Ultra-distance cycling: can it improve your performance?

In my cycling coaching practice, I’m fortunate to work with a diverse group of athletes with a wide range of goals. Recently I had the pleasure of measuring the change in fitness of a cyclist, Jim, who spent 3 months riding solo across the U.S.

Jim’s case study has some unusual aspects, and when compared to a more standard cycling program, gives cyclists some important insights, including:

1. Riding at a relatively easy pace for extended periods of time can lead to BIG gains in fitness

2. Structured training (coaching program) yields the same or better improvements in fitness in much less time

What was unusual about Jim’s ride compared to the 1,000+ other cases in my professional experience is that he rode without:

·      A structured approach either in training or during his ride

·      Support

·      Power meter

·      Heart rate monitor

Our questions were: 

1. What would 3 months of unstructured ultra-distance cycling produce in fitness benefits?

2. How would that compare to results achieved by structured, non-ultra-distance training programs?

To find out, we conducted pre- and post-ride Lactate Threshold Tests; this article is about what we learned from those results.

About Jim and His Ride Across America

Jim is a 53-year-old serious recreational cyclist, who works as a mechanical engineer in the green energy field.  Jim has been riding strongly for many years, doing a variety of recreational bike events. This ambitious Ride Across America was to be his first foray into long-distance riding: a three-month, unsupported ride starting in Maine and ending in San Francisco.

Keeping the ride unstructured was key for Jim. The points of the ride were to raise awareness of climate change, and to live a simpler, less-technological existence during the ride. Therefore, Jim brought no technology to monitor his ride (no power meter, no heart rate monitor), only his iPhone to take pictures and to capture his ride on Strava. Each day he chose to ride as easy or hard as he wished, take as many breaks as he wanted, and stopping frequently to take pictures to document his journey. (For more, check out Jim’s excellent blog: http://druther-bike.com). 

About the Testing

I primarily use Lactate Threshold Testing as a key component to my athlete’s coaching programs to accomplish multiple goals:

·  Get baseline fitness data

·  Determine Power and Heart Rate training zones

·  Provide objective information on fitness relative to peers

·  Monitor improvement over time

Jim’s unusual ride – unstructured, ultra-distance – provides a unique look at how fitness can change with sustained riding.  In contrast to Jim’s approach, most of the athletes I coach purposely ride within fairly tight heart rate or wattage-based training zones, and it is this “structure” that elicits the physiological responses that allow them to improve. So, in addition to riding a very long distance in a condensed amount of time, Jim was also doing something atypical compared to most of my athletes, and something we were both eager to learn its impact.

Lactate Threshold Testing – an overview

The metric:  “Watts per Kilogram (of body weight) at Lactate Threshold” is the gold standard metric to compare a cyclist’s fitness to every other cyclist, and to compare their own fitness gains over time.

The test is a “ramped step test” done on the athlete’s own bike, on a trainer that allows me (the tester) to precisely control the wattage.

The test starts at low watts, with power raised at a pre-determined amount (usually 25-30 watts) every three minutes until a lactate threshold is surpassed.

Lactate threshold is the hardest we can ride for an extended period of time, up to an hour (related to, but different from Functional Threshold Power “FTP”).

During the test, I sample a drop of blood from the athlete’s earlobe which is run through a portable lactate analyzer. I also check HR at the end of each step, and gather subjective RPE data (“rate of perceived exertion”).

From the “wattage and heart rate at Lactate Threshold” measurement, I calculate the athlete’s “Watts per Kilogram (of body weight) at LT.”

The Results:

With thanks to Jim for his generosity in sharing this information for all our benefit, here are Jim’s results:

Test date           Weight   Watts @ LT   W/kg @ LT   Body Fat %

Pre ride                 165          267w              3.56             15.1%

Post ride (3mo)    155          298w              4.22             11.4%

Pct. Improvement 6%           12%                19%              25%

At the start of the ride, Jim was already performing at a strong level, as 3.56 w/kg put him in the middle of the Cat 4 racing category. Three months (and 3,000 miles later), he improved to 4.22 w/kg, which puts him solidly in the Cat 2 racing category. Both these results are a big showing for a 53 year old. His improvement in raw watts@threshold is roughly in line with the improvement my coached athletes achieve in 3 months (it is typical for my first-year athletes to see anywhere between a 5-15% improvement in 3 months in wattage output at threshold). The fact that Jim accomplished this while riding completely unstructured shows the impact of LOTS of time on the bike over a few months: Jim averaged approximately 28 hours/week on the bike during his trip.

Conclusions and takeaways:  Well-known exercise physiologist Dr. Phil Maffetone, through research and practice, has shown that riding at a relatively easy pace (RPE of 3 or 4 out of 10) for extended periods of time can lead to big gains in fitness. In my experience, the Maffetone method does work, IF the athlete can ride a MINIMUM of 12 hours every week (more is better). Jim was able to more than double this amount of hours, and showed that at relatively low intensity, big performance gains are possible with that time and distance on the bike.

However, for the vast majority of athletes I’ve coached, 12 hours per week is the MAXIMUM amount of time they can ride……and that might be their one “long” week during a two-month training block! For these athletes, structured training at a variety of intensity levels yields the same or better improvements in fitness, at 7 to 10 hours per week.  This sort of schedule is usually more viable for most riders.

Jim made a big life change to take 3 months off of his “regular” routine, and if you read his blog, you will see this experience was a profoundly positive one. As a cycling coach, I’m pleased he both had such an amazing time on this bike adventure, and that he achieved significant fitness gains too.

I’m appreciative to Jim for sharing these results with you. Not all of us, however, are able to spend extended amounts of time dedicated to riding our bikes. For us, a structured training plan created by a competent coach will enable similar gains in a lot less time. And whether you are a recreational rider, occasional triathlete,  bike racer, or full on hammerhead, you owe it to yourself to get a performance test from an experienced coach, to understand your current fitness level, and set your next goals.

As always, I welcome your questions or comments; please share here or contact me directly at matt@propelbikecoaching.com or 510-915-5510.

Happy riding!

Let's have a "roll"icking good time

I'm very pleased to announce that I'm a co-sponsor of a very cool event happening on September 23, 2016. In benefit for Save Mount Diablo, my co-sponsor (Roger K. Johnson, DVM) and I were able to get Bob "Bobke" Roll to be the guest at a charity dinner two days before the Mount Diablo Challenge. The dinner specifics (along with registration link) can be found in the following flyer:  http://tinyurl.com/jnkf8ly

Anybody who's interested in pro-cycling, or helping to preserve our wonderful local mountain (Diablo) is invited to attend. 

See you soon!

A new article for your edutainment

I was contacted several months ago by a freelance writer, Jennifer von Geldern, who was looking for a bike fitter to interview. She'd found me on Google and Yelp (as do many of my clients) and wondered if I would be interested in being interviewed for her article. YES, absolutely! Following is a copy of the article (which begins on page 6) which appears in Cycle California magazine. 

This article addresses the differences between a "bike sizing", which is what many people get when they go to a bike shop and purchase a new bike, versus, "bike fitting", which is what I do to help people get more comfortable, powerful, and injury-free when they ride their bikes. The point of this article is that there is a world of difference between these two services. I hope you enjoy the article.


The difference 3mm can make (hint: a lot)

You know how sometimes you can understand something intellectually, but not really FEEL it until you experience it directly? Kinda like when gas is $3/gallon and it costs $40 to fill up your car, but when gas goes to $4/gal, you know the tankfull is going to cost more, but when it costs $50…… you go, WOW, that’s expensive. Well, I had one of those recognitions the other day in the fit room!

I was fitting one of my athlete’s on his new Trek Madone 9 (a beautiful bike, BTW). Both physical assessment and the Retul knee extension measurements (the primary metric for determining saddle height) showed that he likely had a leg length difference. The difference was small enough that I wasn’t convinced that we NEEDED to install a cleat shim (to help balance him out).  I explained the situation to him, and we agreed there was no downside to trying a shim. So, I installed one 3mm shim under his left cleat (as his right leg was longer) and re-measured him using the Retul. Prior to the shim, his R/L knee angle difference was 3 degrees . After the shim, his R/L knee angle difference was gone……a 3mm shim balanced him out completely…..and he felt more balanced and stable on the bike.

For a variety of reasons, I personally very recently switched from Keywin pedals (obscure but very good New Zealand brand) to Speedplay pedals. Speedplay pedals are a bike fitter’s friend, as they offer easy adjustability on every dimension that matters to achieving a proper fit at the critical foot-pedal interface. I started out with the stock 53mm spindles (the “axle” that connects the pedal body with the crankset) and went out on a 20 mile ride. Within about 4 miles, my left knee started to hurt and continued to hurt for the remainder of the ride and into that evening. Based on past experience with my body, I knew this likely meant that I needed to install longer spindles (Speedplay offers 5 total spindle lengths, 3 of which are longer than stock). I decided to try the 56mm spindles. After an easy install, I went out on a ride with several of my athletes. I was prepared to cut the ride short if I got a recurrence of knee pain….but I was delighted that after 55 pretty fast and hilly miles, my knees felt fine! Again, a (seemingly tiny) 3mm difference made the difference between pain and comfort.

The longer I do bike fitting, the more I see that for most people, small changes can add up to big differences in comfort and injury prevention. If you are uncomfortable on your bike, I strongly encourage you to seek the help of a bike fitter to get you set up properly. Sometimes it’s the small changes, even just 3mm worth, that can make a big difference!

Fitsician, Fit Thyself

Riders often ask me when to get a bike fit:  clearly, getting a new bike is an important time, plus whenever we undergo a physical change – such as weight loss or gain, surgery, or even an improvement or decrease in our overall fitness – it is important to make sure we are still correctly aligned in all three dimensions on the bicycle.

I recently had an arthroscopic surgery, so as I got off the crutches and back onto the bike, I knew it was time for a fresh fit on my two road bikes. What surprised me was how much the relatively minor surgery affected the fit! It was a great reminder that the proper fit of a few years ago can be the wrong fit for us today, as our bodies change over time for a variety of reasons.

Fitting myself using the Retul 3-D motion capture technology was a new challenge. Fortunately, my wife was happy to help out, and “takes direction well” (her words!), so I was able to direct her while I was on the bike generating my motion-capture fit data.

A good fit results from a combination of the Retul measurement data, the bike fitter’s observations and experience, and the cyclist’s sense of what feels best. In this session, I was both bike fitter and cyclist – with the Retul system to give me objective information about what my body was doing in motion on the bike.

I had been professionally fit a few years ago on both bikes, and I felt comfortable and confident on both pre-surgery. Both bikes had similar equipment (same saddle and pedals, similar bars); the major difference being that the BH had 170mm cranks and the Focus had 172.5mm cranks. They do, however, have different geometries and tube sizes. I was very curious to see whether and what types of changes might be needed post-surgery.

We started with the BH, which I’d been riding exclusively since the surgery because the slightly shorter cranks were less stressful on my recovering body. The most noticeable change to my fit was in saddle fore/aft measurement. My previous fit placed me significantly farther behind the bottom bracket than where my body wanted to be post-surgery. So, we moved the saddle forward almost to the maximum amount possible, and measured the change. It now showed that I was closer to where I needed to be fore/aft, but needed to change the saddle height a little bit. After these changes were made, I saw that I wasn’t quite as far forward as the reference ranges were suggesting; based on my experience I decided to try a different saddle (Specialized Power – 155 width). Different saddles can cause cyclists to sit differently on the bike, potentially changing the orientation of both the upper and lower body. With this one change, several things happened simultaneously: the saddle fore/aft came into range, various other measurements became more symmetrical (comparing right-to-left side of the body measurements), and my cadence went up about 5 rpm – it just became easier to pedal.

With these major changes completed, I went about testing various smaller details: removing a pedal washer, slightly changing cleat position (and then moving it back), removing an “in the shoe” wedge (and then putting it back), and making another slight (3mm) change in saddle height. With all of these changes, I was done with my first bike: the data was in the desired ranges, and it felt great.

We then switched to the Focus. The Focus has a much longer wheelbase (about 2 cm) than the BH, so I suspected that changes would be needed here too. Very similar changes were indeed necessary: saddle change to the Power, move the saddle closer to the front of the bike, slightly adjust the saddle height, and then this one was done too!

I measured both bikes using the Retul Zinn measuring tool after completing the fit, and then compared these measurements side by side.  The goal of a proper bike fit fit is to “fit the bike to the body.” This would argue that, on different bikes, the major contact points would be in similar relationships. Specifically, the saddle height and handlebar stack/reach (a measure of where the handlebars are relative to the bottom bracket) should be pretty close to each other. And, in fact, that’s pretty much what happened (handlebar reach was different because of the different wheelbases). Between the Retul motion-capture data and my body’s sense of good position, I got the bikes to “feel” as much like each other as possible given their differences. The fit had essentially duplicated my body’s position on two very different machines.

It was illuminating to experience personally the importance of a fresh fit after undergoing a physical change such as surgery: as our bodies change, so does our orientation to our bicycles.

I’ll report back again in a couple of weeks after I’ve ridden the bikes a while and let you know how my new position feels.


Insoles, wedges & shims – What I’ve learned about feet as a bike fitter, or, The Joys of Proprioception!

Studies and my own experience show that 96% off all cyclists feet are improperly aligned with their bikes, decreasing their comfort, efficiency and performance. 

A biological concept called PROPRIOCEPTION is the name given to the brain’s awareness of where various parts of the body are in space. Every watt of power that a rider produces is transmitted to the bike via their feet. Unfortunately, less than 1% of riders have clear awareness of what their feet are doing while applying force, unless some form of correction is added inside or outside their cycling shoe. This means that when we ride a bike, our central nervous system is, to varying degrees, ‘guessing’ what our feet are doing. This lack of clarity of neural feedback is a major reason for many negative patterns of compensation that develop in riders, such as pelvic asymmetries, power imbalances between one leg and the other, leg length discrepancies and a host of other issues. Many cycling related issues disappear or significantly moderate once the clarity of feedback from the feet is restored. The more accurately force feedback from the feet is received, the better we perform and reduce the chances for injury.

There are three major forms of correction that can be offered by a qualified and experienced bike fitter:

1) Arch support: every cycling shoe comes with an insole, however, only a tiny fraction of these insoles offer any type of correction….most simply offer a small bit of paddling between the foot and sole of the shoe. The primary means of providing proper Proprioception between foot and brain is the installation of a cycling-specific insole that has significant arch support (even for those with low arches). There are a variety of custom and off-the-shelf options available for cyclists. One of the best that I use frequently are Specialized insoles, particularly the Green (highest arch support) insoles. For $30, these are one of the great bargains in cycling.

2) Wedging:  On a bike, every watt of power you produce has to be transmitted to the bike via your feet. You absolutely want the proprioceptive feedback from your feet to be getting through loudly and clearly rather than as background noise in order to perform optimally. This is analogous to being in the center of a sports arena and trying to hear a single voice over the noise of a shouting crowd of 50,000. In addition to proper arch support, the only way the feedback from the feet can be ‘heard’ clearly is if the alignment of foot and ankle is correct. The best way to do this is by using cleat wedges to allow optimal foot cant on the pedal.

Cleat Wedges are stackable to fine-tune to your unique forefoot tilt.

3) Shimming: A common issue that I see in the fit room are Leg Length Discrepancies (LLD), meaning one leg performs as if it were shorter than the other. This is a significant imbalance that can cause discomfort or injury if not treated in a timely manner. There are two types of LLD’s: functional and structural. Structural LLD’s (very rare) are the direct result of different length leg bones or significantly asymmetric pelvic structures. Functional LLD’s (dramatically more common) are often related to pelvic rotation along the frontal plane, and are generally the result of inadequate Proprioception between foot and brain. Fortunately, there is a simple way (after careful assessment is done) to treat this via the installation of a Leg Length Shim, which is placed between the sole of the shoe and the cleat. I have been amazed how people “straighten” out once their LLD is correctly addressed. 


Final thoughts: Many of the athletes I work with come into the fit studio with a pre-existing after-market insole and/or cleat wedges. Unfortunately, it is the rare cyclist who has these products correctly chosen or properly installed. There are MANY additional factors (beyond the scope of this article) that need to be considered before wedges or shims are used. The good news? It is the rare cyclist that will not benefit from purchasing a good pair of high arch cycling insoles, such as the ones from Specialized. If you wish to begin improving your proprioception, and thus your bike fit, a pair of insoles is a good place to start. If you wish to fully address your fit, beginning with your feet (!), I encourage you to consider a complete bike fit, which will address your feet and all other aspects of your placement, comfort and performance on your bike.

Off-bike care & maintenance of the Cyclist

Did you know that your cycling fitness, comfort, and enjoyment can be dramatically improved by what you do off your bike?

The athletes I work with are sometimes surprised to learn that effective coaching programs cover much more than what they do in the saddle. Your structural (bones & muscle) as well as aerobic fitness, along with the fit of your bike to your body, are key aspects of cycling performance success.

Here are 7 straightforward steps you can take to make your ride even better, as you make them part of your regular routine. For each of these recommendations, if you would like more detailed information, contact me by email and I can share some good online references or other recommendations suited to your needs.

1.    Foam Rolling:  This is first for a reason, as this amazing activity can be done whether you are warmed up or not. I do foam rolling before my rides and this always helps me to feel better when pedaling. It’s a simple activity with only one piece of equipment: a foam roller about 8 inches in diameter and 2-3 feet long. There are different levels of foam “hardness” that are color-coded. For newer “rollers” get a blue roller, for more advanced “rollers” get a black roller. Then put the roller on the floor and roll all four sides of your upper legs (IT bands, quads, hamstrings, adductors) and your calves using your body weight to press down. Rolling is like getting a deep tissue massage by somebody with extremely large hands; you will be able to affect large muscle groups. By “resting” on sore areas before you continue to roll, you will get the knots out of your muscles… and trust me, they are there! Rolling is extremely helpful in developing supple muscles. Supple muscles allow you to pedal smoothly and avoid injury.

2.    Flexibility: I encourage a comprehensive flexibility program as part of all cyclists’ daily routine. Since muscle fibers can be torn if you stretch before warming up, I recommend riding easy for 15-30 minutes, and then once a sweat is going, get off the bike for about 5 minutes of stretching. At this point, do basic stretches focusing on hamstrings, quads and Achilles/calves. The key point is, stretch initially when warmed up, then get back to your bike ride. Post-ride, as time permits, a more extended stretching session focusing on the hamstrings, glutes and hip flexors can be extremely beneficial.

3.    Core Strengthening:  Strong core muscles allow the other muscles used in cycling to do their job, and not have to take up the slack for weaker core muscles (the muscles in your abdomen, pelvis, lower back, and hips). When riding, a solid core both provides a platform from which your leg muscles can perform at their peak, and it also protects your back from undue strain due to being bent over in cycling position. Cyclists with solid cores and good flexibility have the flattest, most aerodynamic backs when in the aero position.

4.    Massage (done by experienced sports or deep-tissue massage therapist):  In addition to the tired muscles from everyday riding, many physical forces over time make us asymmetric, which can cause injury and discomfort when we are placed on a symmetrical machine like the bicycle. These issues can be alleviated by regular sports and/or deep tissue massage. Massage helps to keep our muscles supple and aid in recovery, allowing you to do harder workouts that improve your fitness. Licensed, knowledgeable massage therapists can work with you to bring appropriate therapies to specific areas of focus or concern. Pro cyclists have soigneurs on the cycling team who make massage part of their ongoing program; it’s a smart practice for you to also incorporate in yours.

5.    Body Alignment (done by physical therapist or a chiropractor): If massage, stretching, rolling and core strengthening is insufficiently helping you with flexibility and symmetry, then it is time to let a professional help to actively align your body. If you have persistent aches, or an actual injury from riding, this will help you to return to comfort and efficiency on the bike. This may take several sessions and require you to do some specific follow-up exercises on your part (i.e., specific muscle strengthening or flexibility).

6.    Bike Fit: One of the most important non-riding activities you can do is to get a professional bike fit. Bike fitting is similar to what a tailor does to an “off-the-rack” piece of clothing, as he or she makes it fit you precisely. Unlike wearing clothes, however, bike riding is the most repetitive-motion sport of which I am aware: problems in your bike fit can, over the course of hundreds of thousands of pedal strokes, lead to discomfort and injury. A good bike fit can prevent these problems from occurring (or help to solve them if they have already happened) and will help you be more efficient on the bike. As your body changes over time, consider getting the bike fit updated, especially if you are experiencing any discomfort. Changes in our posture on the bike, cycling technique, weight, and of course any changes in bike components (saddle, shoes, bars) may be prompts to have a bike fit updated, to ensure that you are optimally positioned on your machine for performance, comfort, and safety.

7.    Nutrition:  We know that how we fuel our bodies, day in and day out, has a big effect how we feel and perform on the bike. I will cover this topic in a specific post in the near future, but wanted to mention it in this context of off-bike means of improving your time on the bike.

With these seven suggestions, all done when you are not on a bike ride, you will find that your cycling improves and your overall enjoyment of your time on the bike increases. Knowing how much fun you’re already having, can you imagine feeling even BETTER when you ride? 

Why Testing

I haven’t counted, but I suspect I’ve performed nearly 1000 performance tests (usually Lactate Threshold) on the various athletes I have worked with over the years. Each time I test an athlete, I learn something important about them, their strengths/weaknesses, and, most importantly, about their objective fitness status at the time of the test. There are athletes I test only once, and athletes I test multiple times per year. Everyone I’ve ever tested comes away from the test feeling like they got something of value. Despite this, I find that the general biking community, even the bike racing community, does not really understand what performance testing is, and, more importantly, what it can do to help improve their cycling. This article is an attempt to answer, in the most straightforward terms, those two questions.

What is performance testing? Let me begin by saying that there are performance tests for most every sport I can imagine, but here I will only be talking about cycling. For cycling, the names of the most common (and useful) tests are called: Conconi, Lactate Threshold, VO2 Max. There are many ways to perform these tests, but in general, they are performed on your own bike which is placed on a special trainer (Computrainer) in which the amount of pedal pressure you exert (wattage) is controlled by the tester…me.

The tests are called “ramped step tests” which means that when you start the test, it’s easy to turn the pedals, and it gets progressively harder through the test. After warming up, most of these tests take less than 30 minutes to complete.

The difference between these tests can be explained simply; they each measure a different output of the body. In the case of the Conconi, Heart rate is measured; for the Lactate Threshold test, both HR and blood lactate are measured; for the VO2 max, heart rate and oxygen uptake are measured (that’s the test where you wear a mask during the test – looks impressive, and is uncomfortable).

Each of these measures - HR, Lactate, Oxygen – can be compared to a reference sample (e.g., general population, Cat 3’s, etc) or, best yet, compared to your previous performance on that same test. And now, we can start to discuss the most important question: why would anyone bother to do one of these tests?

Why do performance testing? There are three primary reasons to have an OBJECTIVE measurement of your fitness: 1) to be able to develop training zones (heart rate, wattage) that are personalized to your body, 2) to have a benchmark of your own fitness at a particular point in time (e.g., peak season), and  3) to have an objective means to compare yourself to your peers (e.g., Masters, Women, Cat 4’s, etc).

Each of these reasons is important, but all of them pale in comparison to the next reason…..being able to compare your own performance over time. This is really significant, because with multiple tests (as few as two, or as many as possible) it is possible to know whether all of the hard work you’re doing in training is paying off.

For example, the primary test I provide is the Lactate Threshold test. One of the main measures it generates is the famous (in the cycling world) “Watts/kilogram (of body weight) at Lactate Threshold.” This power/weight ratio is the one that is used at every level of the sport, and when people say that, for example, Lance in his prime “pushed 6.4 w/kg” they are referring to this very measurement from this test. But here in the “real world” my athletes are performing anywhere between 2.5 and 5 watts/kilo at threshold. These numbers represent the difference between a recreational cyclist and a very strong Cat 2, respectively. But what’s more important is how those cyclists testing numbers have changed over time.

In one extreme case, a recreational cyclist I started working with tested at 2.2 w/kg. Less than a year later, with hard work on his part, and a great training program tailored to his needs, his numbers improved by 50% to 3.3 w/kg. At 3.3 w/kg, he was racing, and having fun as a Cat 5 in a very competitive district. Was this useful information to he and I? YES. By knowing his objective performance testing numbers, we were able to quantify (and validate) that his training was paying off.  As my mentor has said, “lactate doesn’t lie.” This means that, even in athletes who don’t show such significant improvements in their power/weight ratio, their lactate readings can change dramatically with proper training.

In another case, a Cat 3 cyclist who started the year at 3.6 w/kg, finished it at 4.2 w/kg…..by all standards a very solid improvement. What was most significant, however, was that at every given (wattage) step of the test, he was producing dramatically less lactate at the end of the season than at the beginning. At high levels, lactate in the blood is a significant limiting factor of our performance. The fact that this cyclist had measurably and dramatically lower lactate at ALL levels of his output (going easy and going hard) was another clear indication that his training was working.

It is easy to get lost in the technical details of each test (each test yields multiple measures that can be compared over time) and in the varieties of how each test may be administered and interpreted. Despite the fact that techno-geeks and scientists alike relish all these details, the big picture is: performance testing can help you to become a better cyclist. How does this happen?

How can testing help you? First, having training zones that are objectively derived and specific to your current fitness allows you to tailor your training in a way that’s not possible without this information. Testing over the course of time allows these zones to be recalibrated to keep your training as targeted as possible.

Second, testing allows you to have very objective goals that are separate from your race results. From a fitness perspective, it is quite useful to have as a goal, “I want to improve my w/kg 20% over the course of my first year of training.” For many people, this type of goal will serve as a significant motivator (to help you deal with the many hard intervals folks like me dish out).

Third, it is really helpful to know where you stand relative to your peers. While there is not a direct correlation between race results and test results, in general, the better your testing numbers, the more LIKELY it is that your race performance will be positive. If you are attempting to compete in a particular race category, it is useful to know if you are at the bottom of the range of performance numbers, or near the top of the heap. In other words, all other things being equal, it is better to have more w/kg to play with than less. But, regardless of where you fall in the range of your category, it is good to have realistic expectations; those expectations can be derived from your results on a performance test.

In conclusion: I hope that I have stimulated your curiosity enough so that you seek me out (or a local coach if you are not in the SF Bay Area), and get yourself tested. It is not scary, it is not particularly hard (well, generally not for more than a few minutes at the end), and it can give you extremely valuable information that will almost certainly help to make you a better cyclist. I know that many people freak out regarding tests, and I wish I were clever enough to come up with a replacement word. Despite this, I encourage you to objectively learn about your fitness through a performance test. According to the hundreds of athletes I’ve tested, not one of them has regretted the experience.

Matt Larson is a USA Cycling Level 2 coach who is the founder of Propel Bike Coaching & Fitting. Check him out at: http://www.propelcycling.com

A Training Story - A Success Story

Roger is 70. He is fit, active and very competitive (in a good way). We met about a year ago when he called me asking for info about a Retul bike fit. He had a several physical complications, and I remember telling him that I could help him with his bike fit if we worked together. He is a vet, so knows about anatomy (yes, even human anatomy!), and was very aware of how his body was put together and what worked for him. We spent several sessions tuning his bike fit, getting him both more comfortable and a finding a bit more power out of his pedal stroke.

He was curious about me as a coach, and we talked about whether I could help him to get more fit and to occasionally compete. We set up a Lactate Threshold test to get a baseline on his current level of performance, and a few months later (after ski season ended), we started working together to prepare him for the Diablo Challenge. We had 4 months to try to improve his time.....his goal: to ride up Diablo faster than his age! Last year, at the tender age of 69, he rode it in 1:13: 34. OK, gotta help him lose 3:35.....at least.

We began a series of progressively more demanding monthly training plans, and tweaked them as his schedule and recovery needs demanded. He and his wife travelled to France in July to ride many of this year's Tour de France climbs (!), and he PR'd on Alpe d'Huez by a fairly sizable margin. Another sign of progress happened in early-August when he got a follow-up Lactate Threshold test. He'd made substantial gains in this "lab" setting, and it was showing in his on-the-road performance too.

The final 5 weeks prior to the Challenge contained many practice rides to the summit of Diablo, using various length intervals to get there. Even though we both knew he was getting stronger (he established a new PR of 72 minutes in early-September), there was some doubt about whether he'd reach his goal. I sent out a final note to all of my athletes racing the Challenge a few days before the race, and in that note, I outlined the times they needed to be at at various points on Mt. Diablo in order to reach their goal. Roger needed to get to the Junction (half-way point) in 35 minutes, something he'd NEVER done before. The other challenge (pun intended) that Roger needed to overcome was his tendency to start out too hard and then burn out towards the end of a big effort. 

The day of the Challenge was a big one for Roger, as he not only had his personal goal, but he'd established a new sponsorship for the race called "Ride your Age", in which everybody who rode at or below their age would get a prize. He desperately wanted to get one of his own prizes :-)

Roger didn't just beat his goal time, he demolished it by riding the Challenge in 1:08:11 (!!!) beating his time by 5:23, and besting his age by nearly 2 minutes. 

I share Roger's story as athletes like him give me the inspiration, challenge and joy to keep giving my best and try to raise the bar on my own performance as a coach. Roger's triumph was one of my highlights of this season, and serves as a great example of how, when I'm able to use all of the tools available to me, combined with incredible hard work on the part of my athletes, amazing changes in fitness and performance are possible. Way to show us how it's supposed to be done Roger. You are an inspiration!



Propel Bike offering "Beat your Age" prizes at the Diablo Challenge!

In conduction with Oak Grove Bicycle Performance Center and Encina Bicycle Center, Propel Bike Coaching is pleased to offer the following prizes to the top finishers in the "Beat your Age" category at the 2014 Diablo Challenge:

First Place Winner (Men & Women): Choice of Retul Bike Fit or Lactate Threshold test (provided by Propel Bike Coaching) – value:  up to $295

Second Place Winner (Men & Women): Lactate Threshold test (provided by Propel Bike Coaching) – value: $175

Third Place Winners (Men & Women): $50 gift certificate (provided by Encina Bicycle Center)


Propel wishes all of the participants at this year's Challenge a fast and safe race!

Coach Matt

I was just at Interbike.....follow my posts on Facebook

Hi, I just returned from two very long and interesting days at Interbike, and have started writing about my experiences and observations while there on my Facebook page. For those of you who have yet to find me on Facebook, please search for "Propel Bike Coaching", read my posts, and "like" my page. 

I'll be posting over the next couple of days there, so stay tuned to my adventures.

"Keys to Success" workshop - Tuesday, Sept 9th @ 7 p.m. - Concord

I will be presenting a workshop on essential elements of success in cycling, whether you're training for your first century, looking to improve your racing, or wanting to know how to ride faster in a triathlon. 

This workshop will be held from 7 - 8:30 p.m. on September 9th, at the Oak Grove Bicycle Performance Center, 2954 Treat Blvd, Bldg E in Concord (near the corner of Treat Blvd and Oak Grove). Space is limited, so please RSVP via e-mail: mwsl@comcast.net

Very pleased to be here

This website has been in my brain for a long time now, so I'm very pleased to have it finally out in existence.....in the virtual reality that is the web.  I want to thank my athlete and friend, Dani Spires for her concrete help in designing the site and helping me get this going. I also want to thank my wife, Wendy, for her many good and helpful thoughts and suggestions. 

I'm hoping to make this blog interactive, so please feel free to comment on anything I write, or ask questions about anything you're interested in learning about. Sometimes I surprise myself with how much I've learned over the years, other times, I'm stumped and will have to look it up myself :-) Either way, I will try to answer any questions that come my way.

I am very fortunate to love what I do for a living, and hope to share that passion with all of you.

Coach Matt