Beginner Tips: How to Ride Faster and Longer

Thanks to the volume of custom fits our trained bike fitters perform here at Art’s World Headquarters, we get a lot of one-on-one time with everyday cyclists, and thus get to hear a lot of feedback about cycling—which products are hot, opinions on pro racing, thoughts on gear, and questions about riding technique. Since many of the fits we do are for first-time bike-buyers, we get a chance to impart a few nuggets of wisdom to help speed up the learning curve. These might seem basic to experienced riders, but it never hurts to hear old information presented in a possibly new light. And if you’re just starting out, then listen up—I’m going to tell you the easiest way to get faster, without changing your diet, training more, or ingesting illegal drugs.

Spin. It’s a magic word. That one syllable contains immense power. The ultimate goal for cyclists both on-road and off-road is to have a perfectly smooth spin. In this case, spin refers to the motion of your pedals, and thus your cranks, and thus your drivetrain, and the influence it has on your power output. The goal is to “spin in circles,” meaning you should apply even power to your pedals almost all the way through your pedaling motion, as opposed to pushing only during the downward part of the pedal stroke. By “pulling through” the bottom of your pedal stroke, your power output continues most of the way around, which keeps your speed constant, eliminating constant slow-down/acceleration cycles which waste energy and slow you down. The easiest technique I’ve heard of to improve your spin is to pretend you’re wiping mud off the sole of your shoe as your foot nears the bottom of your pedal stroke, which makes you pull back, and through, the bottom of your spin. Simultaneously, with your other leg, you want to slightly lift your foot as if you are walking up stairs. When your foot reaches the top of the pedal stroke again, you will naturally apply force on the downstroke. Pulling all the way through the back of your pedal stroke is unnecessary, since the last 120-degrees or so of the circle sees a greatly diminishing power output to effort ratio. By pulling through the bottom and stepping up to the top of the pedal stroke, you will consistently apply power to your pedals, and you will be using larger, more efficient muscles.

So, that’s a quick lesson on lower-body efficiency, what about your upper-body? You didn’t think that your legs did all the work, did you? Well, when it comes to creating an efficient spin, they do. Your upper body does have a prominent role in advanced techniques like sprinting and cornering, but for now, let’s try to forget about anything above your waist. Actually, forgetting about your upper body is what wastes energy and slows you down. Instead, concentrate on keeping your shoulders, arms, hands, and back as relaxed and as still as possible. By eliminating upper body movement, and by not tensing-up your shoulders, or applying a death-grip to the handlebars, more energy is available for your legs, and it’s easier to react to changes in terrain or obstacles in your path. Keeping your torso relaxed and as still as possible will save energy and increase your level of comfort.

Now you’ve got the basic tools to create an efficient, comfortable riding technique which will help keep you on the bike longer. Of course, none of this is possible without being properly fit on your bike, so be sure to visit us or your local fit specialists and set up a fit appointment if you need one. It will be money well spent!