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Improving Road Bike Cycling Efficiency: More Techniques



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High-Volume Training at Low Intensity

Training a lot at low intensity conditions your body to work more efficiently. It also burns fat (reducing your weight and therefore the amount of power you need to propel yourself) and trains your body to use a more energy-efficient method of fueling your muscles.

Strength Training

The stronger your muscles, the more power they'll deliver to the pedals with the same amount of oxygen taken up. One way to improve strength is by training with weights in a gym.

Speed Intervals

Speed intervals are designed to increase your body's aerobic capacity and ability to clear lactate. Speed intervals are very short-lasting (10 to 20 seconds) and include complete recovery. They are designed, not to tax your body, but to train your muscles to move very quickly without exhausting them in the process. This leads to more efficient motion and the ability to turn the pedals faster without increasing oxygen demand. An example of a speed interval is to sprint full out for 10 seconds and then to pedal easily for several minutes before doing it again.

Decrease Aerodynamic Drag and Rolling Resistance

If you can decrease the friction on you and your bike, you will have more of your energy available to actually propel yourself.

The largest frictional force you encounter on a bike is aerodynamic drag, and over 2/3 of the drag on you and the bike is on you. The easiest element to address is clothing. If your shorts are baggy or your jersey, vest, or jacket are flapping, realize that dressing this way is costing you extra effort.

As for your body itself, the first thing to reduce is its width in the wind. Look at your knees as you pedal; if they stick out to the sides, you are paying for that. Consciously pedal with, your knees in close to the top tube. If that causes pain or discomfort, look into what might be happening biomechanically and correct it; Getting your elbows in out of the wind is the next step and can be done with aero handlebars. Finally, lowering your shoulders and chin will reduce your drag.

In so far as air drag on your bicycle, look first for the obvious things. Eliminate handlebar bags, panniers, fenders, racks, etc. If you have a big, wide under-the-seat bag, get rid of some of the stuff in it and use a smaller one. Next, look at the wheels. Wheels with fewer spokes (and flat spokes at that) and taller, airfoil-shaped rims will generally take less energy to propel on most terrain, provided they are reasonably light. Narrower, smoother tires also help. A fork with an aerodynamic shape usually contributes more aerodynamic savings than an aero frame and saves you money when compared to buying a new frame.

The other frictional forces to deal with are the rolling resistance of the tires and the rotating friction of the bearings in the wheel hubs, pedals, and bottom bracket. Smoother, better-quality tires with higher thread counts generally roll with less energy than tires with fewer, thicker, stiffer casing threads. Also, match your tire pressure to the conditions. The only time you want super-high pressure is on a super-smooth surface. For instance, on a chip-sealed road, a tire pumped up rock hard cannot absorb the small variations in the road surface and is deflected over each gravel hunk, forcing your entire bike and body up and back and costing energy. But if the tire has less pressure, the individual gravel pieces depress into the tread, and the bike is able to roll more directly, with less deflection.

Also be sure to keep your bearings adjusted and well maintained so they spin smoothly and freely.

Decrease Weight

As with aerodynamics, the greatest contribution to the total weight of you and the bicycle is you. If you can decrease your weight without decreasing your power output, you will use less energy to ride at the same speed.

As for your bike, the only barrier to having a lighter one is usually $. When choosing where to allocate your budget, remember that rotating weight (wheels, tires, shoes, pedals) gives you the most reduction in energy requirements per unit of weight, so concentrate on those areas first. Then, realize that swapping out large items like frames, forks, and cranks can yield the largest weight reductions, whereas swapping derailleurs, for instance, offers only very slight weight reductions.

Increase Comfort

Finally, if you are uncomfortable on your bike, you will not ride economically. Squirming around to relieve discomfort is neither aerodynamically efficient nor does it allow you to pedal efficiently.

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