With a road bike, the saddle is the place to be. Unlike a kid’s BMX bike in which the saddle is really only used when the rider isn’t moving, roadies don’t stand much. Remember, the road bike is all about efficiency and staying in the saddle is the most efficient way to ride. The more you conserve your energy, the more energy you’ll have either later in the ride, or later in the day once you are off the bike.
On all but the shortest hills, you can generate sustained power most efficiently if you stay in the saddle. Keep your hands on the bar top and sit up as much as possible to enable deep breathing. Use a small gear to keep your cadence up; if you use too large a gear, your speed will drop. Many new cyclists become frustrated on long climbs when they see their speed cut by half or more. Be patient as you climb. Climbing is a matter of finding the highest pace you can sustain. If you go all-out at the bottom of a hill, you are likely to blow up—that is, reach the aerobic limit of your muscles—and then need to slow way down so you can recover. Avoid this mistake by starting at a reasonable pace. Then gradually increase your pace until you feel you are at your limit.
OUT OF THE SADDLE
Standing up requires a lot of energy, which is why you will spend most of your time in the saddle. When you stand, your heart rate shoots up, so it’s not the sort of effort that can be sustained for long periods of time. There are times, however, when it’s appropriate to stand up and deliver a big burst of energy. Generally speaking, most cyclists can only sustain a full-power out-of-the-saddle effort for 10–15 seconds.
The two reasons to get out of the saddle are for powerful bursts of climbing or for a sprint on flat ground.
Standing up on a climb gives you the opportunity to use your full body weight to turn the pedals over. Short, steep hills and short, steeper sections of longer climbs are where this technique can be useful.
Position your hands on the lever hoods to keep your chest open for deep breathing. This position also offers optimal weight distribution for maximum control. Position your shoulders over the handlebar to keep your hips back and sufficient weight on the rear wheel. If your shoulders move ahead of the handlebar, you risk spinning the rear wheel on steeper terrain or any hills with loose sand or gravel.
Sprinting?An all-out sprint is generally reserved for the end of the ride or race. Many group training rides have a known sprint line that allows riders to practice sprinting in a group. A sprint effort can also be useful for bridging a gap to riders who are ahead of you or for leaving a group you are with. Position your hands in the drops and keep your shoulders down and over the handlebar for maximum aerodynamic efficiency and optimal weight distribution for maximum control. If your shoulders move ahead of the handlebar, you risk bouncing the rear wheel.
Patrick Brady is the author of the forthcoming "The No Drop Zone, Everything You Need to Know About the Peloton, Your Gear and Riding Strong," published by Menasha Ridge Press, which will be released this May. When Patrick started writing about cycling 20 years ago Greg LeMond was still a pro and Lance Armstrong was an amateur hoping to make the Olympic Team. Since then he has served as an editor for Bicycle Guide magazine and publisher of Asphalt Magazine. In addition to his work as a contributing editor to peloton magazine, Patrick publishes his own blog, Red Kite Prayer.