Improving Your Cycling Efficiency

What you can do, during the off-season to work specifically on improving your cycling?

In season, most of your workouts most likely have specific heart rate or watt zones you’re targeting, which often become the focus of the training. In the off-season your cycling tends to have less specificity in terms of training zones, allowing you to focus on other areas. With this in mind, I would say that working on your efficiency will pay the biggest dividends come race season.

So what does efficiency mean as it relates to cycling? Essentially the concept is that you use as little energy as possible to make the bike move forward for any given speed. There are five key components to being efficient on a bike. These are the areas that in my experience are the most overlooked by many triathletes.

BIOMECHANICAL EFFICIENCY

This is the foundation upon which your cycling is built. You have undoubtedly noticed that some athletes are able to ride with better posture and achieve a more low-profile position on the bike than others. In large part this is a function of the athlete’s flexibility and core strength. Athletes who are more flexible and have better core strength will have an easier time achieving—and maintaining—a good position than those who do not.

Spending some of your off-season training time working on flexibility and strength will pay dividends next year. However, it is important to remember that you are an endurance athlete and that you want to work on these areas in ways that complement the rigors of triathlon. It might be worth your time to work with a physiotherapist or a certified strength coach who can assess particular areas you need to address and develop a program tailored to your needs.

POSITION ON THE BIKE

A good position on the bike is essential to being an efficient cyclist. A good position on a bike will influence your comfort, power output, aerodynamics and how the bike will handle. Much has been written in about your position on the bike, but our best advice is to seek the help of a trained bike fitter to ensure you are achieving a good position.

PEDAL STROKE

Many people assume that pedaling a bike is simply a matter of getting on the bike and pushing on the pedals. As you begin to ride more miles you quickly begin to realize that this is not the case. Watching other athletes around you will quickly show you that some riders are very smooth while others are quite choppy.

What is it that accounts for this difference? By and large it is the way in which the athletes are applying power to the pedals. Athletes who have a smooth pedal stroke have learned to develop power more evenly by not simply stomping on the pedals but rather by applying power throughout more of the pedal stroke. Less efficient athletes, on the other hand, tend to focus their energy into a relatively small part of the pedal stroke. This is not to say that powerful riders do not push hard on the pedals during peak power phases of their stroke, but that they do not fight one leg against the other and work to keep the pedals moving forward.

BIKE HANDLING

The ability to safely ride your bike in a variety of conditions and terrain, all while being able to eat, drink, steer clear of other riders and not waste energy, is not easy to do. Many cyclists lack fundamental cycling skills, such as the ability to ride no handed, put on or take off a jacket while riding, and descend quickly, yet safely.

Spending time riding on a road bike in the off-season and focusing on basic skills is an easy way to be smoother next season. You might also consider attending a clinic or working with a coach on these areas.

AERODYNAMIC EFFICIENCY

Drag is the biggest limiter on speed when riding a bike on flat roads. Becoming more aerodynamic allows you to go faster with the same effort and is the reason people race on triathlon bikes. If you want to work on your aerodynamic efficiency, go back to point one to get your body ready to be in a low drag position. Then return to point two to have someone help you get there, particularly if you’ve been diligent with point one and your body has more positioning potential. And don’t forget about points three and four, as you don’t want your aerodynamic gains to be wasted with poor basic cycling skills.

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