by Fred Matheny
Whether you’re racing in a crit, trying to beat a few buddies to the city limits sign or getting chased by a dog, sometimes you’ll need to sprint on your bike. Here are some tips to reach high speed quickly.
Choose Your Gear. Start the sprint in a gear that you can turn comfortably at about 80 rpm—a bit lower than your normal cadence. Your initial jump will get you above 100 rpm. Then, while still standing, shift to a higher gear, pedal it up to a fast rpm, and shift again. It’s easier to shift while standing if you ease off pedal pressure slightly just as you make the gear change (unless your bike is equipped with an electronic shifting system, in which case pressure is not as much of concern). Practice will quickly give you the feel for this technique.
The upshot is that you can start your sprint in a gear low enough for rapid acceleration, then shift to a higher gear to reach max velocity while still standing.
Trust Your Thrust. To jump effectively, hold the handlebar in the drops. Rise from the saddle as you thrust strongly with your dominant leg. (Which is your dominant leg? It’s probably the one that’s forward when you descend with your crankarms horizontal.)
At the same time, pull up on the handlebar with the arm that’s on the same side as the leg that’s pushing down. The downward thrust makes the bike tip toward that side. Pulling up counters the force that could otherwise topple you.
After the first explosive downstroke, continue to pedal powerfully while rocking the bike back and forth just enough to counteract your leg thrusts. Don’t throw the bike excessively from side to side. That wastes energy and scrubs speed. It’s a danger to other riders, too.
Example! Years ago at a cycling camp, I had the chance to see Canadian rider Steve Bauer’s sprinting technique up close. Famous as a road sprinter, Bauer personified power. A former hockey player, he was built like a powerlifter from the waist down.
At the camp Bauer gave us a demonstration of his sprinting prowess. We stood by the side of the road while he rolled along slowly in a big gear until next to us. Then he jumped hard. The bike creaked like it was cracking. Within 20 yards he was a blur. We could hear his tires humming on the pavement.
Watch Your Line. Sprinting with your head down or your eyes locked and blurry is a recipe for disaster. The best sprinters are like running backs in football. They see the whole field all at once so they can anticipate and make split-second decisions.
Stay Grounded. Powerful riders often have trouble keeping the bike’s rear wheel on the pavement when they sprint. It hops slightly on each pedal stroke, losing traction and wasting speed. Avoid the “hops” by keeping your hips back to weight the rear wheel. When you stand, concentrate on raising your hips above the saddle, not moving them forward toward the handlebar.
I am not sure that the leg/foot forward while descending shows which leg is one’s power leg. I have the normal left foot forward during descending, yet my right leg is my more powerful, dominant leg. Or perhaps I have always started my sprints with the wrong leg!
Good instructions. What would really be great for these riding technique articles would be to include video.