ankles actually need to move. Most beginners keep their ankles rigid. Remember to drop the heel on the downstroke and lift the heel on the upstroke mandating smooth power throughout the pedal stroke.
4) One leg cycling
Anyone who has excellent road bike skills does one leg cycling. It is a classic drill. A really effective way to ensure you maintain equal power throughout the whole stroke is to unclip one leg off the pedal and hold it away and pedal only with the other leg in an easy gear. Make sure you are somewhere safe without traffic for this one.
Start with 30 second intervals and work up to 3 minutes or more. Repeat for each side, maintaining a smooth pedal stroke and holding a straight line.
You can also practice this drill in the gym and improve your smooth even pedal strokes on each leg. Obviously it is much more effective outside- but in both instances, it will help improve your stroke and give you much better performances.
5) Look Ahead
If you see an obstacle in the road, don’t fixate and stare at it. You will likely run directly into it.
Rather, focus on where you want to go-that is -the path that best avoids the obstacle. Looking ahead and scanning the road also maintains situational awareness of the environment, including the roadway, curb, cyclists, pedestrians, automobiles, and other obstacles in your path. If you are cycling in a group- be sure to warn the cyclists following behind you with a gesture -of a hole in the road, uneven surfaces, broken glass or other hazards.
If you are tense on the bicycle, you will over-react to bumps and dips in the road. You will also fatigue faster when you are tense and over-grip the bars. Think of the bars as a place to rest your hands with a feather light tough. The bike will practically steer itself if you have good position and balance.
7) Ride the White Line
If there is a white line on side of the road, and minimal traffic, practice riding the white line on the side of the roadway for stability and balance. Focus on maintaining a stable and stationary torso, with smooth and efficient pedal strokes. Work up from 1 minute sessions to 1 mile or more.
This drill will help you maintain better road bike skills quickly. Make small adjustments-the fin control is useful for when you are riding in a group.
(If you ride in a group and make sudden deviations- you may bring down 20 or more very unhappy riders with you!!)
8) One-Hand drills
Riding at a comfortable pace with hands on the hoods, remove one hand and rest it on your hip. It may be easiest to begin by removing the hand you generally drink with. Start with 20 second drills and work up to 2 minutes or more, per side.
A very good friend of mine, Sarah Jenkins, was quite new to long cycles. We went out for a 2 hour ride together. I had finished 2 water bottles in that time. She had not had one sip of her two water bottles.
She was feeling ill and had a headache by the end of the ride.
I asked her why she had not drunk anything.
“I was too scared to take my hands off the handlebars!”
If this is you- make sure you practice this on a quiet road several times, so you are confident to take one hand off the handlebars, keep pedalling and drink at the same time!
Repeat each side from the tops of the bars, and from the drops. This road bike skill is improved by riding on the white line for visual feedback of your stability. As you improve, incorporate this drill into your daily rides by simply alternating the drinking hand.
Again, stability and confidence is very important with one hand, so you can drink or eat if you need to and signal to fellow riders.
9) Easy intensity, technique sessions
When you do low intensity, easy miles- do not waste them with sloppy habits and poor technique.
Remember everything we do goes straight into muscle memory!
If you allow yourself to have poor technique- this is what your body will most likely revert to when it really matters- ie RACE day especially when you are fatigued.
It is vital that even if you are out with a friend for an easy ride that you use these sessions to focus on improving your technique.
Posture on the bike
Think about your posture- be aware of your body- where is your neck position?
Is it poked forward? Is it tight and tense? Is it shifted to one side?
Is your low back rounded or straight? Be aware of your posture at work as this will affect your posture on the bike.
Are you engaging your core or is your tummy hanging out providing no back support whatever?
Think about your knees. Are they going straight up and down over your third toe or are they rotating in and out causing ITB issues?
Think about your pelvis- it should be still and stable.
Many cyclists twist and shift left and right in the pelvis and low back especially when climbing hills.
This is poor form and demonstrates weak legs and weak core muscles and will give you low back ache before long.
To get the best results out of training for the least time spent, you need to get the little things right. Road bike skills are critical to improving as a cyclist and triathlete.
These are the things that most people ignore, thinking it is not important or will not make much difference.
And even better it takes no more time out of your day.
You do not have to do more volume or more sessions- just focus on road bike skills during your existing sessions.
Your performance will skyrocket and your fellow athletes will be thinking that you are getting up at 4am doing some extra sneaky sessions that you have not told them about.
Every training session be mentally tough, be aware of your technique and focus on these road bike skills, techniques and posture so that when you are gasping for breath on your hill repeats or cycling your last 15 miles of an 80 miler- your technique will not let you down.
It is when you are fatigued and applying the most power that your technique needs to be at its best. This is when you are getting the most benefit and separating yourself from the crowd.
10) What it the best way to climb hills?
• Stay seated when climbing –it is the most efficient way to climb.
• Stand up only to stretch your back/change your posture briefly, or to make a sudden move on your competitor or on an especially steep section where you simply cannot stay seated.
• Try to relax- many beginners (and decent intermediates!) tense up their arms and their neck so much when climbing- they stifle their breathing and go home with neck pain.
It also unnecessarily increases your heart rate. It is much better to allow all the blood flow to go to your heart and your legs where it is needed right now. Focus on your breathing and reduce unnecessary tension.
• Keep a stable pelvis. Again when the going gets tough- you see many people- twisting their spine and rocking their pelvis to get up the hill- BAD!
Engage the core, keep your back still and pelvis stable. Do not rock from side to side. This will not only waste energy; it will also damage your back.
• Practice good cadence and rhythm. Maintain around 80rpm. You will need to play with your gears a bit to make sure you can keep your legs spinning. They will fatigue less. Some of the Tour de France cyclists maintain around 100 rpm going up hill.
Be prepared…nothing can prepare you for hills like–climbing hills!
I have raced against cyclists who are much faster and more powerful than me on the flat- but once we get to a hill, I leave them for dust.
Yes, sometimes, there is a body weight factor involved – but this is not the only thing. People of all shapes and sizes struggle on the hills if they have not practiced. Hills are one of the road bike skills triathletes ignore if they find them hard.
I have noticed this phenomenon many times with cyclists who tend to do most of their training in spin class but do not hit the road.They get to a hill and almost stop dead…(I am not knocking spin class- it is great but you need to do outdoor work as well).
11) Sharpen your Mental Toughness
If you only tend the ride on the flat terrain you will not develop the intensity, neural connections or muscular power required for the hills. Your mental edge gets sharpened when you know you can’t possibly do another pedal stroke but you also know you cannot give up and walk up the hill in front of your mates. Somehow you summon unknown depths of energy reserves to get to the top!
The shame of walking makes us to incredible things!
You learn to dig deep, block out the pain and keep going.
You are also learn very important and vital self talk to enable you to get to the top at a decent pace.
Maybe you make yourself slow down on the first half of the hill, maybe you steady your breathing, or maybe your relax your arms a bit more.
You will develop your own mantra for getting up any hill.
It could be something like:
“keep breathing, keep going”
“Just a few more pedals tuns”
“I am strong enough and good enough, I have trained for this, nothing will stop me”
“No hill will beat me whatever it is … just keep going”
12) Bike Repair Skills
Any self-respecting triathlete or cyclist MUST know how to do basic repairs. This is essential for when you are out on the road and during a race. It is foolish to employ the “hope and pray” method of hoping it will be fine. What if your chain breaks and you are on your own in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone signal?
It is easy to fix but you must know how and have the right tool. Bike repair skills are often neglected as triathletes focus instead on more mileage and a once a year trip to the bike shop for a service. Do not wait until you are in an emergency to get these skills. It may be too late…. Plus if you regularly maintain your bike, it will run more smoothly, require less watts to go the same speed and you will extend the life span of the bike.
Do not avoid your weaknesses- train your weakness until they are a strength
Implement these simple road bike skills each week. You will notice dramatic improvements.
Happy training, Triathlon-hackers!
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