PART 2: YOU ARE THE ENGINE
By Steve Auchterlonie
Cycling Performance Lab
You are the engine under the hood of your two-wheeled vehicle. Now, vehicles range from lightweight and aero sports cars, to off-road dual suspension rigs to luxury comfort machines to old jalopies. However, we all know what really matters is what’s under the hood. A jalopy frame with a well tuned, high revving V8 will outsprint that expensive sports car with the V6. What type of engine are you? There are high torque V8s (MTBers who can power out of mud), high powered V8s (big sprinters but can’t climb), turbo V6s (all-arounders), hybrids (run all day and love the last half of centuries), sputtering cast iron antiques (that’s me) and many more.
Cycling faster requires maximizing your performance. Maximizing your performance requires knowing your strengths and efficiently utilizing them. Why? Each of us starts a ride/race with a full tank. That tank has to get us to the finish line. Gunning the engine (hard efforts on the bike) drains the tank more quickly. Too many ineffective efforts risk not finishing the ride/race strongly.
Cycling results are not about who worked the hardest or who is most fit. There are many factors involved in producing cycling results. These are my top three.
1) This is the most important one…GET YOUR FACE OUT OF THE WIND! Think about it. When is the last time a race/ride was won by someone just riding solo away from the peloton or group? If someone did, then you can call him/her a sandbagger without hesitation…”CAT UP” or they need to provide a urine sample to the local authority.
Learn how to draft efficiently in a group. Learn the rules of rotating. Learn how to cascade the peloton in a cross-wind. On average, drafting saves 30% of the work required to go a certain speed. 30%!! Let’s do the math. In NWA May weather with no wind (yeah, when does that happen?), it takes about 200 watts to average 20 mph on a flat stretch of road for a 155 lb rider on a road bike. Subtracting 30% for a group rotating effectively equals a power average of 140 watts. 140 watts by a solo rider is equal to approximately 17 mph. In other words, the group is going 20 mph but only working at a 17 mph effort. Get off the front.
2) A wonderful benefit from cycling is improved fitness. Rarely does fitness win a race. Cycling/racing results are based on decisive moments: attacks, climbs and final sprints. This same concept holds true for all levels of riding from recreational group rides to buddies mountain biking Mount Kessler and to amateur and professional racing.
TRAINING SPECIFICITY – train for those moments. Practice repeats on a steep hill…not steady pace…go hard. Practice 30 second sprints to develop the mental and physical abilities to bridge gaps or to create gaps or to win the final sprint. Practice alternating 15s sprints and 15s recoveries continuously for five minutes, to develop the “snap” required to jump on a wheel as it goes by or to simulate what a criterium requires. Use group rides to test yourself for those moments. Groups rides are not about whether you get dropped or not. Use them to push yourself harder than you can by riding by yourself…to find what works, and even more importantly, what does not work.
3) DEVELOP AN EFFICIENT AND POWERFUL PEDAL STROKE. I can’t over-emphasize this point. Yes, the pros are world class athletes, but they are also very effective at pedaling circles. Just like any sport…basketball jump shooting, baseball hitting, swimming, etc…there is technique to learn and practice to be your best. Until recently, pedaling circles was an art requiring description/coaching from “experts.” This has changed very recently and I will explain how in detail in my next article. For now, let me share a highlight summary: the average rider/racer is only 25 to 50% efficient pedaling. Pros are over 70%. Think about that for a moment: a 4.28 watt/kilogram racer (very good cat 2/3 level; 300 watts for 154 pound cyclist) wastes at least half of his/her work effort moving the bike forward. If this 300 watt cyclist improves 10%, then he/she will go 2 mph faster for the same work effort. 2 mph! Stay tuned…
Yeah, we all fall in love with our bikes. They are our sports cars. No matter how much they cost, they don’t come with an engine. That’s you. Work on the engine. Feed it properly. Keep it tuned. Add some horsepower. Practice using it most effectively. Your bike will thank you.
To find out more about the services Steve offers at Cycling Performance Lab you can contact him at:
Great stuff. Problem is they keep referring to 154 lb riders. What about the 185 guys? Haha. I do find these articles fascinating.
Understand your point. 154 lb is the middle of the range from smaller women riders to bigger guys. The math is linear, basically. So, for any of the examples, simply add or subtract the percentage of your body weight to the 154 base case. i.e., 185 lb is about 20% greater so the power requirement will be approximately 20% greater, to go the same speed.
Good stuff, Steve. Looking forward to the next one.
Appreciate the feedback. I’m excited about the next article on pedal efficiency. Already gathered the data and now writing the text. It’s my opinion that pedal efficiency has the greatest potential for making us faster than anything else. I know my opinion flies in the face of conventional wisdom of the “old schoolers.” Bless their hearts.