10 tips for better racing bike riding

19. July 2017

Do you know how to bike? Of course I do, is probably your stunned response. But is that really true? Can you sprint, ride up a slight incline with no hands, pedal a smooth stroke with a single leg, or maintain a frequency of 130 rpm for a minute without bouncing up and down on the saddle like a yo-yo?

Here's the thing: biking is indeed no big feat for (almost) anyone, but biking in a varied and economical manner requires special training just like for any other sport. The learning process can be a fun experience. Here are 10 tips to become a better biker.

1. Basic workout
In biking as well, a solid foundation forms the basis on which everything else is built. That's why it is crucial when preparing for the season to deliberately complete very intense and somewhat longer workout sessions (60–120 min) which promote your fat metabolism. The basic workout means: Your pulse never exceeds a certain level during such workouts. This should preferably be 60–70% of your top pulse rate. So if you can reach a maximum of 180 beats per minute, you should never be moving at more than 126 BPM in basic workout mode. Consequently, intense workouts are the key to success for ambitious bikers as well. Because the better-developed your fat metabolism is, the more slowly your glycogen reserves are used up when things get heavy. 

2. High pedalling frequency
Can you manage to pedal for a few minutes at 130 pedal rotations a minute while sitting in place? High pedalling frequencies improve your intramuscular coordination and require practice. For this purpose, special workouts prove useful involving only high pedalling frequencies (thus sticking to low gears). Or workouts in short stretches at maximum frequencies (as fast as possible). Those riding laps usually reach high frequencies (about 125 rotations a minute), and many even manage paces beyond 200 rpm on indoor bike trainer stands. Important: Get used to continually greater speeds and despite (or rather because of) the high frequency, make sure to actively pull up on the pedal during the pedal's upstroke. 

3. Low pedalling frequency 
After a few weeks of primarily basic workouts, even very low “rpms” have their appeal, as they promote strength endurance. Now and again when working out, attempt to ride steadily up moderate inclines at high gears and at a frequency of around 60 to 70 rotations a minute. In doing so, always remain seated on the saddle. When riding longer uphill stretches while seated, you train your ability to make smooth pedalling motions while employing your full muscle power, with no assistance from the arms by standing up from the saddle. Through the low speed, you can focus on performing an economical sequence of motions.

4. Vary pedalling frequency
Also try to play around with your pedalling frequency – deliberately ride at very high speeds and then at very low ones. Or ride in frequency pyramids, increasing your pedalling frequency every minute by 10 rotations a minute. Another exercise is to maintain a pedalling frequency of your choice over the course of a longer stretch. In order to do so, you must either frequently – and carefully – shift gears or increase the applied force depending on the terrain. But what pedalling frequency is best-suited? This general rule applies: Higher frequencies (around 95–110 rotations per minute) are more economical than low frequencies at high gears. Fabian Cancellara, for instance, gets around on the mountainside at a pedalling frequency of 90–95 rpm. The best force-to-travel ratio is attained at 100–110 rpm. By pedalling faster, you put less strain on your muscles and joints. And by the way: You should never completely stop pedalling when riding downhill or your muscles will “shut down” and legs turn “heavy as lead” at the start of the next incline. 

5. Coordination
“Feel” your pedalling motion. Imagine each pedal rotation as a circle and try to make the largest-possible circle with your feet. Always apply consistent pulling and pressing force – with no gaps. Push, press, pull, lift: Focus on the four phases during a pedalling cycle (pushing, pressing, pulling, and lifting phase) or sometimes on just a specific one. What happens in the front when you concentrate on pulling up in the rear? Another coordination exercise consists in riding on a longer, traffic-free, straight, and slightly uphill route with no hands (for instance, with your hands folded behind your back or reaching up into the air). This way, your legs’ coordination is challenged and they are automatically forced to make smooth, even strokes. Riding in an upright position strains your back leg muscles more, while riding with no hands and your upper body bent forwards puts more strain on your front thigh muscles. Riding with one leg also promotes a constantly active pedalling cycle. The broader the array of motion by a rider and the more motor units at play in the pedalling cycle, the longer fatigue can be staved off.

6. Sprints
By constantly staying in endurance mode, you lose speed. Vary your pace and make a game of your riding experience by setting visual targets (e.g. trees, hoardings, buildings, etc.) you have to speed up as fast as possible to reach, keeping your pace as high as possible. In such exercises, the length of a given sprint is only up to about one to two hundred metres or some 10–20 seconds. Sprinting hones your ability to ride at high-speeds and fully tap your strength.

7. High intensities
Temporarily high intensities promote your ability to better deal with an oxygen deficit. Different variations of interval training are ideal to this end. One example: 4 min. of maximum strain – 3 min. of active recovery; 4 repetitions. At such intervals, the pulse rate may rise temporarily to 90–95% of your maximum heart rate, thus above the anaerobic threshold. The strain can vary based on the interval lengths, break lengths, or pulse rates. Go ahead and find a stronger group to work out with at times, and force yourself out of your comfort zone. But remember that intense units require longer recovery times and do not provide the desired result unless alternated with basic workouts (see point 1, Basic workout).

8. Out-of-saddle pedalling 
Just like you now and again should be able to ride up a slope while sitting the whole way, you can also sometimes ride up a longer, steeper incline while only standing up out of the saddle. In doing so, you put additional strain on your shoulder and chest muscles and strain your leg muscles differently than when you ride sitting. Alternation between sitting and standing up from the saddle while riding also provides variety to your mountainside training.

9. Watt monitoring 
Many bikers monitor their strain not through their pulse, but their watt output. Triathletes in particular rely on the watt indication at least as much as their own feeling when riding longer distances to cycle with the proper intensity and not overexert themselves. Just like your pulse, the watt specification can serve as a reference for various intensities. There’s just one catch: relatively expensive watt measurement devices are required to determine your biking performance.

10. Shift gears continuously 
If you suddenly have to downshift three gears at once on a slope, you’ve either hit the wall – or not been shifting gears correctly. Always be thinking well ahead while working out and shift gears early on, so that you’re in just the right gear in any situation. To practise this, pick a varied route with many curves and constant up and down. Always try to hold on to your momentum and retain the speed boost you gain from curves while sticking to the right gear. This will save your strength and keep you at high speed. Shifting while standing up from the saddle also requires practice, because to ensure smooth shifting, you need to find the proper moment.