Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Personal Progress in Cycling; getting faster and faster

Cycling is a painfully simple sport; ride your bike faster than everyone else. Every cyclist at some point wants to be faster. No matter how accomplished, when a racer stops wanting to become faster, they start losing ground to their competitors. This is true regardless of the number of years a cyclist has been riding. No matter how much faster you are now compared to when you started, it always hard to get that little bit faster yet. My 2nd favorite bike racing quote is from my 1st cycling champion, Greg Lemond:
"It never gets easier, you just go faster"

But cyclists are people, so we want to find the short cut. In seeking that short cut, we make cycling horribly complicated. As the season begins, cyclists eagerly want the magic formula that will make them faster with out the pain and suffering of more hard miles. The three ways I see my buddies trying to defy nature to become faster without effort are in potions, lotions, and notions.

Potions: Cyclists have taken all manners of substances to try to gain an advantage for a century. Without dabling in very very effective but illegal drugs, bike racers can still find a chest full of other "preparations". Whether its amino acid supplements, collodial minerals, mega vitamins, chinese herbal mushrooms, or snake oil, someone will spend hundreds of dollars this month at the "health" food store to boost their energy/recovery/power. Most of the time, these treatments turn out to be worthless. At best they give you the jitters and make your breath bad. If any of these substances really worked well, they'd be banned already.

Lotions: There is a perverse joy to rubbing embrocation on your legs. It hurts so good. While there are many reasons why road racers say that they shave their legs, for all non-pros, there is only one good reason: because we rub lots of lotions on them. The real reason why I think amatuer cyclists shave? Vanity. We all want to look pro. Having said that, shaved legs make embrocation feel SO much better. Hair on the legs just goops up the balm, keeping it from the skin. The secret hot sauce may not make me faster, but it makes me feel like a racer. It makes me think I'll be more comfortable in the race (even if it only helps for the first 10 minutes). Does that largely psychological edge actually help? Maybe

Notions: Just like you, I got plenty of emails every week flogging the latest revolution in training techniques, whether its periodization, power analysis, cycling specific yoga, core conditioning, visualization (I think I can, I think I can), or bike devices. Of course each of these notions takes time away from riding your bike, and/or takes money out of your wallet.

My latest favorite is the crankset & chain ring devices. The more technical cyclists seem obsessed with the "dead spot" in the pedal stroke. So inventors come up with all sorts of devices to "eliminate the dead spot". The simplest is the ovalized chainring set. The more complicated are ratcheting bottom bracket set ups. None of these devices do more than what one-leg drills will, they only do the same thing for longer. The basic way to avoid the dead spot, pull up and push through your pedal stroke faster.

In short, no potion, lotion, or notion can overcome the simple truth: if you want to ride a bike faster you have to push the pedals harder. The super special preparations may make you believe that you can, but you still have to put the power into the pedals. That is all there is to getting faster. Push the pedals harder for longer periods of time; up hills, in sprints, over rollers, in time trials, just Pedal Harder.

Then recover, repeat, rest.

Which brings me to my 1st favorite bike racing quote:

"Don't buy upgrades, ride up grades". Eddy Merckx


  1. nice piece! maybe i won't drop $2000 on a powertap

  2. I think you can get a powertap for alot less than $2k. I love that mine tells me how hard I've worked to be as slow as I am.