Anytime you show up for a group ride, you will find all types of setups, or how cyclists are fitted (or not fitted) to their bikes. However, one of the most noticeable aspects of cyclists and how they ride are a ‘cat-arch in their backs, their arms either completely extended or very close and finally their shoulders jammed up into their neck. Don’t believe me? Just take a very conscious look the next time you are riding around a group of cyclists.
Why am I spotlighting these riding positions? Well, having the wrong riding position, based on bio-mechanical principles, results in several things: 1. power loss- think of it as though you were driving your car with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brakes, 2. not the most comfortable- I can’t tell you how many clients and cyclists I hear comment about tingling or numbness in their hands, stiff shoulders and/or necks, and 3. opens up the door for potential (and totally unnecessary and avoidable) injury. Unfortunately, these three points are an entire topic of conversation of their own but at the very least, I wanted to mention them in this post.
CHECK YOUR SADDLE—
All the above sort of sets up the mindset of the focus of this post and that is what your saddle SHOULD look like and why. The very cool aspect (just one of a very long list) about bio-mechanical principles is that I don’t even have to physically see you ride your bike to know if you are riding in a very efficient manner; not the total package of efficiency, but at least a few specific ones that absolutely make a difference. It’s like the analogy of driving with your feet on the gas and brake at the same time…but this time imagine taking your foot off the brake. Yep, a big and noticeable difference. Not only will the car go faster but it will use less gas doing so. Efficiency!!!
I’ve realized that the older I get, the more I focus on efficiency…and so do countless other cyclists over the age of 40. Hey, when you are young(er), you have much more physical strength and your body just recovers much better than those who are older and their bodies have more wear and tear on them. Sorry, it’s just a fact of life. I feel incredibly great at 53 but I still remember how it felt when I started riding at age 37. I use to go ride the GAPS with a 53/42 chainring and an 11-21 cassette. If I tried that now, I would struggle and then pay dearly for it several days after. Oh well…
Sorry, a little tangent there but that goes to show you the being the most efficient on the bike is a really great thing. No, you don’t have to be a hardcore racing phonetic to take advantage of riding efficiently. In 19 years of riding, I have never run across a cyclist who wanted to ride at the same performance level
or worse; they always want to ride better, faster, longer, stronger. If that’s you, then you are speaking my language!!!
WEAR PATTERNS MEANS EFFICIENCY—
I want draw your attention to the very noticeable wear patterns on my saddle from this image.
Right off, you see distinct wear patterns in three places: both sides of the saddle and the front tip of the tongue. If your saddle does not look like this after riding for a few years then I can guarantee you that you are riding your bike like the analogy of driving your car. It’s a bio-mechanical fact. Just for disclosure, if you have brand new saddle, of course it’s too early to see any wear patterns but, you should begin to see small signs after about a couple of thousand miles. Again, if you do not, then you are using up so much energy and effort, yet getting far less performance than what you SHOULD be getting.
For this post, I will focus on the front tongue of the saddle. I will do a separate post where I tackle the discussion regarding the sides of the saddle. The image here is of my oldest saddle. It only has about 30,000 miles on it. You can clearly see the wear pattern on the front tongue area; the yellow is gone. Not only is the saddle worn on the front but notice the pattern continues around the sides of the front area. The main reason I have a wear pattern on the front is that my center-of-gravity (COG) is as far back as possible because I know it completely changes my leverage point when I ride out of the saddle. There are several other components than just my COG, but this is the most important component that the remaining components work from. Get your COG wrong and all the other components are wrong, too. They are inter-connected and both affect each other.
Below is an image of my newest saddle, which has about 5,000 miles on it. If you look closely, you will see a wear pattern already starting to form. Give me another 3 years and this saddle will look like my older one above.
While riding out of the saddle, too many cyclists tend to push dramatically forward and down (with their front foot) in their pedal stroke, whether they consciously are aware or this or not. It’s the ‘natural’ part of the pedal stroke that happens, whether they think about it or not. The problem with this is that this is emphatically the wrong focus of the pedal stroke and leaves SO much power and leverage behind, bio-mechanically speaking. As many a cyclist has heard me say,
“Don’t focus on what’s natural; that’s going to happen whether you think about it or not. Focus on the part that is NOT natural. Connect the two and you get really good, really fast”
Not only do I ride extended periods of time out of the saddle, obviously something is rubbing the tongue of my saddle. My legs. If yours are not, then you have a BIG power loss; it’s just that plain and simple…if you understand the bio-mechanical principle behind this. I am amazed, especially by those who are typically referred to as hammerheads, of how almost 100% of faster riders ride out of the saddle with their bodies WAY to far forward. If they had a clue about how much more power they could generate with the
same effort, in order words, how much faster they could ride (or typically climb) out of the saddle, my calendar would be booked up solid. Oh, by the way, it doesn’t make a difference if you ride slower or faster, the result is still the same; higher effort/energy with much lower performance. I only mentioned the hammerheads because it seems that the faster they can ride the less and less they are open to tips or constructive criticism. Too many a cyclist thinks the only way they can ride faster, longer and stronger is ride more and more miles. Yes, that is true but that will never get you to your most efficient way to ride. So, good luck with that. I am sure you heard of the old saying,
Practice makes perfect. WRONG!!!!
Perfect practice makes perfect. CORRECT!!!
As a cycling coach, I realize that that label in the cycling community tends to mean that I am just another coach who creates training plans; this is FAR from the truth. Yes, I have created training plans for clients over the years but that is NOT my focus. Unless you are trying to win your age group in a regional or national race, then it’s a waste of your hard earned money. There are plenty of free training plans on the internet for the rest of us. My expertise, experience and background is all about bio-mechanics and efficiency. It would blow your mind at how very small adjustments, in either your fit setup or how you actually ride your bike, can make huge and very noticeable differences in your performance. Just ask any client who has been through a coaching session with me, or better yet, just read the FEEDBACK from real-life clients in their own words.
I hope this post has sparked your curiosity and attention, especially the part that no matter what level of cyclist you are (based on speed), that EVERY cyclist can dramatically benefit from riding more efficiently. Bio-mechanics is a beautiful thing.