Reinventing our Cycling Style to make way for improved performance

Reinventing our Cycling Style to make way for improved performance

by Coach Sarah

One of the best parts of cycling is that we never truly reach perfection.  If we are lucky, we might experience one race where we feel like we’ve come darn close, but there is always room to improve.  However, it’s a balancing act, because if we beat ourselves up too much for not reaching perfection, we may in turn paralyze ourselves from getting any better.

The learning curve on the bicycle, especially in the first few years of riding, is incredible.  The novice cyclist who sticks with it is rewarded ten-fold, if they do not give up and simply keep riding a few times (or more) a week, even if they do not work on any specific skills or techniques.  This is one of the joys of cycling—being rewarded with increased fitness, and hopefully confidence—by pedaling your bike around for 30-90+ minutes a day, 3-4x/week.

But what about when that learning curve starts to plateau, and we suddenly feel like we’re in a rut, literally spinning our wheels in place, going nowhere fast?   Even if we have gone the route of using coaching services—which are irreplaceable for fitness and endurance and race preparation—we may still find that our individual riding styles occasionally become stale.

Can that be changed?  I absolutely believe it can.  Sometimes we need to reinvent ourselves, and on-the-bicycle is one of the most satisfying, responsive ways to do this.

What areas can be “reinvented”?  Here are a few:

  • Our relationship with the road, literally.  Efficient, effective riding utilizes the gradient changes in the road to your benefit, instead of working against you.  Learn to feel the road fluctuate beneath you, and respond accordingly.  If you plan ahead for the gradient changes, the better.  Then you stay a step ahead of the game.  Use the resistance of the road to propel yourself forward.
  • Listen to our muscles…from our butt muscles, to our thighs, to our calves, down to our ankles and feet.  When one area aches, enlist the help of the non-aching muscles to pull you through.  As our physique changes and our fitness improves, so do our muscles’ response to the load we put on them.
  • “Drive” your bike, quite literally like you drive your car.  We look through cars ahead of us to see what might be happening up the road (hopefully, anyhow!!), and this same tactic should be employed on the bike.  Be aware of everything around you—ahead of you, to both sides of you, behind you.  Use this awareness to your advantage to always stay ahead of the game.  This in turn translates to a more confident ride.
  • Reinvent your core, or perhaps just continue your already-happy relationship with it.  J  Our hips and deep abdominal muscles become the center of our axis when we’re riding.  Envision this during your next few core-strength workouts, and see if you can picture yourself as a more “solid” cyclist.  Our stability on the bike starts deep in our bodies—as hokey as it sounds, we have to embrace that, and truly feel it, to make it happen.   (Pilates is an excellent way to learn how to engage these muscles, if you are maybe wondering what this would feel like.)
  • Revisit your pedal stroke constantly.  Don’t fall prey to thoughtless pedaling.  Visualize a clock face on your chainring, (i.e. 12 o’clock equals top of pedal stroke, 6 o’clock equals bottom of pedal stroke) and try to make each hour in between purposeful, both as you drive your toes forward (11 o’clock to 5 o’clock), and pull your heels back (5 o’clock to 11 o’clock).

In our first few years of cycling, we spend of lot of time learning the black-and-whites, the non-arguable basic skills and essentials.   But as we progress on our cycling journey, there becomes a lot of room for “abstracts” in cycling to propel us forward, the non-tangibles.   This is where we begin to blend nuances with our cycling style, and it becomes an art.  Just as art constantly reinvents itself, so must we, if we wish to continue improving.

Sarah Farsalas is a USA Cycling Level III certified coach with Experience Triathlon. As a cycling coach, Sarah helps athletes improve riding skills, body strength, training performance and race day speed using time-tested scientific training methods. She has a special interest in helping new riders enter the wonderful world of cycling.  Learn more about Coach Sarah and Experience Triathlon at www.experiencetriathlon.com

 

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  • Excellent article and perspective Coach Sarah.  This is great stuff and I’m going to really “drive the bike” on my next ride.  Love that idea!!

    • Sarah

      Thanks for the feeback, Joe, & for all the cycling tips you’ve taught me over time!   🙂   Yes, I really like getting a chance to “drive” as fast as possible, without fear of getting a speeding ticket…  Didn’t a wise person once say it’s always sunny and 80, especially when riding our bike??! 

  • Anonymous

    Great article Coach Sarah! I am definitely going to use these tips. I have become a little more confident this year with my riding and your tips will help my progress!!

    • Sarah

      Thanks, Tanya!  I’m excited to hear that you are going to try out these tips, and you will have to keep me posted on how they work out for you!  =)  I am blown away by how many tips I am constantly learning from riding with other cyclists, or from materials I read, that seem so small & easy-to-overlook….and how much all these small things actually make a big difference in riding!    (Yes, I am a bike geek, I know….but it’s just so fun & challenging at the same time!  I will eventually make bike-geeks out of us all, ha ha!)  🙂

  • Jim Riga

    Sarah, thanks for the tips to help improve our biking. Some of them I didn’t realize that I already do and will continue doing with a more purposeful thought process. Others I will start to incorporate into my biking regime to become more in tune with my core.

    • Sarah

      I appreciate the feedback, Jim…it’s been so fun riding alongside you on group rides and at CT, and also very cool to see your own cycling style evolve so much over this past year!   If you ever want to trade wheelsets, just say the word…. 😉

  • Mnpetronis

    Coach Sarah, Thank you for this article.  As a beginner I can use the tips to help me improve on the bike.

    • Sarah

      Excellent!  I imagine you will sense/feel improvements within a few rides… enjoy trying the ideas out, and finding what works for you!

  • Excellent article, Sarah!!  Seeing as though I took my 1st pilates class in quite some time this past week, the part about pilates being an excellent way to engage the core muscles especially resonated with me…I’m feeling them in a good way!! 🙂