Cycling - Helpful Tips
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View subject link Ride with a Smile by Julie Moore
View subject link Preparing the Legs for the Mountains
View subject link Getting the Right Gear
View subject link Improve The Way You Pack Your Bike


Ride with a Smile by Julie Moore

We get to meet lots of interesting people from around the world. Last year, Lesley Turner Hall, a Canadian turned Kiwi professional dental hygienist stayed with us to explore the Pyrenees. She has left an everlasting impression and Julie has since worked with her to produce the article below, published in 'Cycling Fitness' summer 2012 edition. In brief, the article is about oral hygiene and sport: how sport is particularly bad for your oral health (not just because of sugary energy products!) but conversely, how your oral health can have an impact on your cycling performance too. To read the full article, click on the image below to maximize it's size.

Ride with a Smile article

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Preparing the Legs for the Mountains
Cadence drills on rollers

I have often been asked for ways to prepare for a cycling trip to the Pyrenees. I have a few general tips that I hope will help some of those who do not live amongst such hills. The advice may not be wholly original, but from my own experience I have found them to be amongst the most useful.

The usual problem is the lack of strength or power during long climbs. Long climbs here can be anything from the Col des Ares at 6km to the Port de Bales at 19km long and can range in gradient from a comfortable 6 - 8% to cross a line around 10% and certainly getting difficult at 14% or beyond. Over short climbs it is bearable but over longer distances, either rest or a greater ability is required.

Assuming that you have plenty of time before riding in the mountains, I would advise focusing on developing greater strength of the smaller cycling muscles, especially the hip flexors, but also the hamstrings and glutes. While strength training you can also increase your power output by becoming efficient i.e. pedalling 360 degrees.

The best way to do strength training is on the bike, making it specific, targeting those exact muscles needed, as opposed to general strength training using free weights. So, unless you are training for sprinting, develop strong hip flexors by staying seated on the bike for all of your rides. Don’t take the easy option by getting out of the saddle when it gets tough, simply stay seated and concentrate on keeping everything relaxed and pedalling 360 degrees engaging all muscles, not just the powerful quads. It is amazing how much more power can be generated when really concentrating on pulling the pedal back, up and over as much as you would push the pedal down. When done correctly, the extra stress can accumulate so I would also suggest that your effort is made progressive over several weeks to avoid any injury, especially of the knees.

To supplement this, single leg drills using a turbo trainer or done on quiet roads will develop greater strength where your pedalling stroke is weakest. Such drills will force you to engage your hip flexors, hamstrings and glutes to return the pedal back to the three o’clock position where the quads kick in. If you have not tried this before I am sure you will be amazed at how difficult small repetitions of 30 to 60 revolutions can be. Another way to force you to engage these other smaller but important muscles is to sit upright with your hands off the handle bars during a long climb on a quiet road. This change of position makes it more difficult to gain power from your quads but you naturally overcome this by using the hamstrings and hip flexors to drive the bike forward. This is something that I would do for up to 5km to create a specific stress, but it can also be useful in short bursts, if, when you return your hands back to the handle bar, you continue to apply the same pedalling technique that you have just experienced when sat up right. Done in short bursts it serves as a kind of reminder as to how it feels to apply the other muscles to your pedalling stroke.

Other technique work goes hand in hand with what has already been mentioned, to increase the power you can generate while climbing. Your ability to pedal at a high cadence, or more importantly, the most efficient cadence for you regardless of how much strength you have can really help. This will benefit you because the power you can generate to drive the bike forward is dependant on the strength you have but also the cadence (measured in RPM) at which you can turn the pedals. Simply put,

Power = Strength multiplied by Cadence

If you are lacking in one then your power will suffer. Cadence drills, done on a turbo or during endurance rides are easy to do and over time will train the neuromuscular system, enabling all the muscles to contract faster and in perfect harmony with each other to form an efficient cadence.

Finally, if you have a big weakness in the strength area, you could incorporate single legged squats or step ups. Care is needed to protect the knees and it should be done progressively. Perhaps start with no free weights on a step that is twice the length of your crank arm (no more), increasing resistance slowly by adding weights to a bar bell. The single legged step up helps you to strengthen the quads but also ensures that each leg gets an equal workout, improving or preventing situations where one leg becomes stronger than the other.

Before departing for the mountains, make sure you have the correct gears for the terrain, this will enable you to use the right gear that enables an efficient cadence for you, ensuring that the strength you have on the climbs will convert to power.

Again I will mention that these are only a few tips that I feel are important in preparation for cycling mountainous terrain based on my own experiences. I hope that some people will find them useful but I would also recommend that you research some of these pointers yourself to understand more.

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Getting the Right Gear
Bike gear options

We want you to get the most out of your trip and enjoy the challenges of the mountains, both climbing and descending. A little preparation and tweaking of your stead in advance of your visit will ensure that you do not suffer unduly because of a bad bike set-up. Read our tips on gear and tyre choices to ensure your trip doesn't end in tears.

The standard 39/ 53 tooth chainring with 11-23 cassette is great for racing or where hills last no more than a few minutes. In the mountains, where climbs can be 15km long with percentages hovering around 10% (approximately 90 minutes worth of cycling), you should consider swapping either the chainset, cassette or both for a lower gear ratio.

You can find out what your gear ratio is of your current set-up using an online gear ratio calculator. You can speculate and compare this ratio to other sized chainrings or cassettes.

For the average club rider or age group athlete (especially those who do long distance), we would recommend one of the following:

  • Compact Chainset 36/50T with 12-25T or 12-27T cassette
  • Standard Chainset 39/53T with 12-27T or 12-29T cassette
  • Triple Chainset 30/42/52T with 11-23 or 12-25 cassette

The most cost effective and easiest change to improve the ratio for climbing would be to buy a 11-27 or 29T cassette. However, everyone is different with different existing set-ups as a starting point and you must consider what ratio is best for you.

Rolling on to the subject of tyres, we would recommend durable, puncture-resistant good quality tyres, for example, Continental Ultra Gatorskin, GP 4000 or UltraSport with folding kevlar beads which we stock in our workshop.

Keep your lightweight or racing tyres at home as from our experience a number of our guests have ruptured or punctured using these types of tyres, despite road surfaces being generally very good and debris free.

A little forward planning and maintenance on your bike before you arrive can make all the difference between having an enjoyable and exhilarating experience in the mountains or each ride ending in tears.

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Improve The Way You Pack Your Bike
Packing Your Bike

Let's face it, we've all been there, standing helplessly by the huge glass windows of the departure gate, watching in horror at the way in which our precious bikes are picked up and hurled on to the plane. We then spend the entire journey wondering what damage has been done to our pride and joy. On arrival at our destination, we tentatively open our bike box anticipating the worst.

A little care taken packing your bike could be the difference between riding your bike or driving to local bike shops in search of that elusive part kindly broken by baggage handlers. Follow our handy hints below to minimise the chances of your bike being damaged in transit.

1. Remove the rear derailleur from the frame so that this otherwise proud component does not bend or snap either the frame or derailleur hanger when hit. Either wrap and tape the loose hanging derailleur or place it in a recycled padded envelope to prevent it from damaging the frame.

2. Plumbing pipe insulation from any DIY store is a cheap, light and easy way to protect the tubes of the frame from impacts or moving parts.

3. Don't forget to deflate your tyres - you can leave some pressure in. We have track pumps and C02 cartridges available in our workshop.

4. Having removed the wheels, you can use a plastic or homemade wooden fork dropout wedge to prevent the forks from being squashed. Lightly inserting the quick release into the fork or frame dropouts with the wheels removed can do the same job.

5. Having removed pedals, wheels, handlebars and saddle (or lower the saddle into the frame), insert the bike into the bike bag/ box upside down so it rests on the saddle and stem rather than the more delicate and easily bendable chainring or rear derailleur hanger.

Hardcase v Softcase

Softcase bike bags are very affordable and lightweight. A softcase bike bag (especially those with square corners) can be easily reinforced by lining it with a cardboard bike box of a similar size, obtained from your local bike shop who normally throw these away.

Hardcase bike boxes are more robust and durable than softcase bike bags, the downside is the weight which can sometimes equal that of the bike itself. This is a rising problem with the changing baggage weight restrictions imposed by airlines.

An innovative alternative, although not cheap is the Crateworks bike boxes. These are lightweight corrugated plastic boxes with wheels. Crateworks will honour a 10% discount off all their bike boxes to guests visiting Velo Pyrenees.

Some bike shops will hire bike boxes on a daily or weekly basis for a reasonable fee, taking away the need to invest in, or provide storage for, an occasionally used bike box.

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