Have you ever heard the saying “it is not always the strongest racer that wins”?
This is definitely true and whether you are an aspiring racer or recreational cyclist just looking to improve your fitness.
There are 2 major components to the above statement.
The first addresses your ability as a cyclist to become as efficient as possible on the bike. Yes, watts and power are important. But even more important is speed and efficiency. If you want to get better, you must keep in mind the end goal- to be faster than everyone else when it counts. For example if you are time trialing against someone else your exact size but you are generating more watts, will you win? Not necessarily. The other rider could be more efficient, and thus has to generate less power to be faster than you. There are many ways to increase efficiency on the bike such as: developing proper form and technique, (including a smooth pedal stroke), refining position and aerodynamics without losing speed and/or power ( these are two separate factors not necessarily tied together). Remember, it is possible to generate more power and actually go slower. Therefore, a cyclist must work to find the optimum balance between generating power and efficiency.
The second component addresses your mental ability on the bike. Do not underestimate this one. Even if you never desire to enter a competitive situation, you can still benefit from using mental strategy. You need to become adept at reading your own body and others while riding, always know where you can conserve energy, where you should expend energy for the greatest result, and if necessary how to take advantage of other riders and their strengths and weaknesses. This topic is best covered with athletes individually. I could write pages on the topic but the best learning comes from experience and conversations with your coach.
Some general tips on form and increasing efficiency on the bike:
- Anytime you are training inside, always use a mirror. Watch yourself; analyze your form while riding at different intensities. Always look for ways to improve your form on the bike.
- Never bounce in the saddle. The goal is to be supple and smooth while able to spin comfortably at cadences ranging from 90-125+ rpms.
- Do not lock elbows; always keep at least a slight bend. Relax and drop your shoulders.
- Think about the entire pedal stroke. Push down, scrape the mud off the bottom of your shoes, pull up, and kick over the top. Put it all together.
- Look through the tops of your eyes; keep your head tucked down.
- Keep your hips square, no rocking side to side. Think of your hips as your main axis, keep them level and quiet.
- Use diaphragmatic breathing. Deep breath in, let your abdomen relax and expand. Exhale and squeeze all of the air from your lungs, contract abdominal muscles.
- Relax! Learn to release the tension from your upper body, jaw, face, etc. Work on eliminating/reducing wasted energy throughout your body.
- Keep knees from drifting out while pedaling. Some riders pedal with knees even turning in slightly- this is very individual, but minimally keep knees from pointing outward.
- Change hand positions frequently and be comfortable in all of them. Learn how your position changes by moving your hands on the bars. Flatten out your back as much as possible without losing form or power. This will take time to develop and realize.