Products/Services Speed Improvement
originally published February 2004/ Copyright © 2004
I come from a running background and started cycling when I got into triathlon a few years ago. I ride a Quintana Roo Picante triathlon bike and put in about 200 miles a week. I have a training partner who I believe to be of similar overall fitness (we run almost identical paces). However, he has been riding much longer than I have and is a significantly faster cyclist than I. I don’t feel like I am making much headway catching him. What are some of the most effective products available that could help my technique and riding go to the next level? Thank you in advance for any help.
John , WI
Like running and swimming, cycling is very technique based. The challenge for many riders is not building and maintaining a strong engine, but figuring out how to get the muscles in that strong engine to fire properly for the activity they are doing. Many strong runners, especially distance runners, struggle on the bike because the muscle recruitment patterns and technique required of a strong cyclist are somewhat at odds with the patterns and techniques required of a strong runner. So, what products and services are available to help improve your bike speed and learn how to ride your bike like a cyclist, not a runner?
Get professionally fit to your bike. Nothing can keep a rider from their potential more than poor positioning. Like most professions, there is a wide range of fitting skill sets available within the industry. Make sure that you find someone that is qualified and truly understands cycling biomechanics and triathlon specific positioning. A comprehensive fit will cover everything from your position, to how your muscles are working while riding, as well as how to use them more efficiently. Plan a few hours and remember that you usually get what you pay for. Ask other triathletes and cyclists where the best and most qualified fitters are to be found and do not hesitate to travel to find one.
Get a road bike and ride with a strong group regularly. Most good runners come from a competitive running background. Likewise, most good cyclists come from a competitive cycling background. A road bike, without aerobars, offers you training possibilities that you could never do effectively or safely on your aerobar equipped tri-bike.
Learning how to keep up with people who are faster than you is one of the most effective speed improving techniques available. In most areas, regardless of whether you are initially dropped or not, it is not difficult to find a group of road riders who go out regularly and will push you to the next level. If you are feeling confident with your bike handling skills, consider doing a weekly recreational criterium series or some local road racing to compliment your triathlon training. The bike handling skills and technique benefits you will gain are irreplaceable. This is one reason why former pro cyclists, like Steve Larsen and John Howard, have historically proven so strong on the bike and why many top pro triathletes spend the majority of their riding time off their aero bikes.
While a much different riding position, proper road bike fit is equally important to proper triathlon bike fit. Start with a professional fit to guarantee a safe and strong position and to make sure that you get a bike that fits you well.
Work with a good cycling coach. Proper pedaling technique and confident bike handling skills are crucial to efficient riding. A good cycling based coach (who may or may not be a triathlon coach too) can provide you with technique secrets that allow you to properly recruit your muscles and to gain that technique and focus that you need to ride to your potential. www.bicyclingcoach.com is a good place to start and friends might have good leads as well.
CompuTrainer. When it comes to technique, the SpinScan feature on the CompuTrainer is one of the most revealing and helpful pieces of analysis equipment you can use. Used properly, it can provide you the feedback you need to learn to pedal more efficiently and smoother. www.computrainer.com
Rollers. Rollers have been around for years because they work. A less expensive alternative to a CompuTrainer, a set of rollers can teach balance and coordination while encouraging a smoother spin and more refined technique. Cyclops, American Classic and Kreitler are some top roller brands.
Fixed Gear Bikes. Riding in a single gear forces your legs to keep up regardless of the terrain. Like rollers, many top cyclists and triathletes (Peter Reid, for example) put miles on a fixed gear as it forces them to develop a smoother cadence.
Power Cranks. Power Cranks are training cranks designed to help riders learn how to engage the difficult to access muscles of the hip flexors, psoas and hamstrings that are crucial to a smooth stroke. Power Cranks work by providing negative feedback when you are not pedaling efficiently. If the crank detects pressure on the back of the stroke (meaning your muscles are not unweighting the back of the stroke or pushing through the top), the crank arms will immediately fall out of alignment; thus forcing you to pedal efficiently to fix the crank alignment issue. You might rider slower when you are training and learning to pedal smoother with Power Cranks, but you will most likely have a smoother and more efficient stroke than ever when you switch back to your standard cranks. www.powercranks.com
Rotor Cranks. Rotor Cranks are not so much training tools as cranks designed to provide a mechanical advantage by eliminating the dead spots in the pedal stroke. They initially feel very different than a standard crank, but most riders adapt in a short order and realize a mechanical advantage. www.rotorbike.com
While there is not an instantaneous solution to gaining speed on the bike, there are certainly tools and services available to help you achieve that next level. Remember, to become a strong cyclist, you need to use the tools of a strong cyclist and train like a strong cyclist.
Have a fast season!