Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Low Carb High Fat Cyclist - Perpetual Motion

An update on my experiences with the Low Carb High Fat diet, now that it's almost a year that I've been following it. In the process it seems I've discovered the secret of eternal energy, and through my continuing studies, become further convinced that this is actually the way the human body evolved to be fueled over more than 99% of 2 million+ years of our evolution. That we lost it can only be viewed as yet another part of the saga of our on-going downfall.

My awakening to the health benefits of our ancestral metabolic state, has brought with it the grim knowledge that this won't be welcome information to many. Through blinkered thinking, self interest, and hasty public health decisions, we live in a world that is just so far down the track in the wrong direction. It seems increasingly evident to me that the 12,000 or so years of development of our sedentary culture or "civilization" as we like to think of it, while considered widely to be our crowning achievement, is also at the same time our curse. Author Jared Diamond notes in his great anthropological study The Third Chimpanzee that with the advent of agriculture the average height of populations decreased by 6 inches, and longevity by 10 years. Recent studies on diabetes and heart disease have similar observations. But more on that later.

It's immensely difficult to get through the barrage of erroneous and irresponsible information that is out there, not least of all because so many industries, and livelihoods, are now reliant on the established dogma.

What makes it doubly difficult, even without being constantly bombarded by propaganda, is the harsh reality that most of what we have come to identify as food, is actually better labelled "fun". Our bodies have got used to the sugar-rush associated with eating refined carbohydrates, and our days are organized around the need to satisfy our blood-sugar cravings at regular intervals. I'm aware that a lot of the struggle with the LCHF diet comes from the perceived lack of fun in real food. I mean, the most pivotal social occasions in almost every culture on the planet have evolved to be inseparable with the consumption of sugar and refined carbs. Dietary salvation, it would seem, comes with a certain social exclusion.


One of the most damaging myths in modern circulation, and one that the exercise industry is bent on perpetuating, is that you can basically eat what you like if you have an active lifestyle. I myself used to accept the conventional wisdom that as a fit person I was free to indulge in pretty much anything I fancied in the knowledge that I would be able to "burn it off" later.

The reality is, unfortunately, that we don't lose weight with exercise if we eat wrongly. In fact if we eat correctly we'll reach our ideal body composition regardless of activity levels. Exercise stimulates our appetite as our bodies trigger the impulse to replace the fuel we've used up in energy. In his meisterwerk Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes observes that all animals have a central governing system that regulates food intake according to energy expenditure against stored reserves. We humans lose weight if our bodies are able to access and efficiently utilize the stored fat which we all carry around. However, if we feed ourselves carbohydrate, we short-circuit the system. We bombard our blood with an instant hit of cheap and fast fuel - glucose - which our body happily uses for all of it's energy needs.

Glucose blocks the body's ability to use it's stored fat.

In addition, when we have no current energy demands and our blood sugar increases above what we can immediately use, our pancreas creates the hormone insulin which shunts all the blood-sugar to storage sites where it is converted to fat. This creates an immediate need for more sugar. Sugar and modern super-refined carbs start to enter our blood streams as soon as they enter our mouths, so the surges can be quite extreme depending on your body's insulin response. We then experience the sugar-craving which most of us call hunger.  

Insulin also blocks the body's ability to metabolize it's stored fat. 

This yoyo-ing between raised sugar and insulin levels creates the Metabolic Syndrome where the body is constantly craving sugar, which it then stores as fat, but which it cannot then access since insulin controls the release of triglycerides from adipose tissue,. As long as either sugar or insulin levels remain elevated, the fat stays where it is. By eating the wrong stuff we are literally starving our gradually expanding bodies.


Thus you can see that, though we assume that those involved in endurance sports will have efficient fat-burning, aerobic metabolisms, most of us burn sugar rather than fat for a far higher percentage of our overall effort than we expect. When a marathon runner depletes their store of glycogen and blood sugar after about 2 hours of sub-threshold running, their body can't just flip a switch and change to burning fat.

It's an either-or situation. You're either adapted to burning sugar, or your adapted to burning fat. It takes days just to start the transition from one to the other. Even the most highly trained glucose-burner can store only around 2-hours-worth of sugar, whereas even the leanest of us is carrying enough fat to last several marathons back-to-back. Changing that will require re-calibrating our bodies at a cellular level to again use the super-efficient energy pathway we evolved over the past 2 million years as persistence-hunters.

Sport science for the past few decades has focused on finding ways of optimizing the delivery and storage of glucose to enable our glucose-fueled activity to keep going for longer. Only a rare few had the idea that maybe it was better to find ways of tapping into that vast reserve of fat that we all carry. We will all one day thank them. This is their legacy.


In a fasted, or glucose-free state, our bodies will gradually learn to efficiently use the relatively slow-burn option of fat for fuel. Our liver produces Ketones from fat, which serve to fuel the organs which in modern humans have grown used to relying on sugar, and our bodies maximize the range of the aerobic energy pathway so that it becomes super-efficient at metabolizing Triglycerides from our fat storage for use in all activity. It will also regulate intake according to what is required for energy reserves, so hunger is a real sign for a need for nutrition, and not just a craving for more cheap, immediate fuel.

To get there is simple, but will need more than a little will-power, and will require days of minimized carbohydrate consumption. You will crave sugar for the first 4-5 days and you'll be cranky and lethargic to begin with. I achieved basic nutritional Ketosis in the only real way possible - cold turkey - within a week of cutting all refined carbs and any grains or starches. After 4-5 days I no longer experienced the cravings for carbohydrate. Having the strength to cycle at anything more than an easy spin took a couple more weeks to kick in however, as my body adapted at the cellular level, or what Dr Stephen Phinney calls Keto-Adaptation. But aside from some rather pathetic rides it was a fairly smooth and painless transition thereafter. The results on my energy levels and well-being were life-changing.

In my studies I've covered just about everything I can find - from the coaching methods, testimonials and evidence in the field of endurance sports, to the latest revelations in nutritional science. I realize that while LCHF is a path to good health for all humans, the demands of an athletic life deserve particular consideration. My past year has been my testing out of this theory, using my own body.


My presentation here is mostly anecdotal. I don't have the resources to run meticulously controlled tests which might offer conclusive results. But what I've discovered is that I am able to keep going with the same level of energy for a very long time. As yet untested as to the actual range I might have. I have developed the ability to push the pace maximally through training. I do regular rides of over 100km on nothing but water. On longer rides I will eat. I try mostly to keep to the LCHF regime if I can. If I'm in a group that needs to refuel I'll generally go with the flow - it's one of the rare times when you can actually eat most things, simply because the body is already in the metabolically elevated, exercise mode and will correctly utilize whatever you give it.

Beyond a 4-hour ride I will get hungry. Literally just that though. Not lacking in energy or feeling depleted in any way. I haven't actually pushed the water-only test beyond this point yet. The longest rides I've done in the past year are just over 200km, and with groups, so I follow the group dynamic, which means having refueling stops, but I have phased out the use of isotonic drinks even on these rides, and now rarely drink anything other than water. In the past year I haven't ever experienced anything remotely resembling that feeling we call the "bonk", when our glycogen stores run out.


So assuming that I can train my body to maximize it's ability to function within the fat-burning, aerobic energy pathway, there's still the issue of that potential glucose requirement for the higher-intensity effort that is assumed will have to come from the anaerobic pathway which relies on muscle glycogen - a stored form of glucose. In racing, and in training to improve our performance, it is commonly-held sport science dogma that we will need to make demands on this anaerobic system if we are to maximize our potential.


The big question I had when I went into this was how to assess this demand. Much of the literature I was reading suggested that in the fully keto-adapted athlete, no additional carbohydrate would be needed. In fact it suggested that the preserved state of ketosis was ideal for recovery.  Other writings suggest that athletes will need to consume an additional amount of carbohydrate in their diet. Most however agree that there's no one-size-fits-all. The claim is that glycogen will also be synthesized from fat and protein, and at higher metabolic rates in the keto-adapted. Much literature also suggests that we can train our aerobic pathway to be efficient at remarkably high intensities, so that our fat-burnigh metabolism can take care of it all.

I have made the following observations from my own personal experience. This is what I currently believe is working for me, though I'm still experimenting, and I'm still yet to push the boundaries of the experiment in terms of distance, intensity, and (lack of) consumption:

  • When riding 1-4 hours of endurance-based, mainly zones 1-3, but even with a fair amount of higher intensity, my body will not require additional carbohydrates under normal circumstances. I will not need to eat during the ride. My recovery drink will contain some added carbohydrate from fruit, but my meal afterwards with be a standard LCHF meal.
  • If I am to do consecutive days of the above, I will include a little more carbohydrate in the recovery meal.
  • On rides of over 4 hours I have nothing conclusive to offer really, as I haven't pushed the envelope by not eating. Up to now I eat whatever is available on these rides, due to their social nature mostly. I will get hungry at some point, though I haven't experienced any reduction in strength. Convenience and speed of digestion means carbs are the obvious choice. Recovery will involve a similar carbohydrate element to the above.
  • If I train at an intensity of zone 4, or shorter durations in 5 or 6, I will include a similar additional carbohydrate element in recovery.
  • If I train specifically for anaerobic endurance - zone 5 or above for maximal durations, I will include a fair amount of carbohydrates in recovery, and possibly more carbs in a subsequent meal within 2 hours of training.
So I'm still being rather conservative when it comes to recovery. I have so far had little real opportunity to test the full ketosis theory beyond 4 hours. I think I'm still holding onto the belief that, though we may no longer need carbohydrate supplements during exercise, the recovery process from intense effort will demand a slightly higher percentage of carbs than our basic LCHF formula. The test goes on....


Below is the data analysis of a 4-hour ride I did a couple of months ago without consuming anything other than water. I was reasonably well-rested for the ride, so my glycogen stores will have been good (whether I actually tapped into them or not is still unclear). For the last 20km downhill of the ride we went quite hard, in fact my highest heart-rate reading for the ride of 179bpm was recorded during this section. Average HR for the ride was 145bpm (threshold is around 168bpm). My highest average 5-minute power output at 258w was in the last hour, while my highest average for 20 minutes, at 215w, was on the first climb (estimated FTP at 238w). My energy levels were consistent throughout.

I have plenty more of these but they all offer up pretty much the same picture, so I won't bore you with it here.


Crucial to give a picture really, as most people can't imagine how they might eat if they took out the bread, rice and pasta etc. In fact it really is like only eating the nutritious stuff and jettisoning the fluff. You actually eat less in terms of volume. Just more fat.

As an example I covered a sample of my normal diet in my last post about the subject, but to summarize the principles: we're talking about replacing the calories you'd normally get from carbohydrates with fat. The protein content of your food should remain pretty much the same. Fat is denser in calories than carbohydrate so you need to eat less of it. The best fats are animal fats. Other good fats include coconut, palm kernel, almonds and olive. Saturates and Monounsaturates. NOT seed or corn oils. Omega 3s are essential, though not too much. The longer chain Omega 6s only in small quantities.

Those still duped by the Cholesterol myth can refer to my earlier posts below, or should read this or this.

Additional carbohydrate when needed should come from fruits. Not grains or starchy vegetables.

During a ride, if you're hungry, obviously carbohydrate is the easiest food to digest, but as long as you're not about to go "full gas" include as much good fat as you can comfortably digest, and some protein. I've found that half-boiled eggs (with butter?), some fruit, and tea with cream work pretty well, but mainly because that's easily available on most of my rides.

Dairy is awesome, but check that you're not lactose intolerant. Everything should be full fat.

Low fat = high carb.

My favourite recovery drink is full-cream milk and beetroot juice.


The most interesting testimonials will come when those who ride, and win, grand tours are using a LCHF diet. I'm sure that within the extreme parameters of the effect that this kind of brutal event has on the body, things evolve that otherwise wouldn't. I still see top pros in these races obsessed with maintaining their blood sugar, and suffering withering melt-downs when they "hit the wall". That means their bodies are still reliant on carbohydrates as a primary fuel or that wouldn't happen. Of course the rigors of a 3-week race demand ridiculous levels of food consumption, which even then fall short of replacing spent reserves, and leave the athletes under-weight, with impaired immune systems and even reduced muscle mass. I'd be fascinated to learn how a body adapted to ketosis could evolve to deal with this extreme situation. It really is like a complete re-wiring of your metabolism.

While there may be teams or individuals that are secretly applying these principles, to my knowledge it is still at the "secret weapon" stage if it exists at all. I'd say it's a typical case of "you can't add to a cup that is already full". The pros are all advised by their appointed "experts". Very few of the doctors, coaches, and sports scientists recognized (entrenched) within the sport are open-minded enough to completely challenge the prevailing dogma. Couple that with the fear of losing even the slightest competitive advantage, and it should be easy to see why ideas become entrenched.

In fact it was the complete 180-degree turn on diet of one of my personal gurus, and one of the most respected sports scientists, Professor Tim Noakes, that prompted my interest in this food revolution in the first place. He has become an evangelist for this revolutionary cause, and though the book Real Meal Revolution was, until recently, only available in South Africa, it has now been published internationally. The website Real Meal Revolution remains one of the best resources for updates on what they call the Banting diet - the science, the testimonies, the recipes, and the growth of the movement, plus lists of acceptable and prohibited foods. Noakes has converted some top marathon runners and other sportsmen to the LCHF diet, with stellar results.

Of course there are plenty of other age-group and amateur athletes like myself out there already reaping the benefits of reverting to our ancestral metabolic state. Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney's great book The Art And Science Of Low Carbohydrate Performance was first published in 2012. But for us it's much less of a risk, and we get to try all this out in a relatively non-lethal environment, since we don't make a living from winning.

I think we can anticipate a wave of young graduates from those currently in sports science and medical programs, unable to dismiss the unraveling evidence of dubious Public Health practices, and excited by the real science now being put forward by Noakes and a growing contingent of free thinking academics. These guys will be the coaches and team doctors of the near future.


There's no doubt in my mind that this is the way to go. Whether your purpose is to become a better endurance athlete, lose weight, regain your health, or just improve the quality of your life, the LFHC diet works. There may be those who don't respond so well to it to begin with because of certain metabolic predispositions, but there is a growing body of resources for all of us to find the balance that suits us best.

This is still very much a work-in-progress, so expect more updates. I realise many of you will be hoping for more scientific testing and results. I will get deeper into it, but I'm no lab rat. My main purpose is to open minds to the possibilities. For now I again refer you to a blog post by an amazing Finnish endurance athlete, Sami Inkinen, who has data on a couple of scientific tests he did during his process of training the body to run on the LCHF diet.

Further information:

Friday, September 18, 2015

Review: Dura Ace C24 9000 Wheelset

Tyre Type: Clincher
Rim Material: Carbon
Braking Surface: Alloy
Rim Depth: F:21mm, R:23mm
Rim Width: 20.8mm
Hubs: Dura Ace, sealed.
Weight: 1364g without skewers
Spoke Count: 16/20
Tyres used: Continental Grand Prix 4000. 23/25mm

The latest wheels in my hands for testing have no pretensions to the all-rounder throne. These are, unashamedly and in-your-face, climbing wheels, and I would suggest that they probably offer the benchmark for this type. In my search for a worthy climbing wheel I'd also considered the Mavic R-Sys SL, which claims an even lighter weight, but I'd come across a few horror stories about them, so decided to give them a miss in favour of these, which were actually a bit cheaper. Though nobody seemed to be raving about them exactly, they had no negative press that I could find.

I wanted to see how much better a pure climbing wheel fares in comparison to my normally favoured all-rounders. In the end, the only thing they might have lost out on is in not being deep enough to offer any aerodynamic assistance, but real evidence of even that is absent. These wheels work so well for me that I'm now loathe to use anything else for routes with even the slightest whiff of a hill

First of all, they don't seem to be any less aero than the 30+mm deep ones I've been using, so that assumption goes out the window. I'm not sure quite how they achieve this - my understanding of aerodynamics is evidently too simplistic - but there's plenty being written about these wheels if you care to get your head around the tech.

The low spoke count definitely gives these wheels a vertical compliance which is extremely welcome and immediately noticeable. However, any expected lateral compliance isn't there, apparently thanks to wider hub flanges - which means greater torsional rigidity. They respond very quickly indeed.

The word that best describes these for me is "nimble". The rims are very light so they really jump with direct responsiveness when you want them to. The acceleration is awesome. I really have become quite addicted to the way they feel, and the almost complete lack of time-lag between the thought and the action.

On a technical note, one slight issue I'm having is that the rims are a bitch to get tyres onto, so I dread getting a flat. I've heard this from other users of the DA 9000 range, especially those - like mine - that are built to take the new option of tubeless. However, once you wear the tyre in a bit and with a decent pair of cycling mitts, you should be able to fix a flat without destroying your hands.

Another tiny, pet peeve is that they're too quiet. I'm a bit of a freewheel-buzz addict, and these are among the most silent I've come across, but you know what: it didn't take long for me to completely forget my reservations about their lack of audible presence.

I think overall these do pretty much anything I'd want a climbing wheel to do so I can forgive them for being a bit muted.

ADDITIONAL NOTE - 14 November 2016.

The braking surface on these wheels is a little on the thin side, so given the fact that they get a fair amount of rain thrown at them in my environment, they are wearing a bit thin now, after perhaps around 10,000km of hilly riding in the tropics. If I'm careful I may get another few thousand out of them.

It would be an option to replace the rims, since the hubs still seem to have a few years of life in them at least, but from what I've heard, replacement Shimano rims are difficult to get hold of, and the 16/20 spoke count makes them an unusual find otherwise. 

I'd say you should not consider these if you're a nervous descender, or otherwise heavy on the brakes. I'd also say that if possible, you should use these on days when it is less likely to rain.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Developing Form

Form is often talked about as a component of cycling. Though there are wider (mainly aesthetic) issues that relate to the accepted norms of how cyclists dress and behave, the most important discussion of form refers to the technique applied in transferring our energy into moving ourselves forward on a bicycle. This is a component that, if one has it, is immediately apparent to the experienced eye, and like all subtle aspects of any skill, is easily overlooked, but will greatly improve the speed of your later development if addressed in the early stages.

Technique in any sport can be improved upon, but the percentage of difference this makes to the eventual outcome varies massively from sport to sport. However, the first rule of any sports coaching program is that technique must be perfected before any other work is done, as developing strength, speed or endurance without proper technical base is pointless, or even dangerous.

When we first approach cycling, the simple act of balancing ourselves and pushing down on the pedals to move forward seems to cover it. These are muscles we use daily for all sorts of normal stuff, and it may be hard to see initially how much more involved the technique might get. However, once we clip our feet into the pedals, it should be clear that we now have the potential to use a whole different set of muscles.

If we could get the legs to work equally all the way around the pedal cycle, in theory we would be able to generate a much more even force, and spread the load over a greater range of muscles, thus reducing the cost to our cardiovascular system, and enabling us to go faster for longer.

That's the theory. There are many views on this, and no real consensus in popular circulation. Some coaches insist that tests have shown no real advantage to the development of other sections of the cycle, and that the downward force from the quads is still the main driver. I have seen tests on video that claim to show that there's minimal difference, but these are tests on random cyclists, not on those who have specifically trained their bodies to work in this way.

Of course we have inherited a body that has evolved over millions of years to walk, jump or run, and so the most developed muscles we have in our legs are the ones that push down. If you take the average human and put them on a bike, and run tests to see how much positive difference pulling up on the pedals makes, I'm fairly sure it would be minimal.

If we are to get the other muscles in the leg to work for us, we will have to start developing them over many years before we start to see real changes. Those coaches however, that work with national track teams and can implement the appropriate exercises and monitor them over a longer period of the athletes development, will tell you that developing muscles that work through the entire pedal stroke is an essential part of becoming a world class cyclist.

What is perfect form? A time triallist has the most perfect form of any cyclist. If you think of Bradley Wiggins, Fabian Cancellara, Tom Dumoulin, or any of the other specialists in this discipline, you see that form in action: very little motion in the upper body, and a very smooth and almost effortless-looking pedal cycle. This is because they have eliminated unnecessary movement and balanced the muscle firing patterns and work-load to maximise the power going into the pedals all the way around the stroke. When it comes to pure transfer of power, they are the masters.

So what are the muscles, beyond those that activate automatically, that we can activate and develop to complete the 360-degree motion?

Though it might seem that the quadriceps and gluteus maximus are the main protagonists in the most basic of cycling actions - literally just stomping on the pedals, the actual activation of the glutes is a much less natural one than we're used to from a normal squatting or rising motion. As the largest muscle in the body, the glutes can really be developed for some serious power endurance, but will need some focus to get them to activate to their full potential.

The hip flexors are a muscle group that will probably have the least automatic engagement for most of us, but can really help your pedal stroke if we can effectively engage and develop them. It is these muscles that will give us a strong pull up and forward on the pedals. Then we also have the calves and muscles involved in the rotation of the ankle. By isolating and working on these additional muscles, we start to get a more complete rotational picture to our output.

So how do we isolate and develop the muscles needed to work through the whole pedal stroke? Well the use of standard strength training equipment has limited value aside from helping with the general strength improvement or size of the target muscles. Logically, the most valuable improvements are in drills using the actual bicycle cranks, with resistance adjusted to target specific muscular reactions and development.

A useful diagram showing the effective use of each muscle group in the pedal cycle


The easiest way to identify and engage the other working muscles is to ride on a home trainer or stationary bike and do one-legged drills. Assuming we're clipped into the pedals, removing one foot from a pedal and cycling with one leg only will quickly identify where we need to improve strength. The first time you do this, you will probably have trouble keeping the pedals rotating smoothly, but keep the resistance low and persevere, concentrating on keeping everything except that leg as still as possible. To get used to it you should probably only do it for a max of 30 seconds before either switching feet or going back to using both legs in between each isolated side.

Start with a very light resistance and progress to a set alternating 1 minute per leg for a total of 10 minutes concentrating on a smooth pedaling stroke and keeping the upper body as motionless as possible. The motionless upper body is a real test of form as it indicates wasted energy. It will quickly identify how weak your core is. Specific work on your core should be a part of every athletes training schedule and should be done off-the-bike using dynamic abdominal and lower back exercises.


This is for me the most effective drill. It can easily be done on a home trainer, but I prefer to do it out on the road - I have an ideal training route for it. Look for either a flat section or a fairly consistent upward gradient that gives you at least 20+ minutes of uninterrupted pedaling.

You are doing 1-minute-on, 1-minute-off drills using both legs but isolating muscle groups used in specific sections of the pedal stroke. The minute between each drill you should spin as easily as possible in a high cadence to recover.

For the minute on, isolate one muscle group used in the pedal stroke, concentrating on only using those muscles for the minute. I usually start by isolating the glutes. I'll do this 5 times (1+1x5=10 minutes) before switching to the next isolation - the ankles - for 5 reps. The next one will be the hip flexors and the upward pull on the backside of the pedal stroke. Another 5 times. Then finally I will combine the 3 above-mentioned muscle groups for another 5 intervals. If you run out of road, start again on another stretch or go back to the start. I'm lucky to have a stretch of 3-4% that lasts me for over 40 minutes of these. Keep the intensity of the effort low. These are not intervals designed to elicit a training effect from your cardiovascular/energy systems, so your heart-rate should not be significantly affected. The muscles will be easier to identify with reasonable resistance to begin with, but you should aim to work the cadence up to your normal spin to complete the picture.

I don't personally find a need to work on the quads and hamstrings in this way. Mainly because they are already well-utilised within my normal cycling stroke, and so the 1-minute recovery interval will, by default, involve these muscles. Others may have different deficiencies however, so keep asking the more experienced riders in your groups for suggestions on where your form weaknesses are.


At the beginning of the program, or early season, I will deliberately use a higher gear - thus a much slower cadence for these drills. This ensures that you can concentrate on the consistent application of force on the correct part of the stroke. I call these Big Gear drills. As the program progresses I will gradually increase the speed of the cadence right up to my natural spin, though ensuring that I concentrate on the full stroke always. I will usually introduce this shift by increasing the cadence first over the last set of drills (the muscle groups combined).


For me the definitive contemporary example of the out-of-the-saddle style of climbing on a bicycle is Alberto Contador. His "dancing on the pedals" style is his trademark. He says himself that he has trained to be able to stand for up to 20 minutes continuously, and that though it may provoke a 4-5bpm rise in his heart rate, it generates more power, and gives him a significant respite for muscles used in the seated position.

Now most of us will have found that when we get to a steeper part of a climb, we can generate a brief surge of extra power by standing, possibly with a shift up in gearing, and use the full body to power through the steep bit. However, most of us will only be able to keep this up for 10-20 seconds before we go anaerobic, forcing ourselves to sit back down and shift back to the easier gear. The problem is that we are simply using our maximum force - stamping down hard on the pedals in order to achieve maximum leverage. While effective briefly, it is not sustainable.

If you pay attention to how the pro climbers do it however, you will see that most of the time when they stand, they are in the same gear as when they're sitting - meaning that they are maintaining the same cadence with either technique. This is a crucial point to understand in developing this ability. We have to train to stay out of the saddle at a higher cadence. which means a significantly lower resistance.

When we first try this, we will usually find it difficult because we're used to needing to increase resistance - shift up - or we go through the downward part of the stroke too quickly. This is because our pedal strokes are too one-sided - we push down mainly - and when standing we also have most of our body-weight added to the down-stroke. So the first step is to do the above drills working on the other sections of the pedal stroke so that we can then counterbalance with the rest of the stroke.

Again, the most important muscles to focus on are the glutes, hip flexors and ankles. The hip flexors are used to kick the leg up and forward, the glutes start over the top of the stroke and push forward and down, and the ankles maintain a rotational movement of the feet that assist it through the bottom of the stroke. The core plays an even more important role when you're standing since your only contact points with the bike now are your feet and hands.

Once you're starting to feel the effects of the above drills on your technique, the next step is the standing drills. Same approach: 1-minute on, 1-minute off. Again keep it as easy as you can. For the minute on, you should aim to not put too much pressure on the pedal down-stroke, but to keep the pressure light and rotational. It's very difficult at first (if not totally counter-intuitive) to limit the down-stroke, but persevere and you'll feel the change within a couple of weeks. If you find a minute too long, start with 30 seconds. In between you just need to sit back down, but try to keep the cadence high throughout. Eventually you should be able to do this without taking your heart rate up by too much.

Keep it as a regular part of your training week and it could become your secret weapon!

Related Articles:

Review: Giro Factor Cycling Shoes

 Another item that works so well for me that I'm actually looking for my third pair at the moment.

Shoes are such a crucial element in cycling. I'm constantly reminded of the issues that poorly-suited shoes present from the comments of the people I ride with. "Hot spots", aching arches and pinched toes are just a few of the more obvious issues one can have when your poorly-fitting footwear plays such a critical role in transferring your energy into forward momentum.

Again, I've been lucky. Call it a gut-feeling perhaps, but having had positive experiences with all the carbon bits and pieces that the company Easton produces (I use bars, wheels, stems and seat posts made from the stuff), when the helmet-producing giant Giro came out with a range of cycling footwear using soles made from Easton's EC90 carbon, something resonated with me.

Sizing is pretty accurate in the Giro footwear range, with European sizes in 0.5 increments. There are also 3 different thicknesses of arch support inserted beneath the insole, so you can get pretty anal with fit.

My choice was the Factor model, rather than the lighter Prolight, entirely because I prefer the adjustable ratchet-buckle thing over the triple velcrose straps. I tend to generally find myself tightening the shoes after an hour or so of riding. I'm not exactly sure why, but I assume that the blood displacement in my working legs means that my feet actually shrink once I'm into my stride. Anyway I hate the feeling of loosely fitting shoes, so being able to tighten on the fly is a worthy feature.

The shoe fits fairly snugly. I worried initially that it was too snug and that I would start to feel pressure points while riding, but none appeared. It really fits my, fairly wide, foot very accurately (they do also have an even wider version labeled HV - high volume). I tried using the fatter arch support pads, but in the end the thinnest ones work for me. It is often recommended that one uses shoes with a bit more room on longer rides, but I do rides of over 200km in these quite regularly, and I've never had foot issues.

The shoe is very light, despite the fact that there are lighter ones in the range. The Easton sole is super light and stiff of course, and transfer of power is excellent. The padding has never caused any friction with my foot. The leather lip did initially rub the front of my upper foot, but that went as soon as the leather got worn in a little. I suppose if there was one thing I'd change it would be that the shoe closure finished a couple of millimeters lower down, but that's just for my anatomy.

They have suffered some serious deluges in their lifetime,  but thanks to the drainage hole in the sole, they don't stay waterlogged while on your feet, and they dry out fairly quickly once you take them off. The pads on the heels - for the aid of walking - don't last long, and I believe you can get replacements, but a bit of glue can work wonders, and it's hardly a primary concern. The first ones I bought around 4 years back are still going strong after a good 20,000+ kilometers.

Price-wise they're not exactly cheap, but then they aren't the most expensive either, and in this case the outlay is entirely justified since they do exactly what they're supposed to, and just keep on doing it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Review: Kask Mojito

Starting with this one I'm doing short reviews of certain bits of cycling gear that I particularly like, this in the hope that it can be instructive for those looking to not have to go through 100 pieces of kit before they find one that actually works.

Of course it's always very subjective, and I can't pretend to have tried all competitive options, but I'm assessing the stuff based on how well it does what it's supposed to, and doing fairly long-term tests on stuff I actually use daily, so I can definitely address that element of wear-and-tear that is impossible to judge on a new item, and that isn't quite so subjective.

Anyway, to start this off I'm talking about my favourite helmet to date.

Kask are relative newcomers on the helmet market, but have been the recipients of a fair old boost in recent years thanks to their place on the heads of the riders from Team Sky. Not too shabby a recommendation really.

I've always been looking for helmets that don't give you that "mushroom-head" look - especially common to those of us with big heads who are forced to use the L-sized options. So the low-profile looks of the Kask helmets on the heads of the pros was definitely an initial draw.

This helmet first came to me by chance when on the search for a spare. It was light, the right colour, sat snugly on my head, and wasn't anywhere near the most expensive option.

That was about 3 years back. Since then it's rarely been off my head while cycling, and it's lasted very well. One of the main reasons is the great design of the straps, which are a breathable and fast-wicking material at the sides, but under your chin the strap is made of a leather-like material. This is a great and comfortable combination, and even on the sweatiest rides the straps don't stay wet, which is very good news in Malaysia I can tell you!

The internal padding has also lasted well, but then it's just a few simple, and easily replaceable pads, should they ever deteriorate to that point. Haven't had to deal with that so far. The system of the rear section that grips the back of your head has a very effective ratchet dial to tighten onto your head, and so far has held up structurally very well.

It's not the most aerodynamic design of course, and there are plenty of those out there now, but since maximum airflow is more my concern, I'm not too concerned with aero - you usually compromise one for the other by design.

Basically, this helmet has become an invisible part of my cycling experience, because it works so well that I never need to give it any thought. It's never soggy when I put it back on, the straps don't ever need re-adjusting, nothing rubs against any part of my head or neck.

The strongest recommendation for this helmet is that I've just bought another one. Not that there was anything wrong with the first - I just fancied having another colour option.