Category Archives: Training/Fitness

Hold Your Line

You know what’s hard to do on a trainer? Practice cornering at speed. But have you ever tried to get your team out for cornering practice in sub-20-degree weather? Even if lucky enough to find a plowed parking lot, your teammates will stand there shivering and miserable, dutifully slaloming through a course of water bottles but just waiting for someone to declare they’re going home. That may be why we show up for spring racing strong but rusty in some of the key speed skills.

So here are some links and tips about how to corner at speed. Obviously, no one is going to read this post and become an instant expert, nor I am making claims to expertise. Skill only comes with practice . But a few extra resources can give you a few things to think about next time you’re swooping around that empty parking lot.

Choosing your line.

Before you even enter a corner, you have to set up and plan where you’re going to go. To start with the simplest example, when you’re by yourself (hopefully breaking away off the front, but in my case, often huffing and puffing in a chase), look for the flattest possible curve through the corner.

To pick the flattest line, start at the outside, cut toward the inside corner, and finish at the outside.

Picking the turn with the largest possible radius allows  the maximum possible safe speed through the turn. First, look ahead for potholes and sand. Also notice how the turn is banked: a turn that slopes inward, like a track, allows you to take it corner faster than one that slopes away from the corner. The flattest possible turn starts at the outside, cuts close to the corner at its apex, and finishes at the outside (in a circuit or road race, of course, obey the yellow line rule!) The smaller the radius, the slower a rider needs to go to be able to turn her bike without overcoming the friction forces that are keeping her wheels from sliding out. That means that when cornering in a pack with riders on either side, you (1) need to leave space for riders on the inside, and (2) can’t go quite as fast because that safe line will be tighter.

When cornering in a pack, everyone has to take a slower, tighter turn. If behind the leaders, follow the line of the cyclist in front of you.

 As you can see in the figure above, the blue rider off the front was able to take her fastest line, but the pack behind her needs to take slightly tighter turns to leave space for each other to safely make the corner. The most important rule of cornering in a pack is to be predictable. If you need to slow down, do it before you start the turn so that you can coast through the corner without braking; putting on the brakes while in the turn itself will increase the chance of losing traction. Follow the line of the rider in front of you (usually what people mean when they say “hold your line”).  Avoid coming underneath, like the red rider in the diagram below:

Resist the impulse to dive-bomb on the inside of the turn.

 In this example, the red rider is trying to pass the blue rider on the inside of the corner. She risks cutting off Blue’s line, and she is also going to have to brake hard to make the tight turn. What a mess! Save attacking for the straightaways.

Getting through the turn

Okay we’ve figured out what the optimal line is through the turn, now how to actually do it. Check out elite junior Millie Tanner’s form as she takes this corner (also, because Milliegoat!):


To start with, her hands are in the drops. Getting low and forward isn’t just about being aero, it’s also about a lower center of gravity and maximum control. Eyes are up and looking past the turn. Outside pedal down with most of your bodyweight on it. (Okay, when you get really good you can start pedaling through the corners, but that’s ninja stuff after you have mastered the basics.) According to Joe Near of MIT,

“A big part of getting low is also getting very loose and forward so that 1) you have more weight over the front wheel, increasing traction there and 2) your body soaks up bumps during the corner — if you don’t do this, the tire has to do the whole job, and the tire’s elasticity will push you up in the air after the bump (and you don’t have any traction at all when you’re up in the air).”

This pic of Rose Long and Leslie Lupien at Shippensburg in 2013 is a great examlpe of getting long and low: their torsos are just about parallel to the road. Note that Rose is on the hoods and Leslie is on the drops, it depends a bit on bike fit. Check out that game face.

Photo credit Jan Valerie Polk

Putting it all together,  Brian Walton breaks it down to line, eyes, and legs. This video with Robbie McEwan agrees on the most important stuff: low center of gravity, eyes up ahead, and find your line. In the first pass, Robbie has his arms locked out and sitting up too high; the next time around, he’s bent at the hips, with elbows at an angle  and chin closer to the stem.  Then he demonstrates coming in too tight or starting the turn too early, versus starting way to the outside for a nice wide turn. And his final advice can be taken to heart: “never focus on where you are, but where you’re going.”

This race has a great example, when three guys take the corner at 2:55. To avoid hitting a flaky pedestrian (dude! there’s a bike race happening and it nearly squashed you!) they have to take the turn wide and miss the apex; but rather than get fazed, the guys in green have an exit strategy, riding up on the sidewalk. They wouldn’t have been able to pull that off if they’d only been looking at the asphalt in front of them.

Got any other good videos or Web sites about cornering technique? Share them in the comments! Thanks to Shaena Berlin and Jenn Wilson for the idea to put this together, and Joe Near for the tips!



Cycling Chow: Return of the Muffin

In case anyone was wondering, yes I did make a batch of rice cakes and muffins for the opening weekend- I will get to the muffins in a second-, and no, they did not propel me to victory. I think that is the sort of problem that can only be solved by adding more wattage to the cottage. If I’m going to keep playing the blame game, there are a few other things that I would blame for subpar racing: potholes, slush freezing on my cleats, a bike that is in need of a good trip to the repair shop, not enough sleep, too hard of a ride the day before, and other lame excuses*.

Oh well. Spit in the wind, and see if it comes back.

So about my muffins. I’m pretty happy that I decided to include those in my war chest of a nutrition bank, particularly for this venue. Stevens (Hoboken) Institute of Technology managed to not only find the one plot of land in New Jersey removed from traffic, but one not walking distance of a Subways or convenience store between races. Eating and drinking properly in between races is a vital part of dealing with multiple races in one day. Think about how your legs feel. “Hey legs, let’s wake you up with a minimal warm-up, pedal a time trial REAL FAST, then just sit in agony without refueling until our next race, which you then inexplicably give out and leave us off the back of the pack. Or, you know, stand in agony, as we want to watch the Intro riders suffer through their first bike race.” At least walking to buy a six inch meatball sub to stuff your face encourages loosening up your legs.

(Good side note, if you ever have down time in between races, elevating your feet helps with recovery. So legs up, ECCC, let them pale things tan a bit)

I got this muffin recipe from my mom’s circle of cooking friends. The big highlights of these muffins are they are very filling and simple to make. To the cooking club, this means “gluten-free”, “wholesome” and “healthy option for breakfast.” To me- the college student on a budget-, it means “cheap”, “cheap” and “maybe they will be easy enough to bake about fifty minutes before the team vans roll out for the weekend.” You can follow the recipe to a T, and they should be about as tasty as what I have eaten at home. Or, you can use the abbreviated version below that I whipped up. It is basically the same, but a bit more… improvised.

  • Eggs from last week
  • Applesauce
  • Honey
  • Chocolate soy milk
  • One really brown, ripe banana
  • Old fashioned rolled oats (Bob’s Red Mill)
  • Oatmeal (Quakers, because I forgot the flaxseed and felt obligated to throw something else in)
  • Baking powder (the magical component that prevents this from just being a massive bowl of hearty oatmeal)
  • Cinnamon and sugar (because oh snap, they can come together premixed! Plus, I ate all of the chocolate chips on my own- I mean, my friends ate them)

Mix your wet ingredients together, then your dry ingredients and plop them in cupcake liners. Frantically place the filled cupcake liners in a muffin tray. Bake them at a hot enough temperature, periodically stabbing them with a butter knife to check for readiness. Take the tray out of the oven while you finalize packing your overnight bag. Throw the muffins in a Tupperware, and then kick yourself for putting hot baked goods in a closed container where they can get condensation and might taste gross.

Proceed to eat them whenever hungry, because everything tastes good on a bike**

*By listing the usual silly explanations for failure that most riders use, I hope to highlight how ridiculous the whole blame game analyzing your performance post-race can be. I actually thought Stevens did a great job of hosting a weekend, and look forward to future races of the season held to similar standards.

**I did not actually eat my rice cakes or muffins during my bike races; I still have not engineered a foolproof system for unwrapping baked goods without the fear of getting dropped by the pack mid-race. I will get around to Joe’s suggestion of wax paper, but feel free to comment on what has worked for you.

Cycling Chow: An Alternative Consideration

Allen-Lims-Rice-Cake-280x421There are three reasons why to love cycling; having a sweet ride, looking good on said ride, and getting to eat while riding. Those points arguably apply to ever sport we do- the cool ones at least. Pushing the limits of competition is something I thoroughly enjoy, and making adjustments to find that extra half percent advantage can be a fun mental exercise. Just be careful about how much you tweak, or you will one day wake up as a tri-geek, fretting if you look fat in your wet suit.

So let’s talk about the third point: eating while riding. Once a year, the UNH team sends in an order to Cliff Bar and we get a massive stock of goodies to stay fueled during races. I used to think that was an exaggeration, but that was before I watched my D racer teammate teeter off with forty pounds of Mint Chocolate Chip bars. He claims that it’s to last him the year, but let’s be realistic for moment: it’s going to be gone by the end of the season from when teammates ask for some and it’s the only food he has at midnight coming back home on a Sunday.

Fortunately for him, I will never ask him for one. My stomach is a bit delicate in regards to what it can handle during a race. I have no problem eating everything from apples to Zebra Cakes during workouts-except bananas, cannot stand the taste of those-, but for races I need to watch my sugar intake. Through trial and error I have realized that foods with relatively high sugar content create a spike in energy, followed quickly by a “sugar crash.” For the most part, it’s not a huge deal- I just snag the bland vanilla Gu Gels and Rice Crispy treats as safe forms of refueling during races. It’s the plus three hour sufferfests that are bit harder to dial in, as that much sugar and little substance does not really do it for me. For people that want a more in-depth explanation of the nutritional science behind eating and working out, check out this link.

Luckily, people have posted alternative ideas on the Internet. For one USAC Stage race, I decided to try the opinion from one of UNH’s esteemed alumnus blog, who in turn got his from Being Asian with readily access to rice, and looking for a way to add significant fuel during races, I decided to give it a try. The first time, I made the Feedzone’s version- that involved a greasy mess and a lockdown of two days in my community kitchen. The rice cakes themselves I wrapped in Saran wrap and, while a bit messy to eat, were better than any else I have had to eat during a race. The next time I tried exit 17’s version of baking the cakes in a muffin tin- not only was it a lot cleaner, but the cakes managed to stay crumble-free for all of my rides.

There’s no one-size-satisfies-all option out there. Frankly, I would direct people to the professionals like Gu and CliffBar for sport foods. If yours is the adventurous palate and are willing to experiment to find that extra edge in a race, I recommend a search on Google. Start with what foods or flavors you know you prefer during workouts, and see if someone has already made a recipe. The really cooking savvy people can go ahead and start the mad experiments in the kitchen. Feel free to share in comments on what alternative cycling foods have worked for you.