by Team ICG® Master Trainer Joan Kent
The subtleties of teaching authentic-style indoor cycling are what make it exciting. One difficult thing to teach is the feeling of how resistance varies when you”™re turning a big gear on a flat road, as opposed to climbing.
Several years ago, I learned how to use 80 rpm to simulate “big-gear flats.” I”™ve been told there”™s no difference between indoor flats at 80 rpm and indoor climbing at 80 rpm, that it”™s just a matter of terminology. But, despite the similar resistance, the training feels quite different.
Say you”™re powering your bike at 80 rpm on a flat in your big chain ring, doing 20 mph. Now let”™s say you”™re climbing a 4% grade in your small chain ring at 80 rpm, doing 10 mph. The cadence is the same; the intensity is likely to be similar. How do you interpret the difference in the resistance? Is it worth communicating to your class?
This has actually turned out to be a favorite training approach of mine, so I thought I”™d pass along what I”™ve learned for anyone who hasn”™t yet done this in class and might want to try.
The first difference is what we see, the terrain. You want to describe the flat road to your classes and fix in their minds that they”™re moving down that flat road very fast because of the big gear. As all of you know, a big gear feels like high resistance on the legs, with a long distance covered on each revolution of the pedals. Get the class to visualize and feel their speed on the flat road.
If you”™re using video, clearly you”™d want to select a flat road — the longer the better — and have them keep their eyes on the road as they ride.
Another difference is where on the saddle you sit. On a climb, we shift back a bit on the saddle, giving the down-stroke a slightly more forward thrust and creating an almost elliptical shape in the pedal stroke. On a big-gear flat, our position is moved a bit forward (“on the rivet”), making the legs circle smoothly but with more of an up-and-down, piston-type action.
A third difference is hand position. While the hands would be separated on the horizontal portion of the handlebars for a climb (known by some indoor cyclists as position 2), they stay centered on the handlebars (in position 1) for these big-gear flats. This is to keep you more centerline on the bike, as you would be on a flat road when going fast.
A fourth difference between big-gear flats and climbing has to do with upper-body motion. On climbs, we may rock the body side to side, since indoor cycles obviously don”™t move the way outdoor bikes do, and we”™re simulating the bike motion. But on a flat road, the upper body is still. Keeping the hands centered on the handlebars, as described above, will also help to eliminate any side-to-side action of the torso as you ride.
Another aspect of upper-body positioning involves the degree of forward lean. On an outdoor climb, the hill angle puts the front wheel much closer to your face, but that doesn”™t happen on a flat, so we simulate the flat indoors by maintaining a “normal” forward angle of the torso.
The final difference I”™ll describe here between climbing and riding in a big gear on a flat road has to do with cadence. On big-gear flats, the cadence never drops below 80 rpm, although everyone knows it may on climbs. Stay in a monster gear and stay at 80 rpm. Keep the resistance as high as possible without dropping to a climbing cadence.
This is where beat-match can be absolutely invaluable. If the cadence begins to fall as your legs fatigue, you can beat-match the music to stay true to the 80-rpm cadence while keeping the gear as big as you can handle. Continuing to visualize moving very fast down the flat road will help, as well.
The cadence and the resistance are everything in this training. Encourage your students to fidget as little as possible. Encourage them to ride from the center and stay close to it, keeping one hand on the handlebars at all times. You might tell them to “cut as fine a line through the atmosphere” as they can.
When done this way, this training — an all-time favorite of mine, as I mentioned — feels quite different from climbing, especially if the music is a consistent 80 rpm with an upbeat feel.
After a solid warm-up, I run my classes through three or four of these 5-minute intervals at or above threshold heart rate, with relatively long recovery between intervals. A long high-cadence spin after the last interval helps to recover the legs, too.
If you”™ve never done this and give it a try, I hope it adds a new dimension to your class. Please let me know how it goes.
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Thanks, great interpretation of “big grear” versus climb!
Best verbal descriptors for differentiating the sense of the big gear fast flat and the uphill effort I’ve heard to date. I will use this very soon.
I’ll bet this ride goes well with some great FMV. 😉
Very well done! I was out riding a big gear flat yesterday afternoon trying to hold on 20 mph and you described it perfectly. Do you have any songs suggestions?
Sandra, Chuck, Hally —
Thanks so much for reading my post and leaving such great comments. I’m glad the descriptions were clear, and I hope you enjoy running this training in your classes.
Here are a few song suggestions, keeping 80 rpm beat-match in mind: Hallogallo and E-Musik, both by Neu!; Can’t Stop Rockin’ by ZZ Top; Big Ideas by LCD Sound System. A couple of others that are just a bit faster (84 rpm): Blue Coat Man by Steve Payne; Riding the Waves by Afro Celt Sound System. Hope this is a good start, and thanks again.
Chuck, you are SO right about FMV flat footage — perfection. And I have to apologize for not getting back to you last Monday about the salt post. You’re absolutely correct that we need to caution our students about things like too little salt, and not just more widely publicized health risks.
Best to all of you; let me know how the classes go.
I am not sure that if you keep the same RPM and WATT saddle position and hand would change ? same HR ?
You move in the back of the saddle when you push a load that is lowering the RPM. When you slow the RPM, you engage more muscles, that new pattern take more time for a circle; moving forward you “shorter” the pattern of the stroke so are able to spin more. Where you go in the saddle vary depending on the RPM and Torque.
For the upper body, climbing you open more your arms and upper body; again it depend on the torque but for the same RPM, Watt, HR you do not have to change your hands position. When you ride bellow 20miles per hour the dragging is not as important as at 23-24… so why closing the hips angle (legs-trunk) ? I see so many people going down on their handlebar compressing their energy center (diaphragm).
Different torque, RPM and intensity will change the position and feeling but same RPM and torque so HR too, will not.
Fantastic description between the differences and how to explain to students. Thank you!
Thanks for reading my post and commenting. My apologies for taking so long to respond, but the week was very busy.
My post was meant to offer cueing ideas to help instructors explain the difference in feel when turning a big gear on a flat road, compared with climbing. On a real bike, the sensation of resistance is quite different but difficult to communicate indoors.
To your points: I’ve experienced, exactly as described, a change in position when climbing in my small chain ring as opposed to turning a big gear on a flat road, even though the rpm and HR are about the same. Power may change between these two positions; I don’t have a power meter on my outdoor bike so I can’t give specifics, but it makes sense. The speed of the bike is, of course, different.
In your second paragraph, you discuss how position in the saddle varies with rpm and the torque you’re applying. This is my point exactly. The question is how to communicate that feeling on an indoor cycle. Shifting back in the saddle and increasing flexion at the hips increases gluteal involvement. Those muscles are larger and the seat of climbing power. That’s why I suggested shifting back.
The change in hand position is, again, primarily for the purpose of creating a different feel for the indoor cyclist. You say the difference in drag is not that significant between “below 20 and 23-24 mph.” It might depend on how far below 20 mph you mean. There’s a huge difference in drag between 10 mph (climbing at 80 rpm) and 20 mph (turning a big gear at 80 rpm).
My point was simply that 80 rpm is used for both climbing and turning a big gear on a flat. The torque is not the same; neither is the power output, but I didn’t discuss torque in my post. The heart rate may be the same, even though the speed is quite different, because in one case the rider would be overcoming gravity, and in the other powering down on the pedals to make the bike go faster.
It’s the different feel that I attempted to describe.
Thanks for your comment!
One correction in my reply of July 24. At the end of paragraph 4, I wrote, “That’s why I suggested shifting back.” What I meant to write was, “That’s why I suggested shifting forward for 80 rpm on a flat road.” Saddle position is, as described, different when climbing at 80 rpm and riding a big gear on a flat road at that same cadence.
My apologies for any confusion.