During a 20-mile ride yesterday I snaked toward the biggest hill in the county through a strong westerly wind. My vow this year is to not worry when the wind is blowing. Stop thinking about speed and concentrate on good pedal stroke. No stomping. No mashing. Smooth round cycles and complete engagement. Ride right through it.
When I got to the long incline leading to a steeper Strava segment that climbs to the top of Town Hall road, the wind was still in my face from the west. So I continued my focus on a good pedal stroke.
Then came the turn, and climbing the steep first 100 yards up the hill. The grade is strong for a bit. Not killer, but keeps you honest. And I rode that section like I’d never ridden it before. Kept the cadence high. Didn’t hem or haw on the steepest section. Every pedal stroke on the bike felt meaningful and engaged.
The last 150 meters constitute a slightly less steep section. Yet it’s easy to fade there if you’ve blown out your legs on the steep section. So I increased my cadence. Kept the circular pedal motion in play.
It was a triumphant little moment. That hill has gassed me so many times in the past. This time, I came over the top healthily winded but not crushed.
Part of this is bike position, and the new bike in general. But much of it is a renewed concentration on pedaling. Like a golfer who makes swing adjustments or a pitcher in the process of changing throwing mechanics, cyclists need to go back to basics sometimes.
I learned about the weakness in my pedal stroke during a bike fit session last winter. The computer showed graphically where my pedal stroke was weakest. I wasn’t engaging the hamstrings.
The same truth came out during one-leg pedaling in Computrainer, which I’d never done before. The fitness tests also emphasized a sustained pedal stroke as a better solution than mashing your way through. Whenever I focused on that, my performance was better sustained and consistent.
When I got home yesterday to look at the Strava results from that uphill segment, it showed that I’d beaten my previous best time by 10 full seconds up that hill. That’s not insignificant. That segment showed up perhaps 12 times on the app (though I’ve ridden it many more times). My previous best was 1:22, which I’d managed several times, often while climbing in company with other riders.
So it was not for lack of trying, for but lack of technique and focus that I had never improved on that segment. Granted, the best riders have done that same segmentin 39 seconds. That’s a full 30 seconds faster than my best. They’re all CAT 1 and CAT 2 riders. I’m the 147th best rider on that segment alone.
But if I gain another 10 seconds this year, which I expect to do, I’ll be climbing better and likely racing better as well. And for now, I honestly feel that 10 seconds of new climbing strength is a sign that I’m doing some things very right on the bike. Perhaps you can benefit too, if you take a look at your cycling basics. Stop “pedaling squares” as I was wont to do.
My next project is building my strength against the wind on long, slow inclines. That is my greatest weakness. That and being 20 years older (at least) than most everyone on Strava. But you know what they say: Age is just a number. And I’m at least 10 years younger in my brain right now. 10 seconds really can mean a lot.