15

I'm not "a cyclist", but I've been riding to work for 15 minutes or so each way almost every day for the last three years. I've recently moved and am now 30 minutes away and I find that length of ride to be a qualitative change.

I have a Van Moof 5.1 retrofitted with an SRAM Automatix and although it's heavy, it's very practical and I'm not interested in getting a lighter bike or going for clipless pedals. But are there any other tips for increasing my efficiency and comfort on my daily commute?

I've had to start wearing cycling shorts (because... ouch!) but is there any other equipment, technique or training that might be a quick win?

  • 19
    You sound like "a cyclist" to me! It's not multicolored jerseys, exotic equipment, or club membership that make one a cyclist, but rather the love and use of bicycles. – rclocher3 Aug 17 '16 at 21:57
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    Slow down. Take it easy. Allow more time. You've doubled the length of your rides, so you need to let your body adjust. In particular, start slowly to allow your muscles to warm up. Over time, you'll find that you get faster. Maybe you'll reconsider changing some equipment. A 30 minute commute is certainly enough to get benefit from clipless pedals. – andy256 Aug 17 '16 at 22:59
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    @Andy, I agree but on the other hand a 30 minute ride in tricky traffic isn't the place to get the hang of clipless. Falling over at a stop is much worse if there are cars in a hurry to get away, and possibly more likely. – Chris H Aug 18 '16 at 5:59
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    better seat can help! 30 min is inside my "pain" zone too. If you feel uncomfortable in your parts you could invest in a more anatomical seat. I got my self a smp and didn't feel numb down there any more. – kifli Aug 18 '16 at 7:00
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    @ChrisH While I agree that one's first clipless ride should not be in heavy traffic, I have always thought the idea that everyone crashes at least once with clipless pedals is a fallacy. For example I've never fallen (due to the pedals) in 35 years of using various clipless systems, and nor has my daughter since I taught her. IMO it's very much that you get what you expect :-) – andy256 Aug 18 '16 at 7:27
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I have found that if you don't want to invest in equipment the best way to improve efficiency is by ensuring you are fitted properly to the bike you have.

For example: Many non-cyclists do not have the optimal seat height set, or their reach to the handlebars is too great or too compact. If you don't want to invest in equipment, invest in knowledge and ensure you're setup correctly.

Your legs should be between 96-98% fully extended when the crank arm is at its lowest position. Your knee should be level with the pedal spindle when the crank arm is horizontal. Sometimes shortening your reach allows you to bend your elbows, arch your back and breathe more easily; sometimes things are too compact and extending your reach improves efficiency.

Even if you think you have things dialed in, if you are feeling flat, I often practice a tip from the Greg Lemond Book of Cycling and move my seat around (up or down, forwards or backwards) about a millimetre or two at a time until it feels better.

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    +1: I would go as far as saying a professional bike fit for someone spending an hour a day riding would be a great investment. – mattnz Aug 17 '16 at 22:57
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    "Knee-over-pedal-spindle", or KOPS, has been thoroughly discredited as a method of bike fitment. It fails to account for differences in the length of the foot, lower leg and upper leg and does not account for rotation of the body around the crank for lower "time-trial" positions or more upright positions used on mountainbikes. – Emyr Aug 19 '16 at 10:55
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    Saddle height is probably one of the biggest factors affecting efficiency, however 98% extended is way too extended. You have virtually no power at the end of your range of motion, so having a saddle too high won't give you any extra power. Plus, a saddle height that is too high can contribute to repetitive stress injuries (e.g., IT band). As @mattnz said, when in doubt professional consultation could be useful. – Rider_X Aug 19 '16 at 13:57
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    A good rule of thumb for saddle height is that your heel should just touch when the pedal in its furthers position away from you. When put the ball of the foot is on the pedal ( in the same position) you should get a slight knee bend. You can also practice some 1-legged squats and observed the knee angle where you start to lose power. The amount of knee bend should be similar. – Rider_X Aug 19 '16 at 14:00
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    Agree with the squats-method. Disagree with the heel method: similar physiological issues to KOPS, plus inconsistencies in sole construction. – Emyr Aug 23 '16 at 7:18
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There are lots of things you could try:

  • Perhaps you could borrow a lighter bike with clipless pedals to see if you like it. Oops, never mind, you vetoed this option ;)
  • You could make sure that your bicycle is adjusted for fit as well as possible, and is free of maintenance issues. Professional fittings by experts are available but are quite expensive. If you bought the bike at a local shop then the staff there would surely be glad to assist, or you could try @dafew's excellent fitting advice.
  • You could try different tires (or tyres, if you prefer). Generally speaking, narrower tires can be pumped up to higher pressures and have noticeably less rolling resistance. There's some good advice on Sheldon Brown's page about tires and on his page about tire sizing.
  • You could add an electric motor and battery to your bike to either help with pedaling or do all of it. There are lots of different conversion kits available, let the buyer beware! This product backed by a Kickstarter campaign has generated a lot of buzz lately, but of course crowd-funded products can be risky.
  • You could try training yourself. When I first bought my bicycle in a mostly-flat city I went on rides just for fun, and avoided hills like the plague; I didn't like hills and the slightest incline hurt to climb. Then I moved to a mountainous area and decided to train. I started riding up every (reasonable) hill I could find. The training was (and is) painful at times, but exhilarating. Now I enjoy the challenge of a hill, I sail over hills that seemed difficult before, and I enjoy many other benefits of being more fit. You might not be so inclined of course, but if you haven't tried it then maybe you should. (I'll let you be the judge.)
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    "Generally speaking, narrower tires [...] have noticeably less rolling resistance." That was received wisdom for a long time but it's not actually true, is it? The pro peloton are moving to wider, lower pressure tyres because they give more grip, are more comfortable and have lower rolling resistance. – David Richerby Aug 18 '16 at 11:29
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    @DavidRicherby Can you point to any details on this? – BlueChippy Aug 18 '16 at 12:03
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    @BlueChippy Article on Cycling Weekly was the first that came up on a search; this article on Competitive Cyclist has a nice diagram from Continental. – David Richerby Aug 18 '16 at 12:10
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    @DavidRicherby I have looked at your links very fairly and I think truth lays somewhere in between. Too wide and low-pressure tyres (MTB) have much higher rolling resistance than narrow and high-pressure tyres (road). MTB tyres have alsou higer aerodynamic drag. Your examples compare 23mm, 25mm and 27mm tyres, which are all narrow, compared to MTB, and in your first link they conclude that 27mm have lowest rolling drag, but highest aerodynamic drag and that 25mm tyres are optimal. – Crowley Aug 18 '16 at 15:51
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    @Crowley Sorry -- I didn't mean to imply that making your tyres wider would always decrease rolling resistance. Thanks for clarifying that there are limits to this. – David Richerby Aug 18 '16 at 17:24
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A simple change might be to get your bike properly serviced. Re-greasing, realigning, re-cabling etc. can all make a significant improvement when combined.

You'll change gear more smoothly, brake better and more predictably, the freewheel will spin more cleanly and without brakes intermittently grabbing because of an untrue wheel, pedals will spin more freely, tyres will be the correct pressure...etc. etc.

As mentioned above, also look to get the seat and bars to the best height for you.

Finally, look at changing tyres to something with a flat centre strip, but grips on the sides. Ideal for road commuting because you get most of the benefits of a smooth tyre when going straight, but grip when you corner. Something like this perhaps https://www.evanscycles.com/specialized-borough-armadillo-wired-700c-commuter-tyre-EV201135

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    In case the asker isn't aware, you don't need deep tyre treads on the road. The purpose of the tread on car tyres is to disperse water and avoid hydroplaning, but that's not an issue at the speeds pedal cyclists travel at. (I seem to remember reading that you'd need to be doing 70+mph on your bike for hydroplaning to become a threat, but I've no idea how reliable that is.) – David Richerby Aug 18 '16 at 11:26
  • on the contrary. "grips" are counter-productive on road. You need smooth surface on the sides if you want to corner aggressively. – njzk2 Aug 18 '16 at 18:58
  • @DavidRicherby I have experienced hydroplaning on a bike at a very low speed, not much more than 5 km/h. – Davidmh Aug 18 '16 at 19:15
  • @Davidmh - I don't see how that's possible, I've ridden my mountain bike (wide slicks, no tread) through 10cm of water at over 10km/hour (100m along a flooded paved trail) and had no problem with hydroplaning. I'm not even sure I could stay upright at 5 km/hour. Unless you were submerged to the point where you are actually floating, I don't see how you managed to hydroplane your bike or even figured out that you were hydroplaning at all. – Johnny Aug 18 '16 at 20:52
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    @njzk2 For the OP, I would recommend grips on the sides and NOT cornering aggressively. Fastest way into A&E on a wet and dark morning commute on diesel greasy roads! – BlueChippy Aug 19 '16 at 7:35
4

Some ideas:

Find something that annoys you while riding and then work to resolve it, avoid it, or replace it. Example - There's a stretch of road that you don't enjoy. Perhaps its potholed, poor quality, narrow, filled with cars, or something. Find an alternative route that avoids it.

For me - traffic lights are irritating because the effort to get moving again is so much greater than speed maintenance. So I have a route that goes down a one-way street with a 30 km/h speed limit. If I enter the street right I can travel ~5 km through the CBD non-stop. Adjacent roads will have 14 sets of lights and I would generally stop at 4.

Traffic light anticipation - Instead of riding up to a red and stopping, try and predict the upcoming red lights sequence and slow down early so you're not having to stop/start.

Or simply take the long way home on some pleasant evening after work. No stress to get there, just enjoy the trip. You're able to ride for 30 minutes twice every day - so on Friday night try a 60 minute ride home. Pushing your upper bound of endurance helps the average endurance to rise.

Is there anyone living near you who would group-ride to work with you? Talk tends to make the time go faster even if you're travelling a bit slower.

Are you the personality that is motivated by progress? Consider logging your ride distances and go for a monthly total. 30 minutes each way is probably 5-8 miles each way, (or 10-16 a day) which is quite a respectable distance! 20 working days a month is 200 miles a month and that is a lot of travel - I started with 100km/month when I lived 1km from work.

Do you have bike transport on local buses, like this? You may feel more comfortable if there's an out for getting home in the evening without riding, as a fallback plan. enter image description here

Final serious answer - have you considered an electric assist? This isn't intended to go faster, its to help you by taking some of the load off your legs. Its more similar to the feeling of a good tailwind, not a motorbike-feeling.



BTW - you ride a bike, and you're asking about improvements for something related to riding....

enter image description here

Welcome!

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    Heh. I know, I know, I'm just trying to avoid going full MAMIL for as long as I can. Good advice on optimising my route and timing the lights, I've been making an effort to do that for the last couple of weeks. – Robert Atkins Aug 18 '16 at 18:57
  • OK I only wear a vest when riding to/from work (10-45 minutes normally) but when on longer rides I wear bibs or tights UNDER my normal pants. That way I have pockets and a belt, while staying warm and compressed but without looking mamilly. Same goes for compression T shirt. Its not worth doing for a trip to work though. – Criggie Aug 18 '16 at 20:12
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    "MAMIL", that was a new term to me until just now. Crud, someone's tagged me with an acronym. Personally I wear the lycra shorts for the padding and the grease-stain hiding, and a day-glo yellow jersey for the visibility and the pockets in back (nothing falls out). My last resistance to being "one of those guys", according to Peter Griffin, has been to not wear a multi-colored jersey. Eventually I'll give in and be a full member of the tribe though. – rclocher3 Aug 18 '16 at 20:22
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    I personally embraced being a MAMIL, full skin suit on the way to work. Cuts off at least 1-2 minutes on my 60 km (total) daily commute. – Rider_X Aug 19 '16 at 14:05
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    It's the chafing I wear the shorts for, and they came with a pair of "normal" shorts that I wear over them then I change in the office. I really do feel the weight of a pair of jeans in my (pannier) basket though. – Robert Atkins Aug 20 '16 at 11:08
2

Two things that increase effort and are easy to fix:

  • Feet slipping around on the pedals (you don't need clipless to stop this, not all flat pedals are equal and neither are all shoes);
  • Sliding forwards on the saddle (cycling shorts should help but even then you may need to reseat yourself every so often). Fitting is relevant here as having the saddle in the right place should make you less likely to move around.

It's worth dealing with these before considering a fitting, as that's based on the assumption that you will stay in the optimal position the fitting identifies.

For a commuter and especially on flat bars it's also worth doing a self fit, getting used to the conditions and then deciding whether the fit is good enough and whether the bike is suitable including luggage. There's so much more to deal with than if your riding involves picking a nice route and going out on a road bike with just a bottle of water and a banana.

2

Consider a second bike.

It needn't be expensive, and it can be used for experiments that you don't want to do on your daily drive. Fit clipless pedals to it, for example, and get used to them at the weekend.

Or drop handlebars - I find them much more comfortable when I'm trying to get somewhere - but it took some experimenting to find the right position, then a 10-20 mile ride and it just "clicked" how much better they were for me. Training yourself to move to the drops before you need the brakes is a big part of getting used to them. Is that car about to pull out?

And if your daily drive is off the road one day (tyre went flat overnight or something, or you want to overhaul it) the second bike is better than the bus...

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    I thought the right answer was N+1 bikes ? – Criggie Aug 18 '16 at 12:19
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    @Criggie Only once you admit you're a cyclist! – Brian Drummond Aug 18 '16 at 12:22
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    @Criggie Bikes - N+1 where n <= Divorce - 1 – BlueChippy Aug 18 '16 at 13:08
  • you can't always tell that you are going to need the brakes, though – njzk2 Aug 18 '16 at 14:05
  • @njzk2 : correct, getting to the drops fast is part of the skill needed to use them, and not something you want to practice for the first time in Monday morning traffic. – Brian Drummond Aug 18 '16 at 18:22

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