A proven path to strength and efficiency for the most reward and enjoyment you’ll ever have on a bike.
Every skill that you have was learned. You were probably too young to remember learning how to walk, but it was certainly a learning process (which involved falling down a lot). So how is it that people think pedaling a bike is natural? It’s not, but pedaling is the rare case where a machine controls the movement of the body – you can’t make the pedals go in any path other than a circle. Because you can’t fail at it, people assume they know how to do it. This is where my coaching program is different, the first step is in evaluating how the human body can best turn the pedals, then creating a motor skill learning process to make that happen.
We first got to know Ed over a series of bike fittings, with him fitting one or both of us to a series of single and tandem bikes. We noticed every time we had a fitting, he would teach us some small thing, a way to think about moving the body on the bike, that when we went home and tried on the road, would make a big difference. The first time we shot up a hill on our tandem during our regular Thursday night ride, passing a bunch of single bikes we usually couldn’t keep up with on a hill, I shouted “I LOVE that man!” and Jim knew exactly who I meant! At some point I was able to commit to taking Ed’s 4-week pedal stroke class, which was almost a two-hour commute for me, and that experience has largely shaped my riding style.
What I love about Ed’s teaching technique is his ability to convey his ideas in a way that the body can intuitively understand; instead of being told “pedal in circles” or “just copy this movement,” where it’s hard for me, since I can’t see my own body, to tell whether I’m even remotely doing it correctly, following his instruction seems to “trick” the body into moving in the most efficient way to pedal.
As part of a tandem team and as a single rider, I have progressed from trying desperately to hang on to the back of the slower group in our cycling club through riding at the front of the group and on to desperately trying to hang on to the back of the fast groups, and sometimes being the first bike in the sprint. Time spent with Ed has been instrumental in this progression, and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with him.
I’ve known Ed Sassler for eight years. I met him because I wanted to switch to cycling as my main sport and I joined the Harvard Cycling team to learn more: learn more about where to ride, how to ride in groups, how to go fast and far. I started out as fairly athletic from a long time spent playing sports but with no experience on bikes beyond commuting on them all my life.
Over the course of riding with the team and learning from Ed, I transformed myself and what I’m capable of. When I began riding, a 70-mile ride was something that required planning and forethought: I shouldn’t ride for a couple of days beforehand. I need to bring lots of food. Plenty of time. After a few years, that same ride is something I can casually decide to do in the morning when a few of us meet to decide where to ride that day.
I transformed myself in this way not just by spending time on the bike, but by spending time on the bike with a goal in mind, and the tools to achieve it. Ed Sassler was instrumental in giving me these tools. He taught me about how to pedal efficiently, how to recruit different muscles for different exertions, how to ride in a paceline to conserve energy, and how to train with different goals at different times of the year. On the training rides he participates in, he’s constantly coaching, reinforcing lessons that we first covered on a stationary trainer, and pushing me to the next level of skill.
As you can see from his website, Ed is very thoughtful about the learning process itself. It’s very hard to acquire a complex skill all at once. Instead, one can make the most progress in the least amount of time by breaking down a complex skill into its components, targeting them in isolation, and then putting them together again. As a teacher myself, it’s something I really appreciate about Ed’s approach.
I started working with Ed after almost giving up on myself as a cyclist. I had been racing Sprint and Olympic triathlons for three seasons, and every effort I was making to get faster just resulted in frustration. My triathlon coach introduced me to Ed at an interval workout he led with the Harvard cycling group and some other triathletes. I told him about my frustrations and he right away took me under his wing and showed me where I was going wrong. Between intervals he literally held me up in my bike and showed me where to push on the pedals to activate my glutes and not just use my quads. I didn’t know at the time but this “use your glutes” would become a staple in my training. Through indoor pedal stroke lessons he showed me when and where to push and what muscles I should be using. He then came on rides with me to ” make what we did on the trainer work on the road.” The last race I did before I met Ed I went home and cried because of frustration, the next year at that same race I took 9 minutes off my time and won my age group. That season I had 4 out of 5 top 3 overall finishes, an accomplishment that was far beyond what I thought I was capable of.
Before I met Ed, I was a pretty average rider who dreaded hills. I had been advised that if I kept climbing hills I would become stronger and would not suffer so much. I kept climbing but didn’t stop suffering hills. During my first fitting with Ed, he showed me how a bike is meant to be pedaled. I learned how NOT to waste my energy when I climbed, I learned to enjoy climbing. I felt like I became an awesome climber. To prove it, I set a goal to climb Mt Washington on my bike. For several months Ed helped me to train indoors and out. With his help I climbed Mt Washington twice last summer.
The testimonials above are from very different people with very different expectations of cycling. What they have in common is the initial frustration of trying to adapt a skill set that doesn’t work well. There is an order to my coaching method, first the big problems need to be solved (learning how to pedal efficiently), then goals must be set and a plan for reaching those goals must be planned out.