Adapted from ‘The Cycling Bible’ by Robin Barton
Many new riders tend to underestimate the role of cadence and pedal around 50 to 60 revolutions per minute (rpm), but pro road racer won’t go below 90 rpm and some pro triathletes will reach 120 rpm (triathlon distance dependant) this is because mashing a big gear at a low cadence takes therider into anaerobic exercise. A fast cadence in a lower gear consumes less oxygen and puts less stress on leg muscles and knees. However, it is a skill that needs to be learnt. Some bike computers measure cadence, so during practice find a flat piece of road and use the computer to focus on increasing your rpm gradually.
With many gears to choose from making the right selection is important as it affects cadence and speed, especially when climbing. On an undulating ride, use the gears to maintain a constant level of effort. There is nothing more tiring and inefficient than varying cadence and effort. On shorter climbs, you can get away with a bigger gear thanks to the momentum you have built up, but never let the gear stall you.
Being aware of what gears work for you will help with the most important part of gear selection: being ready for attacks and getting into the correct gear quickly. Changing under load can cause the chain to slip, so slacken off the pedal stroke for just the instant you change gear.
How to Climb
The hills are where races are won and lost. Don’t worry about being aerodynamic; the priority must be a relaxed efficient style. With your hands up on the brake hoods or the bar tops, creating a riding position that open the airways and lungs, maintain a light relaxed grip. This informs the rest of the upper body; the more relaxed it is, the easier your breathing and more focused effort. It’s fine to push forwards a little on the bars. Try sitting towards the back of the saddle, to lengthen and straighten the back. Shifting your body position every now and then will give the muscles a break. Standing on the pedals delivers more power but is more tiring and cannot be sustained for long climbs by mortals. It also raises the heart rate and uses more energy. If you do stand for extra exertion don’t let your arms bear to too much weight, keep the power flowing through the core and legs; the arms should be providing a little more stability. Try to find a rhythm led by the turns of the pedals and keep the upper body still.
Rider have different styles, lance Armstrong preferred to spin a low gear, while his long term rival Jan Ullrich opted to grind out the hill with a slower cadence in a higher gear. On shorter climbs you are more likely to select a higher gear and stand up on the pedals, however, be aware of the lactic acid.
Being able to regulate your breathing is very important. Fill your diaphragm; it may help to take a couple of deep breaths with full exhalations before the road turns uphill. This is also a useful technique for relaxation. If you find yourself puffing, ease off the speed, straighten your back and shift into an easier gear for a while. Whilst spinning the pedals focus on your breathing, giving slow complete exhalations.
Good climbers are clever climbers. They understand about pacing themselves, saving energy where possible, using techniques such as riding in a group or on someone’s wheel (directly behind them) to reduce wind resistance (known as drafting, illegal in triathlons). A good rider will be able to read other riders and the road ahead. On long climbs in race situations, stay at a pace that keeps you at the front of the bunch where you can monitor the situation. Successful climbers often use a feature of the road – a tight corner, a suddengradient – to launch an attack, accelerating hard until they’re free of the bunch then finding a hard but sustainable pace. Its essential to read the climb and its place in the route. Most pros will prefer one or two long climbs to numerous short, steep, energy-sapping hills. On the shorter hills, when riding in a bunch, start the climb at the front of the bunch, and you can let yourself filter backwards through the pack and still be in the bunch at the top. This means you wont drop out of the back and have to work on your own to the top, watching the rest disappear into the distance. Look at the profile of the course; big climbs towards the end of a race are where attacks will occur.
How to Descend
Descending involves more of the upper body and core than climbing, since you’ll be crouching in an aerodynamic tuck. The position involves putting your hands on the drops, tucking the elbows into the side of the body, lowering your chin to the bar and raising your backside. A relaxed body is essential; the bike will respond negatively if you are locked stiff with fear. In a straight line, cyclists will keep their cranks level when freewheeling. In corners, keep the inside pedal up.
Watch out for corners with a camber that slopes away from the direction you want to go in. Enter the corner wide and cut the apex; this will help you carry the most speed and minimise the need for braking.
Brake before a corner. Braking during a corner will do terrible things to your centre of gravity (shifting weight forwards) and unsettle the bike. If possible, brake in a straight line. Use both front and rear brakes. On long descents, rims can become very hot through friction, so hot that blowouts are not unheard of.
Sometimes a bicycle descending at speed develops a speed wobble, an uncontrollable
side-to-side shake. To correct it, try clamping your thighs to the top tube and slowing down very gently by feathering the brakes. Letting a little air out of your tyres or even fitting better quality wheels can prevent it occurring again.