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By Team ICG® Master Instructor Jim Karanas

What is Beatmatch?

A beat is the regular, rhythmic unit of time that makes up music structure.  Beatmatch matches cycling cadence to the beat of the music, so that one leg pushes down and the other pulls up every time there”™s a beat.

When cycling in time with the music, each beat matches up with one pedal rotation. The beat always occurs on the same leg, and the offbeat, the unaccented beat between counts, always occurs on the other.  Beatmatch can be done in three ways: 1 beat = 1 rotation, 2 beats = 1 rotation, or 1 beat = 2 rotations.

Beatmatch can give rise to strong aversions.  “Aerobics on a bike!”  “You”™re putting the students in a box!”  “Let the students find their own rhythm!”  These comments support a Freestyle approach to music, which I too support — but not all of the time.

What”™s Good About Beatmatch?

Matching cadence to the beat teaches timing.  It makes the pedal stroke smoother, more consistent and fluid.  It can help students who lack an innate sense of rhythm FEEL rhythm.  It‘s a powerful tool for teaching effort and commitment.  It”™s ergogenic.  I think it teaches how to ride more efficiently.

Say the class is riding at 80 rpm, and you cue them to add resistance without changing cadence.  An untrained student will unconsciously slow the cadence, which offsets the work.   It”™s a typical response by someone who has not yet learned to put out, or build, effort.  Beatmatch can help prevent that slow-down.

Or have more advanced students jog at 95 rpm for 5 minutes. That”™s challenging.  Many, when near exhaustion, can”™t maintain the cadence.  Looking at a computer won”™t help much, but keeping up with the beat can be more effective.

I think of timing as our interaction with the world.  With good timing, there”™s “flow”.  The world seems to work:  watch a bike messenger weave through busy urban traffic.   Bad timing is the opposite, out of sync.  We hit every red light on the ride home.  The most basic lesson in developing good timing is consistency.  If we”™re unaware of our inconsistent timing to begin with, how can we ever sense flow?  Musicians develop consistency by using a metronome.  That”™s Beatmatch.

Other benefits of Beatmatch include greater sensitivity to gear selection and cadence, finding the rhythm at which you create power effortlessly, and a stronger connection with your bike.

When Is Freestyle Beneficial?

Freestyle uses a range of cadences for whatever terrain you”™ve cued, so the pedal stroke is not always in time with the music.  There are advantages to this approach under certain circumstances.  For one thing, Freestyle”™s easier on the instructor.  If you can”™t find the perfect music, you can cue by feel, nuance and cadence range.

More importantly, Freestyle can help students.  If the student isn”™t yet fit enough to handle fast cadences, especially standing, Freestyle permits success.  If the student isn”™t strong enough to handle very slow cadences with high resistance at high heart rates, Freestyle permits success.  When the pattern calls for lots of changes — e.g., from seated to standing and back with resistance changes at frequent intervals — Freestyle permits success.

While Beatmatch can be mentally exhausting because of the structure and constant need for control, Freestyle allows the student to relax and focus more on heart rate and terrain changes without counting.  It may evoke emotion more easily because it demands less vigilant attention.

Emotion Revisited

Slid                                                      Fluke

L.A. Woman                                       Billy Idol

This Is Us                                           Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris

Stevenson                                          George Winston

I”™ve played these four songs, listed last week, for hundreds of instructors and asked for their emotional responses.  The comments never vary.

“Slid” is great electronic music, but no one can pair an emotion with it.  That”™s typical with Electronic, Techno or Dance music — good workout music that doesn”™t generate much emotion.

When I play Billy Idol, most of the instructors smile and often don”™t know why.  Rock ‘n”™ roll just makes people happy.

“This Is Us,” a country rock song, is usually described as love, warmth, affection or sincerity.  A good country song is like a hug.

Last, I play “Stevenson” by George Winston.  It”™s 1:57 long, classified as New Age, and on the Hurricane Relief Benefit collection that raised money for Katrina survivors.  To start, people may chat, but within seconds the room is silent.  To describe their emotions, they use words like sad, upset, depressed.

Stevenson Palfi was a documentary filmmaker who made a name for himself among the jazz musicians of New Orleans, his primary film subjects.  He took his own life after losing everything in Katrina.  The song ends abruptly and feels unfinished, like Stevenson”™s life.  It may leave you raw, sad and contemplative.

If your class is truly about delivering an experience, music can bring both emotion and structure. When selecting music, don”™t always go for the obvious workout music or the ambiguity of Freestyle.  The same song can be perfect for a tough Freestyle climb or a hard flat road in Beatmatch.  Try music that makes you feel.  See what impact Beatmatch can have.  Use unexpected music at unexpected points in the class.

Be courageous.



Jim Karanas
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