CYCLING PERFORMANCE TIPS
Last updated: 12/3/2019
Form and Technique
This page will compile a number of comments on form and technique.
Position on the Bike - think aero
Consider this reader's question: "I am a 5'3" female and have been told that when I pull
I do not block much wind. I can hold 19-21 ave speed for a short distance. Is this true?
How can I be a stronger person up front when most of the people in the paceline are taller then me."
The answer, as you might expect, is complex. This
article is packed with pictures and data
on the aero profile and its impact on your riding. The answer to the reader's question is that it
is not height but the cross sectional of shoulders, head, legs, and part of the torso as
seen from the front of the bike that is important. And of course this is dependent on whether
one is sitting upright, is slightly aero, or is very aero. Height is not as big a deal as total
body "bulk". Look at
image 1.5 to see what I am trying to convey.
Here is a nice
article from Bicycling.com that demonstrates five tried-and-true cycling
positions optimized to give you the best speed and endurance during specific portions of
a road race.
Smooth pedal stroke
- Using a fixed gear bike to improve smoothness in your pedal
Use of a fixed gear bike will focus you on your pedaling technique as well as increasing
leg speed and strength. The mechanics of a fixed-gear bike require you to pedal as
long as the bike is moving forward. Inexperienced riders should consider using a
fixed-gear bike on a stationary trainer for the first couple of rides.
Pedaling continuously will develop a smooth pedal stroke as you spin down hills and
increases leg strength as you climb the hills. Generally, gearing for a
fixed-gear bike will be light (42x19, or about 60 gear inches), which is a nice balance
for various types of terrain.
You might consider using an old road bike, adding a fixed-gear rear wheel from a used bike shop.
Unthread your chain from the rear derailleur, shorten it, and place it around the small
chain-ring in front and the single rear cog, and you're done. You can also use a track bike
for this purpose. You will need to install at least one brake before you go out on the road.
- One-Leg Pedaling
One-leg pedaling is another approach to adding strength (and variety to your indoor
training at the same time). Normally, when you pedal with both legs, the leg that pulls the foot
through the bottom of the stroke and back up to the top of the 360 degree "cycle" is
under used (as the other leg, when pushing the crank through the down stroke has significantly more
power and thus allows a bit of slacking).
Learning to pedal a complete, 360-degree circle with both legs working together will make
you a better rider. Practicing with one legged drills will embed this idea into your pedaling
- Warm up on the trainer for 20 minutes while pedaling with
- Unclip one foot from the pedal. Rest it on a chair or stool just outside the
left pedal circle.
- Pedal at 90 rpm using your right leg, using an easy gear until you get accustomed to
the feeling of one-leg pedaling. The muscles that lift your thigh and push the pedal over the top
will fatigue quickly at first, but you'll improve rapidly.
- After a few minutes, switch to the other leg.
If you're relatively new to cycling, you are probably
riding at a cadence that is below your optimum. Most new riders think they are getting a better workout if
every pedal stoke is a strain and the quads are burning. Lance Armstrong has popularized high-cadence pedaling.
He'd spin at about 90 rpm on even the steepest climbs, and he's regularly over 100 rpm in time trials. Does this
mean you should be pedaling at a high cadence as well? Although your cadence can be
increased through training, it may not fit with your personal physiology and biomechanics.
In the end, cycling is a power sport. The stronger you are, the faster you can go on a bike.
Power delivered to the back wheel/minute = power per pedal stroke x pedal revolutions per minute (cadence).
Too slow a cadence and you may be putting too much force on your pedals per revolution, risking knee
injury as well as exhausting yourself early in your ride. Too fast a cadence and decreasing neuromuscular
coordination wastes energy.
A high pedaling cadence (i.e. 120 rpm) reduced
performance (i.e. maximum wattage) and
anaerobic threshold during an incremental test in well-trained cyclists.
And a second study demonstrated the most
efficient cadence (least amount of oxygen used per watt of power generated) to be in the neighborhood of
80 rpm. This is also the cadence which is most efficient in the use of muscle glycogen and will mean a
longer distance can be ridden on a specific amount of muscle glycogen (assuming no carbohydrate
supplements are taken). And interestingly, the with optimal efficiency
cadence slows as one ages.
Your optimal cadence is one that let's you spin as fast as you can (in a coordinated manner) while still
feeling some pressure on your pedals. Generally this will be around 80 rpm. If you want to go faster, you
will lower your gearing so that you temporarily increase your cadence above 90, go faster, and
then drop back down to a higher gear and put more pressure on the pedals to keep your cadence around 80.
The make-up of your leg muscles (the ratio of fast-twitch to slow-twitch fibers), combined
with your fitness, will self-select your cadence. For most experienced riders, ideal
cadence is in the range of 80-100 rpm - and most tend to automatically pedal at
around 90 rpm in normal condition . Non-cyclists tend to spin a bit lower at around
This exercise may be helpful in picking a cadence for you.
- Locate a protected 2-mile stretch of road (without significant cross
streets or traffic). Ideally slightly rolling.
- After you warm up for 15 minutes, ride the route hard in your
biggest gear. Note your finish time and your heart rate if you have a monitor.
- Recover for 15 to 20 minutes with easy spinning.
- Ride the course again at the same heart rate (or perceived exertion if you don't
have a monitor). But this time choose a rear cog that's one or two steps larger and allows you to
keep your cadence about 100 rpm. Note your time for the same course.
- After a day or two of rest, do the test in reverse - larger rear cog (lower
gear ratio) first.
- Compare your times. For most riders, the lower
gear and higher cadence will produce faster times for
less perceived effort.
Below are two drills that may be helpful in neuromuscular training allowing you to
increase your cadence while maintaining the smooth spin of a veteran.
- Use a down hill to practice. Spin in a small gear on a slight descent, then gradually
increase your cadence until your pelvis begins bouncing on the saddle. Back off
about 5 rpm so (the bouncing stops). Hold that cadence and concentrate on a smooth
pedal stroke for one minute. Cruise back up the hill and do it again. Relaxation is the
key to pedaling at a high cadence without bouncing. Keep your elbows, shoulders and hips
- Use a that tailwind that you have stumbled across. Shift into a moderate gear and
gradually increase your cadence until you're at 100-110 rpm. Hold it there
for 30 seconds, then gradually ease back to 80 rpm. Repeat several times.
How do you estimate your cadence if you don't have a cadence function on your computer?
Set your computer display to show seconds. Using your right foot, count how many
times it is at the bottom of the stroke during a 15 (or 30) second interval. Then then
multiply by 4 (or 2). That will help you develop a sense of what 90-100 rpm feels like.
More on cadence.
The secret to smooth shifting, especially on hills, lies in planning. Anticipate you'll
need an easier gear and shift a few seconds ahead of time - including shifting to an
easier gear at the bottom of the hill while you still have momentum.
Just as you move the lever, ease up pedal pressure. The shift will occur during one
crank revolution. If you time it right, you won't lose significant speed. And if you are
worried, push a bit harder for several strokes before lightening the pressure on the shift
Bottom line: Any time you shift either derailleur, be conscious of your pedal pressure.
Shifts made during a moderate application of power have the best chance of being smooth
Paceline Skills. A great way to improve paceline skills while limiting risks.
Excerpted from www.roadbikerider.com.
"With a few friends, find a hill several hundred yards long. It doesn't have to be
steep. Ride up in a paceline. Work on pedaling smoothly and maintaining 12-18
> inches between bikes. Here's the key to this drill: Keep the speed low. Around 5-7 mph is perfect. Everyone
should be pedaling with the same cadence. No one should be struggling to keep the
pace. Low speed ingrains smooth technique. In a normal paceline, if you speed up,
you quickly overrun the next wheel. If you let a gap open, it takes effort to close and
this messes up riders behind. But at slow speed on a gradual hill, there's less penalty
for mistakes -- and you can simply put a foot down if you make one. Trade the front
position after short pulls. Just 20-30 minutes of this slow-motion drill will make you
and your friends noticeably better when you're in a paceline that's traveling 3 times
And a second article, same e-zine (roadbikerider.com):
"Catch a draft! The best way to learn good drafting technique is to pair up with an experienced
rider. So if you're an old hand, help a new rider learn. If you're a newbie, find
a grizzled vet who's willing to help. In this example, we'll assume you're the rookie.
- Ride at a moderate pace on a low-traffic road. Put your front wheel about 3 feet behind your guru's rear wheel.
As you feel comfortable and confident, get a bit closer -- maybe 2 feet, then 18 inches.
- Notice how the draft is stronger when you're closer to
your partner's wheel, weaker as you drift back. Notice
how you feel more draft when speed increases.
- Feel how the draft moves slightly to the side in a
crosswind. Protection increases to the right of your
partner's wheel when the wind is from the left, and
- Good drafting depends on smooth, even pedaling. If
you pedal and coast, pedal and coast, you'll find
yourself getting too close to your partner or too far
back. Keep the crank turning and use slightly more or
less pedaling force to maintain a constant gap.
- Now practice rotating the lead.
- The front rider checks over her shoulder for
traffic, drifts a couple of feet to one side
(determined by wind direction, road conditions or
traffic) and slows slightly by soft-pedaling.
- You take the lead not by accelerating but by keeping
your speed constant as your partner slows. Pedaling
will feel a bit harder because you're bucking the wind.
Glance at your cyclecomputer to make sure your speed
- Stay close as you pass each other while rotating the
lead. The closer your shoulders are, the less wind each
of you will be pushing and the narrower your combined
width. That's important so motorists can deal safely
with your presence.
- When you're the person dropping back, begin
accelerating slightly when your front wheel is beside
your partner's rear wheel. Then you can slip in behind
before a gap opens."
There are two challenges in cornering technique. The first is avoiding a loss of momentum
when you are in a competitive situation and the other is just the opposite with too
mush speed going into the corner and the edge of the road rapidly approaching.
A. Slowing too much
The secret here is to keep your momentum during turns. Novice riders will waste their
momentum when cornering, while the more experienced will sweep through
the curve and open a gap that costs others precious energy to close. Corner
after corner, this efficiency really adds up.
A few tips:
B. Going too fast
- Shift down before the turn. If the corner is tight
(which will naturally make you slow), shift into a lower
gear before you enter the corner, stop pedaling, and start leaning the
bike. If you are in too large a gear, it will take more time to get back your momentum.
- Practice standing versus sitting when exiting the curve. Cornering soaks up
your speed, so you may choose to stand and sprint to regain momentum. However, standing
uses more energy so in wide, sweeping corners you may opt to stay seated, and work a little harder
to keep contact with the group (especially in a downhill turn).
There are additional benefits of standing out of corners.
If you get in the habit of standing for a few
strokes after most turns, even if it isn't necessary to stay with the group, you'll ride more
- You use body weight to power the pedals and the tendency to shift to a lower gear.
- Standing avoids the temptation to use more forceful pedal strokes in the saddle and increase knee strain.
- Standing relieves saddle pressure - and even a few seconds will add up to decrease discomfort over the ride.
- Standing will stretch your legs - and back. This will combat the stiffness that occurs with long rides.
- Be prepared to sprint. Be ready to invest a sudden burst of energy after each turn.
But if you can stay seated, and still stay with the bunch, it will save you energy to use
on that final sprint at the end of the day or in the hillier sections.
- Lean into the curve. It's better to increase your cornering angle even though you
may lose traction and fall to the inside. Consider the alternative - slide down or ride
off the outside of the road and hit things like guardrails or trees with more than just
road rash to deal with.
- Stand. Give your tires more grip by standing and putting most of your weight on
your outside pedal. Virtually all of your weight should be on it. Push your bike into
the turn. The bike should always be angled more than your body.
- Brake early, then not. Take off as much speed as you can before the turn, then
release the levers. This goes against instinct, but braking in a turn makes a
bike want to straighten, the opposite of what you need it to do. You can also
feather the rear brake, but be ready to let up if the wheel grabs and threatens your control.
Don't even think about using the front brake while turning. It is a sure way to send the
bike where you're aren't aiming or cause the front wheel to slide out abruptly.
C. Eye On Your Line
Use your eyes to corner better. The next time you take a corner at speed, concentrate on
eying your line. Don't stare directly in front of your wheel, watching for debris,
cracks or potholes. You won't notice even more dangerous obstacles farther ahead. Instead,
"sweep" the whole corner with your eyes before you enter.
Then, just before you begin the turn, look through it to visualize the correct line. The trick is to visualize your
line just before you begin to lean the bike. Then you can spot hazards and make
adjustments without risking control. Remember, the bike goes where you look. Focus on the
best line all the way through the turn and that's the path your wheels will take.
- Check your entry This is the section of pavement where you enter the turn and
begin to lean the bike. Look for gravel, oil, potholes, slippery leaves, anything
that could loosen your tires' grip.
- Check the apex of your arc. Cracked pavement where the concrete curb meets
the blacktop is a common danger. So is water -- from sprinklers or puddles on the
roadside. In winter, this might be ice.
- Check the exit. Sweep your eyes ahead, through the turn and up the road on the
line you're riding. Don't let yourself spy the trouble as you are coming out of a
It always helps to have another point of view. Here are a few tips sent to me by a coach
in Malaysia, Nick Flyger. (Thanks Nick)
"For fast, accurate and safe cornering I teach people the following (most to least important)..."
- Look where you want to go and ALSO shift your pelvis on the seat so it faces into the corner.
- Keep you chest close to your top tube and handle bars, lowers the center of gravity
and prevents the unstable feeling. On high speed descents I am practically kissing my handlebars.
- Point your inside knee into the turn by sticking it inwards towards the apex of the
corner. Some people (Lance among them) say keep it tucked on the tube. I feel this makes
it harder to lower your center of gravity, also GP motorbike riders practically put
that inside knee on the ground and they are going much faster!
- Keep pressure off the inside pedal but keep pressure on the outside pedal. However,
that force must be directed vertical towards the ground not directed down the vertical
line of the bike which is leaning inwards. Doing this correctly adds additional force
in the direction of gravity helping to increase the friction on the tire and prevent it
sliding out on you.
- As you make the turn keep pressure on the outside hand. Sounds a little weird...
"Turn the opposite way of the turn" but the front tire acts like a gyroscope, so pushing
away from the turn causes the bike to lean into the turn! It's one of the reasons kids find it hard to
learn to ride a bike. However once they gain confidence they go faster, the angular
momentum of the wheel then helps them to stay upright because it is harder to turn the
handle bars to lean or corner the bike, where as at slow speeds it is easy to
over adjust and hit the pavement.
Precision Steering (look where you want to go)
Ever want to ride on a narrow strip - white line at the edge of the road or a surface with
the grooves running the direction you are going? For example a bridge with a surface of
flat timbers going the direction of the road? Or avoid a pothole or wet manhole
cover (which can be as slippery as ice)?
Here are two secrets that might help:
The common factor is to look where you want to go as staring at an obstacle makes you
track to it. Your body (and bike) follows your eyes.
First look at the obstacle to remember where it is, but then train your eyes on the best
line around it. Let your peripheral vision, keep tabs on what you want to miss.
Questions on content or
suggestions to improve this page are
Cycling Performance Tips
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