Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Learning on the Bike

The cycling portion of duathlons and triathlons is the longest. Both distance-wise and time-wise. 

Swimming is my forte but, no matter how fast I swim, I only gain a handful of minutes on the slowest swimmers. Cyclist after cyclist go whizzing by me during the bike. By the time the ride is done, I've lost any advantage I had, several times over. 

So I'm trying to learn how to get faster on the bike without burning up before the run. 

My natural cycling style is to put the bike in a hard gear, typically in the big ring, and give'er. That translates into low cadence but high power. It allows me to maintain a 25-28km/hour pace on most rides and most races. 

Problem is that my quads are exhausted by the time I have to run. 

In Gravenhurst I decided to experiment a bit. Trying something new on race day is not typically recommended but I wasn't particularly well-trained for the race and everything about the event felt pretty new anyway so I figured it couldn't hurt...much. 

I decided to stay in the little ring as much as possible rather than stay in the big ring as much as possible. The little ring, essentially, translates in to less resistance which means you have a higher cadence (ie. you pedal faster). 

It was a hilly course to be sure so it made a lot of sense to stay in the little ring. Still, even on the flats, I pedalled fast rather than hard. 

I didn't break any records and I was essentially cycling at the same speed I always cycle at. 

The difference was that my legs felt quite fresh at the end of the bike and held up beautifully during the run. 

AND, I didn't experience that awful wobbly-leg feeling I often get when I start running after being on the bike. 

I tried the same thing in Belwood last weekend. My bike speed was no different but my run went so much better. My legs had lots of energy left and didn't flag at all during the run. 

So I have not yet figured out how to get faster but I think I'm learning how to cycle smarter. 

I guess the next step is to be able to keep the cadence up in higher and higher gears. 

I'm thinking that is what translates into speed on the bike? 


  1. Higher cadence and lower tension is where we (women) get our advantage. 90+ rpm. It's good because the higher rpms help to flush the lactic acid build up so it has a 2-fold purpose. Then when you start pushing bigger gears you already have the high cadence which in that case translates to faster speeds.
    You're totally headed in the right direction!
    and by all means, don't be afraid to switch between the big and little rings with hills.

  2. Scully is spot on. Stay in a gear where you can keep pedaling around 90 RPM for hours, and you'll find yourself getting stronger and being able to push a bigger gear the more your ride. Plus the higher RPM riding you're doing now is a key part of being efficient on the bike.

    One thing that I've found helpful in training and racing is using a heart rate monitor on the bike. I try to stay in the aerobic range just below my lactate threshold. (For me that's translates to between 140 and 150 BPM.) Coupled with trying to a keep my cadence between 85-95, it's pretty easy to find a sustainable pace that will get me from T1 to T2 as quickly as possible and still leave me "fresh" on the run.

  3. Great advice! I'm pretty slow on the bike and my husband is always telling me I'm not in the right gear but I'll give the lower tension a try and see if that helps :)