CCM Diary: Playing With the New Toys

I went out and played with my new bike cleats this morning. They must have helped. My Garmin says I hit 101 MPH during my ride.

Outliers aside, if the bike cleats are helping me ride faster, it doesn’t show up in the data yet. My average heart rate and average speed remain about the same. I do feel more connected to my bike. More importantly, my left kneecap is nowhere near as sore as it usually is after a ride. If that change persists, that alone is enough to make the new setup a win even if that’s all I get from it.

I spent today working on my pedaling form, trying to implement some of the advice Ed gave me. To paraphrase what he said, think about sitting in a chair. Your weight is on your butt. Now lean forward from the waist. Your center of gravity moves forward and your weight shifts off your butt to your feet. Keep leaning more, and when your weight shifts past a certain point, you fall on your face.

On a bike, the aim is to find the sweet spot where my center of gravity is balanced over my feet. If I’m properly balanced, my arms and butt carry less of my weight and I get to make much more use of gravity and my big butt muscles to drive my pedals instead of cranking along with constantly stressed quads.

The correct body position changes constantly, depending on my gear, my speed, whether I’m going up or down hills, etc…. Ed recommended that I start by practicing on a flat road in a big gear. A level road eliminates some variables to help keep things simple while I’m learning, and a big gear makes the pedals provide more resistance so it’s easier to feel when my weight is balanced over my feet instead of tilting toward my arms and my butt.

I spent much of today’s ride on the Minuteman Bike Path, though I also found a few hills. I learned a few things which are probably obvious to any serious bikers, but bear with me.

If I notice I have too much weight on my arms, I should either lean back or shift to a harder gear. If I start to feel my quads, I should lean forward or shift to an easier gear. Of course, I can only bend so far, so there’s only so much I can do with body position. I’ll have to start doing more shifting than I’ve been doing.

When I’m going down hills, coasting leaves most of my weight on my arms. I can often push a pretty high gear before the resistance gets high enough to take some of the weight off my arms, so I can end up going pretty fast. (Duh.) That has its benefits, but can get scary.

When I’m going up hills, I can only bend forward so far, so I either need to drop into a very low gear and accept that I’m going to slow down dramatically, or I need to get up out of my seat to move my weight forward enough so I remain balanced on the pedals. If I stay in my seat and try to keep my speed up, my quads end up doing all the work. When I stand, it’s hard to stay stable without making my arms do more of the work.

I need to replace my straight handlebars with drop bars. I used to think that the drop bars were mostly intended to let me crouch over to cut down my wind resistance. Since I don’t race on my bike, I preferred to sit more upright and take some strain off of my neck. But I’m finding that when I’m properly balanced, a lot of the time my body is bent farther forward than I’m used to. With my straight handlebars, I have to bend my arms more than is comfortable. If I had drop bars, I wouldn’t have to bend them as far.

If nothing else, the need to shift gears more often and pay more attention to my body position gives me more to keep my mind occupied when I’m out for a ride. I just have to be careful to keep from getting so involved in watching what I’m doing that I don’t pay enough attention to what’s going on around me. Ed mentioned the possibility of “drafting trees”.

I suspect that there’s a whole lot more to biking efficiently, but that’s enough overthinking for now. I’m still learning how to run better. There’s no reason bike expertise should come any easier. Hopefully I’m on the right track and with practice correct form will become second nature over time.

(26.85 mi. bike; 147#)

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