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Road Cycling ďIt is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.Ē -- Ernest Hemingway

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Old 06-24-14, 06:21 PM   #1
acchang
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Help me learn to cycle better? 15 mph to 18 mph

I ride with a group on the weekend which averages maybe 17 mph over the course of a 40-60 mile ride. Since I joined them about two years ago, Iíve been the last man in the pace line ó on flats at least.

I tend to get dropped either on the uphills or downhills. Itís a no-drop ride, so I get to experience both!

Itís been a bit of a mystery to me, because most of these guys are bigger and older than me. The ones similarly sized and similarly aged to me are comparable runners. Iíve realized that there is an element of skill rather than fitness to account for the difference.

Iíve improved on the downhills. I used to be a bit timid on the rough roads, and Iíve gotten better at cornering, though my left turns are better than my right turns (my left core and hip is weaker and less flexible). I still fall behind but not as badly.

But the uphills are still troublesome to me. Itís like I lose power on them. I know to keep up with the group on the flats, I have to keep up a high cadence and continue to generate power, so I have to be comfortable sustaining a high heart rate. For me, thatís 90+ rpm and 140+ bpm.

On the hills though, my cadence naturally drops to 80 rpm and lower. I donít like how my muscles feel at a lower rpm, itís like Iím doing something bad to my knees. I also feel like I donít have enough power at that low rpm, things are a struggle.

So I downshift and get my rpms back. But then my heart rate drops into the 110s, which means Iím not working that hard, and I start falling behind again.

The best way Iíve found to keep up is to get up off the seat and stomp Ö that way I feel like Iím putting out enough power and getting the heart rate up ó but that state of affairs isnít natural, and I can only sustain it for so long.

Do you guys have any ideas on how I can improve?

* Should I look into bike sizing? I bought my standard ride used, and it might be a little big for me, which may be affecting my effort on the uphills.

* Or is it my training, that I should do more to learn how to sustain a low cadence at a high heart rate?

* Or is it mental ó Iím not dialing into the the right gearing ó Iím either too high, which causes the muscle strain, or too low, which doesnít tax my cardio systems enough?

Thanks!
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Old 06-24-14, 06:33 PM   #2
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If you're a runner you may not have completely developed cycling muscle groups and techniques yet. Try this on the next ride. Leave the HR monitor at home and quit trying to be so scientific about the rides. Just enjoy yourself. When the group hits a hill and you start to lag behind, stand up and pedal at a smooth cadence of maybe 60. Concentrate on a smooth technique but also putting out power.

You probably haven't learned how to use your quads climbing while seated. That's okay but for now use your quads and glutes and stand more.

Last edited by StanSeven; 06-24-14 at 07:20 PM.
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Old 06-24-14, 06:38 PM   #3
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Help me learn to cycle better? 15 mph to 18 mph

I know nothing about rpm's and heart rate and watts. Watch old videos of Jacques Anquetil, Hugo Koblet, and Eddy Merckx. They rode with great style. Emulate the best.
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Old 06-24-14, 06:41 PM   #4
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Train. Intervals. Suffer. Enjoy.

If all else fails, get a coach.
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Old 06-24-14, 06:55 PM   #5
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Just some general blather:

In my experience, surviving the group ride is an exercise in energy conservation. You start with one book of matches, use them wisely, and don't burn them without purpose. Learn to recover as much as possible between firings.

I see many people spin very fast in too easy of a gear with no load on the pedals. Spinning shouldn't dramatically lower your heart rate, unless you have no load on your flippers.

Standing is not unnatural or verboten. Mixing standing into your rides keeps you stretched and limber, and allows you to lay down more power for short stints.

Peg your heart rate sometimes. Cycling gives you recovery time that running doesn't. If you really want to go faster, ride so hard that you vomit, record your HR, and then dial it back a few. If you never go over 140 BPM, you are probably not working anywhere close to full throttle.

And remember to have fun out there!
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Old 06-24-14, 07:21 PM   #6
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Hill repeats on MWF. Ride easy on TTh. Rest on Saturday. Long ride on Sunday. Do that for six weeks and see where you are.
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Old 06-25-14, 09:10 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by big chainring View Post
I know nothing about rpm's and heart rate and watts. Watch old videos of Jacques Anquetil, Hugo Koblet, and Eddy Merckx. They rode with great style. Emulate the best.
+1 on that. I don't have a heart rate monitor or a power meter. When I first got into cycling, I was dismayed that the old guys with gray hair would consistently leave me in the dust on group rides. Three years later, not only do I keep up with them, I'm the one dropping them.

I try to put in 100 or more miles a week. My two days off work riding with my club, and a couple of days after work riding solo. Just ride, ride ride.
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Old 06-25-14, 11:22 AM   #8
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So you haven't made *any* progress in getting faster/more efficient in 2 years riding with a group? Do you ride alone as well?

I can't see how someone can ride for 2 years and not get any faster or better at climbing.

Something is fishy about this post.
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Old 06-25-14, 11:32 AM   #9
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On the flats, focus on staying up near, but not on, the front. You'll avoid the accordion effect at the back. As you approach a hill, get on the front and do the fat guy fade: Drift to the back as you climb. Hope you have enough group before the end of the hill to stay attached. If you do find yourself at the back before the top, absolutely bury yourself to stay attached. Recover on the descent. Repeat.
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Old 06-25-14, 11:37 AM   #10
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So you haven't made *any* progress in getting faster/more efficient in 2 years riding with a group? Do you ride alone as well?

I can't see how someone can ride for 2 years and not get any faster or better at climbing.

Something is fishy about this post.
yeah, something is not right about this either, one would think that after 2 year you would be to able to hang with the group if not doing massive pulls.

1. How many miles are doing week? what is your riding schedule/break down?
2. Do you do interval/hill repeats on the biggest nastiest hill in your area? do you work on sprints?
3. You mentioned having a device to measure cadence and heart rate, your training should be able to simulate a group ride since you know the numbers generated during the ride.

Sounds like you need to leave the computer at home, zone out and push yourself, try to re-create the exertion level of the group ride.

Can you tell us more about your bike and setup?
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Old 06-25-14, 11:41 AM   #11
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Unless you're 80, 140 is not a very high heart rate. When you ride with a group, sometimes it really hurts to keep up. But then, you'll be drafting and going much faster than you could on your own. I agree that the problem seems odd; usually riding regularly with a group is exactly the kind of stress one needs to build the power and endurance necessary to ride with a group. Two years is a long time to be off the back. You mention a weaker left side, are there medical issues that would hurt your chances on the bike without affecting running?
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Old 06-25-14, 11:47 AM   #12
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Getting into prime cycling condition takes a few years of dedicated training and riding and you are going to hit some walls along the way which you will need to climb... analyzing what you need to do to get over that wall and addressing those deficiencies will make you a stronger / better rider.

I had to adapt after a back injury that has left my left leg weaker and not as responsive as my right and whereas I used to be able to stand up and hammer those hills, now I have to spin like a gerbil on crack.

I have slowed down to where I am pretty comfortable riding in groups where the pace is in the low to middle 30's (kmh) and do have issues with hills and headwinds as my right leg does most of the heavy lifting and is prone to earlier fatigue.

You can take a few notes from the past and think about getting a fixed gear road bike and work that into a training regimen... this will really help with developing a smooth spin and power and you don't get to change gears so you either have to hammer up those hills or spin like the aforementioned gerbil on the flats which will really help with the cardio.

Training season used to start with 1000 miles on the fixed gear with a relatively low gear (72 gear inches) so that a rider would have spin and develop suppleness.

I still ride a fixed gear and the time I spend on that really helps when I am riding a geared bicycle.
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Old 06-25-14, 11:50 AM   #13
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simple case of finding your pain cave for group rides. You can only dictate the speed if you're at the front.
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Old 06-25-14, 12:20 PM   #14
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Pick up a nice 2-5minutes hill at 6% or more, go all out up (as if you are launching an attack, or sprinting in a uphill finish), then go down and start again. It is really really hard to keep the motivation while doing this, but it is a really good exercise.
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Old 06-25-14, 12:43 PM   #15
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If you want to get better at hills you have to do them more often and hit them a little harder each time. When you are doing them, stand every so often. Dropping your cadence to 80 or below is totally normal for hills....mine is probably 70rpms.

Do some hills by yourself and get into a comfortable gear so you are climbing without blowing yourself up. Don't worry about the cadence or your speed, just realize that going up a hill is harder than the flats....it's supposed to hurt more. You will get stronger and go faster up them as you do more of them.
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Old 06-25-14, 12:58 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by acchang View Post
But the uphills are still troublesome to me. It’s like I lose power on them. I know to keep up with the group on the flats, I have to keep up a high cadence and continue to generate power, so I have to be comfortable sustaining a high heart rate. For me, that’s 90+ rpm and 140+ bpm.
Your power as measured by w/kg is lower than the others in the group. You're hanging on the flats because drafting takes a lot less effort to sit in than pull. So the paceline masks your weakness. When the road turns up, the draft becomes a much smaller part of the equation, and the riders with better w/kg ride away from you.

So the answer is to increase your w/kg. You can do that by dereasing the kgs, increasing the watts, or both.

Best way to increase your ability to put out watts on a sustained basis is some structured intervals. 2x 20's (20 minutes about as hard as you can sustain, 5 minutes recovery, repeat) is a classic way to increase your functional threshold power.
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Old 06-25-14, 01:29 PM   #17
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On the hills though, my cadence naturally drops to 80 rpm and lower. I don’t like how my muscles feel at a lower rpm, it’s like I’m doing something bad to my knees. I also feel like I don’t have enough power at that low rpm, things are a struggle.

So I downshift and get my rpms back. But then my heart rate drops into the 110s, which means I’m not working that hard, and I start falling behind again.
80 RPM is hardly "mashing". You may lose a little efficiency, but it's not slow enough that it should be taking a toll on your knees. If your knees are actually experiencing pain, then you might want to get your bike fit checked out. But I suspect you're really just feeling the strain of muscles working hard and have read too much stuff on the internet about low cadence destroying your knees.

If that's true and it's your muscles feeling the pain, then it's time to learn to love pain Without getting too deep into training science, strength/efficiency gains come through progressive overload. You have to increase intensity, volume, or both to improve your ability. Those increases usually hurt. To raise your lactate threshold you'll need to spend time operating significantly above it. Your 140 heart rate will climb into the 160-170 range and the muscles in your legs will burn with lactate until you swear the lycra in your shorts is going to fuse to your skin.

Perhaps a few genetic oddities don't experience the same level of suffering, but the vast majority of cyclists do. Those guys who finish the climbs first are probably suffering like you wouldn't believe ... they're just used to it

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* Should I look into bike sizing? I bought my standard ride used, and it might be a little big for me, which may be affecting my effort on the uphills.


That fact that you can do a 40-60 mile ride without any major issue (other than keeping up) says your fit (and hence frame size) is ok.


Quote:
* Or is it my training, that I should do more to learn how to sustain a low cadence at a high heart rate?

It is your training, but it's how to increase your power output ... period. Heart rate is your body's response to power output. Cadence in the kind of narrow range you're talking about (80+ RPM) isn't going to have that big an influence on power output.

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* Or is it mental — I’m not dialing into the the right gearing — I’m either too high, which causes the muscle strain, or too low, which doesn’t tax my cardio systems enough?
I think it is "mental" from the standpoint that you think you should be able to go fast (especially on climbs) without muscle strain. You're putting a huge emphasis on cadence, but in actuality, what you're finding is that your "comfortable" power output is pretty much tapped out in the flats. You need to crawl into the pain cave for a bit when the group increases the effort on the climbs, and that's something you seem to be trying to avoid. Gearing is there to help keep your cadence up, but it sounds like you're gearing down so much that you're "spun out" (limited by the speed at which you can move your legs, not by how much power your muscles can produce).

One last suggestion is that strength training off the bike, if done correctly, can very quickly build additional muscle to support your knee joints. Compound heavy lifts like barbell deadlifts and squats promote leg strength, core strength, and knee stability ... all of which are very beneficial to cyclists.
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Old 06-25-14, 01:55 PM   #18
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If you're a runner you may not have completely developed cycling muscle groups and techniques yet. Try this on the next ride. Leave the HR monitor at home and quit trying to be so scientific about the rides. Just enjoy yourself. When the group hits a hill and you start to lag behind, stand up and pedal at a smooth cadence of maybe 60. Concentrate on a smooth technique but also putting out power.

You probably haven't learned how to use your quads climbing while seated. That's okay but for now use your quads and glutes and stand more.
I'm kind of intrigued by this, could you elaborate?

(I wouldn't say I struggle on climbs, but I'm fairly new and still learning how best to climb.)
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Old 06-25-14, 02:28 PM   #19
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Thanks everyone for the great feedback. Ok, I've got some idea of what I need to do. It sounds like I just need to push myself harder, and test my pain thresholds. Admittedly, my tolerance may be a little low on the bike. I have a better idea of what I can do on the run. It doesn't help that after a draining run sprint, I can stumble into the grass and fall over. I can't do that on a bike!

As for the comments about my question being fishy -- I don't know, this is just how I've been experiencing my time with this group. It's a no-drop ride, so one modest sign of improvement is the time the group has to wait for me has been getting shorter. At the same time, everyone's getting faster. And I don't ride as much as the other guys, nor as much as I should. I've been spending most of my time running. So yes, my lack of development may also be due to a lack of focus.

If there are any questions I can answer that would lead to more effective training, I'd be glad to answer. But for the time being, thanks for the input!

Last edited by acchang; 06-25-14 at 02:32 PM.
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Old 06-25-14, 03:16 PM   #20
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I've been spending most of my time running. So yes, my lack of development may also be due to a lack of focus.
I'm not sure how the whole Run vs. Ride thing works and the specific muscles involved. But I did a 3-day ride in the mountains a few years ago with a friend who was exclusively running until January of that year (ride was in July). He did a couple of marathons every year, was almost 10 years younger than me (43 vs 35), and was overall much more fit than I was even after we rode and trained from January to the ride in July.
During the July ride we weren't racing but I beat him up every mountain and he struggled much more than I did. He needed the rest stops more than I did and he needed more time at the rest stops. I never ran with him but I'm sure he would have stomped me in a run.

So if you're running and they're riding, I'm not surprised at how you're struggling to keep up.
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Old 06-25-14, 03:20 PM   #21
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scoot your saddle back, it may be causing loss of power if you're too far over the cranks.
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Old 06-25-14, 06:55 PM   #22
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Intervals, as has been recommended. These are better done on solo rides at fixed points so you can stay consistent, and measure improvement. A hill is a good place, or a long flat were there are no stops. These interval zones should be far enough into a ride that you are fully warmed up.

Another thing often overlooked is eating properly in preparation for long rides. I will start eating from lunch the previous day, eating small portions every couple of hours until an hour before bedtime. This distributes food along my digestive tract, making it easy for my body to extract energy. Race horses are fed five times a day for this reason. A mix of carbs, protein, and fat works best. I found pork fried rice from a local Chinese restaurant to be like rocket fuel for my body, silly as it sounds. Coca-cola is my favorite pre-ride drink, the sugar and caffeine also help.

good luck,
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Old 06-26-14, 07:27 PM   #23
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Easy, get your HR up to 180 on the hills. See if that helps.
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Old 06-26-14, 07:52 PM   #24
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Wow! I don't know how your heart rate can drop on a climb. I'm 53 and my heart rate on flats is about 140-160 depending on speed but on hills I'll hit between 170-180 bpm easy. Something definitely doesn't sound right with your numbers. What gears are you climbing in and how steep are the hills?
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Old 06-26-14, 11:19 PM   #25
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i wish i can keep a cadence of 90 with a HR of ~140 on hills (assuming 4% gradients)
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