cycling fixes

5 Cycling Fixes to Go Faster

By Chris Carmichael,
Founder and Head Coach of CTS

I hate wasting energy and it bothers me to no end to see athletes do things that are self-defeating. You spend so much precious time and effort developing fitness and building your capacity to produce power, and then you waste that fitness through poor decision making on the bike. To go faster you need your behaviors to enhance and leverage the power you’ve developed through training, and to do that you need make these five cycling fixes:

STOP sitting so upright!

Spend a fraction of the time you devote to interval training to address your cycling position on the bike. Not just your aero position, but also your everyday cruising position on a road bike. Your body accounts for 80% of the air resistance you’re pushing through, so relatively small changes in your position can yield big dividends. More on that here. You want to lower your shoulders, and rotating your pelvis forward is a better way to do that than merely arching your back. Bike fit and saddle choice are big parts of achieving a more aero position, and so is training. You have to ride in the drops or in a lower position more often – and during hard efforts – in order to adapt to the position. If you’re riding a lot indoors, remember this is time when you can also take steps to adapt to a new and more aerodynamic position. Work to be comfortable in a lower position; it’s worth it!

STOP riding the brakes on descents!

Descents are free speed, get off the brakes! I’m not saying you have to descend like a maniac, but I am saying that learning to descend with more confidence is time well spent. If you can descend confidently and safely you can catch up to a group if you got dropped on the climb. If you’re trying to ride a faster Gran Fondo or century you’ll gain time with no additional energy expenditure! To go downhill quickly and safely ride with your hands in the drops, keep your eyes far down the road, weight your outside foot and put that foot down at the 6’oclock position in corners. Push your inside arm into corners (while weighting the outside foot) to maintain a tight line through the apex of the corner. You can read more about cycling descending skills here. If you’re fearful of descending, seek help from a coach. You get ski lessons when you hit the slopes, why wouldn’t you do the same thing for going downhill on a bike?

STOP starting too hard!

When you were 20 years old you could probably roll out of the driveway and immediately go full throttle. It wasn’t ideal then, but you could get away with it. It’s still not ideal and now that you’re older you can’t really get away with it anymore. If you want to have a better interval workout, invest the time in a proper warmup. If you’re headed out for a 2-3 hour ride with some hills, ride easy for the first 20-30 minutes and you’ll feel better on those hills. And if you’re going out for an epic 5+ hour endurance session, take the first hour pretty easy so you can be effective on the bike for the second half of the ride. A warmup is also critical indoors, and here’s a warmup routine specifically to get ready for e-races.

STOP hanging out in the wind!

If there’s a draft available, get in it! The only good reason to be half-in-half-out of the draft is when you’re using air resistance to keep from running into the rider ahead of you. Otherwise, get on a wheels and hide from the wind until you have a good reason to face it. There is absolutely no benefit to catching more wind than necessary in a paceline or group setting. You’re just wasting energy you could better use getting up the next climb or taking a longer pull or launching an attack. Learn drafting skills from this article and paceline skills in this one.

STOP saving your water!

Athletes learn to ration water and sports drink because carrying a lot of fluid is heavy and stopping for frequent fill-ups is inconvenient (and sometimes impossible depending on your route). But here’s the thing. Your average speed and overall average power output for an interval workout doesn’t matter. What matters is the quality of the intervals, and they will be better if you consume more fluids. If that means stopping more frequently to fill up bottles, do it. Similarly, I’d rather see a rider on a long endurance ride stop more frequently and then pedal more powerfully throughout the whole ride. When you ration fluids to minimize stops you often see a more dramatic drop in power output as the ride goes on. Read more on what to eat and drink on rides of any length and the science of sports drinks.

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Overall I want you to stop getting in your own way. You work hard in training and you focus and sacrifice to be your best. Your behaviors on the bike have to honor the work you’ve put in. Honor your power and fitness by minimizing the behaviors that diminish their impact on your speed!


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Comments 19

  1. Update from 2016 comment. I’m taller than average, 6 ft 2 in and I notice when I ride alongside riders of a similar height, even when I’m on the hoods, my head is about 1 foot lower than theirs. I look at their bike and notice they have have a much larger frame than mine with a very tall head tube. This puts these riders in a very upright position compared to me. Just for a reference, I’m 6 ft 2 in and ride bikes with a 56 cm top tube, a 150 mm head tube and a 17 deg horizontal 130 mm stem.

  2. Pingback: The Beginner's Guide to Essential Bike Maintenance Skills - CTS

  3. There are some finer points of aero position other than simply rotating your pelvis forward to obtain a flatter upper body. The better time trial riders actually keep their hips in a similar position to when they are on the hoods. Most of their flexing is of the low back to achieve the aero position. The more upright the pelvis, the lower the power dropoff as it utilizes a more powerful range of hip motion. Look at some old photos of Moser in the time trial position if you want to see an example of this. The down side of this is it can be hard on your back so if you have issues then hip rotation is your better option.

    1. Post

      When talking about adapting from a road position to an aero position for time trials, you make a good point. However, those riders – especially elites – are already rotated more forward at the hips than the average middle-aged century rider or masters racer. For the latter groups, lowering the shoulders can often be accomplished by a combination of forward rotation and increased mobility through the back and hips. The increased mobility is definitely something that requires training and patience to achieve, so simply changing the position in the lab doesn’t instantaneously lead to a lower, comfortable, and powerful position. – CTS

  4. If you want to go faster you need to install a motor on your bike.Pros are doing it now and Eddy Merckx uses on on his rides as well.

  5. never a comfortable thing at first, learning how to produce power in and to remain in aero position for extended periods, especially with a hurniated L5. I think this is where yoga could really help a cyclist.. Its interesting to watch the speedometer drop 1mph as soon as you sit upright. thanks CTS for all the tips. I always look forward to them…

    1. Get a bike fit. Saddle height is essential to get right…and it can change as you get fitter and more flexible. If you’re not comfortable you’re not fast. Cheers, hope it helps.

    2. Post

      Stephen is on the right track, a bike fit is essential. One of the areas that has received a lot of attention is the curvature of the saddle relative to your anatomy and flexibility. With the right bike fit and saddle choice you can roll your pelvis forward, which enables you to produce power while also lowering your shoulders and head into a more aerodynamic position. Thanks for the topic suggestion, though, saddle choice is something we’ll look into for a future blog post. – CTS Coach Jim Rutberg

  6. All those things seem to be common sense. I guess common sense isn’t that common. I never liked to use my brakes at all on downhills. One high speed crash into some deer changed that. Deer are evil.

    1. Post

      These are all learned skills cyclists use to become better, more economical, faster cyclists. You learned them at some point, but with experience they became so natural you barely notice them. That’s great, but we also like to remember that our audience includes everyone from brand new beginners to very experienced athletes. – CTS Coach Jim Rutberg

  7. Happy to read this today. I was just thinking out loud to my daughter just today about how I would always seem to get low on water before everyone else did and was I drinking too much water. I used to live in AZ so I felt like I was losing water quickly on summer rides.

  8. I would like to point out that there are certain risks in descending at high speed on unfamiliar roads. On a recent trip to Phuket (Thailand) I was riding alone over some unfamiliar roads and was braking hard before the corners on the steep descents because I absolutely did not want to crash in a corner thousands of kilometers from home. Rolling through some steep downhill corners, I discovered sand and other road hazards at the apex of the turn that might have put me on the deck if I had been trying to go as fast as possible.

    I would rather ride a little more conservatively than suffer a case of road rash (or worse). Taking it easy in unfamiliar terrain is the wiser choice.

    1. That’s why descending is a skill. The more skilled you are, the more confidently you can descend. No one is suggesting riding with reckless abandon, but fearful descending is just as dangerous. You gotta relax to go fast. Same goes for the ascent. Also, the longer you ride the brakes, the less effective they become.

  9. I agree completely, we’re often our own worst enemy. Descending however, is not free speed. You’ve already paid for it getting up the hill! The bigger the descent, the more you’ve paid for it. You’ve earned that speed, use it!

  10. Your very first point says it all….fix the rider, not the bike. 80% of the total wind resistance is from the rider, and >70% of the total weight is the rider. So if you are thinking of buying some fancy (expensive) new areo, lightweight equipment to help you go faster, invest the money in a professional fit and some coaching. You’ll get better returns on your $$.

  11. Chris, great tips. In addition to being more efficient, I verified with a power meter that I can develop 15% – 20% more power in an aero position because I get better recruitment of my gluteus and hamstring muscles. Also, having learned the hard way that, if I let myself get dehydrated on a ride it takes a day or so to recover, I use a timer to make sure I drink at least every 15 minutes. Better to have to stop and relieve myself more often than to blow up before the finish.

    1. I’ve verified with a power meter that my power DROPS 20% – 25% in an aero position!!!! Is this just an individual thing, or could it be a problem with my saddle position? (I’ve had 4 bike fittings . . . those didn’t help any.)

      1. Post

        Always remember that an aero position is a balance between power, comfort, and aerodynamics. If you push aerodynamics far enough (or too far) you will reach a point where power output drops and comfort definitely drops. Also keep in mind that in a more aero position you can go the same speed at a lower power or go faster if you can produce the same power as before. From what you’re describing the power drop is more significant than you would like or expect, and perhaps the aero position you’re trying to achieve is too aggressive for your current flexibility/mobility. – Jim Rutberg, CTS Pro Coach and co-author of “The Time-Crunched Cyclist”

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