5 ways to save energy and finish stronger

There’s nothing worse than seeing your local cycling group, slowly ease away from you. For a while you try and stick with them, yo-yoing off the back, until eventually they creep away at such a seemingly slow pace, that your brains says it should be easy to get back on. Your legs say something completely different.

I can’t remember how many times it’s happened to me. It’s maddening. It looks like they’re literally crawling away from you and the gap is only inches. And then, suddenly, they’re gone.

The following tips won’t make you faster or fitter but they will hopefully help you save as much energy as possible, and towards the end of a spin, that’s pretty important.

I’m not very fit. I only have time to ride my bike on weekends and sometimes on a Monday evening. On a good week, around 4.5hours in total.

So whenever I find myself doing a long spin in a group e.g. a sportive, I make sure to do the following.

1) Drafting: It’s well known how much time and effort pro teams spend looking for the next aerodynamic advantage. Purely because so much energy is used up just to combat the wind. Wind is your enemy. Well it can also be your friend and I talk about that here, but for the purpose of this post, the wind is your ENEMY.

Drafting, the non-beer type, is your best friend. Simply put, drafting means taking advantage of the break in the wind that is created by the rider (s) in front of you.

Depending on where you are in the bunch, you can save up 30-40%. Do it all day and you can imagine the difference, compared to maybe doing too much work. As you get more confident on the bike, you can ride closer and closer to the person in front of you.

The close Drafting to stay out of the windr the better, so this is a great skill to practice until you can feel comfortable even touching wheels without panicking. Preferably with one partner rather than in a big group :-)

Always keep an eye on the wind. Generally try and figure it out at the start of your spin, so that you can make full use of staying OUT OF THE WIND for as long as possible. Always position yourself in such a way that most of you is sheltered by others.

Is the wind coming diagonally from the right? No problem. Shift over to the left of the cyclist in front of you. Again the more confident you are, the closer you can be. Depending on the strength of the wind, moving forwards, closer to knee of the rider in front will help even more. Generally this is more common in racing or a training group and wouldn’t really happen in a sportive unless in a group of experienced cyclists.

2) Gearing: There is no reason to be in the 53×11, grinding up a hill (and sometimes down it), when a lighter gear will do. On a recent spin, I saw countless people constantly over-geared. The net effect of this is, that as soon as the route gets harder or the speed increases, they’re struggling to keep up. Sometimes not even halfway in.

So make it a goal to check your gearing every 10-15min. Count your cadence and in general try and keep it around 90 when going at a steady pace.

Look at the cyclists next to you. What does their cadence look like?

How does you FEEL? If you feel “bogged down” and generally pushing hard to turn over the pedals, change up. Make it one, two, maybe even three gear lighter and feel the difference.

Again this is during a steady pace, as sometimes, the gradient will mean you have to grind it out. But that’s for another day :-)

After a few spins doing this check, you’ll get used to feeling the cadence and you won’t need to check so consciously anymore but it’s a good habit to check every now and then as it’s easy to fall back into bad habits, especially when you get tired.

3) Freewheeling: Ok so this one could have been part of no.2 but I think it’s important enough to highlight it. Freewheel as much as possible. Downhills are the obvious places but you can really push it to the limit. Keep freewheeling even as the road rises again. Keeping close to the rider in front on a windy day, will provide the opportunity to freewheel even on a flat road. If you can’t freewheel, soft pedal. You’d be surprised how little pressure is required to move forward if you use no 1 and 2 above together.

4) Relax and stay cool (or warm): Being overly tense wastes energy. It causes you to clench muscles and this makes them burn fuel. So relax those shoulders, unclench those teeth, and stretch that neck. Sometimes when you’re struggling, it is hard to do but if you catch yourself doing it, take a breath and relax. Staying warm while cycling as you exhale, feel the pressure easing and try and keep that feeling as long as possible. Another thing to keep in mind is to dress, according. Being too cold can lead to your body burning more fuel than it needs to. It will try and keep its core temperature constant so if you’re under-dressed it will need to use more energy to keep you warm. Conversely if you’re over-dressed, you’ll be sweating to cool your body and keep core temperature down, which could cause you to lose essential minerals quicker than you should and place undue strain on muscles.

5) Eat, drink and be merry: A bit of a no-brainer but a lot of people tend to forget to eat and drink at regular intervals. Depending on the weather, I try and drink every 10-15minutes and generally I’d munch on something from about an hour in. A note on this. If my spin is 2 hours or less, I don’t really bother eating anything. If it’s going to be over 60km, then I tend to start eating around the 1.5 hour mark. Small bites every 15-20min. And enjoy the spin! You’re out in the fresh air, probably with friends. Not only will you have more fun, but also as we all know, it takes more muscles (energy) to frown than to smile, so there’s another reason to do it!

6) Bonus tip: Clean your equipment. MOST importantly, at the very least, clean your chain. I can guarantee you will notice an immediate difference in speed with a clean / new chain vs. a cruddy, old, worn chain. I notice a difference of at least 3-5km/hr., not to mention a nice smoooooooth ride. Keeping the chain clean is also a very good way to prevent it from wearing too quickly and you having to spend money on a new chain AND most probably a new cassette.

Cleaning bicycle gears and chainCleaning the chain couldn’t be easier. I spray the whole bike and use a stronger solution for the chain, chainrings and cassette. Muc-Off works really well. After about 5min, I wash it off with clean water and an old brush e.g. one of those brushes to clean pots. I then also use an old toothbrush for any oily grit stuck between the individual gears. Once clean, I use the (non oily!!) lube. I also regularly check for chain wear with this inexpensive tool. If you catch chain wear soon enough you MIGHT not need to change the cassette for a while. Generally it’s good practice to do this though. The last thing you want is for your gears to slip, when you’re straining up a hill or in a sprint and you lose your balance. Ouch!

I hope you find the above useful and I’d love to hear any tips or experiences you’ve had that saved you energy.

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About the Author: gianni