Tuesday, June 9, 2009

You Spin Me Right Round Baby Right Round


No, this write up is not about the 80's song by Dead or Alive made famous again in the show "The Wedding Singer". Rather, I am talking about riding your bike and spinning your pedals round.

It's well documented that part of Lance Armstrong's key to success is an unusually fast cadence while cycling- about 110 rpm (revolutions per minute). The rationale behind is this- spinning faster requires less muscle effort, so you fatigue less and recover faster, especially while climbing. It works for Lance, but will this style work for the rest of us? Well, what works best is finding what is most the most efficient cadence for yourself.

First and foremost, you have to have an efficient riding position before you learn how to pedal in smooth circles. For me, I use a goniometer (measuring tool) to ensure the cyclist has a saddle height that leaves his/ her knees bent between 25-35 degrees when the pedal is farthest away from the saddle. In addition I also drop a plumb line with pedals horizontal at the front of the knee cap to bisect the pedal axle. This is to achieve an optimal position for power transfer. For the actual pedal stroke it is better to "lift and pull back" with each pedal stroke and not push the pedals down. This can be achieved with strong core and hip flexor muscles. Please also see this).

Bear in mind that riding smaller gears and spinning faster than what you are used to will feel uncomfortable at first. It takes a while before it becomes natural. Try the following drills.

On your next ride, shift to a low gear and experiment with different cadences, 85, 95, 110 rpm, spinning a few minutes at each. If you ride 20 rpms faster than what you are normally used to, riding at your usual cadence will feel easy. You ideal maximum cadence is when you are spinning fastest with you form intact - no bouncing up and down in the saddle.

Single leg pedaling will teach you how to apply power through the whole pedal stroke (and not just on the down stroke). It's better to do this on a relatively traffic free road if you do not have a trainer at home. Do 30 secs on each leg, building to 2 mins, with equal rest time.

But don't let this technique become your cardinal rule. Sometimes you still need to shift to a heavier gear and go - especially if you want to accelerate instantly. Like when you buddy attacks and you want to follow, or when you are doing the attacking.

* Picture of Lance taken by Aized on Stage 6 in Adelaide, Tour Down Under 2009

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