Shape Shifting

I enjoy it. Who among us hasn’t enjoyed transforming into a deer, running through the woods or feeding in a grassy meadow? What about a dog, like Sirius Black in Harry Potter, running with a pack all night long? And of course there is nothing like being an eagle and drifting on the wind currents a thousand feet in the air. Having the ability to change shape is very important in cycling.

Now that I have many wondering if I am on drugs, I must cut to the chase to save myself. I just finished a lengthy ride alone. The ride was over ever changing terrain, pan flat at some points and good climbs in others, all the while being buffeted by winds in different directions. Changing my position on the bike happens multiple times during the course of a trek across the surrounding counties. Half way through this ride, I began to play particular attention to my body, hand, leg, and head positions. Ride long enough, and it almost become instinctual with the slightest shift in terrain or wind. It must happen if you plan to be efficient in your rides, meaning that you want to use the right amount of energy for powering the bicycle and not fighting wind or terrain.

Here are a few positions that I have learned by watching others in my group rides or the professionals on television:

Raul Alcala

Although I personally limit my standing to double digit gradients, to spin my cadence back up, notice how Raul Alcala keeps his hips over his seat and not near the handle bars when climbing. This keeps his transfer of energy near the rear tire and his weight back, instead of placing his hips near the bars (like a sprinter would do) and placing the weight up front. This position uses a lot of energy, mainly because you are asking the body to engage many muscles and support your body weight.

Chris Froome

Knees and elbow would best describe Chris Froome. But why? Placing his hands on the top and flaring his elbows allows the chest to open up more and give more clearance for the diagram . . . more air. There is no need for aerodynamics at this point, so riding more upright engages the whole leg and buttocks for a better climbing cadence. Notice that his elbows are out, but his knees stay close to the top tube.

Ben Jacques-Maynes
Ben Jacques-Maynes

Today I found myself in this position quite often, dealing with a strong head wind. It takes time to be able to contort your body into a position where you can rest your forearms on the handlebars while holding the hoods. It will feel very uncomfortable at first. Notice how Monsieur Jacques-Maynes’s knees stay close to his top tube, elbows close, and flat back. The wind can’t hold onto you. Now, do be aware that, for the most part, this is a quadriceps using position.

Andre Greipel et al

Although I did not have sprint sections figured into my ride today, it is worth mentioning. The Gorilla is a beast and almost undefeatable with a good lead out. Yes, I am aware of his wattage . . .  but his form is just about the same way every time. Greipel stays in the drops, elbows flexed, head low, and again the knees are close to the top tube. In the final few kilometers, when he storms out of the saddle, his hips shift quickly toward the handlebar with a frantic but controlled kicking and pulling method of his legs.

Marianne Vos
Marianne Vos

Even the normal cruising position requires thought, at first. Marianne Vos’s hands are side-hooded with a slight flair on her elbows (but flexed) for chest expansion, and as always . . . knees close to the top tube. Notice that her chin is slightly down for a bit of an aerodynamic advantage, keeping her neck inline with her spine.

Peter Sagan
Peter Sagan

Of course, if you do things the correct way and train the right way and work hard, you can ride in this position. Peter Sagan has many from which you can choose, or you can invent your own. There are many ways to ride efficiently and effectively. What works for others might not work for you. Try different things. Have fun.


8 thoughts on “Shape Shifting

  1. Very good post! Some good info to glean…

    btw- I see at the bottom of the post, you have something like 21 tags and a 1 category (22 total). I found out last year that anything over 15 total (both tags and categories in total) in a WP blog/post basically negates your post on the web (i.e. search engines, keywords and seo)


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