Wondering how to cycle faster? Cycling is all about leg power and requires a good deal of mileage to improve efficiency and performance. Many times I've had strong runners come to me or indeed physically strong athletes and complain that they can’t transfer their fitness from their other disciplines into the bike. Simply, the leg muscles when cycling are not being used entirely in the way that they are designed to. After all it’s not often that you walk down the street to see somebody walking in a cycling action... Consequently mileage is important to train the leg muscles how to cycle. Typically 50-60km plus for a Sprint distance athlete and 70km plus for the Standard. However, mileage alone will only see you improve to a certain level.
As with swimming and running it is important to include interval training to train beyond race pace. Break down the distance over which you’re going to race into for example, 5km intervals. A Sprint distance set could then look like 4 x 5km Time Trial efforts with 3min active muscle development training.
Equally and largely specific to cycling in terms of its impact, Time Trialling (TT). For a TT you should preferably be targeting a distance that is just under race distance for example, a suitable distance for a Sprint distance would be 16km or 10miles.
As with all training don’t forget to record and where possible quantify your results. This really helps to build a programme and understand how your body works as well as provide the evidence of improvement thus driving motivation.
Commonly many athletes new to cycling will have two problems with their pedal stroke. Firstly they will point their toes downwards which will put too much pressure on the calves regularly resulting in cramp. This may also be an indication that the saddle is set too high. If you recognise this problem in your own cycling you need to drop your heel down to ensure you’re putting the pressure through the quads, hamstrings and glutes thus achieving the most power.
Secondly most new athletes will ‘mash’ the pedals. This means to put all the force into the downwards part of the pedal stroke. The whole point of clip pedals is to allow the rider to achieve power from the upward part of the stroke as well. The way to do this is to imagine you’re trying to scrape mud off your shoe at the bottom of the stroke. To help you get this right there is a good drill you can practice.
- • Take one foot out of the clips and hold it behind you.
- • Then cycle with one leg attempting to achieve a smooth action. You will know if you’re getting this wrong as you’ll hear a ‘clunking’ noise caused by you putting power on on the down stroke and off on the upstroke. The noise is the chainset catching up again on the down stroke.
- • Do this 4 times for 30sec on each side during your warm up.
There is a huge amount of kit and equipment you can buy to help you go faster and this is for many the allure of triathlon and indeed you could write a book on the subject and still not cover it. However if you’re looking to take the path of effective spending rather than overspending then the following are the best investments in order of ‘bang for your buck’:
- 1. Cycle computer - this does not have to be super expensive. Just something to allow you to collate training data and to push you on during a race.
- 2. Tri bars - If you have a road bike, ‘getting aero’ could save you up to 2min over 40km and all for under £100.
- 3. Wheelset - Although now jumping up the price ladder, for £600 and upwards a decent wheelset will present a very decent upgrade. Be careful though that your bike frame justifies them!
The most important point to take away from this article is that miles matter when it comes to how to cycle faster. It’s no good trying to fine tune an engine that doesn’t exist.