Over the next few postings, I would like to explore how you can achieve a better relationship on a bike. Ideally you will spend a hundred hours or more per year riding, which is a long time to stay clipped in, pedaling, and swathed in Spandex. So if you are more comfortable, you will enjoy your time.
Your goal is to become more mindful when you ride. Ideally you won’t even need to think about shifting, standing, turning, and all the little things you do. But before you perform at an unconscious level, you need to think about how you ride and what you can do to improve. You should start with optimizing your cadence.
When I taught my son to ride, his first goal was to balance on a moving bike. I took off his pedals and training wheels and had him coast, rolling down the slight grade on our dead-end street. With this skill mastered, or at least not crashing, we then worked on powering this contraption. I put the pedals back on and soon he was riding up and down the block.
Once you mastered this level for a single speed bike, you wanted to ride further and faster, so you upgraded to a multi-speed bike. Your body is most efficient when you pedal at a narrow range of speeds, so the gears allow your engine to drive this machine up and down hills at a wide range of speed. The rate that you pedal is called the cadence and is measured by counting how many times one leg goes around. An experience cyclist may have a cadence of 90-105 rpm. New riders pedal slower, 70-80 rpm, but this is less efficient and will hold you back and possibly cause joint injury.
No one is going to count pedal strokes on the road, so invest in a computer that automatically measures this. Use your computer’s cadence display to let you know when to shift, just as a car’s tachometer can tell you when to change gears. Soon you know implicitly that when you feel like your legs are flopping around, your cadence might be too high so shift to a harder gear. When you are grunting trying push up a hill, your cadence is too low, so shift to an easier gear.
Your goal for this coming week is to dust off your bike, go for a ride, and upgrade your computer to help you shift early and often.