The Art of Riding Slow To Get Fast
Strong riders know that the secret to going fast lies in going slow.
Strong riders know that the secret to going fast lies in going slow. – By Whit Yost
I once went for a training ride with a professional cyclist—and it was one of the slowest rides I’ve done all year. Now don’t me wrong, Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies rider Scott Zwizanski is by no means a slow rider. But as a professional who logs thousands of fast kilometres over the course of a season, Scott understands and appreciates the benefits of an easy ride. “Riding slow gets the blood flowing, while keeping my heart rate low,” Zwizanski says. “It’s an important component of the recovery period between hard rides or races.”Scott and I went out on a Monday, his usual recovery day after a weekend of racing and travel. He had crashed that Saturday night at an evening criterium in Tucson, then had to be up by 6am for his flight home. His injuries weren’t severe, but Scott knew he needed to get on his bike as soon as possible to loosen sore muscles and double-check that there were no serious effects lingering from his fall. Indeed, many elite riders use an early-week easy ride to run through a sort of inventory on their body, their form, and their recovery from weekend races. Even before and after super-hard Spring Classics such as the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, riders can be seen riding slowly along Belgian canals or on indoor trainers in their hotels, soft-pedaling to work-out kinks and flush lactic acid from tired muscles.RELATED: Lactic Acid Is Not Your EnemyRiding slow isn’t always easy for everyone, and while the benefits are numerous, it is often tempting to go harder than we have to—especially if we haven’t just spent the weekend competing against the world’s best cyclists. But beyond recovery, slow spinning keeps you fresh for the days when you really need your legs to be at their best. Here are some tips to help you get faster by riding slow.Keep Your Heart Rate Low
Scott tries to keep his heart rate below 125 bpm on his easy days, about 65% of his max heart rate. If you don’t ride with a heart rate monitor, think in terms of RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion). During recovery rides, Scott keeps his RPE at a 2 or a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10. Clearly, he’s not riding to set any land speed records—and neither should you.
RELATED: The Worst Heart-Rate Monitor Mistakes You’re Making
Spin it Out
While training by cadence
isn’t always the most effective way to gauge exertion, it is a handy tool on days when you want to keep it light and easy. Spin at about 90 rpm, keeping the pressure on your pedals light.
On easy days, you should be riding at such a pace that you can easily maintain a conversation with a rider beside you. If you find yourself out of breath or laboring to get through a complete sentence, turn it down a notch.
Easy rides are the perfect way to reconnect with the kid inside who used our first bikes to explore new routes. On our ride, Scott took me on a dirt road and a “secret” path through a field—places we’d never see on a hard day. In Italy, cyclists use the phrase “fare una passeggiata in bici” to describe their easy rides. It basically means “going for a walk on the bike”—a perfect description of what professionals and experienced cyclists are shooting for on their easy days. After all, you’ve got to walk before you can run, right?
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