Cycling ReDefined

Cycling Redefined.

It may be worth asking the question: What is cycling and how is the sport defined?

Discussions center on physiology and training zones, supplements, positioning and movement patterns. This has led me to produce a working definition: “Skilled Interplay of the torso and pelvis with the lower extremities to propel the bike effectively”, this definition shifts the sport from a purely endurance endeavour to a Highly Skilled – Endurance Sport. Relevant features of this definition include the “Performance Movement Patterns”, Physiology and Endurance, Cycling Specific Strength and High level Neuromuscular coordination. I do think it’s important to frame the sport in terms of the quality in which the task is performed, which is the feature that distinguishes the top performers of any sport. You may find that this applies equally to any other sport; in fact the inclusion of a sport specific movement pattern is an essential feature, without exception.

US Pro Cycling Challenge-Time Trial, Denver, CO 2012

US Pro Cycling Challenge-Time Trial, Denver, CO 2012.

Taylor Phinney (USA) would go on the win the time trial stage, there was but a brief view of the movement sequence and it was a SBHH with great clarity. In another George Hincapie (USA) sighting, he performed the SBHH as well, that is his style since I first had a look at his performances in the Tour de France.

Much like he climbed yesterday, Rory Sutherland (Aus) displayed the roll motion of the upper trunk and a hike of the hips. Cadel Evans (AUS) riding the course and dispensing valuable advice to Tejay van Garderen (USA) prior to his time trial effort. van Garderen tended to bounce on the saddle, resulting from unevenness in the road surface, in fact he was jettisoned at least once, though could not determine if he continued performing his movement pattern even under those circumstances, some do, but it can’t feel very good to land body weight on the tip of the saddle. Most riders are susceptible to bouncing off the saddle in that time trial position vs. on the road bike.

Tom Danielson (USA) had an effective SBHH; however, the repositioned his pelvis back at least once a minute. While this certainly takes time, I am not clear on the impact on the event. Levi Leipheimer (USA) took advantage of a TPR while off the saddle on a mini-incline, something he does very well. His movement pattern was about as fluid as I have seen from him; he tends to be very compact and overall difficult to figure out. There was some very focused and excellent motorbike camera work, could not have asked for anything more. Overall, a very good display of the movement patterns by all participants and a testament to the athletic ability on hand.

US Pro Cycling Challenge-Stage 6 2012

US Pro Cycling Challenge-Stage 6 2012.

Timothy Duggan (USA) performed a roll motion of the upper trunk along with what appeared to be a hip hike while off the saddle. Jens Voigt (Ger), bobbing around as he tends to do, which is in fact a sidebend of the upper trunk, roll with a hike of the hips; working well with teammate George Bennett (NZL) who tends to bob the shoulders as well (is it contagious?), however his roll movement tends to be rather fine while seated, and a roll motion of the torso plus a hike while off the saddle. In his first try with Bennett, Voigt loses contact, the same would happen with Rory Sutherland (Aus) later on; in fact while he appeared to have blown a gasket on the climb, he must have recovered quickly to finish 3rd on the stage and win the climbers jersey (we didn’t hear from him until he crossed the finish line). Sutherland took the climb and the stage; he tended towards a TPR, which he performed very well and consistently up the climb, it sure helps to be familiar with the terrain. As enthusiastic as the crowds were, some individuals clearly interfered with the progress and safety of the riders.

Circle me!

A take off from Bert Blylevens’ circling of fans on the TV screen at Twins games. This is my version. Returning home from a ride, a commuter is just ahead, 2 paniers on the back, MTB handlebars, arms flared to the side and flat pedals. Ordinarily you may not pay much attention, but you would have missed an excellent display of the Sidebend Hip Hike, crisp and clear cut, even with the arm placement. Natural and effective human movement!

This rider is thereby Circled!

US Pro Cycling Challenge- Stage 4 to Beaver Creek

US Pro Cycling Challenge- Stage 4 to Beaver Creek.

Excellent win for Jens Voigt (GER) and nice to see Andreas Kloden (GER) back on the podium. Voigt has a gangly way of moving about on the saddle. Uphill he appears to bop the shoulders up and down which may lead to tipping the pelvis on the downstroke side. Certainly a sidebend with hike motions, though clearly an oversimplification, but at least it gives you a sense for what he does, very methodical about his climbing effort. After he wiped out on a descent a few years ago in the Tour de France, you just hope he makes it in one piece on the fast descents, the roads were wide enough, but did seem to avoid the yellow line especially in the rain. Did not have a good look at Kloden’s off saddle sprint to the finish for second place. Riders struggling with their breathing at the finish, unless of course you just won the race. Fun to get an inkling on how the riders motivate themselves, no doubt each has his own way to do so.

US Pro-Challenge: Stage 3

US Pro-Challenge: Stage 3 towards Independence Pass.

Thus far the best stage. Francisco Jarley Colorado Hernandez (Col), did you take a look at the hand contact on the handlebars? In contrast to Castiblanco, that pelvic tilt was not apparent. Relaxed grip, good hand/arm weight shifting – just what the doctor ordered! Jeffry Louder (USA): SBHH seated while a TPR off the saddle and hands on the drops – which seems to be the trend. Tom Danielson (USA) off the saddle, defining “dancing on the pedals”. Castiblanco sprinting off the saddle with the TPR and hands on the drops, nice bend of the elbows up hill (the climbers’ version of the Cavendish sprint?). Later in the stage, Colorado (aptly named) would develop a more methodical sequence of the SBHH ie. sidebend – drive the hike- engage the upstroke – repeat (on a steeper part of the climb?); much like Kristin Armstrong did in the London Olympics, 2012 during her time trial. There is a message here somewhere. Again, hand contact on the drops or the hoods tends towards weight shifting and relaxed.

Another George Hincapie sighting from the front, comfortably weight shifting on the hoods, off saddle. Tom Danielson (USA) with what appeared to be a roll motion off saddle, hands on the hoods. The impression of the movement will vary with the perspective as the movement pattern tends to a hybrid of the TPR and SBHH. He was to keep a high quality movement pattern throughout, and for that matter so did Colorado until Danielson gapped him. If there was a breakdown in his movement pattern, I could not tell.

A few well placed Gendarmes are required close to the finish lines. On occasion, you will see a spectator running with the riders (the Shmengy as Bob Roll would refer to them?), and the Gendarme lands him deep in the third row.

The 2012 Pro-Challenge

The 2012 US Pro-Challenge is on!

Better camera position during the second stage of the event, to view the actual performance of the athletes. No doubt there are spreadsheets of the performances; I’d rather get excited about how the athletes actually do what they do, and you can only do that by looking. Otherwise, what is the point of turning to the broadcast?

Jorge Camilo Castiblanco Cubides (Col), he did a very nice job sprinting on a climb, off saddle, hands on the drops, elbows well bent, in a good display of the trunk pelvic roll. David Zabriskie (USA), and I may have shifted some of the observations from one stage to the other in my notes, but a clear cut rotation of the trunk and hip hike. Something which is not easy to see when he time trials. On the subsequent stage, another monumental effort, but at some point, he suffered a significant engine failure (F5 out of 5); hands on the hoods, lower trunk rotation apparent along with a hike: What I could not tell if there was a delay of the hike, and how well connected the whole was. F5 may take many forms in different individuals. The remarkable thing was that he recovers to do the same thing the following day!

A good view of George Hincapie (USA), in his final race? A side view (not optimal viewing, but do need a George sighting somewhere). Sidebend hip hike, very active at a good rpm, apparent if you know what to look for. One of the first SBHH’s I noted in a time trial, some time ago, with a very clear hike motion.

Rafael Infantino Abreu (Col) attempting to slide away from a group with a trunk roll and a well defined hike.

Overall, the climbing portions and breakaways in particular, tend to isolate the cameras on areas of interest. I vote for more of this!

Jorge Camilo Castiblanco Cubides (Col), seated climbing, very clear pelvic tilt (timed with the downstroke) plus a hike, which I had only seen prior in members of the Rossetti Team at the track, a team under the guidance of Emile Abraham. May have been a feature of the steepness of the incline (I can’t tell). Off saddle, he tends to roll the trunk and hike the hips. While in terrain which may not be as steep, the tilt disappears. The level of coordination of this whole sequence is out of this world, using every available effort to remain in contact.

I am told cyclists remain perfectly still on their bikes to “conserve energy”. Nobody told this to the Colombian team who is leading the charge in breakaways and contributing to a very good spectacle, exactly what people want to watch.

A spectator by the side of the road, with a leg cast and crutches, attempting to “run” with the riders close to the finish. Clearly, one French fry away from a Happy Meal.

While the cameras were focusing on Castiblanco and others, Tejay van Garderen (USA) and Christian Vande Velde (USA) blow by to the finish. Vande Velde is in good position behind van Garderen at the sprint, takes a few pedal strokes with the SBHH off saddle, has to sit as he is even with TJ and off the saddle again. There was nothing left to give.


The Performance Movement Patterns  have not been described, up to now, much less taught. There is no evidence that the biomechanics folks are looking at these issues. The operating assumption is that the pelvis in fixed on the saddle for the sake of efficiency, and the premise of the “power-based” approach is grounded on the length-tension relationship, neuromuscular control being relegated to track events. Think about that for a moment. There is no room to ask more probing questions when the sport limits itself in this manner. You should be aware that the simplest motion requires a very involved and complicated neuromuscular control. Those assumptions leave no room for relevant research questions. You see tradition all over in the performances of the elite athletes, but go unrecognized, and this sport needs to advance. I have spent over 10 years of work on this, these are fundamental issues, and it proves that the best ideas don’t have to come from research institutions but from innovation that takes place in garages and from real life observations. I have all the evidence and demonstrations for my conclusions. Based on athlete experiences for most, I have no doubt that you have seen, at some level, the performance features that I am highlighting.

Weight Shifting

Very hard to describe the task of weight shifting to the athlete, so you are left with 2 options. The first is to get them on the indoor trainer (not rollers) and demonstrate 2 types of contact with the handlebar, the first is contact almost exclusively with the heel of the hand (fingers extended), perform crisp weight shifting (be safe). Then overlay the grip and demonstrate that you can still weight shift with a grip, but the tasks are separable. This can be done in any position, but first on the trainer. Use video to demonstrate.

Where is the info? I have published a book on the movement patterns and the video collection may give you an inkling of weight shifting. Side to side weight of the trunk is readily apparent, the hand contact appears quite relaxed and at times you will catch the fingers wiggling around on a very steep incline. I can see it, but cannot describe it very well verbally (seeing is believing). As Yogi Berra once said, “You can see a lot just by watching”.

Take a look at all other sports; they coach to the quality of movement which includes torso and pelvis, and details thereof, which cycling has ignored so far. From what I see, the current level of instruction leaves much to be desired, at all levels, and certainly not at the level of quality of other sports. Having said that, there is a good grasp of the physiology yet that is blind to the actual, on the bike movement pattern.

The only conclusion to be had is that well performed movement patterns lead to superior performance. The end result of the movement pattern is efficiency. The focus is on the athleticism of these athletes and the rhythm of athletic movement. This is all demonstrable from the performances at the Tours as well as all the cycling disciplines at the Olympic Games.

The Sidebend Hip Hike

Thanks for your question regarding the Sidebend Hip Hike. Briefly, and verbal descriptions are very hard to do; basically, the movement begins with weight shifting on the L-handlebar, sidebending left and hiking the right hip well timed with mid upstroke and forward sweep. Then reverse in the other direction. This is a reciprocal sequence of movements which can be applied in off saddle or seated climbing, tempo riding and time trials. If you have a chance to watch some of the remaining races this year Vuelta and the World championships what to look for: from an elevated position and from behind or to the side as the athletes climb or time trial. Focus your sights solely on the torso and pelvis. Who to look at: Fabian Cancellara, Tony Martin, Taylor Phinney and of course Alberto Contador, to mention a few notables. Certainly, all athletes in these teams deliver sound movement patterns, as you head into the amateur ranks the quality of performance drops off significantly all the way to unstable.