Repost: How is that fat guy riding my legs off?

Aug 04 2009 Published by under Cycling

This post originally appeared on Aug 20, 2007.



BikeMonkey Re-Post
The NYT had an article a month ago on the fact that in bike-speak "Fit" is not always equal to "Thin", a fact which apparently confounds Wake-Forest "exercise physiologist" Michael Berry

But, Dr. Berry added, "I quickly learned that when I was riding with someone with a 36-inch waist, I could be looking at the back of their waist when they rode away from me."

I gotta say runners crack me up. They have a pretty hard time getting cycling, mostly because it seems like a series of "cheats" compared to what they are used to. So when they blow out their knees, grind out their hips, get heel spurs, bang their big toes or whatever, they are forced to the OneTruePath of cycling for health reasons. This leads to much hilarity.


To be fair though, I'll point to two examples of cyclists-come-lately who didn't have a running background to expand a bit on the NYT article.
First, check out the middle two pictures in the linked article, dude, this could be before/after on Bikemonkey! (Well, those legs are a little spindly for a real cyclist but focus on the equatorial regions if you will.) Suffice it to say I'm a good 40 pounds over racing weight. Most casual friends like spousal co-workers and neighbors kinda "heard" that I "used to ride" but see pretty much the "after" picture. And there is no doubt that my current job is pretty much limited to sitting in front of a computer writing papers and grants and running a lab.
Poor suckah number one was the guy who took up mountain biking to drop some weight in maybe his early thirties. He was a pretty obsessive type and was successful in dropping some weight, getting pretty good on the MTB and finally talked me into a ride. Of course we get back from the first ride and his mouth is pretty much on the ground, not from exertion but because he can't believe this out of shape guy was putting the hurt on him like this. I am *not* braggin' here, I peaked out as a sort-of competitive Sport MTB racer which is no great shakes. The point, however, is partially the one raised by the great Andy Hampsten in the NYT article that efficiency means a LOT in cycling. You have to learn to put down the power on a bike in an efficient manner, using as much of the non-physiologically-correct pedal circle as possible with as many muscle groups as possible. To achieve the most efficient pedaling cadence (crank rpm). Some people are going to be better than others, of course, but there is a massive training effect. Apparently this is one of the things that leaves you last and I can still pedal circles, good on me. Efficiency demands are trebled or quadrupled when you are talking off-road riding. Where to start? Everything requires efficiency because the more time you spend slowing down/speeding up because you don't have the technical skill burns energy. Ditto bouncing up and down because you can't read terrain. Etc. No, this guy's full-suspendy bike didn't help that much.
Second poor suckah was the neighbor, maybe 5-8 years older than me but rail thin, works for a living (i.e., ironworker; more on my formative years with similar working but real bike guys later) and came to cycling recently to keep fit with the rec-triath-wife. I think this episode was in the middle of one of my little motivational bursts where I actually dust off a bike and go for a ride or two. So we go for a nice little jaunt and he's just killing me on the hills, up Mt. Soledad (the easy way, more on the infamous Via Capri in later posts no doubt) and up onto Torrey Pines Mesa (home of much bioscience for the nerds out there). Then we get up on the flats and crank out to the top of Torrey Pines (the park and popular intervals hill) and come back. The guy's been killing me on the hills so, ok, I get out front in the big and cruise it a bit. After a while the guy's dying and I'm getting the "How is this fat guy killing me?" look again. This is one of the points that runners miss, the NYT article overlooked and has a geeky component. Uphill riding is (mostly) about power to weight ratio which we've heard all about in Lance's TdF conquests of the past decade or so. The NYT article talks about heavy people descending fast but this only brushes on the real point. Until the road is really going up, cycling is about power to frontal area because the cost of cutting through the air is so high. Naturally, the relationships of weight-to-power and frontal-area-to-power in cyclists are not directly related. It is no accident that real time trialists look like BigMig and Jan Ulrich (Ob: MDMA!) and guys like Pantani and Sastre have to "limit their losses"; in the TT it is all about raw power output. And fat guys who put on a big belly are probably actually improving their aerodynamics! Anyhoo, NYT missed this and it leads us to our next topic which mystifies me a bit, physiologically.
Power.
Another problem for cyclists-come-lately is that it seems to take something like 3 years of serious riding for a cyclist to start to asymptote. Now, this is complete seat-of-pants anecdote but comes from watching people "get serious about cycling" over the years. I'm sure the timecourse is modified by actual training regimen, some of this is tied up with development and there are exceptions. Whatever. There is, however, I think some thing physiological going on with leg musculature and the ability to really crank out the power on a bike. It doesn't transfer for really fit/dedicated runners. I think the long timeline (years, not months) is really confusing to people who come from other sports, they just don't think that it might be a 3 year process. So when after a summer of "getting serious about cycling" the fat, old, out-o-shape guy is still waxing them, well, I start getting that "look" again 🙂

28 responses so far

  • Sara says:

    What's a good way to learn efficient pedaling-- having someone critique your form, biking enough that your body is forced to be more efficient, riding fixed? I ride fixed, and I like to tell myself it's improving my stroke ;).
    I've noticed the years long time scale of getting fit in cycling, too. Is it not that way for running and other sports? Maybe runners injure themselves too often to have that sustained fitness. At least, that's what seems to happen to my dad: he trains for and runs a marathon, injures himself, gets laid up for months, then has to start over from scratch.
    You mention that your previous fitness in cycling allows you to get in cycling shape pretty fast. Do you also think that there is a critical window during development (probably around puberty) where your sport of choice affects patterns of muscle development? The muscles I used most in my childhood/adolescent sport develop very quickly when I am on a "get in shape" kick. I wonder if anyone else has noticed a correlation in themselves as well.

  • It's totally debunked bullshit that there is a special "technique" to pedaling that can make you more "efficient". The only efficiency that matters is muscular efficiency, which has nothing whatsoever to do with "technique".

  • tcmJOE says:

    I'm really enjoying these bicycling reposts (particularly as I'm working on building my cycling endurance). Keep them coming!

  • Eskimo says:

    This is mostly a comment on my cluelessness, but before I saw this post I didn't know what region of the country you live in.

  • bikemonkey says:

    As usual PP, you go off totally halfcocked. If you are talking about that 'ankling' crap you are correct. This does not mean that there is no difference between well trained pedal stroke and n00b pedal stroke.
    Sara, never having so much as tried to coach I'd lean toward ride-more. But yes fixie riding is supposed to help a lot. The other oldeskoole suggestions include one legged pedaling, intervals of emphasizing different parts of the circle, etc

  • This does not mean that there is no difference between well trained pedal stroke and n00b pedal stroke.

    I didn't say there isn't. It's just that there is no special "technique" that needs to be consciously learned. You just pedal a lot and you get perfectly good at it without even thinking about it.
    There is a big difference in walking between an adult and a motherfucking toddler. This isn't because the adult has consciously learned a "technique" for walking. You just walk a lot and you get good at it.
    BTW, why are you such a fucking asshole? I have no idea why DoucheMonkey--who is otherwise a pretty nice guy--lets you guest post here. Do you know some bad secret shit about him or something?

  • bikemonkey says:

    Hahah, trying to horn in on Isis' schtick?
    anything that can be learned by doing can be learned better and/or faster by doing *right*. running, skating, cycling, skiing....shit, probably even pipetting. You ever seen the crap technique on exhibit at your average 10K run?

  • Lab Lemming says:

    Bikemonkey,
    How do you get to and from work? As long as you don't live too close, you should be able to put down 100-300 km/week on the commute.

  • running, skating, cycling, skiing

    For skating, swimming, and skiing, technique is *huge*. For running and cycling, it is nearly meaningless. I'm surprised that someone who claims to know so much about athletics isn't aware of this incontrovertible fact.

  • Oh, and by technique being nearly meaningless in running and cycling, I mean in terms of power generation in endurance events. Obviously there is technique involved in maneuvering, tactics, etc.

  • bikemonkey says:

    Nice try there but I make no claims to special knowledge, holmes.
    But since you seem so sure, how about a cite or two? Cause the evidence of the top rank athletes versus the also-rans sure doesn't support your position. How many top cycling or running pros have garbage form?

  • Dude, you're making the positive assertion that "form" or "technique" at pedaling or running makes a big difference in endurance cycling and running. You show some evidence that this is the case, other than old wives' tales.

  • Anonymous says:

    as a recreational triathlete, I'm always working to improve my form. Technique DOES matter because bad technique leads to inefficient motion which translates to wasted energy. It adds up over the miles. My times have definitely improved when I worked with a running coach to improve my running form - less fatigue for the same race times.

  • becca says:

    "For skating, swimming, and skiing, technique is *huge*"
    WRT swimming: If by "technique" you mean "having flippers" then yes, yes technique is huge.

  • Dudes, where the hell is DrugMonkey? I thought that this was supposed to be a science blog, not freaking Cycling World.

  • Alex says:

    Yeah, next thing you know somebody will start talking about the proper shoes to wear while cycling! Geez!
    🙂

  • Sara says:

    Bike shoe shopping is fun! Mine are really cute with a bit of light blue so that people know I'm a girl. (They actually are kind of cute, and really comfy.)

  • tcmJOE says:

    "There is a big difference in walking between an adult and a motherfucking toddler. This isn't because the adult has consciously learned a "technique" for walking. You just walk a lot and you get good at it."
    I realize this is merely anecdote (though I'm sure a person with the relevant knowledge to look into this may be able to find some relevant papers) but both my father and I used to walk sort of duck-footed. This has caused some major problems for both of us--my ankles twisted easily and my father's knees eventually became so painful that he could barely walk around the block (bad news for a big hiker).
    With the advice of some books on running and talking with our bone and joint doctor we started consciously practicing walking with our feet parallel. There's been huge improvement--my dad is back doing massive hikes and my ankles are much less prone to twisting.

  • RetroGrouch says:

    The greatest cycling shoe evah: Duegi 101 (RIP)

  • Anonymous says:

    ComradePhysioProf :"Dude, you're making the positive assertion that "form" or "technique" at pedaling or running makes a big difference in endurance cycling and running. You show some evidence that this is the case, other than old wives' tales."
    This statement shows complete ignorance about endurance sports. Obviously you've never participated in endurance sports (or at least not with any seriousness). therefore you should refrain from making stupid comments at those who DO participate in endurance sports at a competitive level.

  • Obviously you've never participated in endurance sports (or at least not with any seriousness).

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That's fucking rich!

  • an ultra marathoner says:

    you gotta admit, CPP, any high school track athlete will tell you how wrong you are in your claims that form and technique don't matter.

  • Damn it, aren't at least a couple of you motherfucking scientists? One of you is even a phyiomotherfuckingologist. How about some motherfucking data then?
    I remember reading last year Peter Hespel's group in Belgium published a study in the Journal of Sports Science demonstrating that a novel pedal design could increase power output in well-trained male scientists despite not increasing VO2 or VCO2. This seems to indicate that a change in form can alter performance independent of of changes in aerobic fitness.
    You might also look at the work published by Olds and Ly in my favorite little journal (The Journal of Applied Physiology) from 1995 in which they mathematically modeled road cycle performance. They used things like the nude mass of the cyclist (my favorite), VO2max, wind resistance, environmental conditions, and some parameters of the bike to model performance time and found their predictions were well-correlated with actual performance time (r2=0.89). They also looked at predicted angular momentum based on anatomic measures of the limbs and cadence. Kind of an interesting paper if you're a cycling nerd.
    Boys?

  • Cashmoney says:

    *male* scientists Isis. The kind that pontificate and dickwave until some woman comes along with actual science. (which said dickwavers will proceed to ignore)

  • Sorry. "Well trained male athletes." I suppose I was so distracted by the waving dicks that I mistyped the info for Hespel's paper.
    Let the dick waving continue (is dickwaving one word or two?).

  • That BikeMonkey fuckwad has run away, because he knows I'm correct.

  • HA HA HA! *cough*data*cough*

  • JSinger says:

    WRT swimming: If by "technique" you mean "having flippers" then yes, yes technique is huge.
    Ummm, no. For that matter, even just learning an ugly, inefficient crawl is a victory of technique over natural impulses of flailing away, although that's not what we're talking about here. The average competent swimmer is comparable to a turn-skidding, shoulder-twisting, locked-knees, plateaued-intermediate skier.

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