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I've gotten back into riding fairly recently. I used to ride a bicycle a lot when I was younger - the single-speed, steel-frame deal with coaster brakes. I'm now riding a Fuji hybrid.

When I was younger, standing to pedal was the thing to do. However, now when I do it, I can't really sustain it for more than four seconds, literally; my quads ache and I feel as though I have absolutely no endurance for this. This happens not only on hills, but on flat as well.

Sitting to pedal has been alright for the most part. I'm able to climb hills in low gear (even though I'm really not good at it yet) and I can pedal well on flat ground. Standing is just a different story, as it takes it out of me so incredibly quickly that it's an almost useless technique.

Am I doing something wrong? Might I need to adjust my handlebars to be higher or something? (My saddle is at a correct height, but perhaps when I stand, I'm having to lean too far forward to keep my hands on the bars?) Or is this common and it's something I'll just need to get over with practice? Don't get me wrong - I know that these things do come with time - but it doesn't seem to make sense that I get tired standing to pedal even on flat ground...

Thank you.

  • My advice would be to simply not stand - at least until your fitness returns. A few months and you'll be back to standing – Gordon Copestake Sep 9 '15 at 15:11
  • Approximately how many RPM do you normally spin when sitting down? – BSO rider Sep 9 '15 at 23:19
  • @BSOrider No idea. – jedd.ahyoung Sep 10 '15 at 1:38
  • Tried it again this morning - it turns out that my tires were woefully underinflated. I tried using a more difficult gear, which I think helped with cadence (not bottoming out on a stroke) and I tried shifting my weight forward a bit so that I could straighten my body and legs a bit. I think it helped! Still a lot of work to do in terms of endurance, but I'll get there. Thanks! – jedd.ahyoung Sep 10 '15 at 17:09
  • @jedd.ahyoung you might want to think about adjusting the handlebar position. if you don't have an adjustable stem, you can pick one up fairly cheaply and have the benefit of trialing a few positions. – Adam Sep 16 '15 at 22:58
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Standing up on a bike, especially when you lack fitness, is a good way to go "anaerobic." Put simply, that means your body is working so hard, it can't get enough oxygen. You can only do that for a short amount of time, which for most people is in the range of 10-30 seconds. Then the lactic acid build up in your muscles becomes too painful and you are forced to ease up.

The solution is simple. You need more strength and fitness. If you like to ride fast and/or climb hills, you can't avoid the anaerobic zone completely, but you can move it a little farther away by getting good fitness. Keep riding, and keep riding hills.

  • Good to know. If it's not a bike fit thing but just a fitness thing, I can work up to it with time. I'll start practicing flatground sprints at timed intervals and then slowly move on to standing for hills. – jedd.ahyoung Sep 9 '15 at 17:06
  • Also, when you're a little kid, your strength to weight ratio is much higher than when you're an adult. Your lungs and heart are also comparatively larger and more efficient. Kids are amazing. – RoboKaren Sep 11 '15 at 16:35
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    And kids often have the saddle way too low so they are used to go out of the saddle. – Michael Sep 11 '15 at 19:54
  • It's been getting better. It's not great, but it's better. I still can't do a long sprint or anything, but I can stand in the pedals for a longer period of time now (although I definitely can't seem to do it indefinitely, as I still have to lean over to reach the handlebars). I also can't seem to really recruit my glutes or hamstrings that well, so it's all quads, but at least something's getting stronger! – jedd.ahyoung Nov 4 '15 at 23:25
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Pedaling while standing always takes more effort; we do it when we need the extra boost.

When you were younger and rid[ing] a bicycle a lot, you were also fitter. I'm guessing you have had a sedentary job for a while, so now your whole system needs to build up again. This is, unfortunately in our modern world, normal.

As with any strength / fitness program, take it slowly. It's easy to cause injuries by being over-enthusiastic. So ride regularly, gradually increasing the distances. Ride while standing from time to time, gradually increasing the number of pedal strokes or distance.

When you are feeling that you have some strength and fitness, you can look into interval training, or other training methods. You can also look at our questions for more guidance.

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The frame size and shape could be an issue too. Some frames transfer your effort more efficiently than others. And some frames may do the transfer less efficiently when standing than when sitting. Have you tried stand-pedaling on a different bike? Try borrowing one, you may decide that it is time to buy a different frame.

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When I started riding again, after many years, standing was very hard – like couldn't do it hard. My legs ached as soon as I started and it was really hard to control the bike. Now, a year and change later, I almost enjoy it. I often stand to push up the last part of a hill or to do a short hill without shifting.

My advice would be to find opportunities to push your self (maybe without standing), notice the signs of getting fitter and from time to time do a bit of standing. I think you'll find that it gets easier.

Also, make sure you're in a high enough gear when you stand. I find that if the gear is too low standing is much harder.

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Have you tried it on other bikes? I own one bike on which I can not really ride standing up while I can do it on others, just because of the position (and size) of the handle bars and the pedals.

Of course, building up muscles will help, but some bikes are just not build for standing up. If it is really 4 seconds max, I would say that you will not find it easy to ride standing up on this bike, not even when you have build up your muscles. And sometimes it is the combination of rider and bike.

  • Perhaps. Thinking about it, when I was younger, I could literally stand on the pedals nearly upright because of the handlebar position. I could fully utilize my weight. On the bike I have now, I'm always bent, and I suppose my legs are as well, so I can't actually weight the pedals in the same way - so I'm standing, but using more muscle than weight to keep the pedals moving. I can say that I have not tried it on other bikes. – jedd.ahyoung Sep 10 '15 at 1:45
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standing while pedaling should not necessarily be harder than sitting - it depends on how you're doing it. if you're in a hard gear, and/or cycling up hill, it may in fact be easier to stand while pedaling so that you can exert more downward pressure on the pedals.

  • Hmm. How can we exert more downward pressure on the pedals without it being harder? – andy256 Sep 14 '15 at 6:17
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    @andy256 Gravity. If things are set up correctly, that is. – jedd.ahyoung Sep 14 '15 at 13:54
  • @jedd.ahyoung To push a pedal down, you have to exert a force. This can be supplied by gravity. But if you let your body drop as you do it then you have to lift your body for the next pedal stroke. If you don't let your body drop you still have to supply the force. There is no escaping physics. Sorry about that :-) – andy256 Sep 14 '15 at 22:27
  • @andy256 physics? yes. harder? not necessarily. perhaps 'exert more downward pressure' was a poor choice of words. how about make the pedal go down without having to work harder? – Adam Sep 15 '15 at 23:03
  • @Adam The question is how? Since when you sit some of your weight is carried by the seat, when you stand your legs carry that extra weight. How can this not be harder / more effort / more work? – andy256 Sep 15 '15 at 23:16

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