The Cycling Fundamentals

What is the biggest thing that holds you back from making the front split on the Saturday group ride? Why do you fall apart in the final 30 miles every time you ride a century? How come you get dropped by your buddies on the twisty descent after working so hard to stay with them on the climb? The answers might be a whole lot simpler than you think and could come down to overlooking the basic riding “fundamentals.” We compiled a wide range of the fundamentals that stand to make a marked improvement in your cycling, regardless of your experience level.

Practicing pack riding skills can help you save energy and hopefully keep you from going out the back.


This is the place where the biggest gains can be made in the enjoyment, speed and safety of your ride. There are, of course, inherent risks in being in the draft of the group, so let’s go over a few basics.

• If you’re not comfortable being in the middle of the group, then position yourself on the left or right side of the group so you feel there’s an “escape route,” but try to minimize how far outside of the group bubble you are.
• If you’re not comfortable being in the middle of the group, then position yourself on the left or right side of the group so you feel there’s an “escape route,” but try to minimize how far outside of the group bubble you are; otherwise, you’ll be unnecessarily pushing wind. A little extra wind resistance might not seem like a big deal at the time, but it all adds up. When the hammer drops, how efficient you’ve been up to that point will be clearly on display.
• Do not overlap the wheel in front of you. What this means is that your front wheel should be behind the rear wheel of the rider in front of you. If you overlap, then there’s a good chance your front wheel will be taken out if/ when the rider in front stands up and swings the bike. This is probably the biggest cause for wrecks in the group.
• When you go from seated to standing, do not “throw your bike back.” This is when you ease up on the pedals during the transition from sitting to standing, and the slight drop in speed, along with your bike being swung side to side, is enough to cause the rider on your wheel to be up in your wheel. Practice smooth transitions to avoid this.
• There are a lot of small fluctuations in speed that happen in the pack, and if you are pedaling at too low of a cadence, responding to these changes takes too long and makes maintaining your position much more challenging, thus wasting energy. A high cadence of 100+ rpm will give you much quicker acceleration and make following the ebb and flow of the group easier.
• Keep your eyes focused in front of you, so if there is a slowdown or road hazard you are ready for it. Quick glances side to side to know where riders are is okay, but never look behind you. It does not matter what is going on behind, and as you look back you will veer in the direction you are looking in. If you must look back, then place your hand on the shoulder of an experienced rider next to you before turning your head. That will keep you from deviating from your line.

Not following the basic fundamentals is more often than not the reason crashes happen.


Eating and drinking are two things we do daily, and yet it is often misunderstood what we need and when we need it. We’re not going to get deep into the nutritional science, because that is an entirely different article, but the following guidelines will do wonders for those without a nutrition plan. Regardless of what type of diet you’re on, your body is fueled by carbohydrates and fat when exercising. The better trained you are, the more efficient you are at burning fat, and that’s a very good thing, considering even the leanest cyclists have nearly limitless fat stores. Carbohydrates, or glycogen, are the preferred fuel source as intensity increases, and unfortunately there is a much smaller caloric supply of it. Maintaining glycogen stores along with proper hydration could be your missing link in getting through long rides while still feeling strong.
• Carbo-loading the day before a big ride is typically not necessary, unless you’re on a ketogenic diet (high fat and low carbs) or for other reasons that might have depleted muscle glycogen stores.
• Don’t skip breakfast on ride day, regardless of how early the start is. Liver glycogen stores will be reduced overnight, and since that’s what fuels your brain, topping it off is in your best interest.
• The rule of giving yourself three hours between eating a meal and starting a ride or race is only necessary if the event will be very intense from the get-go. If the initial pace will be light to moderate, then one or two hours is enough time between eating and riding.
• If you’re riding two hours or longer, then plan to consume between 250–300 calories per hour. Start eating after the very first hour of riding, not when you begin to feel hungry. Choose foods that are high in carbohydrates, such as boiled potatoes, a honey sandwich, sports bar or gel/chew. Creating a fueling plan can be the difference in suffering through the last couple hours of a century or staying strong all the way to the finish.
• Solid foods are more easily consumed when the pace is low to moderate, but when riding at higher intensities for a sustained duration, opting for gels/chews or liquid nutrition is a much better way to take in calories without having to chew between gasping for air.
• Fluid intake while exercising is similar to caloric intake in the fact that even with the best strategy you are still going to be in a deficit since your body will not be able to absorb what you consume at the same rate you’re burning, or sweating it out. That means coming into the ride well-hydrated is a critical part of performing at your peak, especially late into an event.
• Plan to drink 20–25 ounces per hour of an electrolyte replacement drink (one large water bottle). If the weather is hot and/or exertion level is high, then both fluid and electrolyte demands will increase.
• It’s easy to become dehydrated when it’s cold out because we don’t get the same feeling of thirst as on a hot day. Even though sweat rate is lower in cool temperatures, you should still be drinking a minimum of 16 ounces per hour.

A tight-fitting jersey can save you minutes over the course of a ride through aerodynamic efficiency.


• Tire pressure is something that has become a hotly debated topic of conversation as of late. It used to be that 110–120 psi in a 23mm width was the norm, and running anything less came at the expense of dramatically increasing rolling resistance and potential for pinch flats. Now, 25mm tires have all but replaced 23s, and with them comes rolling-resistance testing to show that pressures below 100 psi don’t hugely impact rolling resistance. If you haven’t already, opt for 25mm and try them in the 90–95-psi range.
• Run approximately 5 psi less in the front tire than in the rear. This will help balance the ride, since most of your body weight is over the rear tire.
• Bike fit isn’t something that should be left up to your buddy “eyeballing” you. Find a fit studio or bike shop with a trained fit specialist, and tell them what your cycling goals are and what issues you might have with your current setup. Can you comfortably ride in the drops? Do your hips rock when you pedal? Maybe you suffer from nagging knee pain? All of these can and should be addressed. At the very least, keep a record of key measurements (saddle height, setback and reach) so you know where you started.
• Decreasing drag, and thus increasing speed at the same effort, doesn’t have to set you back thou- sands of dollars in the form of a new aero road bike. After a couple of trips to the wind tunnel, we’ve found that clothing can create the biggest aerodynamic benefits. A skin-tight- fitting jersey that doesn’t flap in the shoulders versus a loose club-fit jersey can equate to minutes of time savings over the course of a ride. Next time you buy a jersey, try one size smaller first, or opt for the race cut.

Cornering with the inside pedal up while weighting the outside pedal and looking ahead through the corner is the proper technique.


• Train your weaknesses. If you’re not a very capable sprinter, then try adding in some unstructured, 10- second, all-out sprints to your week- end ride. After a few sessions you’ll be surprised by the gains that can be made in technique, acceleration and confidence. The same goes for climbing and descending. You might not ever be a natural, but then again, very few are born with those gifts; it’s about hard work and practice.
• We all like to think that we’re very accomplished descenders, just like all 16-year-olds think they’re incredible drivers, yet the reality is that we can use some help. A couple of simple things to work on are:
1) Look where you want to go. Look at the line you intend to follow through the corner and on down the road. Don’t look at the cliff drop or the edge of the road, since you’re prone to steer towards whatever your eyes are on.
2) Get in the drops. Lowering your center of gravity is enough of a reason to choose the drops over the hoods, but it’s also a more secure position where your hands can’t come flying off if you were to encounter an unexpected pothole. If being in the drops isn’t comfort- able, then go back and reread the Equipment and Setup section.
3) Extend your outside leg and push downward into the pedal through the corners. This keeps the inside pedal up so it cannot clip the ground when the bike is leaned over, and the force being driven downward from the outside pedal will help you hold a tighter line.
4) Move out of the saddle slightly in the corners or when hitting rougher pavement at speed. This will allow the bike to move under you as necessary to maintain your line, and you can use your body to absorb bumps rather than being a heavy, rigid object in the saddle.
• Get some riding partners together and head out to a parking lot or grass field and practice elbow bumping and leaning on each other while riding. It doesn’t take long to realize that getting bumped by another rider doesn’t have to spell disaster; it just takes a little practice. A loose upper body goes a long way in making sure that a bump from another rider doesn’t cause you to deviate from your line. The list could go on and on, but we feel these are some major things that we can all benefit from, regardless if you’re new to the sport or you put more miles on your bike than you do on your car. If you feel there are any glaring omissions from this list, please e-mail us at letters@ and tell us what you feel should be added.
The list could go on and on, but we feel these are some major things that we can all benefit from, regardless if you’re new to the sport or you put more miles on your bike than you do on your car. If you feel there are any glaring omissions from this list, please e-mail us at letters@ and tell us what you feel should be added.