Don’t Ride Your Bike On Cruise-Control

If you have been reading some of my most recent blog posts, you might pick up that I’ve been using analogies of bicycles and vehicles.  It would really surprise you of just how many similarities are between the two.  Why?  Because almost 100% of us cyclists are motorists and we tend to bring our driving habits to how we ride our bicycles.  It’s instinctual…just not necessarily on the forefront of our minds.  In this post, my hope is to shed some light on yet another vehicle connection.  Ready?

If you have ridden group rides, then I can guarantee you that you have experienced the same momentum Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 12.09.49 PMwoes as every other ride.  Let’s say you are in a group ride and riding on flat terrain.  At some point, the terrain bumps up to a short but noticeable climb.  Typically, you will experience the speed slightly increase, as those who ‘can’, generally crank it up the climbs.  Then, once they have crested the climb, it’s followed by a slight descent but suddenly those same riders who cranked it up the climb are now seemingly taking it a bit easier.  This shows up in one of two ways, or both:  1. they stop pedaling and coast down the hill and/or 2. they continue to pedal but never shift up to harder and harder gears so that their effort level doesn’t drop.  Either way, this directly affects the group’s overall momentum, which typically results in everyone else behind are having to ride their brakes, stop pedaling…or both.  So, the momentum is fairly consistent on flats, bumps up a bit on climbs and then drops a bit on descents.  Do you see the inconsistency here?  This turns a group ride into having to ride your brakes quite a lot.  Who wants to show up for a bike ride, only to have to ride their brakes all the time?

OK, here comes my vehicle analogy.  If you are on the interstate and you set your cruise control to 70 mph, then you expect your vehicle to always be going 70mph, right?  This happens by your vehicle speeding up a bit when you start up a hill and then it backs off (sort of like coasting a bit) when going down a hill.  This is the only way it can keep as close to 70mph all the time.  That’s the point, right?

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 9.41.08 PMThere are a few reasons why many do not pedal down a hill.  One, some riders just don’t have a comfort or skill level to ride at faster speeds down hill.  Another, would be those riders who ‘cranked’ it up the hill are using the downhill to rest a bit and recover.  Either way, the end result is that for some, if not many, riders would still have to be riding their brakes a lot, especially down hill.

Obviously, if what I just described results in wearing out a lot of brake pads and inconsistent momentum, then the opposite scenario would be a ‘consistent’ momentum environment.  Let’s go back to the cruise control approach, but tweak it a bit and get a different experience.  For starters, when that climb comes, instead of trying to keep the same speed going uphill, why not keep pedaling at the same ‘effort level’?  This has a few positive benefits; 1. by not increasing your ‘effort’ level, those immediate gaps that are created because riders crank it up, are basically eliminated, 2. since those gaps are eliminated, then those who would have fallen behind, don’t have to bury themselves to try and keep up or close the gap, and 3. the group will stay as a group all the way up the hill.

Now that your group has reached the top, there will be FAR less exhaustion because the momentum and effort never increased going up.  That also results in eliminating the group being spread all over the road and stringing back for a while.  You stay as a group.  Imagine that!!!

Before I go any farther, I understand that there are various riding/skill levels in a group ride and this needs to be taken into consideration when you pick which group you ride.  For a typical ‘A’ group, you should be able to descent a fairly high speeds and if you can’t, then you might want to work on that discipline and then join an A ride; otherwise, you could be the solo rider who affects the entire group on a descent.  You don’t want to be that rider…

Once your group starts to head down hill, in order to keep consistent momentum, don’t stop pedaling.  In Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 9.46.44 PMaddition, to keep from everyone behind you from riding their brakes, then you need to keep pedaling AND continue to shift up to harder gears as you feel your cadence begin to increase and your effort level begin to decrease.  Don’t back off a bit like your vehicle on cruise control; keep your effort level while pedaling the same.  Since terrain and speed is a constant change, the only thing that you as a rider can keep consistent…is your pedaling effort.  This is THE KEY that I have found in over 215,000 miles on a bike, that keeps groups together.  Hey, if you show up for a group ride and intend to hammer up every hill, then you don’t need to ride in a group; go do that on your own and not blow up a group ride experience for all those who showed up to actually ride in a group.  I’m not politically correct but I will always tell the truth…period.

I don’t share this to brag in ANY way; I share because you need to know what I’ve been hearing for 215,000+ miles…so it’s NO fluke or accident.  Every time I am on a group ride and I am pulling at the front, you can ABSOLUTELY guarantee that I am riding by an even effort, or what I call, ‘riding by pace’.  That means I ride at the same effort from parking lot to parking lot, or in other words, the entire time.  When I ride like this at the front, the group stays together, no matter how much the terrain changes.  I have lost count of how many folks have told me they really enjoyed riding behind me and they have thanked me for keeping the group together.

When it comes to downhill, of course I continue to pedal at the same effort.  While the typical rider either coasts or never shifts up to harder gears, then from their perspective, it looks like I am mounting an attack, so to speak.  In reality, I’m pedaling at the same effort I did up the previous hill, the flats and rollers before that; well, you get my point.  Anyway, when I am not at the front at a downhill, I still continue to pedal because I choose not to ride my brakes all the way down.  As you can imagine, I will be passing quite a bit of folks and in many cases, I tend to get way out front.  If another uphill follows, I know those who just can’t help themselves, will hammer to catch me…even though I’m not attacking.  They usually catch me somewhere near the top of the next climb but I will pass them again after the top or just thereafter because they will slow down to recover or coast.  Because many riders think I mount an attack on every downhill (which is about as far from the truth as you can get), I’ve been yelled at on a few rides where there were a significant amount of rollers.  But, for those who stayed on my wheel then entire time, have commented countless times that they really appreciated me continuing the momentum and not having to wear out their brake pads.

If you think about it, wouldn’t you rather climb less of a hill than 100% of it?  Hey, I love hills but if I can conserve and still get to the top, I’m all over that.  If you continue to pedal on a downhill with the same effort, then think about all the extra momentum you create.  If that downhill is followed by another climb, Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 9.49.30 PMthen now you carry all that extra momentum and therefore you have to climb LESS of that next climb.  I don’t know about you but to me, that’s just smart riding.

As a cycling coach, I can tell you that THE most common area that cyclists want to be better at is climbing.  If you begin to start pedaling downhill, then you’ll take all that extra momentum and you’ll immediately be better at climbing…because you’ll do less of it on every one.

Here is a question I ask riders all the time; ‘Why would you ride harder on the hard parts and ride easier on the easy parts?”  The most common responses?  “I’ve never thought about it like that” and “Wow, that actually makes sense”.   Why not ride easier on the hard parts (hills) and harder on the easier parts (downhills)?  Not sure about you but this makes a LOT more sense.  You use FAR less effort over the entire ride, which also helps your endurance.

When I show up for a ‘group’ ride, I expect to ride in a ‘group’ and that is my mentality; it’s NOT about ME…it’s about the ‘group’.  If I want to hammer up hills and do intervals, then I do that outside a group ride.  If you use group rides to get in shape for races or whatever and that means you bolt off the front, hammer up hills, etc, then group rides are not the place for you.  Don’t ruin the experience for the entire group; you don’t want to be ‘that’ rider (I hope).  Bottom line, a group ride is ALL about the group, NOT any one rider.

Why am I so sensitive to group rides?  Because when I started to ride, I was dropped like a bad habit and left behind on a regular basis.  Here I was looking up to my buddies to ride with me and what I got was a lot of solo rides with several re-group points.  As soon as I showed up where they stopped, I was dropped again and rode solo till the next re-group point.  It was no fun.  I bet you and many others you know have felt the exact same way.  Sometimes if you are the strongest rider in a group, you could take that opportunity and make the group your focus.  If you make someone’s day, I can bet they won’t forget it any time soon.

If you have a cycling question or topic you would like covered, send your request to…and then watch my Blog.

Coach Robert…

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