Developing Solid Cycling Skills
Developing solid bike-handling skills and superior cycling technique enables triathletes to complete their bike legs faster, more comfortably, and with lower energy consumption! This enables a triathlete to enter the run with far more energy!
Here is how you can improve your cycling skills...
Pedaling: The goal is to improve your pedaling skills by smoothing out the leg’s directional changes at the top and bottom of the stroke. We utilize the following drill for improving our pedaling technique:
Pedaling Technique: The pedaling concept is a subjective topic. In triathlon, it is helpful to focus on utilizing the "whole" leg to pedal. At the top and bottom of the stroke, your legs are transitioning to go in opposite directions; either forward and down or back and up. Engaging the proper muscles at the right time improves pedal efficiency and your ability to run off the bike. I like to think of the pedal stroke in terms of a clock. With the top of the stroke starting at 12 O'Clock and the bottom of the stroke starting about 5 O'Clock. Here are six things to focus on when pedaling to enhance your technique :
- Think about “Bringing the knees up and over” the handlebars using the hip flexor (11 O'Clock through 1 O'Clock)
- Think about "Driving the heel forward "with your quads (begin at the 1 O'Clock position) and then driving that heel down with the quads to generate a strong and powerful force (the 2 O'Clock through 5 O'Clock range)
- As you are driving the heel down with the quad, notice you are driving a flat foot down actually with the force being generated from your quads and glutes.
- Then, think about "Pulling the flat foot back" at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Think of it as if you were "scraping mud "off the bottom of your shoe using your Hamstrings mainly (5 O'Clock through 7 O'Clock)
- Complete the "circle" by "Lifting" or "Pulling up" or "Unweighting" the flat foot (7 O'Clock through 11 O'Clock). By using the Hamstrings, Glute and Hip Flexor, you are able to work the entire pedal stroke and not just "mash" the pedals only using quads to push down. As you are "Lifting/Pulling Up/Unweighting" the other leg is actually driving with the quad.
- Transition into the powerful quad engagement by thinking about “Bringing the knee up and over the handle bar, driving the heel down and completing the fluid circle."
Single Leg Drill (SLD): On an indoor trainer, unclip and pedal with one leg for 30 seconds. Focus on the 5 mental aspects from above and work on improving your technique. Choose a gear that will keep your cadence at 90rpm or so. Then, after 30 seconds, click in with both feet and pedal with both legs for another 30 seconds, sustaining the same sensation and proper technique. Repeat several times, rotating between the right and left leg. Listen for a steady drone from the trainer. If you are hearing a wah-wah-wah sound, smooth it out!
Dominant Leg Drill: This is the SLD but on your road bike outside. DON'T unclip though, just focus on pedaling with one leg at a time and feel the whole pedal stroke.
Heel above Pedal Drill: Don’t allow your heel to drop below the level of the pedal on the down stroke. This effectively rotates the crankset forward and sets you up for horizontal pedaling. Focus on driving a flat foot down so you are ready to “scrape mud off the bottom of your shoe.” Be sure you keep the foot flat. Do not “toe down” with an elevated heel.
Increased Cadence Drill: This drill will help improve your cycling cadence. Several times a week, focus on staying near the top end of your cadence range and you will naturally continue to push for a higher cadence. Always focus on good pedaling form – never bounce in your saddle! Most triathletes will benefit from a cadence of 85 to 95. Work to pedal smoothly at this smooth RPM.
Spin Ups Drill: Ride in a low gear so it’s easy to pedal and gradually increase your cadence over a 30 second period until you can’t help bouncing on your saddle, and then slow down your cadence until you are no longer bouncing and hold it for 10 more seconds. Do several spin ups within a ride separating them with a few minutes at your normal cadence. This will help you become more economical at higher cadences. Relax your toes and grip on the bars. Stay smooth and relaxed, and in time it will seem almost effortless.
Pedal Recovery Drill: Focus on not letting your recovering leg (the leg that is traveling from the 6 through 12 o’clock positions) rest on the pedal during the recovery phase. “Resting your foot” on the pedal is a tremendous waste of energy because the other down-stroking leg must work harder to carry the weight of the recovering leg. Make sure your recovery leg is pulling up on the pedal and contributing to your powerful and efficient pedal stroke.
Balance and Bike Handling Skills:
• It is important to have good balancing skills on your bike to avoid crashes, objects in the road, and be able to take in your nutrition while riding.
• Become comfortable on your bike. Comfort begins with a good fit and proper riding gear such as quality bike shorts, cycling shoes and a fitted helmet. Use Chamois Cream or other personal lubricant, spend time in the saddle and develop good cycling technique. As your progress and become a better rider, you can increase your balance on the bike over time.
• There are various drills you can do to increase your balance such as Water Bottle Pickup, Slalom Ride and Bottle Jump (if you are really good).
• At speeds greater than 12mph, more than half the total mechanical work being done by the rider is spent overcoming air resistance. Most aerodynamic resistance is a result of the frontal area presented to the wind by the rider’s body. A standard aero position reduces frontal area by more than 21% for the average rider.
• If you are a triathlete, take the time to get the right bike and correct bike fit so you can find your ideal aero position!
• Weight and balance are key factors when braking. When descending a hill, you must be careful when using the front brake. Pulling it aggressively can easily result in a crash. Stay calm and controlled when descending. Think of the anti lock brakes on your car. Gently squeeze your brakes just enough to slow your momentum a little. Then release your brakes and allow your wheels to spin back up to speed. Repeat this process as needed to give you a controlled, fast descent.
• For more advance riders, applying the rear brake primarily and using your body for forward momentum can lead to fast descents.
• Safety first! It is always better to slow down 10% too much than 1% not enough and crash. As your riding skills progress, you will instinctively learn how much brake pressure to apply considering your bike condition, tires, weather factors and road conditions. Be patient and live to fight another day!
• The basics of cornering are, if you need to brake, brake before the turn, then let go of the brake levers as the turn begins. You can start pedaling again as you come out of the turn.
• For newer riders it’s usually better to come out of the aero position and place your weight in the outside leg of the turn when you need to brake. When leaning into the turn keep your inside pedal up in the 12 o’clock position to avoid the pedal hitting the ground which may cause your tires to lift off the ground.
• Always remember to gradually brake before heading in to a turn. Your tires only have so much contact area to control the bike. Depending on your weight, speed and balance, applying the brakes may decrease your ability to turn.
• Smaller riders (less than 2lbs of body weight for every inch of height) usually climb best when out of the saddle, whereas bigger riders (more than about 2-3lbs per inch) climb more effectively seated.
• Some believe slower cadence is more effective for climbing. Others find it more effective to shift to an easier gear and “spin” up the hill thinking about pulling up with the hip flexor. Experiment and objectively find what works best for you! Most Triathletes will benefit from a higher cadence so they can save their legs for the run!
• Do be sure to take advantage of momemtum. If you are coming from a downhill, power up the next hill as much as you can before you switch to easier gears and start spinning.
• If alternating between sitting and standing positions during the climb, you may have to shift to a higher gear while standing since your body will generate more force on the pedal. When shifting to the standing position while “spinning” up the hill, the easy gear may make you feel like you are spinning and not going anywhere. Pop it up to a harder gear if needed. However, you’ll more than likely need to shift to a lower, easier gear when seated in your saddle, or you’ll be mashing the pedals.
• When standing to climb, allow the bike to sway gently from side to side without weaving off the shortest line up the hill.
• When seated, scoot back on your saddle, place your hands on the hoods or handlebars, come out of aero and open chest while easing up on the grip on the handle bars. Make sure you are relaxing your hands and upper body while spinning your legs.
• Near the top of the climb, you may need to start shifting up to that harder gear so you can crest effectively and be ready to power down the next hill. Stay calm and focused but momentum is your friend. So gain momentum by applying power as you crest and start the decent!
• Remember, going downhill is "free speed" so crest the hill with power and quickly shift to a big gear to power down the hill! Many riders take it easy and rest here but with proper training you'll be ready to push down the hill rather than coast! This will earn you momentum and enable you to cruise up the next roller with less effort!
• If you are more advanced and looking to descend a very steep grade quickly, and top-end speed is your goal, get in a tucked-position with your hands in your aerobars, back flat with head close to the hands, knees in, and the cranks parallel with the road.
• If you need to slow down on the decent, evenly distribute your weight between the front and rear wheels, briefly and repeatedly apply pressure to brakes, using rear brake primarily.
• Again, Safety first! It is always better to slow down 10% too much than 1% not enough and crash. Know your limits and ride strong and safe!
Train Smart and Enjoy Your Ride!
Coach Kelly Wissolik is an elite triathlete and professional triathlon coach (USAT Level 2 Certified). After becoming a top age group cyclist in the sport of triathlon, Coach Kelly has created several cycling DVD’s that emphasize proper cycling technique and rigorous workout routines.