How Weight Loss Improves Cycling Performance

Everybody knows losing weight can improve your cycling performance and  make a big difference esp. in the hills where you have the most to gain by getting over them faster. But just how much off a difference? In the following examples lets compare two riders with a 30lb weight difference and see how that effects their performance when going up hills or inclines from 2% all the way up to 20% grade.

In a road race the hills often is where a racer has the most to gain on his opponents if he can go faster there, also in a TT you have the most to gain by getting up and over those hills as quick as possible so it doesn’t reduce your average speed/time as much. On the flats weight doesn’t matter as much but remember every slight incline you hit you might be going anaerobic while others are staying aerobic because they’re lighter. Rarely is a road truly flat, and it all starts to add up after a while, every little incline, esp. on the bigger steeper hills. Here’s a couple examples to highlight how much difference body weight can make in cycling in terms of power vs. weight and speed

Example 0% grade “flat” same speed

Well what about a slight incline of only 1% grade?

  • 1 mile hill
  • Incline 1%

Rider A

  • 215lbs
  • wattage 360w *Needs to put out 45watts more to match speed of Rider B
  • Rate: 21.10MPH

Rider B

  • 185lbs
  • wattage 353w *Can put out far less wattage and easily keep up with Rider A with 45watts less
  • Rate: 21.10MPH

Conclusion:  because of slight increase in rolling resistance we see a small difference in wattages on perfectly level road, but not much.

Example 1% grade same speed

Well what about a slight incline of only 1% grade?

  • 1 mile hill
  • Incline 1%

Rider A

  • 215lbs
  • wattage 360w *Needs to put out 45watts more to match speed of Rider B
  • Rate: 21.10MPH

Rider B

  • 185lbs
  • wattage 340w *Can put out far less wattage and easily keep up with Rider A with 45watts less
  • Rate: 21.10MPH

Conclusion:  Rider Since it’s almost flat you’d think that weight wouldn’t matter much, but guess again. A needs to put out 20watts more even with just a tiny incline of 1%, so even with a slight incline we already start to see that the heavier rider is starting to have to put out considerably more power, and most likely the bigger rider has a bigger cross section and more wind resistance too to make matters worse.

Example grade 2% same speed

Well what about a slight incline of only 2% grade?

  • 1 mile hill
  • Incline 2%

Rider A

  • 215lbs
  • wattage 360w *Needs to put out 45watts more to match speed of Rider B
  • Rate: 18.31MPH

Rider B

  • 185lbs
  • wattage 331w *Can put out far less wattage and easily keep up with Rider A with 45watts less
  • Rate: 18.31MPH

Conclusion:  Rider A has to put out 29watts more. So we see there’s still a huge advantage to being lighter even on a slight incline that you’d run into all the time on roads most people would call “flat”. When riding in race or Time trial at or near your threshold, 30watts is considerable difference and could easily be the difference that pushes one the heavier rider into the red, or to be dropped.

Example 5% incline same speed

  • 1 mile hill
  • Incline 5%

Rider A

  • 215lbs
  • wattage 360w
  • Time to top= 5.05

Rider B

  • 185lbs
  • wattage 319w *Can put out far less wattage and easily keep up with Rider A with 45watts less
  • time to top =5.05

Conclusion: Rider B would have to put out 41watts less! But at 5% we see the full penalty of that extra weight is in effect, but beyond 5% the wattage difference DOES NOT increase incrementally. It peaks at about 5%. And 41watts id a big difference, it could mean the difference of saying mostly aerobic where the the heavier rider is in the red going anaerobic riding at his absolute threshold just to keep up.

Example 10% incline same speed

In this example we increase the incline to see what going from a 5% incline to a 10% incline does

  • 1 mile hill
  • Incline 10%

Rider A

  • 215lbs
  • wattage 358w *Needs to put out 45watts more to match speed of Rider B
  • Rate: 6.75MPH

Rider B

  • 185lbs
  • wattage 314w *Can put out far less wattage and easily keep up with Rider A with 45watts less
  • Rate: 6.75MPH

Conclusion: Rider A would have to put out 44watts more to keep up with Rider B. So you see even if we double the grade from 5% to 10% the difference in wattage to keep up doesn’t double but actually stays about the same.

Example 20% grade same speed

Well what about a slight incline of only 20% grade?

  • 1 mile hill
  • Incline 20%

Rider A

  • 215lbs
  • wattage 360w *Needs to put out 45watts more to match speed of Rider B
  • Rate: 18.31MPH

Rider B

  • 185lbs
  • wattage 315w *Can put out far less wattage and easily keep up with Rider A with 45watts less
  • Rate: 18.31MPH

Conclusion:  Rider B again has to use 45watts less to go the same speed, so we see about a 1.5 watt per pound ratio of improvement.

Example 5% grade same power output

No let’s say both riders can put out the same wattage, then how much faster does the lighter rider get to the top on a easy 5% grade?

  • 1 mile hill
  • Incline 5%

Rider A

  • 215lbs
  • wattage 360w
  • Rate: 11.87MPH
  • Time to top= 46 seconds slower

Rider B

  • 185lbs
  • wattage 360w
  • Rate: 13.08 MPH
  • time to top = 46 seconds faster

Conclusion: Rider B gets to the top a whole 45 seconds faster traveling at 13.08 MPH vs. the heavier rider’s A speed of 11.87MPH, again a huge difference.

Example 10% grade Same Power

  • 1 mile hill
  • Incline 10%

Rider A

  • 215lbs
  • wattage 360w *Needs to put out 45watts more to match speed of Rider B
  • Rate: 6.79MPH

Rider B

  • 185lbs
  • wattage 360w *Can put out far less wattage and easily keep up with Rider A with 45watts less
  • Rate: 7.70MPH
  • Time: +1:36

Conclusion: If both riders put out the same wattage on a 10% 1 mile hill, the lighter rider would get to the top of the climb a hole minute and half faster then the other heavier rider that weighs 30lbs more. And you see the difference between the previous example of 5% grade vs. 10% in this example shows that as the hill gets steeper the lighter rider gets to the top even faster yet.

Example 20% Same Power

Well what about a slight incline of only 20% grade?

  • 1 mile hill
  • Incline 20%

Rider A

  • 215lbs
  • wattage 360w *Needs to put out 45watts more to match speed of Rider B
  • Rate: 3.53MPH
  • Time: 17:38

Rider B

  • 185lbs
  • wattage 360w *Can put out far less wattage and easily keep up with Rider A with 45watts less
  • Rate: 4.04MPH
  • Time: 15:25 = +2:13 faster, two minutes and 13 seconds faster

Conclusion: If you’re paying close attention you’ll notice that the steeper it gets the longer everybody has to spend working up that hill, and the steeper and slower the going, the more even a slight improvement in weight to power performance makes in getting to the top minutes faster, not just seconds!

Final Conclusion:

  1. As expected the heavy rider has to put out significantly more power to go the same speed as the lighter rider. There’s a lot to gain from being as light but powerful as possible, the lighter rider without even adding more fitness just losing weight is much more efficient and faster all around.
  2. Even the slightest of inclines forces the heavier rider to work significantly harder, only when the road is perfectly flat is there little difference but the real world most flat roads have plenty of slight grades. Imagine two riders near their FTP their functional threshold and every time there was even a slight incline the the heavier rider would go anaerobic because the run turns up slightly for a short distance, but this happens over and over again. Where the lighter rider might be able to stay aerobic even over slight inclines because of less weight penalty.
  3. You would think at first that the steeper the hill the greater the weight penalty, but it appears that the weight penalty ramps up quickly from 0-5% grades then after 5% it really doesn’t go up anymore as the hill gets steeper,  so in our example everything after 5% grade is about a 45watt difference.
  4. Another thing to take note of is how as the grade gets steeper the lighter rides gains more and more of a time advantage? But at the same time the difference between their speeds gets smaller, as 20% grade with both riders putting out the same power the lighter rider gets to the top over 2 minutes faster! This is because it’s such a slow steep hill that both riders are spending more time then ever getting over it vs an easier hill they’d get over much faster, so during that time the lighter rider’s half mile per hour faster speed really adds up in the end. Keep in mind both riders are going very slow but the difference between speeds is significant in relation of percentage to each other, so 0.5mph per hour difference normally isn’t much, but when you’re both going 3-4mph it’s around a 12%. It’s like the difference between 20mph and 22 mph on the flats which as you know is a big difference esp. for long distances.
  5. If you’re a heavier rider, try to get a slight lead before a big climb
  6. Don’t give up think the light guys are having to work less and less compared to you as it gets steeper, after 5% grade there’s not difference between that and 30% grade
  7. Keep in mind that drafting vs. not drafting can be about 30% difference in power out put, the last thing you want to do is be out in the wind then grinding up inclines while the light guys draft behind you up the inclines, make them work, or get behind them on the slight inclines to even the tables, on steeper grades where you slow way down and there’s not as much wind resistance it doesn’t do much to help you having them in front of you. So for example on rolling terrain you could let the light riders pull and draft up the hill, after it flattens out or declines it’s your turn to hammer, the best time to break away form them would be right as the hill levels out, break away

You know you’re a spinner if…

You know you’re a high cadence spinner vs. a low cadence masher, when you go out to do some high cadence training and end up setting a personal best time hahaa. It was during a training ride at the end of summer last year that where I was doing high cadence drills that I discovered or re-discovered that endurance and pedaling efficiency is the bulk of what I need to focus on. I set out on my 2hr 50 mile ride and my entire focus on the entire ride was not speed or power, but just keeping a +100RPM cadence the whole way even on the hills if possible. When I reached the halfway point I looked at my computer’s stats and was shocked to see my average speed and watts where at a new personal best for the route, my average speed was about 2mph faster then my previous fastest time. I’ve even done the same route doing low cadence drills the whole way and my average ends up being the same as my typical average, so it’s not like mashing helped me go faster, it just made it a lot harder for me to go the same speed as I do when I self select my cadence to what feels right to go as fast as possible.

After having spent the last off-season doing a lot of strength and power work which lead to a lot of improvement on the bike, my thinking was that since endurance always came naturally to me and after seeing how much stronger others where on the bike that strength and power should be my main training goal. To a point I was right, and I did see dramatic improvement, but I took it too far to the point that I didn’t maximize my strength which is my endurance. I didn’t realize that since I was just getting back into shape, or into a new higher level of shape for the first time cycling that both endurance and strength would need to be improved, I thought it was must strength holding me back from keeping up with the fast riders. Since I saw rapid improvement with strength work, I thought more is better so I spent a lot of the summer trying to reach higher levels of strength and power, but it turned out that I had hit my peak in strength and power in the off-season, so by the end of the summer and fall my focus was on building a base and working on efficiency, and prioritize my training properly. I learned why they call a cardio base a “base”, as it’s the meat and potatoes of what you have to work on, strength and power come fast, but also go fast, but cardio fitness takes months and years to build up. Ideally you work on the 80/20 rule, where most of your training and riding focuses on the cardio base and the rest on strength, power, skills, equipment, mental training etc.

I learned a lot that day, I also learned a valuable lesson about how doing something in an easier way can give you a better outcome in the end even if the immediate short term feedback you’re getting is telling you different that it’s too easy. When I did my spin drills that day, I swore my average speed would be slower, or at best the same as when I ride “all out” at what I think feels like the fastest gear and cadence I can hold for the route. I think one reason is that by spinning I’m storing up and saving more energy for the hills, and by spinning on the flats I’m not going much slower then if I would go a lower cadence. Also spinning keeps local muscular fatigue from setting in as fast. I think if you crush the gears it beats your legs up and you can only keep that up for so long, you might go fast for a few minutes but overall your average speed will be much slower was you fry your legs.

So my goals for the off-season are weight loss, cardio, and efficiency, and a little bit of maintenance work to keep strength and power up, I’m building a proper base, and I probably will spend all next season continuing to build a base, then for the next years I’m going to continue with base, but throw in a 3x month strength program in the winter and race more. Ideally I should have been focusing on base training the last two years 90% of the time, instead of trying to keep up with the faster riders then doing nothing but strength and power work last year, I did make a jump in improvement but I believe most of that was because I lost a lot of weight and some help from the strength work. And it showed when I would race, I would do real well for 15-20 minutes, I’d feel strong and be in the game, but my endurance would quickly fade and I’d be struggling to hand on, hopefully this year, I’ll be able to hang on longer to when the real race starts in the final laps.

Winter, the “scale-a-holic’s” nightmare

That’s it, I’ve put my foot down and I refuse to look at the scale anymore this winter, it’s too upsetting to see the weight I worked so hard to lose come back on in the winter. Unless I starve myself and train like a man possessed I don’t lose weight and esp. in the winter when I think everything is working against me to lose or maintain a lower weight. I think it’s normal to put a little back on in the winter, most people do, esp in places like North East Pennsylvania with it’s long, cold, gloomy winters and culture of drinking the winter months away.

I’m sure if you work hard at it you can keep it to a minimum, and if you’re lucky even lose weight, but at what price? Maybe you’ll be burnt out in the regular season because you pushed to hard in the off-season, or you’ll feel wasted all the time in the winter, since you’re making your body do something it doens’t want to do, I find it hard to push myself as hard in the winter as the summer, and I bet there’s actual biological reasons for this, probably with the shorter daylight hours it effects your body’s hormones and ability to train at the same level or something. All I know is it feels wrong to ride 100% effort VO2Max when it’s 20F out. And all the pro level coaches advocate base miles and strength training, not going out there and riding at your limit in the cold and dark of winter.

The worst thing I think would be to get discouraged from training because you’re putting weight back on and think it’s a losing battle and give up your winter training routine. Just think you could probably burn off 10lbs in a month or two of riding once the weather is nice out, but you can’t build a base in a month which normally takes the whole winter. So that’s why I refuse to look at the scale right now, it was just making me crazy. I think it’s better to just focus on building a quality base and check the scales later when the weather is better and I’ve been putting in the miles outside. Avoid eating too much sugars and refined starches and alchol and stay consistent with your training, and don’t’ fret over putting on a few pounds.

And who knows it might even be desirable to have a little bit extra weight in the winter, at least that’s the clue nature gives us. I know for strength training etc. the worst thing you could do is not eat enough to fuel the workouts and protein and fat to help rebuild your muscles to be even stronger. I think the trick in winter is to reduce the number of carbs, unless you’re actually training at the same level as the summer.

How much weight have you put on or lost so far this winter?

The sound of a smooth pedal stroke

The last two weeks have put a deep freeze on North East PA, so needless to say I haven’t been going outside to ride much, my limit is around 20F, anything colder it’s strictly MTB riding weather.

It’s interesting the things you notice as I put miles in the bank as I ride the stationary trainer indoors. With nothing to really look at and no cars to dodge, I’m left only with being entertained by the sounds of the bike and trainer, and a heighten awareness of my position and pedal stroke. Listening to the sounds of the trainner and bike, I’ve been starting to pick up on certain sounds that give clue as to how smooth or choppy my pedal stroke is and noticing differences in sounds comparing the left stroke vs. the right stroke. The two main sounds I’ve picked up on are

  • The sounds of my cycling shoe cleats lifting up and clacking around in the little bit of play they have within the pedals. I notice that my left foot does this much more then my right. I think the cause was because my left pedal stroke isn’t as smooth or strong as my right, I wasn’t scrapping my left foot back and following through with the left’s backstroke and also if I did remember to lift my left back stroke I would lift too far and my cleat would lift up inside the pedal. My right foot doesn’t do this at all, and when I became more aware of this and really focused I could feel that I wasn’t pedaling the same with my left as my right. I’ve been working on it and after a couple weeks now I can “hear” and feel that my left is getting a lot smoother and my left leg isn’t as sore as when I first started working on it.
  • The sounds the bike’s drive train makes when you really crush the gears on the down part of the stroke, a certain kind of rumble comes out of the chain and chain ring, I think this happens as the chain ring becomes off axis at the same time the chain is under full tension on the down stroke and the chain and chainring aren’t meshing together perfectly. I noticed also that this sound only really was happening on my dominate right leg downstroke. To get the left pedal stroke to sound just like the right down stroke I have had to apply more force with my left leg and give it more of snap, so faster and with more speed on the left downstroke, that has made the sound the same, and made me realize after focusing on it that I was not apply the same amount of force with my left leg as my right and this was also probably causing my right leg’s corresponding backstroke to work harder then it should. I rather my left quads get stronger and contribute like the should as oppose to my right hams being overworked.

I  notice other things as well on the indoor trainer like position, over all pedaling motion, if I’m bouncing or not etc. etc. I’ll probably talk about these in future posts.  Have you noticed any sounds or other feedback you normally don’t notice like this that give you clues about your pedaling form etc. let me know I’d be interested to hear about it.

The missing link, the one piece of gear that will help you finally ride like a pro!

If my post grabbed your attention and made you pull out your wallet and tugged on your heart strings then today is your lucky day, I have discovered that one piece of gear that will make you ride like the wind, and sprint like lighting. (ok ok, tons of sarcasm here).

I just read a post over at cyclocosm that left me shaking my head and thinking how so many people turn into gear heads because of the constant marking hype, the post was about speedplay pedals. The problem is like with anything, when truth is mixed with fiction, it makes it hard to know what is what. I do believe that performance cycling gear, and advances in gear technology certainly help with riding faster and with more comfort and control, but too many people make this a compensating mechanism, they fool themselves into thinking that some expensive cycling gear will make all the difference in their riding performance. I think gear is a critical part of the cycling performance mix, as there really are benefits to some gear, but I’d say physical and mental fitness is 90% of the equation and 10% fit and equipment, but a lot of people get these reversed in priority. For the average club cyclist, a 10K bike and all the latest bike gear isn’t going to do much, they only gear I endource is gear that are training aids like, heart rate monitors, power meters, power cranks, stationary, etc.  and not buying the latest carbon tid bit that will save you 0.0005 grams of weight. As much as I love gear, I know it’s place in the cycling performance mix.  Of course if you’re a pro at the top of the food chain where every second and advantage counts, then yes little gear changes like this become more important, but for us mortals, I think you’d be better off spending your money a month of coaching etc.

Tales of the bitter biker, the daily near miss

Being a cyclist is starting to make me hate people and become a “bitter biker” since almost every ride I go on somebody does something crazy and dangerous on the road that puts me and or their life in danger. 90% of drivers either speed up or maintain their high rate of speed when they pass, and every single ride there’s always a couple drivers that either pull out in front of me, or pass very close, or pass me when there clearly is no room etc.

Drivers treat you like you’re an obstacle in their path, some garbage that blew onto the road, that they need to navigate around by either straddling with their tires or maybe even running over for fun to see what happens, a suicidal rabbit or something, not a human being, a person that would like to go home in one piece to their family, and certainly not a motor vehicle with the same rights and considerations as a car, including 3 foot minimum passing distance.

And some of the worst offenders, are commercial drivers, guys that should know better, ambulances, tractor trailers, box trucks, dump trucks, oil/gas trucks, school buses, people who make a living out of driving.

It will be interesting when gas is $10/gallon in the next few years and all these inconsiderate uneducated hillbilly assholes up here have to ride a bike to get to the their temp jobs and to the bar, karma is a bitch.

It never fails to amaze me when someone does something nuts, here’s a short list of of the last two season’s near misses

1. a block from home after a long ride, I’m coming up my street in the middle of the block not even an intersection, and a car darts crosses over the opposite lane to park on the sidewalk on the other side of the road, facing the wrong direction. I had to lock my breaks up and skid sides and came inches of getting run over. If I wouldn’t have reacted faster I would have surely been hit.

2. In the middle of raining thunderstorm I got caught in, I’m racing towards home, I’m coming down 8th street, for you locals that know the road I’m talking about. I’m hauling ass because I’m freezing and I have to stay warm, so I’m actually doing 5+mph over the posted speed limit. I’m taking over the whole lane, which I’m legally allowed to do, esp. if I’m at or over the speed limit. An old fuck passes me around the worst possible blind corner when we’re both going over the speed limit, he swings out in the opposite lane to pass me. Now this is a very busy road, and there’s always people coming up and down, luckily nobody was coming up the hill around that corner at that exact moment, or it would have been a real mess. I was infuriated, and road super hard and caught the guy a minute later at the next stop light at the bottom of the hill, I rolled by and yelled a couple warm greetings at him, i was just glad to be alive and shocked at what just happened. When the light turn green I went straight through the intersection, and he passed me again 30 seconds later, I was mad and riding really hard now, the next light was about 2 miles a way, I did +400watts all the way to the next light and caught up with the guy right away again, this time when I coasted by him, he rolled down the window and an astonished driver proclaimed,”you’re faster then me on that bike” with a mouth missing half his teeth and a sheepish half drunken grin, I said, “you’re dumber then any driver I’ve ever seen in that car” and rode up to the line and rode away when it turned green.

3. Last March, I’m riding and I’m even in the shoulder which here is the “glass, gravel, etc bike lane”, and an elderly driver swerved and into the shoulder and clipped me on the side and almost sent me off the bike, I was at least a foot into the shoulder, I would have probably been run over had I been in the lane slightly as I usually am to avoid the glass and gravel and potholes and garbage on the shoulders up here in “low maintainceville”.

4. This summer, climbing up a hill which has two lanes i.e a passing lane, on route92, a minivan stayed in the right lane and passed me at a high rate of speed and came within inches of hitting me, there was plenty of room to seem me from at least a hundred yards away, I think there was another car in the passing lane, but they could have slowed down or even sped up and moved over. I wish I had a helmet came and could have gotten their plate number.

5. My Friend Sean almost got killed last summer while out leading a group ride, some idiot cut him right off on the intersection, guy had no license and tried to switch positions with the passenger after the accident I heard, needless to say I think this guy is behind bars right now.

Anyway thanks for reading, I feel better now getting that off my chest.

My growing collection of cycling jerseys

I’ve only been cycling 2 seasons but for some reason I already have 9x cycling jerseys!? I normally spend very little time thinking about clothing or buying it, most of my clothes my wife buys for me or I get as birthday or Christmas presents. There are basically three reasons I think why my cycling jersey collection keeps growing to the point that I should probably start thinking about running for el’ presidentia of some 3d world country.

One of the reasons that I have so many jerseys already is because I’ve lost 65lbs in the last year and still losing, I went from wearing a XXL to a medium or large depending on the brand and if I want to be as aero as possible.  So half my jersey’s don’t really even fit my anymore. When you’re racing you want your jersey a bit snug so it’s not flapping in the wind and also if it rains bad things happen if your jersey is even a little too big, I found out that in the rain the material on some jersey’s will stretch out and also the weight of being wet will open up a gap in the shirt’s collar and arm sleeves and you turn into a parachute, and to make matters worse the material being wet doesn’t let air escape like it would in a dry shirt so it really can be super annoying for training and esp. racing.

The other reason is that depending on what racing event or training ride I’m doing I might wear my local cycling clubs jersey, or when I ride with the other clubs I wear a neutral jersey as there always seems to be someone that has a rivalry with some club and I don’t want to get mixed up with that. So that means I needed a couple other jersey’s besides the 3x different sizes of club jersey’s I have now.

And the last reason is that I find that I find something I don’t like about every single jersey I own, I have yet to find the perfect jersey, here is a list of my gripes, this makes me sound really anal, maybe I a bit, but hey maybe one of these jersey design people will read this a finally make a jersey that doesn’t suck.

  1. the zipper is tiny and weak or
  2. has too big or small a zipper handle, or
  3. the length of the zipper doesn’t go all the way down so I can unzip it all the way and get it off and on easy esp. if it’s one of my snug medium sized jerseys
  4. the torso is snug but the arm bands sleeves are too tight.

So far in my quest to find the ultimate jersey I’ve found two that I’m mostly happy with

A Giordana Cycling Jersey I just got this year, the zipper is full length YKK quality zipper that works really smooth, easy to engage and zip up fast even with one hand it will open and close., the handle on the zipper is just about perfect, it’s metal which stupid as a big metal zipper handle flips around on every pedal stroke swinging into the zipper and making a clicking noise, or flip up and keep hitting in the neck or chin on every single pedal stroke. I know it’s anal but little things like that get on your nerves after a couple hours of riding. So the Giordana Jersey is nice because it a nylon zipper handle with a perfect sized plastic/rubber handle neither too small to grab full finger gloves on, or so big it flips all around.

My next favorite Jersey I picked up recently was a BellWeather Cycling Jersey, the good points are that it has material I think it’s spandex type material that stretches in all directions not just one like typical jersey material. It has some sticky rubber cycling jersey type band around the waist of the shirt, seems to help keep the jersey down, the cut is good, the fit is good. Now there are a couple things that are bad though, the zipper is only a 1/2 length, and the zipper is tiny with small anemic teeth, certainly not a YKK zipper  and small with a small flap of nylon for a zipper handle but no actual rubber or plastic ball etc. to get a grip on you can work with gloves on. Also as much as I like the spandex type material they made it so thin that I can’t see it lasting long also I made the mistake of buying a white/black jersey that basically becomes transparent when you start sweating or it rains, you can not only see my heart rate monitor strap, cycling bib straps, you can see my chest hair and man nipples ahahaa. Just looks really stupid when make a water stop at a gas station I mean you’re walking looking silly to begin with with full cycling gear then your man nipples and chest hair are visible as well LOL ahahaa In the city it might not draw much attention, but where I ride, I get into some pretty rural areas where people think an alien has landed when you come walking into their gas stations all decked out in cycling garb and kit lol…

All my other jersey’s suck for more reasons then they don’t so they hardly get worn esp. now since they don’t fit any longer, one of the good/bad parts of losing weight and getting in shape from cycling.

So let me know what your favorite cycling jersey is what brand and why.
Anyway I feel better now that I got that “off my chest” lol ahaha

Spinning your way to faster riding

So every week I try to do a least one day of each  type  of  training endurance, intervals, sprints, efficiency/skills training etc.  Most rides are endurance or recovery rides and I’ll have my intensity day either be a race, or a strength session on or off the bike. My favorite is racing or hard group ride for my high intensity day, I get a bunch of hard intervals of various lengths in and some sprints and jumps. The powerfile for races is always very spiky and interval like, something hard to replicate in training, that’s why racing is important training I think. Nothing motivates me more to push myself to a new level of intensity then a good old fashion drag race on the bike!

So yesterday my goal was to do a combined efficiency/endurance day and try spinning at 100rpm+ for my 44 mile 2 hr ride I’ve been doing a lot lately. I wasn’t sure if I could do it esp. since there are a few hill climbs on the way and even in my smallest gear at 100RPM I’m butting out almost 500watts. I usually end up doing 400w something on these couple climbs that take about 7 minutes and my RPM will drop a bit down to 90 something rpm.  So I get to the halfway point in my ride to refill my water bottles and I see that my average speed is almost 21mph average! Normally I do 18-19MPH average even when I’m trying to hammer the whole way. Not only was my average speed higher then ever, it felt easy to do because I wasn’t going anarobic at any point expect maybe for a couple minutes on the one big hill climb.  Only downside was that my butt was noticeably more chaffed, when you pedal that fast for that long you need some seriously good shorts, seat and cham lube or something ahaha.

What I noticed is that by spinning this fast my legs had more momentum, my legs never felt like they where getting bogged down and I was starting to smash. I notice too that my pedal form is better when I spin at high cadence, and when the effort becomes more muscular then cardiovascular I start pedaling in an inefficient mashing style that ignores the hip flexors and lifting and kicking over the top leg muscles. I also noticed that at first it can feel wierd pedaling fater then normal but after a while my legs get use to it and adjust and like it better. The biggest thing I noticed is that I would average a bit slower speed on the flats as I spin and my power would be a little low, normally I would put it in a harder gear and get the speed and power up and the cadence down. But this time I stuck with the 100RPM goal, interestingly every time I’d hit a hill I had a lot more snap and power in my legs and I would spin over it in a fairly big hill and keep my momentum up where before I’d try smashing up it to power over it and my legs would be fried after doing it and I would have to slow way down and let my legs recover.
So I learned that I should  “Rest and recovery and spin on the easy parts, and put in 120% effort on the slow hard parts the hills to keep your speed up” You have the most to gain by doing really well on the inclines. and relaxing a bit more on the flats.

So here is a list of benefits I’ve noticed first hand from riding at higher RPMs

  1. Reserve leg strength and power for hills and sprints where you need it most to power over them and keep momentum up.
  2. Higher RPM makes it easier to have all of your leg muscle groups join in the circular process of pedaling, you’re more efficient at high rpm
  3. It’s easier and surprising at how much more power you can put out spinning faster, or how a high wattage can feel much easier at high RPMs
  4. The cardio system seems to have more capacity and ability to endure then leg muscles, shifting as much of the burden as possible away from the muscular system can be very helpful for some cyclist I believe.
  5. Spinning helps you use the lifting muscles in your legs more to help on the upstroke and kick across the top.
  6. Spinning at a higher RPM helps you pedal easier when you’re going on flats or downhill and recovery, and lets you recover for the next jump or hill climb when you need that leg strength most. Even though it feels very easy and you could pedal harder gears, don’t because it shifts more strain to the leg muscles and takes away their snap for the next hill that is usually just around the corner.  And when that hill or jump comes up you’ll be able to spin a big gear and have the snap you need.
    Even though it’s temping to pedal harder or spin a bigger gear on the flats, it’s best to just spin and let your body rest for a couple minutes before the next roller or hill climb.
  7. Spinning at easy and moderate sections of the rides gets your leg motor units use to firing in a certain sequence that’s more powerful, I notice when I spin on a ride that when I need to jump I tend to do it at faster RPM then usual and it’s easier to do. If I was riding on the flats or downhill sections of the ride in a bigger gear lower RPM, my leg muscles/nerves seem to get use to that pattern and changing RPM dramatically to climb or sprint feels very awkward.  So another benefit of spinning is that your legs are use to the timing the firing pattern and you can spin a moderate gear with lots of power much easier then if you would have been mashing previously.  I usually feel a bit weird at first when I spin at 100RPM or higher, once I warm up after 30 minutes or so my legs start to feel a lot smoother and settle into the cadence.
  8. I also notice that I’m less tired when I do a ride at higher RPM, if I try to hammer on rides at lower RPM I feel wasted at the end of ride from using the muscles more then the heart and lungs.
  9. I notice that higher RPMs make the same wattage feel easier, less anaerobic, less intense and riding fast more enjoyable.
  10. I notice too that I loose more body fat riding more aerobically at higher RPMs
  11. Since I’m not as tired esp. my legs which often are the thing that determine how much rest I need, I can ride more often and require less rest days which means faster improvement faster weight loss and more miles in the bank.
  12. Spinning helps you use more of your legs muscle groups and distribute the load more so they’re less fatigued.
  13. Spinning at higher RPM I believe teaches you to pedal more efficiently.
  14. Spinning makes you ride more efficient and change gears more often, a really good habit for when you hit the hills. If you’re mashing in general, then when you hit the hills you’re probably beyond smashing and grinding slowly away at 50-70RPM which is less then ideal cadence even for mashers I think.
  15. There’s a certain type of momentum you carry up a hill when you spin up and you’re “on top” of the gear vs. fighting to turn over the pedals. I don’t know how to explain this, but going up a hill at 95 or 100RPM vs. a harder gear at my typical 70 something RPM grind, feels like you’re going faster up the hill and able to have less resistance on the up stroke and kick across the top of the pedal stroke, as soon as you slow down everything starts to feel much less efficient. So I think it’s probably critical to keep RPMs up on hills and stay in your power band and optimal muscle firing pattern etc.
  16. Spinning also helps you train  your aerobic system more as you can stress and target it more efficiently. If you mash too much and let the effort be mostly muscular your legs may give out before your heart and lungs.
  17. I have a theory too nothing I can prove easily, but I believe that when you overuse a muscle or group of muscles in your body your heart rate and pattern spike and make you feel very winded and light headed, not because of the stress on the cardio system but because a hard muscular effort triggers body to be flooded with the byproducts of anarobic energy production and you feel really wasted. For example try doing a bunch of pull ups or squats, you’ll be winded and light headed by the time you max out but in a different way then if you where to run a mile at your fastest pace. I think the body bonks when you overload the muscular system, it makes the cardio system to get overwhelmed and over react or something. So if you are pushing your cardio system cycling up a hard hill and then let your RPMs fall to 70RPM and your mashing and and your legs are getting worked really hard then I think it triggers something that quickly puts you in the read zone. If you would simply just spin an easier gear, yes you might breath harder and your heart might feel like it’s working really hard, but surprsingly you can keep pushing the legs don’t bonk out and your heart rate is high but you don’t get that nasty totally wasted feeling and light headed over-reaction like you feel when do a hard muscular effort in the gym. To trigger that effect cycling means slowling way way down to recover. I wish I could explain this better and in scientific terms, but if you lift weights you know the incredablly winded feeling I’m talking about that seems more like an adreal over reaction of the heart and lungs then the real cardio load you’re going through.

    I think cycling hard should feel like running hard, not like doing squats or something, you’ll have that blown up weight lifting cardio reaction before you know it if you try smashing up a hill vs. spinning.

A final word on cadence and riding at a higher RPM

For all the great things I mentioned above, everyone is built different and some people might have weaker legs but better cardio system where a higher cadence works well for them. Where someone else might be built in a way that they can do more by riding a harder gear at a slower rpm to produce the same power, spinning doesn’t work for them, probably because they’re more fast twitch muscle fiber and they need to feel a certain amount of tension in their legs for all the motor units to be trigger to contract efficiently. But it takes months to get efficient at high rpms, at first it will feel very wrong, and your heart rate will be through the roof but over time your heart rate will drop sometimes by 20bpm at the same wattage I’ve read and then spinning feels much more doable. So give spinning a try you may find it really works for you.

Tour de France 2009 Recap

Now with the tour well behind us, it gave me some time to think about something else for a couple months and reflect back on it.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Tour this season, this year was special since it was my second season as converted road cycling junky, I even sold my mountain bike as I never ride the thing anymore.  Sure I’ll get another mountain bike for over the fall winter and spring when I don’t feel like getting frozen riding on the road.

This year’s tour was fun to watch because you didn’t know who would be in what place until the very end, it left  you on the edge of our seat the whole time, and I think that’s how the race organizers planned it to be. I think they wanted a big show down on the final famous hill climb but because of the winds it kept the attacks to a minimum, there where some attacks from the Schleck brothers, but they where all hopeless attempts as Alberto Contador answered each and every attack with no problem and defended his time gap confidently.

Lance rode very well, actually amazing well considering his age and his time away from racing, he never fails to surprise and put the doubters in their place.  From me being a couple years younger them him it was inspiring to see someone riding at this caliber still at his age. I have no excuses about age now ahhaa

All in all I think is was a great Tour, I didn’t like the AC/Lance weirdness, they really should have picked one leader of the team not 2x they’re lucky they didn’t blow the whole race over that mess, even though AC with him being so self-centered and not a team player screwed up the teams’ shot at owning the top 3 podium positions, but that’s water under the bridge now and I hope someone beats AC next year and puts him in his place for being so arrogant. I’d love to see Lance or Wigo or someone school him in 2010.

Cycling base training

I’m having a really great season this year cycling, I’ve made a lot of progress since last year and most of that I attribute to having trained like a machine all winter and spring, I never took off more then a week in the last year and half. Granted I have plenty of scheduled rest days and recovery weeks so I avoid getting fried like I did this spring when I got a little too carried away ahaha.

What I learned this season was I reached my peak strength in about 3x months, after that point anymore squats or weights or power training or intensity wasn’t going to give me much more significant improvement, I tried really hard for the first half of the summer to take my strenght and power on the bike up another level put no matter what I did I couldn’t do more. What I did notice a good improvement on is power endurance I can repeat those short hard race spike efforts over and over where in the winter and spring I could only do that a few times before I’d blow a gasket.

Cycling fast and long requires both strength and endurance. I always thought of myself as having good endurance, and that strength was my limiter. I failed to recognize that yes endurance might come easiest for me, but that doesn’t mean I should only work on strength. Even if it is a strength if you don’t use it you lose it and cycling is 80% endurance and 20% strength unless you’re doing short track efforts. So the 80/20 rule should apply to cycling I think and so do other top coaches I’ve read about. They say 80% of riding should be aerobic sub-threshold training and only 20% or less should be high intensity. Of course depending on your genetics, time of year in your schedule, and target events you may do more of one or the other.

I only started training seriously 1.5 years ago, so I basically really screwed up by going out and hammering on almost every single ride then spending the winter hammer the weights and obsessing over power. Yeah it helped develop my anaerobic system much much better, and improved my VO2max etc. but my endurance was so neglected that it has now become my limiter even though it’s historically always been a strong point for me in running and cycling.

Focusing to much on intensity and not base was a bad mistake also because I don’t have years of cycling and training under my belt, I’m building up from nothing, I could barely ride my bike around the block last spring and I was 80lbs over weight too! Base and aerobic cycling should be the focus esp. the first couple years of cycling or longer as strength and power are built on top of a big aerobic base and synergisticly help your anaerobic system work better.  I was all icing and no cake.

Even though I did mostly group rides last year,  every ride was a race for me as I was riding at my limit to keep up, I was out of shape and over weight, and I suffered the whole summer long, I was exhausted and burnt out by fall and it felt good to ride a bit slower and on my own schedule in the fall. But that lasted about a couple weeks then I was hungry to make a big improvement over the winter. I wanted to lose as much weight as possible and improve strength as I thought that was my limiter. I was only half right though, yes strength was my limiter, but in only 3 months I was much much stronger a rider and my endurance was now dwarfed and now the limiter. But I thought I could keep improving strength more I worked on strength all winter spring and half way through the summer, but never got stronger of faster then where I got after 3x months of focused strength and power training. I should have spent the fall and most of the winter doing lots of aerobic base miles, then did 3x months of strength work in the gym, then more base miles in the spring and early summer while converting gym strength into on bike strength.

I don’t regret what I did, as it was really neat to see my strength make a big jump, and help my riding a ton, as strength was my biggest limiter but not my only. The other limiter was endurance and that you can’t improve dramatically in 3-4 months like you can with strength. Endurance base training is miles in the bank, paying your dues.

I think for a bigger rider like myself having a big aerobic engine is even more important as it’s so easy to go anaerobic on even the smallest hill because of the power to weight ratio is so poor. I think if you’re a lighter rider, you can get away with more as your weight doesn’t trigger you body to go into the red as fast.

So needless to say I’m focusing most of my training now on aerobic training, and throwing in some on bike strength training and racing once a week or so to maintain the anaerobic system. This winter I’ll hit the gym again in January and do that until the start of April, I’m still going to do base miles during these three months but I’ll be cutting down on volume
a bit, but will still do at least one 3-4hr ride a week in to maintain the aerobic system. Then in March I’ll start to do more on bike strength work and start ramping up miles and then in April I’ll be putting the miles on and merging gym strength with bike strength and bike endurance and working on power in the May, then by end of May beginning of June I should be coming into really good form for some A events and I’ll try to carry that form through most of the summer and fall.

But I know now how to build up my anaerobic system and that racing helps build anaerobic endurance, but that the meat and potatoes of my riding in my training schedule for the week, the month and year need to be 80% aerobic and 20% anaerobic.

So what things have you learned from first hand experince in regards to your own base training over the years? Did you skip weight and power training, or cadance and effientcy training and not improve much? Or did you spend your entire winter on the fixie and blow everyone away the nex season. Let me know your thoughts I’m curious.