How to maximise gains when training without power
Before there were power meters, many cyclists and triathletes trained and competed quite successfully by using "tools" such as heart rate monitors and even the blissfully simple RPE or "Rate of Perceived Exertion" scale.
The explosion in the popularity of power meters has seen a decline in the use of heart rate as a way of regulating training intensity and exposed a few limitations with the use of heart rate. In fact, for many training systems and coaching platforms, the use of a power meter is now mandatory.
The reality is that many cyclists and triathletes do not own and do not want to own a power meter. So, I am going to show you a few super-effective ways to apply a combination of heart rate and RPE to your training. You can expect to achieve some great results using these tips, so please read on.
The first thing you need to do is establish your heart rate zones. The "old" way of doing this was to use a "generic chart" like the one above, but there is a much better way that will produce more accurate and personalised zones. Here's how;
HRR is also sometimes known as your "usable' heart rate, given you cannot ever go below rest or above max. You should also "re-set" your HRR every now and then, as your resting HR will drop as you become fitter.
Then use the HRR method to calculate your own zones in the same way as the table below. The formula is:
MAX HR - Rest HR = HRR, then
Multiply the HRR by the desired %. So, for 75% - HRR x 0.75 = 75% of HRR.
Then Add the Rest HR back on to this number.
Bingo! You are done. Repeat for the other %'s you wish to calculate.
Note the significant differences in the zones when comparing the two methods. For the cyclist used in this example, the HRR method proved very effective and produced almost identical training intensities when compared with his power zones.
Now for the training
Applying these numbers is relatively easy, doing your tempo work in Z3, endurance rides (mostly) in Z2, threshold work in Z4 etc. Of course training with interval work is not quite as simple as that, so I would advise doing some research or linking with a coach. Using HR for training efforts of more than three minutes can be very effective, but there are a few things to keep in mind
Here are a few tips for using your new HR numbers in training:
When using training efforts of less than three minutes (due to the time-lag in HR response) you are better off using the RPE scale to gauge effort / intensity. As these shorter training efforts will usually be quite intense, numbers 8-10 are most commonly applied in training sessions. It is however possible to use the RPE scale for all training as the ratings match up quite well with zones in the following way.
Whilst there is little doubt that using a power meter, particularly in conjunction with HR, is the most effective way to train for cycling / triathlon. It is entirely possible to plan and conduct highly effective training sessions using little or no technology. Not to mention w whole lot less expensive.
Enjoy the ride
If you would like any help with your cycling / triathlon, please feel free to get in touch HERE
Five things to consider before investing your money, time and energy
Let’s be straight. When it comes to endurance, any training you do is better than doing nothing at all. Equally, when just starting out and coming from a low fitness base, some gains will be made using just about any training regime. However, once those initial gains have been made, continuing to improve and reaching one’s potential can be quite a challenge. The fact that the web is flooded with information and miracle training plans (not to mention supplements, recovery aids, super-fast equipment………., ok let’s stop there) can make the process more confusing and complex than it really needs to be.
When scouring the web, or even local coaching services for a training plan or sessions to add to an existing plan, there are a few key components riders should look for to ensure the best possible fit, therefore maximising the return on investment (time, money, energy). Think of it this way; your time/money/energy is precious and should not be wasted or even used inefficiently.
So here are five things I would advise all riders to check for before signing on to a training system or coach:
1. Riders are assessed or analysed prior to the development of the training plan. It is impossible to maximise the effort invested in a training plan without having first assessed the rider’s capacity, experience, goals and riding profile. So whatever coaching or training arrangement you choose, make sure there is a comprehensive assessment component up front. Not all riders are created equal, which means the range and degree of response to training varies greatly. In fact, even cyclists of a similar age and training history may respond differently to precisely the same training. An accurate prediction of rider response can only be made through testing, anything else is a guess. So make sure your training program is based on some level of testing, preferably more than a simple FTP test. It will save you a bunch of time spent riding hard for no real gain.
2. The plan incorporates adequate rest. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that excessive amounts of intense endurance training (cycling, triathlon, running, cross-country skiing) can increase the risk of cardiac dysfunction, especially arrhythmic conditions such as Atrial Fibrillation (AF). A cardiologist I know (and he is not alone) is strongly of the opinion that training excessively without adequate rest and recovery is a big part of the problem. Not only does strategic and well-planned rest & recovery almost certainly reduce the risk of cardiac arrhythmia but it will also improve cycling performance for almost every level of cyclist and in particular, masters athletes. Rest includes both active recovery (EASY rides) and taking a complete break from cycling as required and determined by factors such as age, gender, riding experience and a thorough analysis of the riders response to training.
3. Full customisation. There are plenty of generic training plans around, most will ask riders to input their FTP and “presto” there is your training plan. If you want real improvement from your training investment, the sessions you complete week-to-week must be matched to your goals, experience and rider profile. FTP is but a small piece of the puzzle and true customisation will require multiple inputs such as; age, riding experience, test results, rider profile and lifestyle impacts. I would consider these a minimum and many coaches will go even further, exploring recovery, nutrition and many other important inputs.
4. There is an element of continuous evaluation. As riders improve and their physiology adapts, a good training plan should be adjusted to suit. This requires a mechanism of continuous evaluation and re-testing. Whilst predictive systems such as Training Peaks and WK04 can be extremely useful, true evaluation requires a fair bit more than just ride file updates. Look for a coach or a system that gathers data (other than ride files) on a regular basis and uses this information to continuously adjust the training plan and sessions.
5. The plan or training system is based on evidence. It is very important that the training system you use is based on real evidence. This means that there is a significant amount of science and research behind it. Most qualified coaches will cover this for you, but if you are looking at an online system, then do a little bit of probing, ask a few questions force the training system to prove its mettle before you buy in.
Once you make a choice based on these principles, jump in, give it your very best effort and commitment, confident that you are using a robust system that will produce outstanding results. Following a training plan should be highly motivating and there is no better motivation than seeing outstanding results.
If you would like some help with your next training plan or anything else to do with your cycling, please feel free to contact me through the web contact form on this site.
Five reasons why racing is great for your cycling
The past 12 months has brought the ScyclePro coaching group some wonderful experiences where riders have taken the plunge into club racing and discovered the next-level motivation, excitement and camaraderie that is difficult to find in any other form of cycling. For each of these riders, the path to “pinning on” that first race number has been anything but smooth. There have been many false starts, doubts and even a little fear (many think racing is too aggressive and intimidating) along the way and this, it seems, is fairly common.
Like any sport, cycle racing has its risks, but the dangers to riders at club races are very low and usually over-estimated by riders. Most find that once they have that first race under their belts, the fear and intimidation is instantly gone. What is left is a whole new world of riding intensity, energy and fun that will change the way you think about cycling.
So, I strongly encourage every cyclist to give racing a go at some point. Most clubs have great support systems in place to assist new riders in their transition to racing. Once you start, here are five reasons you will be very glad you did:
So, if you ever even so such as thought of racing, I urge you to give it a go. I know you won’t regret it and equally certain it will provide some of your best ever cycling experiences.
As a coach who uses power almost exclusively for training cyclists, monitoring progress and assessing the capacity of my riders, I am a confirmed devotee of the technology. I have also noticed in our bunch rides, that more and more cyclists are fitting power meters to their bikes or buying bikes with power meters already fitted.
Whilst power meters are a fantastic tool, there is always the risk that they become just the latest gadget, wasted and under-appreciated. So, here is an easy-to-follow five-step formula for putting the most important function of your new (or old) toy to use:
1. Test yourself or get tested so that you know your power zones. There is very little point to the whole power dance if you are running off abstract numbers, or worse still, those of your riding buddies.
2. Set up a lap page on your device (Garmin or other). On your lap page you should display (as a minimum), lap time, lap AVERAGE power, cadence, Heart Rate, lap distance. Having a lap page means that you can easily monitor the key segments of your ride, both during and after. Now, once the lap page is set up, remember to hit the lap button on your device at the start of every important effort you make (intervals for example) during a ride.
3. When you are making an effort or doing an interval, keep your focus on the lap power. This will prevent you from surging and going too hard at any point during the effort. The longer the lap, the greater the smoothing effect. The lap function will become your best friend and help you to ride / train smarter than you ever have before.
4. Know your power targets for efforts of varying length / time. An effective test will show a rider (for example) how many watts above threshold they are capable of holding for 1, 2, 3 and up to 10 minutes. Once you know this, the lap power keeps you in the right zone, focussed and ensures that you get the most from your training sessions.
5. Trust the numbers and use the power data to pace your efforts. Most who watch cycling have seen riders from Team Sky simply sit and watch others attack in the mountains, calm in the knowledge that if they hold their number, they will eventually close the gap, time and time again, they do just that. This is because they remain calm, in their zones and refuse to waste energy on surging. Any rider with a power meter can do precisely the same thing. All you need to know is what number you can hold for a defined period of time (or distance). Then (hit the lap button) monitor the power, stick to the plan. Pacing efficiently ALWAYS produces a better result, every time, for every rider. The key is knowing your zones and what is the most effective pacing strategy for you.
Power meters are such a wonderful tool, but they are not a toy or a gadget to be used for fuelling the ego. Start with a test and a sound knowledge of what you are capable of and what type of efforts you need to improve. Armed with this knowledge, a power meter will help to make your training efficient and productive. THEN, you can take the bragging rights from your buddies.
All you need to know to streamline your style
The subject of aerodynamics and its effect on cycling speed has moved on the from the early days. No longer is the debate focussed on whether it is important, but more about just how a cyclist might go about taking full advantage of it.
Aerodynamics is important in most forms of cycling, but it is even more so in circumstances where speeds are higher and where the rider is not being sheltered by other riders in a pack, think:
In this article the focus is on time trialling and how a rider can make some changes that will result in more speed for your watts, in other words, ride faster for the same effort or the same speed for less effort.
Assuming that the basics are in place and you have both a time trial specific bike, a skinsuit and a TT helmet. The next step is to have a bikefit that will ensure you are able to get your body into the most aerodynamically efficient position as possible.
The qualifier: riding fast on a TT bike is always a trade-off between maximising the aerodynamics of rider position whilst not pushing so far that the rider’s power output declines to a point where the aerodynamic gains are less than the power lost though biomechanical inefficiencies. The only way to know this of course is for the rider to be tested using a variety of riding positions.
The new pillars of TT position:
Gone is the era where “getting low” was considered the most important adjustment a rider could make. The “modern thinking” on TT position has changed and here are the most important position adjustments for cheating the wind:
1. Go longer not lower. For many years riders worked hard to get as low as possible on their TT rigs. This would often result in compromised hip joints, knees that tracked way too wide and often contacted the elbows as they came over the top of the pedal stroke. These days, bikes are set up a little longer, riders sit as far forward as they can, the elbows are higher and usually much closer together. Of course, you will need to ensure that your position is UCI legal. Check HERE
Above left demonstrates the more modern approach. Higher and more “stretched out”. The rider on the right is low, but more cramped and with very little hip clearance.
2. Hide your head. As your head is part of the frontal area that greets the wind, the more you can keep it within the dimensions of your body the better. This means keeping it as low as the line of your spine. If your head is the tallest part of your riding profile (from a frontal view) it is catching more wind than it should. The modern trend is to “shrug the shoulders” and kind of sink the head down so that is nicely housed between the tips of your shoulders.
3. Use your arms / hands wisely. Most time triallists work hard on finding the ideal position for their arms and hands. The goal is to minimise the gaps in the frontal area where wind can penetrate into the chest cavity. Think of it like “closing the window” to the wind. Arms that are angled slightly up and hands that are high (in relation to the elbows) and narrow, are the gold standard. Many will use a slight wedge under the armrests, to allow a slightly dropped elbow. And “J bend” extension bars allow the hands to sit slightly higher than ski bars.
4. Be narrow. Some riders are always going to find it more difficult to be narrow on their TT bikes, broad shoulders are great for swimmers, but unless they can be rounded (like Tom Dumoulin), they will be handicap in a TT. Get your armrests close together and if it feels like your chest is being constricted, try shifting them forward so that the elbows “close” above the level of your chest.
Hands in great position. Rider left has brought the elbows forward to allow them to be as close together as possible. Dave Zabriskie (right) demonstrates perfectly, the notion of closing the window to the wind
Adapting your position on the TT bike can give you speed, sometimes lots of it. The key adjustments outlined above should be attempted within the mechanics of your own body and the limitations of your bike. Some will be easier to achieve than others but all will help. It is always best to go about making changes in a systematic way, working with a qualified coach and / or bikefitter.
Going faster for the same or even less effort is the holy grail for most cyclists and finding a streamlined, efficient position is the key to finding your cycling nirvana.
Enjoy the free speed.
An effective set up is critical if you want to ride faster for longer
I am a self-confessed lover of the tradition in cycling, as much as it sometimes conflicts with my scientific education and approach to coaching and preparing cyclists to race faster. The ever-evolving field of sports science has challenged many of the conventions in cycling and possibly none more than the current thinking around bikefit.
When I was a lad first starting to race, most of the "fit focus" was on the knee. It was really as simple having the right amount of bend at the bottom of the pedal stroke and ensuring that the knee was directly (or very close to) above the pedal axle when at the "3 O'clock" position. Bingo! That's how you set up both your saddle height and fore / aft position. The simplicity of this model did always trouble my inquisitive mind as did the regularity with which this approach produced "shitty" looking positions for short cyclists.
Fast forward (quite) a few years and more modern thinking around bikefit has shifted to consider the hip and pelvis as the keys to having an effective position on the bike. More specifically, it is critical to have an anterior pelvic rotation in order to achieve an aerodynamic position and a flat or neutral spine. And this brings me back to short people (like me).
Set me up on a bike with traditional knee bend and KOPS (knee over pedal spindle) and it becomes almost impossible to produce an anterior pelvic tilt without causing a near-pathological impingement at the front of my hip joints. The results?
And so to crank length.
Question: Why when there is such a huge range of heights, limb lengths and flexibility ratings amoungst cyclists, are there only three (mainstream) crank lengths that vary by a total of only 5mm???!!! Answer: tradition. "Ah-Ha", I knew it, that is why tall cyclists generally find it easier to look good on a bike. Their crank lengths are a better match for their bodies.
So how short can a crank be before we lose efficiency? Well, the research so far suggests that it may need to be very short indeed. There has been a strong resistance to shorter cranks (there is that tradition thing again) based on the assumption that a shorter crank arm will reduce leverage, but almost all of the studies conducted to date refute this.
Team Sky have set the bar in terms of adoption of sports science and using it to their competitive advantage. They are also leading the way in the field of crank length, conducting extensive off-season testing using shorter than traditional cranks. Watch this space.
Here is my take on it.:
I foresee significant changes in the industry where a far greater range of crank lengths are available for riders. These will be based on science, not tradition and consider elements such as height, limb length, age, functional mobility etc.
For shorter riders (apologies for the bias) using a shorter crank, raising and shifting the saddle slightly forward may just make you look like that tall rider you have always envied.
Bottom line is: Go get a proper bikefit from a qualified, experienced professional. Go there with an open mind, trust the science and try as hard as you can to let go of tradition.
* Photo credit: "Powercrank / Dr Frank Day"
Get more from the body's most powerful muscle group.
So, your glutes are not firing, or so you have been told? Been for a bike fit and changes were made, but still feel choppy and quads are fatiguing fast? Perhaps you have been to the gym and performed countless “reps” of glute strengthening exercises without feeling that the gains have transferred to the bike?
Well, each of these scenarios are quite common and if one or all applies to you, then read on;
1. Get set up correctly. Although bikefit is not, in itself, a total solution for balanced muscle action, it is certainly a whole lot more difficult from a poor setup. Be sure to do some research and read some reviews before selecting a bike-fitting professional. This service is very important to both your health and cycling performance and therefore critical that it is done well.
2. Head to the gym. Strength (and strength endurance) training are very important but must be applied using a well-considered, progressive plan. So be sure to seek out some expertise here, whether it is a personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach, physiotherapist or other qualified and experienced professional. Not all strength training plans are created equal and success will be determined by how specific and applied your training sessions are. Many cycling coaches work closely with strength & conditioning practitioners (or exercise physiologists) and this is the preferred model where both experts coordinate the strategy and avoid working counter-productively.
Much of the strength and conditioning focus should be on the following areas:
Note: Dynamic flexibility (stretching) is also very important and should always be included as part of the strength and conditioning plan.
3. Learn & apply postural / movement cues. This is the critical step for transferring your strength to the motion of pedalling. It is folly to think that just because you are stronger in the gym, you will automatically carry this new capacity to your riding, if only it were that “easy”. Equally, a perfect setup on the bike is not that useful if a poor motor pattern continues, just as a great motor pattern can be eroded by a poor set-up. If you have been fitted by a professional and have worked through an effective strength training plan, it is time to take it to the bike (although the perfect scenario is to apply this step simultaneously with step two).
Start with developing a routine and some cues that work for you in terms of setting up a position and stable base from which to engage the glutes. From here you will be able to create a postural and movement focus that is reliable and repeatable. These are the key stages:
4. Use drills. These are used to enhance and solidify the motor pattern for your new pedal stroke. Some examples include:
5. Be patient and stick to a plan. The bottom line is that building a new and improved motor pattern will take some time. So, make a plan that incorporates a little technical training. Once you have a plan, stick to it diligently and be prepared for moments where you feel progress has become a little stagnated, this is normal. Depending on consistency and skill acquisition rates, you can expect to see / feel some improvement in your pedal stroke in around 3-6 weeks. Of course, a new more dependable technique that holds up under pressure will take a little more time and (here is that word again) patience.
Technical training / drills are usually best applied during recovery rides / easy spins / stationary bike work.
How to improve fatigue resistance
When most cyclists head out to test their FTP, they will generally do a fairly short warm up, possibly a few short “priming” efforts and then hit the go button. 20 minutes later, bingo! You have a new FTP. But just what is this new number useful for?
What FTP is good for:
Consider this question.
Assuming you know your current FTP, how close do you think you may get to it, if asked to perform the test having just completed one, two or even three, hours of hard riding? Would you be close? Down 10%? Well in fact most sub-elite riders who are tested after 2 hours of “tempo” riding (Zone Three) show max 20min power numbers that are between 10-25% lower than their “fresh tested” FTP. So, for a rider with an FTP of 300 watts, that is a drop of between 30 – 75 watts, which is one hell of a drop.
In a racing scenario, riders will generally need to produce high power outputs at the “business end” of a race and after a significant amount of hard work has already been done. Very few races are held over a 20-minute duration, so having a high FTP is of very little use if that number cannot be re-produced in a significantly fatigued state.
In scientific terms, this is known as fatigue resistance (FR). FR can be significantly improved through training, but this training must be quite specific. As one may suspect, fatigue resistance training (FRT) can be both physically demanding and time consuming. That said, there are ways to incorporate elements of FRT into the normal weekly routines of most riders. The key is knowing how and when to do this.
The starting point (and underlying physiology) is to improve aerobic power. This will mean that efforts performed earlier during rides (provided these are mostly sub-threshold) will minimally erode anaerobic reserves. Because anaerobic reserves are required for 20min FTP-like efforts, it makes sense that “saving these” for key moments is very important.
The next step is training the body to deal with the occasional dip into the red zone. This is often referred to as “in-ride recovery” and is also highly dependent on efficient aerobic function. Much of this is complex but to keep things as simple as possible, a FRT progression would look something like this:
This type of riding can be quite demanding, so be sure to monitor fatigue levels and seek advice on when to rest / recover.
Improving FR or building your fatigued FTP will take your cycling to a whole new level. Whilst the outcome is fantastic, the incremental improvements that come with the training progressions outlined above also provide a massive boost to cycling capacity.
What are your thoughts or have a question? Please leave a comment, we would love to hear from you
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I am often asked by cyclists about heart rate and whether it is still relevant for training, given the increasing use of power meters. So, do power meters tell us all we need to know about our training and how our bodies are responding? Well, no. And in fact knowing how to use heart rate will help you get far more value from your power meter.
Whilst I concede that using HR as a gauge of intensity during a training session (especially those involving shorter interval efforts) can be inaccurate, it is the trend data provided by heart rate response that provides a valuable insight into how your body is adapting to training loads. Additionally, this same data will show when a cyclist is ready to ramp up the training or conversely, when it is time to back off.
Although the interpretation of HR response can be complex, there are some clear markers that are easy to spot, provided the HR data is collected in the first place. Two key measures are:
Understanding Heart Rate Drift Patterns
It is quite easy to spot these trends using any of the common analysis platforms (the graph above comes from the Wahoo Elemnt App). Once you know what you are looking for, Heart Rate trend patterns will confirm both if your training is at the appropriate level and when to take it up a notch.
Generally, the less drift there is in a HR pattern, the more “easily” a rider has been able to handle the training load. If the same session is completed each week for 4 weeks, one would expect to see less drift at week four than week one. If this is the case, power targets may be ramped up. If not, a short-term reduction in load may be required.
It is possible to use a HR / Power “index” to analyse sessions where the power outputs vary from effort to effort. Although this is somewhat more complex and usually the domain of a qualified coach, it is further evidence of the importance of Heart Rate and why it is necessary to collect the data.
So, don’t throw away that HR monitor just yet. It is in fact the perfect companion to your Power Meter and will help to make it an even more effective tool.
Your thoughts? We would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below.
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A Five point formula for building skill and confidence
Descending on a bicycle should be fun, an experience full of flow and freedom as you take payback for the effort spent reaching the top of a climb. Clipping the apex of turns, feeling the bike “float” as you enter a trance-like state, reading the road ahead, scanning the scenery and smiling all the way down……..”wow, that was fun!” Sadly, for many riders (often even those who climb like Pantani) the downhill sections are filled with fear, loathing and tension and it just should not be that way.
Mastering the art of descending has its roots in confidence and to build this confidence, one must develop dependable, repeatable and ultimately “automatic” skills. So here are my five keys for going downhill fast. Master each and you will be well on the way to becoming a competent, confident descender, finding that flow that once sounded so abstract that you doubted its existence.
As with all learning, regular practice is essential. You will need to focus on just one of these keys at a time until each feels natural and automatic. Once you master all five, the confidence builds and the word “flow” will become a new and welcome addition to your cycling vocabulary.
One: Get Off Your Arse
To descend well your bike and body will, at times, need to move different amounts and even in different directions (more on that later). This is nearly impossible to achieve if you are planted on the saddle. Your weight should be on your feet (like the way a jockey is weighted on the stirrups) and the saddle should just be touching against your inner thighs. This way you can be “responsive” and the legs can act as shock absorbers, should you happen to hit an obstacle or bump in the road. On any sections of a descent where you can see ahead and the road is fairly straight, you may want to sit down for a rest, but be sure to get back on your feet, once the bends start again.
Tip 1: Don’t stand “tall” on the pedals, the technique is often described as “hovering” just above the saddle.
Tip 2: Your backside should be positioned just above the saddle for descents that are not too steep, but as the gradient increases towards (and above) 10%, you will need to shift a little further back. This is both a technique and safety adjustment that improves control and makes it far less likely that you will go over the bars (OTB) should you strike a bump or obstacle.
Two: Keep the Outside Pedal Down
This is important for two reasons; the first is to avoid striking the inside pedal on the ground as the bike leans into the corner and the second is to ensure that your weight is pushing hard down into the outside pedal, which increases traction (and control) for the rear wheel. So, for a left bend, your right pedal should be down and for a right bend, the left pedal is down. As you corner, not only is the outside pedal down, but your hips should be shifting across towards the lower leg so that most of your bodyweight is over this outside foot. You should really feel the weight on the straight (outside) leg as this is a good sign for keeping traction and control on the rear wheel.
Tip 1: When you are descending in a relatively straight line, NEITHER foot should be down. Your feet should be positioned at “three and nine o’clock” or horizontally. It is only as you approach a bend that you should adjust the position of your feet so that the outside foot is at six o’clock.
Tip 2: Never pedal through corners whilst descending. Keep the outside foot down and the inside foot up until you have exited the corner.
Three: Your Inside Hand (and shoulder) Controls the Front Wheel
Think about it this way; there are two wheels on your bike and it is important for control that each has good traction and to have good traction, each wheel must be weighted. Your rear wheel is weighted by your hips / backside and where you shift them. Whilst your front wheel is weighted by your hands / shoulders. Having your shoulders high and back (sitting too upright) takes weight off your front wheel, making it much more likely that it will skip and drift in corners. To avoid this, keep your shoulders low (hands MUST be in the drops) and chest closer to the top tube than it would usually be when riding in other situations.
As you corner, the hands / shoulders act as “counter” to your feet. In other words, the INSIDE hand / shoulder should feel weighted as you press the handlebars into the bend. You should feel like the inside shoulder is dropping and the inside hand is pressing the handlebar forward and down, like a counter-steering technique. This keeps the front wheel planted on the road and makes skipping or drifting much less likely.
Note: Skipping or drifting of the front wheel occurs when it is de-weighted and can cause it lose traction. It then begins to track out of the corner which may lead to running off the road.
Tip: Although your inside hand and shoulder press into the corner, your upper body should NOT drop inside the bike. In order to achieve this, the inside arm will straighten (just like the outside leg) although it should never be completely straight.
Four: Lean Your Bike, NOT Your Body
Cornering on a bicycle is different to doing so on a motorbike. Attempting to emulate Valentino Rossi and dropping inside the bike, knee scraping on the ground is a sure recipe for disaster. Motorbikes have a throttle and gassing the bike will cause the wheels to “bite” but we don’t have that luxury on a bicycle. Your bodyweight should remain outside the bicycle frame when cornering so that the bike leans into the corner and your body does not (or at least to a lesser degree). This keeps the tyres weighted and gives traction and control.
When you get the technique right (outside leg down / shoulders low & inside hand counter steering / bike leaning with body more upright) the bike tracks beautifully in corners which gives a confidence-boosting sense of control.
Five: Enter the Bend Late & Look Through the Corner not at it
A friend of mine calls it “target fixation” and in the context of descending, it is the tendency to fix the gaze on the corner rather than scanning more through the corner. Fixating on the corner itself tends to draw you in too early, reducing the space to exit the corner safely. As you approach a corner stay as wide as you can (away from the apex) for as long as you can. This is known as dropping into the corner late and is useful to keep in mind because almost all cornering errors start with entering a corner too tight (close the apex) and too soon. So stay wide for as long as you can, then when you do cut in to the apex of the corner, you will find yourself with plenty of room to exit the bend safely and without having to brake.
Another strategy that will help here is to practice looking ahead on the road to where you want the bike to finish up. This is referred to as “looking through the corner” and helps to create a “program” in the brain and body that improves both line and control. So, don’t stare at the point just beyond your front tyre. Instead look 15-20m ahead on the road (more if you are travelling quickly) and you will find the bike tracking much more smoothly.
A Few Words of Caution
Descending has an element of risk, even for very skilled and experienced riders. So here are a few things to keep in mind that will help to minimise the risks of descending:
Find a stretch of descent that is not too steep (4-7% works well), has a few bends and where you can ride up and down for an hour or so (a 300-500m stretch should do). Make sure you ride up easy so as not to become too fatigued. Complete a few (5-10 depending on the length of the road) repeats and each time you come down, focus on just one of the five keys I have outlined. Continue to do this (preferably each week) until each feels automatic and then take it to the road.
Descending well can dramatically increase your enjoyment of cycling. It may take a little while but it does require a strategy and practice. Once you master these five keys your riding will never be the same again and you will never look back.
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