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POSITION DECISION

Here's what you have been waiting for from a cycling web page...riding tips!!! For the first time ever, Elvis is revealing his secrets in going really fast on a bike...without a killer dog chasing behind.

Ok, the good news is that you don't have to look like an Olympic or Tour de France rider to go fast. You just have to ride like one. Cliche? Hardly. Cycling is such a complex sport that pure muscle power would not guarantee getting to the finish line first. It is about having the ability to constantly analysing the situation you are in: How's your legs are doing? Who is your biggest thread? Should you jump or wait... Basically, thinking about how to make the most of everything to your advantage. That's how world class cyclists ride.

Find that ultimate riding position

The first thing we should touch on is riding position. What to do with that wonder bike you just dumped all your kids' college funds on? It is not uncommon to see people spend on expensive bike with the latest and lightest components only to let all the advantage go down the drain by having a poor riding position. A poor riding position hinders the effective transfer of human power to move the bike. For example, maybe you have X amount of power but a poor riding position might only translate X - 1 amount of power into moving the bike. Before we explore the other areas of cycling, lets first get the bike moving as fast as it possibly could with that X amount of power of yours.

Magic formulas and instant cures...

Open any cycling book and it will tell you to adjust your saddle to a point where there will only be a slight bend at your knee when your leg is fully extended on the down stroke. Some books even go on in telling you the angle of that bend. Greg Lemond tells you to measure your inseam and then multiply it by 0.883 and that length should be the distance between the center of the bottom bracket and the top of the saddle. Davis Phinney have his saddle height at 0.91 of his inseam length. So what's the deal? In the spirit of Singapore education, what is the correct answer? Only you can tell (that will drive most elementary students crazy). Yes, every one of us is made wonderfully and differently. Even twins don't necessary share the same physiques. So why must one riding position formula be good for all? There is no instant cure. You have to spend saddle time to find out your ultimate position.

We won't touch on time trail and track position here as good old Elvis only know road and mountain biking. Here's how I get my position on the road bike for your reference. I started off with Lemond's formula on the saddle height. I adjusted the saddle tilt dead level and the fore and aft location so that he plumb line dropped from my kneecap intersected the center of the paddle when the crank is at the 3 O'clock position. You know, text book stuff. Stem height was arbitrary. I carry an allen wrench along on rides to adjust the stem height as and when I feel uncomfortable. I finally settled on one position and recorded it. And that was the first day...

As I rode, I played around with my positioning. I took a stretch of road and rode it on the tip of the saddle, then in the center, then slide all the way back. I compared my speed, comfort level and heart rate. Of course you want to choose the position that gives you the lowest heart rate at a certain speed. Sometimes when I was hammering to beat my riding buddies, I wished that the saddle would be higher, or I wished that I would be more stretched out and things like that. Those were indications that my body craved for a more efficient way of performing a task. It is the bodies' survival mechanism in getting the most out of the least. I made the appropriate changes and I did get more comfortable and generated more speed.

As you are developing as a cyclist, it is common to make constant minor adjustments on your riding position. This is due to physical changes that occur when your body adapts to the task of cycling and is getting fitter and more flexible in the process. One example would be the lowering of the handle bar height as your belly slowly gets out of its way, hee hee. When I reached a certain fitness level, the need for adjustments stopped. I would still look at pictures of pro riders and follow some exaggerated positions for fun but found that I would go back to my own developed position. I have achieved the ultimate position! Hurray!! Well, not quite...

Last year, my glued Miyata decided to unglue itself. I had to get a new bike. I took fancy on a Giant TCR frame because it was different and was a bang for the money. I was faced with riding position issues as the medium frame has a much longer effective top tube length than the Miyata. To match my old effective top tube length, I would have to get a small TCR frame which the shop didn't carry at the time and it was not recommended for my size. Getting a bike with the wrong frame size is a cyclist's worst nightmare. To make matters more complicated, the bike came with a 120mm stem compared to the 110mm stem on the Miyata. All in all, the reach was extended by 4cm, which is a lot to mess around with. Some pros claimed that they can feel a 1mm difference in seat height. TTT was in three days, I had to decide fast. I did a few test rides on the Giant, studied Jalabert's height and his bike size then went for the medium size, putting my faith in the TCR's new sizing concept (3 size fits all). On another note, the Giant came with 172.5mm crank arms instead of the 170mm I used to ride on. The change was welcoming as I had a craving for longer crank arms for as long as I can remember (there you go, survival mechanism). I was really worried as the Giant would stretch my upper body 4cm more than I used to and in total of 5mm difference in pedaling motion. To my delight, the new position feels more efficient. I could ride at speed that made me struggle on my old position comfortably now. I breath better and got more aerodynamic on the bike. The longer crank arms also put more leverage on the crank as I discovered that I am actually a big gear masher after years of wanting to become a spinner. No shame on having more slow twitch muscle fibers there. So, in that one event, I found a better cycling position which I never knew as I never tried a different stem length, and I discovered my cycling style.

So what's the conclusion, Elvis?

You may feel like I took you for a joy ride and then dropped you in the middle of nowhere, eh? Not so. Even after years of settling in what I thought was my ultimate riding position, there is one better. Will there be another one? I hope so. If you realise that the key word in the title of this article is "Find" instead of "Ultimate", congratulation. Do make constant analysis about that ultimate mechanical connection with our bikes, which I am certain is a floating variable influenced by our physiological and psychological changes. So, keep on tinkering. You could be surprised that what keeps you at the back of a group ride is actually your inefficient riding position, not your fitness level.

3 size fits all: Contradictory to my claim that one seat height formula can't cater to every rider, one of the 3 TCR frame sizes fits me like a glove. Does the Giant's sizing concept really works, or am I just one of the average Joe in the poll? Hey, at least I'm normal.

  Comments or criticism can be sent to elvis@teamabsolut.net

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