Being aware.


A different perspective

You can do an on-line search for how to set saddle height and find hundreds of pages and videos telling you how it’s done. They will all give you their method of setting saddle height, but few will explain the reasons for everything they do.

My learning process is probably different than yours, I have no sequential memory. If you tell me how to do something is a step by step sequence it will go in one ear and out the other – no sequential memory. I have to understand everything I do, it’s the only way I can work. If you do things because you were instructed to do them without understanding, you’re putting way too much trust in your source (who probably put way too much trust in their source). Example: probably the most common method of setting saddle fore/aft position is something called Knee Over Pedal Spindle. There’s no basis for it, but lots of people have heard of this method, and they tell lots of other people, and the cycle continues.

Here’s a very simple concept – if I can’t explain everything I do, or I don’t explain it well enough, don’t accept it.

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The need for rest…

Most of my clients start off the season in the winter and spend much of the year building fitness. As the seasons change and the weather starts getting colder they start to plan for the next season. It’s normal to think about keeping some of the fitness built over the last season, but there’s a reason that doesn’t work. The body doesn’t do steady state, you are either gaining or losing fitness all the time. There are also limits to fitness levels and costs for holding that level, and then there’s age… The bottom line is you can either decide when to lose fitness and take some time off, or your body will make that decision for you (probably when you least want it to).

The step from in-season fitness to off-season slowness is a tough one. I take a month where I can still ride, but I won’t push myself at all. I avoid rides where anyone else is going to push the pace. I’m back to being the average commuter. The two hardest parts about this are that you remember being fast, and the fear that you won’t get there again. I’ve done this for 3 decades, I’ve always gotten back to being fit and fast.

This is what most people think of when they start planning to regain their fitness, a bike on a trainer with a fan and a monitor and some form of entertainment. I hope to change that.

From a retail perspective (my shop sells a lot of trainers and indoor bikes in the winter) the winter training set-up is about simulating what happens on the road. This makes no sense to me. First, if you’ve been on the road from April – September and you’re feeling a bit burned out, what makes you think that doing more of the same is going to change that? Second, I don’t know of anyone who has mistaken riding indoors for being on the road. Lastly, riding indoors presents an opportunity that you didn’t have outside – to closely observe how you pedal the bike.

Winter training is the time for learning, not mindlessly pedaling a bike like a hamster on a wheel. The monitor in front of you isn’t to take your mind off the activity, it’s to observe what’s really happening. The training set-up should be the laboratory where you increase power and efficiency. You need to be able to see yourself in this process.

In learning what works and what doesn’t, I have built this. It’s an adjustable bike, but instead of driving a wheel with resistance it’s a plate loaded system. Force at the pedal is measured at a strain gauge at the bottom bracket, effective force at the pedal lifts the stack of weights. This is different from a bike on a trainer because at any point in the pedal stroke the crank is pulling back and the rider must overcome this force. There are also cameras to track rider position and alignment. This device lets me test methods of training with clear results, but it’s not needed for actual training. What I learn from this device lets me create workout methods that can be done on a regular trainer. This device lets me see when I get my body weight onto the pedal and when it comes off, I can do the same thing with a bathroom scale under the front wheel of a bike on a trainer.

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Engineering a pedal stroke

Everybody has their own understanding of how they should pedal a bike, very few of these versions have anything to do with physics. Lots of people think you should pedal in circles because the pedal goes around in circles. While it is true that the pedal does go around in circles, and you do have muscles which can move the pedal in that circle, there are huge differences in muscle strength. You have two large muscle groups which fight gravity all day long – glutes and quads, and you have opposing muscle groups which can produce a fraction of the force. If you are trying to power a bike and two of the four muscle groups produce 99% of that power, you’re best off focusing on just those two.

This is where we get into the difference between perception and measurable output. The Iliopsoas is a hip flexor, it allows you to walk up stairs by lifting the femur from the hip. It’s a tiny muscle group which produces almost no power, but what you perceive while using it is muscle tension which you translate to work being done. You need only put your bike on a trainer, clip in on only one side and slowly trace the circle that the pedal goes to understand how little power there is.

The way to produce the most power and efficiency within the pedal stroke is to look at the largest, strongest muscles and apply them only when they can effectively add power. That means looking at how the muscle extends a body part from a pivot and apply that to how the pedal goes around. The largest and strongest muscle group in the body is the glutes, which extend the femur from the hip.

As you can see, extending the femur from the hip pushes down (in this diagram I never change the tibia angle – my bad!) As the glutes can only push down, the effective portion of the pedal stroke will be from about 1:00 to 4:00 (we’ll get into the math of effectiveness within the pedal stroke a bit later).

The second largest muscle group is the quads, which extend the tibia from the knee.

As the quad extends the lower leg from the knee (I left out femur movement as the tibia extends forward – oops!) the foot is pushed forward. The quads can not push down – I can’t emphasize that enough, because lots of people insist that they can push down with their quads. Looking at the knee as the pivot point, the foot cam swing forward or back – not down. The idea of the quad pushing down is learned from standing or walking where the hip is directly above the foot and extending from the knee raises the body weight. The quads are only effective from 11:00 to 2:00.

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