Monday, August 10, 2009

Training - Pedal Stroke

You know that saying about the old guy that's forgotten more than you'll ever know?

Well, I've working hard on the "forgotten" part.

That is to say that although I may not know much about the actual pedaling of the bike (training and such), I know that I forgot one thing:

How to pedal.

Oh, come on, you say, how could you forget how to pedal? It's just push down, push down, push.. or wait, do you pull up also? Or do you just let your foot get elevated? Do you pull back? How about at the top of the pedal stroke? And when you want to go harder, what do you do?

I may criticize single speeds privately (as one industry person said, "a single speed means you have a 95% chance of being in the wrong gear"), but not being able to shift does have an advantage - you can't hide behind a poor pedal stroke.

A prime example - me!

Over the years I've lamented my lack of top end speed, the slow but sure deterioration of my sprint. From what seems like absolutely fantastic (as in fantasy numbers) speeds, my sprint has become, well, mediocre. I get beat regularly, and I mean regularly.

I've also managed to document some of my races, both on video as well as in data (PowerTap and SRM). This concrete evidence seems to agree with one thing - my jump is awfully peaky, as in less than a second, and I hit my top speeds at painfully low rpms.

Someone posted something somewhere about world class kilo riders, the guys that do that 60 second, from a standing start, one kilometer time trial. The best guys average 60 kph - that's about 37 mph, and from a standing start (!).

It's the epitome of pain, with a typical world class start hitting 1800-2000 watts. The racer will typically average about 1000 watts in that minute, but they'll be down to 400 watts and 25 mph at the finish. A guy that finished 4th in the Worlds could do, allegedly, 2600 watts for 6 seconds (!!).

I mention this because if you multiply those wattage numbers by about, oh, say, 60%, those are my wattage numbers. Reduce the elapsed time by, oh, let's say another 67%, from 60 seconds to 20 seconds, and what do you have?

My typical sprint.

So... what happened to my fast sprint? Why can't I go bananas like I used to go?

I don't have all the answers. I mean, if I did, I'd be going faster than I am now. But I got an inkling in the past two days.

See, last week, as I've mentioned in prior posts, I swapped my road cranks back to a 170mm size. I did this because the track bike illustrated, vividly, my pathetic excuse for a pedal stroke.

Then a little glimmer appeared at the back of my mind, a haunting voice if you will.

Pedal stroke.

The message caught and tugged at my brain. Ah, yes. Pedal stroke. I have forgotten how to pedal. I must rectify that situation.

So, on my bachelor weekend (that was last Saturday and Sunday), I did one major thing related to pedal stroke - I fixed my rollers for my track bike.

Hm. I should go take some pictures. But it's a really clunky solution so I'll reserve pictures for another day. But suffice it to say that I reduced the minimum wheelbase by 1 1/4 inches. Yes, over an inch.

Then, because clunky solutions beg for a test ride, I got on the rollers and tried them out.

The fact that I'm here typing means the thing actually worked. But, man, that first session on the rollers felt painful. I struggled to keep from bouncing, I couldn't reach 40 mph (152 rpm - my max was closer to about 150 rpm), and I felt totally awkward on the bike, like a 15 year old on a date.

Tonight, with the temps really high, I decided to forgo the group ride and focus on my pathetic pedal stroke. So I got back on the clunky rollers and gave it another go.

I immediately fell off. Meaning I couldn't even clip into the pedals when I slipped sideways off the rollers. I didn't fall per se, but I had to put a foot down and used my elbow on the wall to keep from doing just that.

After that inauspicious start, things started looking better.

I wanted to average over 101 rpm, so that was my first goal. My next goal was to break 40 mph. And finally I wanted to be smoother than I was the night before.

Okay, I averaged 102 rpm. But that's getting ahead of myself.

I was also smoother than last night. A lot smoother. I forgot how quickly rollers will smooth out a pedal stroke. Just go faster than comfortable, slow up a bit, and suddenly "comfortable" becomes a lot faster.

I found myself "resting" at 104-105 rpms, and, after recovering some mental strength from my initial "almost went through the wall" stumble, I did a spin-up, a low-wattage high-rpm effort.

39 mph, 150 rpm.

I spun down, slowed way down, below 102 rpm.

After spinning fast enough, long enough, to bring the average back up to 102 rpm, I did another spin up, a little more motivated, one spin-up smoother than before.

39 mph, 150 rpm.


40 mph, 152 rpm.


I realized I clenched my torso to stabilize it during these efforts, so I focused on doing that again. And by not dropping too far below 102 rpm when I eased, I spent less time chasing the average cadence number. Shortly, I did another spin up.

41 mph, 157 rpm.

Now we're talking!

I actually hit just 40, but by redoubling my effort, I bumped it up again.

I decided that because I broke 40 while on the tops (it's easier on the tops), I should give it a go on the drops. I mean, that's where I'll be when I'm racing, so that's where I should hone some form.

I'd been doing mid-efforts on the drops, but not the high rpm ones. So although not foreign, the drops, for the high effort, would be a bit more rough. Bracing myself, focusing on the fan in front of the rollers (so I don't go veering off into the wall or the bins holding up the laptop), I spun up the pedals, about 30 seconds into whatever minute.

After 5 seconds, I checked the cyclometer. 42.7 mph, 160 rpm.

I gritted my teeth and tried to hang on. My feet spun relentlessly, my torso core base tight, my elbows flayed out a bit. I tried to smooth out my stroke, faster, rounder.

Finally, I started to ease, glancing at the cyclometer as I did.

I was still over 40 mph. At 58 seconds after that minute. About 20 to 25 seconds at speed, at 152+ rpm.


My average rpm bumped up a notch, but by the time I eased, it'd returned to my goal, 102 rpm.

Tuesday night, if it rains, I'll be on the rollers again. Otherwise I'll be groveling at Rentschler Field, spinning my 170s.

Then Wednesday... Keirin Race #2.

I wonder if I should pack the 53...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Have you ever thought about getting a bike fit? A good fitter as you already know will have tools and software to analyze your pedal stroke and be able to make recommendations on position and equipement. Without properly analyzing where your weaknesses are, you can spend countless hours and dollars trying to figure it out yourself. Also as we age, many of us can't ride the same postion we did 20 years ago. Certain muscles over develop as well as under develop. The fitter will most likely prescribe stretching exercises so can meet your goals. Who knows, maybe you need 172.5's, but never discount the value of having someone take a look at you. Good luck!