By Team ICG® Master Trainer Jim Karanas -
When you ride a bicycle, you must master four major skills — climbing, descending, sprinting, and riding on a flat road.
Climbs are like books, with a beginning, a middle and an end. You shift your position on the bike as the gradient changes. Hopefully, you enjoy the middle — although you might at times look forward to the end.
Descents require you to master grace and control and to understand gravity.
Jumps and sprints are about power and acceleration and are over quickly.
But a flat can seem endless and is the greatest teacher of the endurance athlete. Many virtues come from riding a bicycle on a flat road: discipline, connection, rhythm, patience, consistency, economy. Cyclists who have ridden many miles know that flats can be the most challenging terrain. Lacking the drama of great climbs, they may appear mundane. As a cyclist who has ridden many long and ultra-long distances, however, I can say that the flat has required the greatest application of my focus and commitment to the bicycle.
Although the seated flat road is the most basic ride position in indoor cycling, I”™ve found that most instructors don”™t equate that position on an indoor cycle with the beauty of riding a bicycle on a flat road. It holds the greatest potential for student experience but is typically relegated to warm-ups, cool-downs, beginners”™ workouts, and recovery. As a result, the seated flat road is the least interesting facet of many instructors”™ classes.
What follows are personal thoughts and experiences from riding my bicycle that will hopefully give you ideas and words to make the seated flat road position more exciting and even elegant.
It”™s on a flat road that the greatest connection with the bicycle occurs, due to the consistent and unchanging terrain. Fidgeting, shifting in the saddle, unnecessary standing, or sitting up are all indicators of a novice, not a cyclist. Train your students to commit to the saddle and always keep at least one hand on the handlebars. They”™ll begin to feel the bike like never before. The subtleties of the bike are felt only when the rider becomes less restless.
Cyclists share a greater understanding of nature and of the elements. The most important element to understand is the wind, which is best studied on a flat road. Riding with a tailwind offers a feeling of exhilaration as the elements give you the sensation of effortless power. Riding with a crosswind may require the efficiency of an echelon in diagonal formation.
Riding into a headwind requires commitment to the saddle and reverence for the power of nature. Adding resistance in class does not only have to simulate a climb. A headwind is arguably the most forceful resistance you can experience on a bike. Imagine descending a 5% grade, pedaling furiously in your easiest climbing gear to maintain 15 mph as you ride into a 20 mph headwind. On a climb, you can change position, but there”™s little you can do while riding into a headwind to mitigate the effort. You must stay glued to the saddle in your drops. The wind is the greatest teacher of acceptance. Your connection with the bicycle is complete.
Turning out of the wind, you feel the acceleration. Organize the breath and sense the speed; the effort becomes bliss. Spin the legs at high cadence; recover at 30 mph.
The flat affords another opportunity for one of the greatest sensations you”™ll ever experience on a bicycle: the peloton, French for platoon. The peloton separates on a climb because of weight and fitness. It separates on a descent because of skill and nerve.
The peloton stays together on a flat, since a wide range of abilities can work together.
A rider in a peloton spends 30-40% less energy to maintain pace with the group than if riding alone. A synergy takes place that makes you want to contribute, want to ride harder, want the sensation never to end. No one talks; it”™s about harmony, speed, fluidity, passion.
Referencing the peloton, or a rotating pace line, is a powerful experience to bring to your students. Many instructors have developed indoor-cycling exercises and choreography around the sensation of being in another rider”™s slipstream and the shared consciousness that cyclists feel when riding in a group.
Every class you teach offers a peloton experience.
Riding a bicycle is more than just a workout. Knowledge enables you to transcend a ride position on an indoor cycle and make it something experiential. You don”™t have to ride a bicycle to express the beauty of a flat road. All you have to do is find the right music and an appreciation for your indoor bike — and ride the way a cyclist rides the flats.
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