Two bikes improve your cycling
By Gale Bernhardt ©2006
It doesn't matter if you are a
road rider or a mountain bike rider; doing some training on both bikes will make
you a better rider. Let me explain.
Research by biomechanists at the
Olympic Training Center found elite mountain bike riders to have the best
pedaling mechanics of all cycling disciplines tested. What the scientists were
looking for was effective pedal stroke at the top and bottom of the pedaling
cycle and power oscillation at the rear wheel.
Mountain bike riders are often
climbing in loose conditions. If a rider has oscillations in power at the rear
wheel, the rear tire tends to break loose and spin out. This is similar to
punching the gas pedal of your car in icy conditions; it causes the tires to
lose traction on the slick surface.
Riding, particularly climbing,
in loose conditions on your mountain bike is an effective tool to improve your
That Lazy Leg
I often write about doing single-leg
quadriceps extensions, leg presses and hamstring curls in the weight room in the
off season. This can help to balance strength between the two legs. Both legs
might be equally strong; but I suspect you have one leg that is not as
coordinated or as powerful as the other leg. This affects how well you can
When you are riding a mountain
bike and descending on technical single track, I suspect you are better at
making corners in one direction or the other. This issue can be easily hidden on
a road bike because the corners are not as tight, and they do not come up so
Looking further, I suspect if you
are better at left turns, your right leg is stronger, and when you unclip at a
stop sign, it is your left foot that unclips. (Or vice versa, if you are better
at right turns your right foot unclips.) When you begin pedaling again, that
strong leg powers the bike until you can get the other foot, attached to the
lazy leg, clipped in.
So you think that other leg isn't
lazy or less powerful? You think your balance on the bike is just as good --
right turn or left turn? If that is the case, you should be able to unclip
either foot at a stop light and begin pedaling powerfully, no matter which leg
is doing the work. Few people I know can do this effectively.
If you want to improve your
balance and power, intentionally unclip "the other" foot when you stop for any
reason. You can do this on the road or on the mountain bike. If you are
uncomfortable doing it, start with the road bike. It will pay big dividends on
the road bike because you will soon be capable of unclipping either foot and
producing equal power with either leg. It will pay dividend on the mountain bike
when you are trying to put a foot down to avoid falling.
Force your lazy leg to become
more coordinated and powerful.
Where Are Your Feet on a Turn?
On the road, it's fairly easy to set
yourself up for a turn. Usually for a left turn your left foot is at the top of
the pedal stroke, and your right foot is at the bottom of the pedal stroke. If
your left foot is down on a left turn, there is a high likelihood you will hit
the asphalt with your pedal. A small tap is not a problem, but if you clip the
asphalt hard you will probably crash.
On a road bike you can practice
on one turn several times. Take the turn at different speeds and at different
entry angles. Take the turn as a right turn, then as a left turn. Experiment
with body position to see where you are most comfortable going the fastest
Riding a mountain bike presents
new problems. Sometimes you can't have your feet at the top and bottom of the
pedal stroke due to an obstacle or other anatomy of the corner. There could also
be sets of switchbacks that force you to be dynamic on the bike. Often, your
crank arms are parallel to the ground, rather than being at the top or bottom of
the pedal stroke, perpendicular to the ground, like on a road bike.
If your feet are parallel to the
ground, I'm guessing that lazy leg covered in the last section is always
forward. For example, if your left leg is the lazy one, I suspect you are most
often found with that leg forward and your right leg back. This can get you into
If you make a right turn, your
right foot should be forward. For a left turn, put your left foot forward. This
handy trick helps prevent you from touching your foot to the tire on tight
turns, and it helps you use your body to balance more effectively. For example,
if your left foot is forward on a right turn, the tire can touch that left foot
and put you down.
The next time you ride, think
about where your feet are when they make a right turn. What about the left turn?
Where's Your Power?
If you mountain bike on trails that
are mostly short climbs, you can benefit by doing some threshold intervals on
the road. This means long time trial efforts or broken efforts with short rest
at time trial pace. I prefer work intervals anywhere in the three to ten minute
range, with rest intervals one quarter to one third of the work interval. I
prefer intervals because athletes can typically keep a higher average power
output for a given workout. I have athletes do steady efforts that are 20 or 30
minutes long, but that doesn't happen as often as an interval workout.
If you are a road rider that has
trouble building power, a mountain bike is a great place to do it. Off-road
riders often exert significant effort to climb over an obstacle in the trail or
to get up a short climb. Many times this kind of effort is not found on a road
bike because some athletes tend to give up a sprint when it gets too painful. A
little extra effort on the mountain bike can mean the difference between
clearing a climb or falling over. This effort can translate to the road for
closing a gap, making a breakaway stick or sprinting for the finish line.
A road bike can be a great way
to build lactate threshold power and a mountain bike can be a great way to build
power in the 30-second to five-minute range.
Give the drills in the column a
try and see what you think. Can you afford to improve your pedaling economy, the
balance of power between legs, the speed and confidence that you can handle
turning to the right or the left, and your overall power balance as a rider?
Gale Bernhardt was the 2003
USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both
the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal
cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had
successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built,
easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, click
Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.
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