carpe - that's the post of the month. I award you 1000 bonus points.
carpe - that's the post of the month. I award you 1000 bonus points.
"I think drivers become like dogs when they see a bicycle fly by at 40mph. Instinctively, they just want to give chase, catch them, and eat them." - Papa Tom
Both result in the same speed, it just changes the system you're working.
Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.
CDR gave a good explanation of how to get better. I'd add that avoiding putting any pressure on the pedals at any point in the stroke should be the early goal. Once one learns to spin, one can add power. For now, pretend that there is a cushion of air between the bottom of your foot and the sole of the shoe. Relax your toes.
Technically, the reason that one bounces is that the leg going down is pushing harder than the leg coming up is pulling. Thus there is a force imbalance that pushes one up off the saddle. That's only a vague approximation, though. More exactly, the issue is that the leg going down is straightening at the bottom, which is when one bounces. Anyone who's done leg work in the gym knows that the last few degrees before the leg comes straight are the most powerful. The hardest part of a squat is when you start to come up and the easiest is just before the leg straightens. So its much easier to exert more force with the down leg at the bottom of the stroke than with the up leg at the top of the stroke. Plus there are muscular imbalances, the psoas being much weaker than the quads.
What you are trying to do in these drills is to remove that natural tendency to exert a different amount of force at different parts of the pedal stroke and instead to pedal with a constant smooth force tangential to the pedal circle. When you can do that, bouncing ceases.
There are many people who prefer to only push on the downstroke, those riding flat pedals for example. They must then decelerate the downstroking leg by pulling up on it just as it reaches bottom dead center, thus holding their butt in the saddle. This also prevents bouncing, but I think lacks the beauty and fluidity of the circular motion.
On the other hand there are riders that are totally opposite. They can time trial or climb all day but can't sprint as well. They need to put the hurt meter more to the aerobic side, loading their strong side. Typically they're better doing longer, steadier efforts, usually spinning and therefore not taxing the muscles anaerobically.
Regardless of what you do at your max it still makes sense to spin when not loading your legs. This keeps the load on your muscles to a minimum, saving them for those anaerobic efforts. You can recover from aerobic load pretty quickly but muscular loads take time. Spinning works your muscles much less than pushing a big gear. In my better races I'll spin at 100-110 rpm for the harder parts of the race, soft pedal at 0-100 rpm (meaning with low pressure, typically when drafting, especially in high-shelter situations). This way I can save my legs for the big efforts with a lot of resistance, like a sprint in a big gear at the finish.
Keep in mind that for a given situation on a climb (i.e you, on a particular climb, at a particular speed) you put down the same power to the pedals. Try this - go to a steep climb that you can do repeats on, maybe in an industrial park or a quiet road. Go up the climb at your "normal" pace. It can be a hard effort, whatever. Note the speed and gear and cadence. Say you climb it at 90 rpm at 8 mph. Now use a really different gear, either much lower or much higher (let's say you use a much lower gear, 2-3 shifts away). Go the same speed, 8 mph. Note the perceived effort (in a lower gear you might pedal at 110 rpm). Now go the other way, use a bigger gear. Go 8 mph. You might pedal at, say, 60 rpm at 8 mph. Note perceived effort.
What's counterintuitive to the rider (but obvious to anyone watching a tracking signal on a GPS map) is that you are doing the same work each time. 8 mph on that hill, in that hour that you rode it (or whatever short time frame), at your weight, it's the same work. The dot on a GPS map is going 8 mph on the hill. Think about how it felt in the regular gear, the low gear, and the high gear. Perceived effort can be deceiving.
Once you get to a certain point (for me it's about 3-4-5 minutes) it doesn't matter what gear I'm in. At that point my heart rate has caught up to my power output and I'm toast no matter what gear I'm in. 20 seconds, I use big gears. 30-60 seconds I have to spin. After that I just pray and hang on for dear life.
On hour+ long climbs I struggle - I find that since I am going the same speed and the same power no matter what gear I'm using I prefer to use a slightly larger gear. Mentally I have a hard time spinning high effort for 60 minutes but I can push a gear for 60 minutes. I tried using all sorts of gears on the one really long climb I do (Palomar Mountain - it takes me almost 2 hours to get from bottom to top). I found that a 39x23 worked better than a 39x25, simply because I could turn the 23 over at the same speed I could spin the 25 (but I found spinning the 25 mentally taxing - I'd naturally slow down to the "pushing the 23" cadence). I can't turn a 21 over too well so I'd use it only when it flattened out a bit (and higher gears as well). When people talk about "needing" a particular gear for a climb it only reflects an intersection of power output, grade, and pedaling style. Many people can use higher gears than they think, they just haven't tried it.
A story on how I learned that lesson:
And thanks for the kind words. If I can help someone then it's all worth it.
I need to focus more on building the muscle memory to pedal circles. I can do it when I think about it, but when I don't, I tend to not. I know when I'm doing it right, cause a different set of muscles start to burn
I learned on my last long ride that even when I try not to exert pressure I still do. In my case I was cramping my hamstrings so I didn't want to pull up. I didn't realize that even when I don't "pull up" I was still lifting my leg and that was enough to cause me a lot of discomfort (and send rippling cramp-type clenches through my hamstring). I ended up stopping and putting my foot down because I couldn't undo that lifting action, even if I concentrated on it, and I was afraid of having one of those falling-over cramp attacks.
Interesting. I get it in my lower hamstrings. Like right where they attach to the knee.
I've found it helps to do cadence work at the beginning of every ride. When I'm warming up I'll try to use a very light gear and spin as fast as possible without bouncing. If I warm up at 130 or 140 rpm, when I get into my ride, 100 to 110 feels good and 90 feels down right slow. If you are out for a longer ride, occasionally focusing on bringing your cadence up as high as possible without bouncing works to reinforce this as over time your cadence will drift down if your current natural cadence is low.
Two things that helped me to spin at 120 plus:
When I first started training higher rpm, I would tighten up my core muscles when a bounce first started. This would push off the bouncing for another 20 rpm or so. I would think about drawing my navel to my spine.
Second, I am naturally a heel down pedaller. At higher rpm, I would become a heel up pedaller, which would effectively lower my seat height. I never knew this until I had a video made of me pedaling. Once I figured that out, it helped smooth out any bounce.
Two things help me a lot; pedaling and circles (especially pulling up as well as pushing down) and keeping the knees close to the top tube to reduce the rocking couple. A good place to practice is on a trainer or spin bike with very low resistance.
It takes some practice being able to alternatively extend/push and relax/pull your leg at a high cadence (that's why you increase your cadence gradually).
What about the idea of riding fixed-gear to supposedly help out your ability to spin at high cadences? It definitely forces you to spin and work on not bouncing, but the bike is doing the work, rather than you (assuming you're going downhill).
I'm still unsure how I feel about riding fixed helping with my regular cycling. I try and get a 40mile ride in once a week on the fixed gear that includes some hills that I can hit 40mph easily on a regular road bike. Obviously I have to hit the brake before getting anywhere close to that speed, but I do try and spin like a madman as long as I can. However, I feel like riding a fixed gear works against you. I feel as if my legs get lazy and become accustomed to the pedals pushing your legs. Once I hop back onto a regular road bike, more often than not I almost feel slower and less efficient.
Anyone have any thoughts on this?
You're just trying to start an argument to show how smart you are.
OTOH, I know people who have ruined their knees riding fixed. I think when riding fixed, one must always pedal against resistance, thus constantly braking when going downhill enough that one still pushes on the pedals.
I think that the muscle learning translated into my geared bike riding, too. But I'm not a racer and haven't systematically studied the results. That's just my impression.
Last edited by Phil_gretz; 05-23-13 at 12:45 PM. Reason: added parenthetical on bouncing transition speed
As a personal comment on the fixed/SS helping with bouncing, my experience is that it hurts more than helps. I started riding my single speed much more, to force myself to stand more often (I tend to sit too much on my geared bike). Well, I stand much more, and can spin much higher without bouncing, but I have trained myself to be faster on my single speed than I am on my geared bike. I use the gears to keep my cadence higher, but put much less force on the pedals. And I still never stand on the geared bike. They are two very different riding styles, and I don't think that as much crosses over as you might think. Or I am untrainable.
Riding SS is nowhere near the same thing as riding fixed. The largest difference is the forced spin that comes with downhill riding. If you really work at it and let the bike push you outside your comfort zone by 15-20+ rpm it's a very good way to improve pedaling mechanics. It forces muscles that don't normally engage to do so for stability. Being able to put down power at 180+ rpm is a useful skill to have.
Just riding along on a fixed gear over flat terrain doesn't help much. Using it as leverage to put yourself into different training areas you wouldn't normally enter is where the usefulness comes from. There's a reason forced-motorpacing on a fixed gear is/was used for Keirin training.
I recently went back to road cycling and racing from a fixed gear and noticed a large improvement in pedaling mechanics, general climbing ability and TTing speed.
Sprint is garbage though. If there is any one truism tied to riding a fixed gear exclusively, it's that it will kill your sprint.