Performance Gains

At least the yard is getting watered.
At least the yard is getting watered.

It’s a rainy day outside right now as I sit here and write this post. That didn’t stop me from riding my bike this morning though. After 70 miles on damp roads in light rain and a double flat, I spent the better part of the afternoon cleaning my bike, kit, and my body! I really don’t mind riding in the rain as long as it’s not cold, but the work that goes into cleaning the bike is enough to deter you from riding for many days later if there’s even a slight chance of rain. đŸ˜€

Clean bike!
Squeaky clean bike!

So far this year my performance has been improving on the bike. In my last post, I mentioned that I would likely do a few races this year after all. My first opportunity will be at the end of this month on Saturday, March 29th. I’m planning to race in Dallas at the Spring Criterium which is held around a high school parking lot. I did the same race last year and had some decent results, but I hope to better those this year. I’ve updated my events page to reflect races I plan to do. Everything is tentative at this point however.

Considering my performance gains of late, I’ll go over the areas which I believe has helped me the most and where I’m aiming to improve.

Nutrition: You’ve probably heard it before; “You are what you eat.” One of my weaknesses in life is sugar. My goodness do I ever love that stuff! I wish I could tell you that I’ve stopped eating sugary treats entirely, but all I can say is that I have cut back on indulging in them as often. I’ve also made an effort to eat more whole foods and fewer processed items. I’m using my Vitamix on a daily basis making fruit and vegetable smoothies. I’ve lost a few pounds and I feel better since making these changes. No doubt it’s one of, if not the biggest improvement to my cycling.

Training: My routine to strengthen my core and stability muscles is going very well. This has already directly improved my form on the bike. As I talked about in my last post, I’m commuting to work on the bike as much as I can. I’ve also started interval workouts on the indoor trainer. I’m confident the increased saddle time and tough intervals are rapidly improving my power. Where I still need work is with sprinting.

I’ve never considered myself a sprinter, so I will humbly admit that I don’t know much about this aspect of riding. With that said, here are my experiences so far with sprinting.

To win a bike race, pro or amateur, it will often come down to a field sprint, and in fact is one of the primary components of cycling for racers and recreational riders alike. Sprinting requires a strong and quick acceleration as well as top-end speed. It might sound easy to jump out of the saddle and ride someone off of your wheel in a sprint, and indeed some people consistently take sprints with seemingly less effort than the rest of us mere mortals, but I assure you it is not easy. If it was easy, then everyone would be doing it! I’m enjoying this new challenge though.

Pro sprinters in the Tour de France.
Pro sprinters in the Tour de France.

I’ve gotten fairly good at the explosive acceleration required to initiate a sprint or breakaway move. My top-end speed and ultimately my form when out of the saddle is where I have room for improvement. Watching pro riders, they hover barely above the saddle and lay low over the handlebars. I have this terrible habit of standing up entirely too high, which is compounded by the fact I’m a tall guy. It’s like hitting a wall when I stand up in the wind.

Another factor making it more difficult, but is nothing that should keep me from winning any amateur race, is my gearing. I’m running a 52 for my large chain ring. Around here where everything is totally flat (a.k.a. sprinters paradise), I would be much better served with a 53. Currently I’m spinning out in my biggest gear at the end of a sprint. I could however improve my fast twitch muscles to turn a higher cadence for a longer period of time.

The final area I wish to improve is in my flexibility. This of course can be achieved with stretching, but I’d like to take it another level and incorporate some yoga into my routines. Several people have already assured me that it will directly improve my power on the bike. It certainly makes sense, so I think it’s worth a try.

Bike Fit: This month I had a new bike fit done. It’s been a year since my last one and this time I decided to try out Tad Hughes Custom Fit Studio after glowing recommendations from several people. He was also acknowledged in Bicycling Magazine. My experience was extremely good and I felt like Tad was very thorough and knowledgeable about the fitting and the sport in general. He understands all aspects, from racers, triathletes, and recreational riders.

After taking some measurements and shooting some video of my riding, he was able to make some changes in various areas which were better suited to my goals as a racer. One of my favorite changes are custom foot beds. It is an added cost for that service on top of the bike fit, but I feel it was worth every dollar. In my case, I have high arches which even after using Specialized inserts in my shoes, caused my foot to collapse leading to a loss of power and less than ideal comfort. The custom foot bed really joined my foot and shoe with the bike 100%.

My saddle didn’t need much of a change at all, so in my case the focus was my position on the handlebars and the position of my cleats. I ride a frame that’s almost too small for my height which means ideally I need a longer stem and longer reach handlebars. The issue comes when I get in the drops in a more aero position. My upper body scrunches up in that position, which is not comfortable nor is it efficient. Increasing to a 140mm stem length and longer reach bars will do the trick, but 140mm stems have been hard to come by! My cleats were moved forward a bit, to activate my calf muscles which should help me with accelerations. A big part of racing is accelerations, so this sounded good to me.

Personal fit measurements.
Personal fit measurements.

Having left satisfied with the changes, and although the fit is still relatively new, I could really feel the difference during today’s ride with some friends. If you’re looking to get the most out of your bike, I can easily recommend Tad Hughes.

I’m excited to see changes happening quickly and where they might lead in the races I plan to do. If anything, I’ve certainly gotta beat David on the PCC sprints!

Until next time, be good and ride safe my friends.