How do I Draft When Cycling?

Drafting is a skill that’s learned over time and with practice, but the basics are simple - at first, stay about 2 feet from the rear wheel of the rider in front of you.  Keep your head up and, rather than looking at the rider’s wheel or hub, look ahead of the rider and get a feel for where your bike is in relation to theirs. Stay relaxed.  Keep your hands near the brakes. Try to avoid using the brakes to keep from running into the wheel in front. Rather, gently drift to the left (or the right if you’re in a country that drives on the left) out of the draft of the rider in front, and catch a bit of wind on your chest. When you’re as far behind the rider leading you as you want to be, gently drift back into line.

Why You Should Always Cool Down

It is common knowledge that cooling down after a training ride or cycling event is a best practice. However, time crunched cycling athletes often skip the cool down. We get it. You have a busy schedule and are trying to fit training into a tsunami of work, family, social and life appointments. However, skipping the cool down is not a good idea. Why? What are the consequences if you don’t cool down?

The purpose of the cool down is to slowly bring your heart rate, respiration and body temperature back to normal and spin excess metabolic waste products out of your muscles. Cooling down helps you recover from training more quickly.  It also helps you avoid dizziness and reduce the amount of blood pooling in your major muscle groups.  The harder the workout, the more important it is to cool down.

Think of it like this; if your body is a car traveling at 50 miles per hour, what is more comfortable as you approach a stop sign?  You can slam on the brakes with a few feet to go and skid to a jarring stop and experience whiplash, or you can gradually apply the brakes well in advance and come to a gentle stop, ready to hit the accelerator again.

We all have romantic images of the runner or rider giving it their all, crossing the finish line and then collapsing into a heap completely exhausted as a kind volunteer wraps them in a space blanket.  The reality is quite different.  Not cooling down properly after a hard workout can give you flu like symptoms including fever, chills and nausea!  That’s why you see cyclists like Chris Froome riding a trainer after winning a Stage of the Tour De France as he waits for the podium ceremony.      

What is the best way to cool down for cycling?  According to coach Kadir, you should pedal at a high cadence of 80-90 RPM in a low gear that is very easy to spin.  You should do this for 10-15 minutes. Older athletes generally need a little longer to cool down. This technique gently decreases your heart rate, respiration and temperature. Also, it has been shown that spinning is a low gear is the most efficient way to clear metabolic waste products from your muscles.   All VeloPro dynamic and personalized workouts include a cool down interval.

Why You Should Always Warm Up

It is common knowledge that warming up before training or cycling in an event is a best practice. However, for a time crunched cycling athlete it is tempting to skip it and get right to pounding the pedals. This is not a good idea. Why? What are the consequences if you don’t warm up?

The why should be obvious. You need to elevate your body temperature and increase blood flow and oxygen to your muscles. This helps prepare you for more strenuous activity and has been shown to improve performance. If you do not warm up, you greatly increase your odds of injury. Also, if you start too quickly without warming up you can burn your available energy stores and be left without the reserves you need for longer endurance efforts. For example, sprinting or taking on a huge climb at the beginning of a ride without a proper warmup can decrease your performance and even send you on an early trip to bonktown!

What is the best way to warm up for cycling? According to coach Kadir, you should pedal at a high cadence of 80-90 RPM in a low gear that is very easy to spin. You should do this for 10-15 minutes. Older athletes generally need a little longer to warm up. This technique gently increases your heart rate, heats up your muscles, tendons and ligaments and primes your metabolism for efficient oxygen and energy processing. All VeloPro dynamic and personalized workouts include a warmup interval. If you are racing or riding in a competitive event, the chaos of traveling, registering and making it to the starting line can nix your warmup plans. Do not make this mistake. Therefore, you see the most experienced athletes arrive early and pedal on their fold up trainers.

Tips for Cycling in the Snow

First, for safety, we first recommend that you ride an indoor trainer. If you don’t have a trainer, it is okay to do other indoor cardio activities like treadmill, elliptical, rowing machine or stair-climber. 

However, we also know that riding in the snow can be peaceful and magical! If you are adventurous, confident in your bike-handling skills, and find a safe route without traffic, please consider the following snow cycling tips:

  1. It sounds obvious—be warm! Feet, hands and head are the spots most vulnerable to the cold.
    • Wear warm gloves with a bit of grip that allow you to operate your bike. You don’t want your hands to slip off your handlebars. You also need to make sure your gloves allow you to grab the brake levers and click the shifters.
    • If you find your fingers going numb, spin your hands like a wind-mill. This will force blood into the tips of your fingers and warm them up.
    • Use one-time-use hand warmers, like HotHands. These are excellent to get you started out into the cold until your heart-rate increases and you begin to generate body heat. Apply one on your left wrist underneath your glove to promote the circulation of warm blood throughout your body.
  2. Be smart and prepare your tires for max traction.
    • Avoid skinny road tires, if you can. Use wider tires with a weather tread.
    • Reduce the PSI in your tires to increase traction. Lower your PSI to the manufacture’s minimum recommended range. If running tubeless tires, be careful to no go too low and unseat the tire.
    • If you have disc brakes and find yourself caught in treacherous environment, secure the zip ties around your tires as a plastic tread. To do this, start with a single zip tie, fix it to the tire, cut off the excess tie, and then spin your tire to test for clearance. This is especially important if your bike has fenders. If it is clear, secure the remaining zip ties.
    • If you live in a very snowy area, you consider in investing in studded snow tires for bicycling.
  3. Go slow. Braking, turning and responding to hazards takes more time.
    • Remain as level as possible. Hitting a slippery patch at an angle will cause you to spill.
    • You will go where you look. Always keep your head up, looking down the road and pedaling at a reasonably-high cadence when possible. Forward motion and looking where you want to go will get you past most road hazards. Looking down and staring at the ground just before your front tire can take you down.
    • When going uphill in slick areas keep your weight centered on your saddle or toward the back of the bike. This will help keep your back tire from spinning out.
    • If you attempt to climb up or descend an icy slope and can't get purchase, use your bike like an ice-axe. Lay it on its non-drive side and use the street-down peddle to chop into the ice. Then use your body-weight to auger the pedal into the ice. Only do this if necessary as it could damage your non-drive side pedal and handlebar.
  4. Cars are even more scary and unpredictable in snowy weather. Poor visibility and traction amplify the danger.
    • Assume that the driver cannot either stop or see you. Frost and snow on windows create a very dangerous world of blind-spots.
    • Avoid areas where cars are struggling for traction.
    • NEVER turn in front of a car, even if it appears to be going slow or gives you a hand-wave to go in front of them. A tiny tap on their rear bumper by another car combined with a spill on black ice in front of them could cause the vehicle to slide into you.
  5. Avoid ice at all costs and watch out for other slippery hazards like road sand and salt.
    • It if looks wet and the temperature has been below freezing within the last four hours, treat it like ice.
    • Snow and ice can hide hidden obstacles you’d normally see like rocks, sticks, uneven pavement, potholes and drainage grates.
  6. Snow that has not been driven on and is not compacted is usually the best traction available on a road after a snow-storm.
    • Ride on the un-tracked snow, avoiding the previously-created tracks in the snow.
    • Crunchy snow means traction, if you don't hear the crunch under your tires while upon either a white or wet-looking surface, assume you are on ice and use extreme caution.

Big thanks to Dangerous Dave Anolik for his photo and snow cycling tips!

The Effect of Air Quality on Cycling Training

Virtually every day we see the effects of Climate Change.  Millenia-old icebergs come apart, hurricanes and typhoons become more destructive, and forest fires more common.  For athletes, the most readily felt effect of all this is on the quality of the air we breathe.

Exercising in dirty air is never a good idea.  But what constitutes dirty air?  The US Environmental Protection Agency uses a 0-300 scale called Air Quality Index (AQI).  AQI considers measurements of ozone, large and small particulates, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide, so it’s a good indicator of when and when not to train outdoors and, perhaps more importantly, how hard to train, or not.  It’s important to note here that, for endurance athletes, the pollutants to really watch out for are small particle pollutants – those classified as PM2.5 – that easily enter the bloodstream through one’s lungs.  PM2.5s are commonly produced by vehicles, industry, dust storms, and forest fires.  The latter are increasingly common on the US west coast, once the standard bearer for clean air.

For healthy individuals, with no respiratory issues like asthma, sinusitis, or significant pollen allergies, hard exercise (defined as Level 3 or higher – that which, for most people, means breathing through the mouth as well as the nose, thereby bypassing the nasal passages’ natural filters) exercising with AQI levels above 150 is not recommended.  In this case, it’s better to either do your workout indoors, or just do an easier one if you really must get outside.  For levels above 150, the best option is to simply take the day off.

For our U.S. riders, you can find your local AQI at the Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow Website.  Look at the top of the page.  You can select your area by zip code or state.

For our European riders, you can find your local European Environment Agency’s Air Quality Site. Look at the bottom of the page.  You can select your country for more details.

How to Prepare your Bike for Winter Riding

Winter is coming! Here's a quick checklist to prepare your for winter riding.

  • Fenders -- Avoid the wet ass and black stripe up the back! Most bikes these days, even expensive road bikes support fenders. If you don’t have the luxury of purchasing a “rain/snow” bike at least put some fenders on that bad boy.
  • Wheels and Tires -- If you can afford a cheap set of wheels for winter riding, good on ya mate. Regardless, you should consider putting wider tires and heavier tubes on your bike for winter riding. Instead of 700c x 25, go for 700 x 28, or even bigger if your wheels and frame will accommodate. This adds stability and comfort in conditions where traction becomes an issue.  If you are riding tubeless, give your sealant level a check and top it up. Also, regularly check your tire pressure. Cool weather can kick your normal pressure down 5-10 PSI.
  • Seat Post -- A seized seat post is a nightmare and can destroy your frame. Water and salt speeds up the process.  Lube metal-to-metal seat post to frame. If you are running a carbon seat post to a carbon frame, use the paste. 
  • Drivetrain -- Wet and snowy conditions mean that you should clean and degrease your drive train more often. Check it after every ride. Consider using a heavier “wet lube that will stand up better to the elements.
  • Brakes -- Inspect your brake before each ride. Grit and dirt are like sandpaper for rim and disc brakes. We recommend that you wipe down your rims and pads or your discs after each wet or snowy ride.
  • Cables -- Inspect your cables. Make sure the rubber gaskets that protect exposed cables and frame connections are in good shape. You don’t want water inside your frame corroding your cables.
  • Wash Station -- Get yourself some dedicated bike towels, a bucket, and some brushes. Wash your bike after each ride. This doesn’t have to be a long process. If you ride where they salt the roads for ice and snow, you must make sure that bikes destroying stuff is off your bike ASAP.

The 5 Keys to a Good FTP Check Up

Functional Threshold Power, or FTP, is an objective scientific measure of cycling performance.  FTP is simply the average maximum power, measured in watts, that you can maintain for a 60-minute period.  This gives you a good idea of your cycling strength and fitness.  FTP is a great way to see if your training is helping you to improve over time. You can also compare your FTP with riders of all levels.

At VeloPro, we use the 20-minute method to derive your FTP.  This method helps encourage you to test regularly while avoiding injury.  FTP is best checked every 2-3 weeks after a build period in your training workouts. The actual test is best administered as part of a normal training ride.  To take the test, at the beginning of your ride, first complete a normal warm up.  Next, ride for 20-minutes at maximum effort. Think of it as a mini time trial. The most accurate FTP measurements come from using a power meter connected to your cycling computer.  If you do not have a power meter, VeloPro can estimate your output in watts from other ride data.    

Here are 5 Keys to having a great FTP test:

  1. Plan your route. You need 20 minutes of consistent uninterrupted effort.  This means no stop signs, red lights, coasting descents or bathroom breaks.  This can be a difficult challenge for urban riders.  Max efforts can produce great speed and you can burn through a route quickly. For this reason, some people prefer to take their FTP tests on an indoor trainer.  Another good alternative is to find a good long hill climb where max effort does not mean max speed.
  2. Check your bike. Make sure your bike and tires are in good shape.  You don’t want a flat or mechanical issue to take you out.  Check your chain.  Nothing will suck the watts out of your performance more than a worn chain or drive train.  Make sure your power meter and heart rate strap have good battery charge.  There’s nothing worse than a dead battery during and FTP check.
  3. Don’t skip the warm up. Maximum efforts require that you warm up to avoid injury and over revving your heart rate.  This is why you see pro cyclists vigorously riding a trainer before a time trial event.  Your engine needs time to heat up for top performance.
  4. Do the test! Some people don’t like tests. It makes them nervous and anxious.  We sympathize.  In VeloPro, nobody sees your FTP test data but you.  You have complete privacy.  If for some unavoidable reason the test does not go well, you can always edit the ride to remove the FTP checkbox. This will make the ride a normal training ride. Then you can try again
  5. Don’t sandbag. Yes you. A higher FTP does mean that your future workouts should ask more from you.  This is a good thing.  This is how you get fitter, faster and stronger.  Don’t be a Plateau Joe.  Plateau Joe is a champion of mediocrity. He does the same thing every ride because it is comfortable and then doesn’t understand why he doesn’t get better.  Don’t be that rider.  IF you train with VeloPro, we build rest into your plan, so you have a chance to recover.  There’s no reason to sandbag.

VeloPro makes it simple and easy to measure your FTP and train for your next cycling event. Road, Mountain and Cyclocross, we have you covered. Sign up for a free trial today.

Top 5 Reasons to Ride Indoors

Most of us love to ride outdoors.  There’s nothing better than speeding through the countryside feeling the wind on your face, tackling a challenging hill and carving through the descent that follows.  A smart trainer and a box fan just can’t compete with nature. However, there are times when riding and training indoors is the best solution. Riding indoors gives you the ultimate control of your environment and safety.  Here are the top reasons to ride indoors:

  1. Cope with weather conditions: Rain, snow, ice, excessive heat, air quality warnings, and darkness are all valid reasons to ride indoors.
  2. Enjoy gamification: Services like Zwift and Rouvy also offer unique experiences that make it fun to ride indoors. Even if it is virtual, it can be thrilling to ride a stage of the Tour De France or time trial with cyclists from around the world.  With a variety of competitions, events and rides, virtual services can be addicting and a cure for training boredom.
  3. Reduce interruptions:  Pedestrians, stop signs, red lights, school zones, heavy traffic, road construction, and other unpredictable events can sabotage a good training ride.  If you're in an urban area and don't have time to find a safe, less populated route, riding indoors can save your life.
  4. Increase control:  Consider riding inside when you need tight control of the timing and accuracy of your power output for certain types of training rides.
    • FTP tests (functional threshold power) require a consistent maximum effort for 20 minutes. Riding indoors helps ensure accuracy and minimizes interruptions.
    • SST training (sweet spot training) requires you to keep your power output in a tight window of 10 watts or less variability. This is much easier on an indoor trainer where terrain is not an issue.
    • Interval training requires maximum effort followed by short periods of rest.  You can't afford to worry about road hazards. Finding a place to safely ride intervals can be difficult and not many people have access to a Velodrome or bike track. Also, intervals require careful timing and monitoring of your effort and power output.  This can be easier to manage riding indoors.
  5. Heat acclimation:  If you're going to a big ride somewhere hot and humid, riding indoors can help you prepare. Just crank up the thermostat!  Many Olympic athletes did this when preparing for the Rio games. Triathletes regularly do this for the Ironman in Kona.
  6. Bonus reason: No helmet required!

No matter your reason for training indoors, it is super easy to convert any VeloPro workout into an indoor Zwift or smart trainer session. With just a click, you can download your workout in .ZWI or .ERG file format. So, when you can't get out there, you can still get inside and ride!

Why you Should Invest in a Bike Fit

Poor bike fit is a big barrier to efficiency and a major cause of repetitive stress injuries.  A great bike fit is a perfect meld of rider and machine. When your bike is optimized for your body mechanics, you feel comfortable in the saddle.  You have more power and can ride longer. Most importantly, you have less knee, hip, back and shoulder pain. If you ride or train more than once a week you should seriously consider investing in a fit.  Experienced riders know that millimeters can make a world of difference in comfort and performance.

Bike fitting is a combination of science and hard earned experience. A bike fit can cost anywhere from $150 to $400.  Many bike shops offer fit services and there are several bike fitting "systems" that have passionate advocates. However, the best way to find a bike fit expert in your area is ask for recommendations from other riders.  The top names will rise to the top. The only way to ensure that bike fit changes actually help is to ride. Look for an expert that will guarantee their work and make free adjustments for a few months after the initial fitting.  If you have multiple bikes, you can ask your fitter replicate your setup from your primary bike to your other rides for an additional cost. Also remember, our bodies change over time, so if it's been a few years since your setup or if you get a new bike, revisit that fit.

You've Got to Check your Cycling Cleats

They're under your shoes and easy to forget, but breaking a cleat mid-ride can be a painful reminder! Loose cleats can completely change your float and pedaling dynamics, causing knee or ankle pain and loss of power. A cleat that sticks while unclipping can cause an embarrassing zero speed fall. No matter what cleat you use, SPD, SPD-SL, Speedplay, Look, or TIME, you should check them at least once a week. If you notice a tension change when clipping or unclipping this could be caused by a worn cleat or by one that is coming loose from the shoe. Make sure the bolts are tight. Look for cracks and breaks. Always replace worn cleats as soon as soon as possible. It is a good practice to keep a new set of replacement cleats on hand, so you are always ready to ride.