More of this next week? photo-Team Sky

Riding Tempo

Riding Tempo

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Tempo means time in Italian. Riding tempo means riding steadily, like a metronome. It is an important skill to have and since it’s Italian, it sounds cool. What it does not mean is riding at a constant speed, half-wheeling or killing it at the front. Riding at a constant speed is like having cruise control on in a car; the car seems to accelerate on the uphills and rides the brakes on the downhills. One would never purposefully drive a car or ride a bike like that. Riding tempo means riding at a constant effort, ticking over the pedals. Without getting back into the topic of power meters, riding at a steady wattage would be a good starting definition. 

Tempo predates watts or heart rate or even the V-meter. If you are good at riding tempo, then you are good at keeping a group moving along as a group, eating up the road but not shelling riders on every hill the road offers up. Tempo implies some amount of pace. Riding piano is how every flat stage of the Giro d’Italia used to unfold. Riders would roll off the front to visit family waiting on the side of the road; riders would abscond with trays of pastries to be passed around the peloton. Then, with forty kilometers to go, the pace would accelerate endlessly until some Italian threw his arms up in victory. It was as predictable as today’s formula: break escapes, leader’s team rides tempo for a few hours, sprinter’s teams then ride hard tempo to catch break, and a field sprint ensues. I like the first formula a bit more. It is now a rarity for a rider to discuss his personal agenda with the Patron and then be allowed to ride solo off the front for a teary roadside reunion with mom, dad, family and cousins as the race passes through that rider’s village. 

Riding tempo should be a sustainable effort. When your teammate asks you to go to the front and ride hard tempo, that is a different thing all together, or maybe not all together. Someone is going to get hurt now, most likely you, unless you have a few friends to share the work. 

// Etiquette // Technique

  1. @Owen Agree with the radio ban. I think that it would make the breakaways much more fun to watch, as neither the break nor the peloton would know where th other was. It would either make breaking much easier our harder

  2. @ChrisO

    The real fun of riding tempo in a group is when your sustainable effort slowly but surely causes your neighbour to implode in a cardio-vascular mess.

    On what should have been a steady ride a few months ago I came to the front with another guy and he started half-wheeling me and pushing it a bit.

    I was doing about 300 watts to keep the pace which I could do for an hour or more, but I was pretty sure he wouldn’t last that long. After a couple of minutes the half-wheeling stopped, then I could hear the breathing getting heavier and harder but I just kept the same effort as he started dropping back, until finally he gasped desperately at the next riders to come through. Point made.

    Now that I’ve learn what half-wheeling really is now (Thanks to Sir @ChrisO), I’ve kinda played dumb, by “letting it slide” (meaning not contest the wheel) but I’m far from ignoring it.  I basically hold their pace half a wheel back, waiting for the implosion.  If that implosion is going to be my own, I will make it a personal test….  how long can I go here….log it as knowledge for later….

    I read this article fresh off a weekly shop ride I join up with occasionally if it fits into the weekly training plan.  It usually always turns into someone’s race day, and can make for a blip in the wrong direction on the PMC.  As such, I intended to sit in for most of the day, really make it a recovery type effort, yet internally perplexed.  I hate it when the someone sits in all day when they are clearly not struggling to stay on.  So eventually I got out front to do my part, with a solid, steady, non-surgy but stiff effort.  I did shed a few off the rear, and heard about it at the water break.  Point taken; I’ll back it down next time I’m up there.  Rule #43, no problem.

    So, next time I’m up is basically on the home stretch, and up front I go.  Just a bit dialed back from last time, fully intending to keep the group together.  All is well, and when I figure we’re 15 minutes out, I roll off and head to the rear.  As I do, one of those non-pulling but clearly not struggling types, jumps from the rear, drives all the way to the front and immediately pushes the pace.  Promptly splitting the group into two, and prompting some shouts from the tired folks in the rear.  Who are these people who wait until they can almost see the parking lot to put in their one big hard pull?

    What I should have done, was get that second group on my wheel, and pull them back up to the first.  Did I…. fuck no.  Rule #43 is now an issue.  The little bastard sitting on my shoulder  is in my ear with “….that dude needs you hand feed him the V…”, while the friendly one on the other shoulder is saying, “…but the whole group is going to suffer for it…”

    Dear Merckx, please help me not to be a jackass, A-Merckx

  3. @il ciclista medio

    @Gianni

    @il ciclista medio

    Nice one Gianni! Me, I love the Giro piano idea and wish it would still happen. Apart from the token last day rolling into Paris with a glass of champers in hand, we’ve lost some of the romanticism from days of yore. .

    And that black socks/blue Bonts combo? WTF? I guess he does have the Sky colours happening

    Yeah, I so agree. Those photos of Cipo fooling around in the peloton and riders embracing their families on the side of the road, man, that’s what makes this sport special.

    Who can forget the smoking Cipo as the perfect example?

    Love the Brikos. Cipo: all style, fair amount of substance.

  4. @Edster99

    @Ccos and he’s now the British RR champion.

    See…white socks gives a man extra power and vigor! He will now look even more awesome wearing the nice national champion jersey, and white sock, white shoes.

  5. @Gianni

    @Edster99

    @Ccos and he’s now the British RR champion.

    See…white socks gives a man extra power and vigor! He will now look even more awesome wearing the nice national champion jersey, and white sock, white shoes.

    He likes a good crash too. Remember this from last years Tour?

  6. @Ccos

    @il ciclista medio

    @Gianni

    @il ciclista medio

    Nice one Gianni! Me, I love the Giro piano idea and wish it would still happen. Apart from the token last day rolling into Paris with a glass of champers in hand, we’ve lost some of the romanticism from days of yore. .

    And that black socks/blue Bonts combo? WTF? I guess he does have the Sky colours happening

    Yeah, I so agree. Those photos of Cipo fooling around in the peloton and riders embracing their families on the side of the road, man, that’s what makes this sport special.

    Who can forget the smoking Cipo as the perfect example?

    Love the Brikos. Cipo: all style, fair amount of artificial substances.

    Fixed your post.

  7. @piwakawaka  Dude, you are so right, should have said “unfair.” Still true about the Brikos.

  8. @Ccos cooler than an ice-age to be sure.

  9. @Gianni

    @Edster99

    @Ccos and he’s now the British RR champion.

    See…white socks gives a man extra power and vigor! He will now look even more awesome wearing the nice national champion jersey, and white sock, white shoes.

    so much so that it overpowers the wattage savings of a closed over helmet…

  10. @VeloJello

    @Gianni

    @Edster99

    @Ccos and he’s now the British RR champion.

    See…white socks gives a man extra power and vigor! He will now look even more awesome wearing the nice national champion jersey, and white sock, white shoes.

    He likes a good crash too. Remember this from last years Tour?

    Was that when my boy Ryder nudged him off the road ? Doh!

  11. I don’t have enough friends to ride tempo for a group… so I ride my personal tempo with feedback from a power meter (I’m too shit for a V meter).

    Given  how much I ride solo, I really should’ve gone for an aero frame actually. All the websites tell me how much easier life would be with one; it must be true, right?

  12. @Gianni yup, no matter how much style you’ve got, you’re no chance of withstanding a shoulder check with the Weight of a Nation behind it.

  13. @Steve G

    I don’t have enough friends to ride tempo for a group… so I ride my personal tempo with feedback from a power meter (I’m too shit for a V meter).

    Given how much I ride solo, I really should’ve gone for an aero frame actually. All the websites tell me how much easier life would be with one; it must be true, right?

    or shave the guns.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZnrE17Jg3I#t=212

  14. @Steve G

    I don’t have enough friends to ride tempo for a group… so I ride my personal tempo with feedback from a power meter (I’m too shit for a V meter).

    Given how much I ride solo, I really should’ve gone for an aero frame actually. All the websites tell me how much easier life would be with one; it must be true, right?

    If you’re training – and I mean really training – based on power it’s really quite difficult to ride with groups anyway, or even other people.So your sociopathic tendencies are really not a drawback.

    My cycling buddy Tim is pretty good and in a race will be doing just as much as me, but we have different power levels so when I go out to ride tempo he sometimes just sits on my wheel because that’s close to his tempo. Other times, if I’m doing higher-power stuff it just doesn’t work so we start out together but end up riding alone.

    On the aero bikes – there’s no right answer. I’ve got a Ridley Noah and also a Giant TCR. If I had to choose one or the other I would take the TCR to be honest.

    The bike is about 15-20% of your aero profile, and wheels are only 10% – most of the aero drag is you. The simplest things you can do to improve your aero profile are to wear shoe covers, have an aero helmet and make sure you’ve got tight fit clothing with nothing flapping.  How you pin your number can have a greater aero saving than spending thousands on a wheelset.

    You’ve got a power meter – you should be able to see that the difference between riding on the hoods and in the drops is about 20-25 watts. That’s probably close to 10% of your average power. No bike will give you that kind of improvement.

    A few of our guys have the Giant Propel and rave about it. Where I don’t like aero bikes is in crosswinds or on descents – I find them much less stable. So to some extent it depends on what type of riding you are doing but overall I wouldn’t rate it as a big factor until you’ve worked your way through all the other more-than-marginal gains.

  15. @ChrisO

    The simplest things you can do to improve your aero profile are to wear shoe covers

    Actually, shoe covers are a controversial item. Apparently only very few models actually save any time, and quite a few even increase drag. The ones that tested faster than the baseline (read: no cover) were the smooth rubberized rain covers: Notably, Pearl Izumi’s, which are hot as hell. A few other models broke even (or insignificant difference), while most “aero” covers actually made the rider slower. A cycling shoe is not a bad shape to start off with, especially in the case of wire-closure shoes.

    A rule to live by: Aero is weird.

  16. @tessar

    @ChrisO

    The simplest things you can do to improve your aero profile are to wear shoe covers

    Actually, shoe covers are a controversial item. Apparently only very few models actually save any time, and quite a few even increase drag. The ones that tested faster than the baseline (read: no cover) were the smooth rubberized rain covers: Notably, Pearl Izumi’s, which are hot as hell. A few other models broke even (or insignificant difference), while most “aero” covers actually made the rider slower. A cycling shoe is not a bad shape to start off with, especially in the case of wire-closure shoes.

    A rule to live by: Aero is weird.

    Source? I’d like to read the article, if only to give me more ammo to mock people who show up to crits / club rides / sportives in shoe covers. FFS.

  17. @tessar

     

    A rule to live by: Aero is weird.

    This.

    Read the book Faster, and realize no one knows anything. The author was wind tunnel tested by  Simon Smart, and when he asked why something sped him up Smart replied that it was because that’s what the wind said. He could look at it more… but that would cost thousands of dollars.

    He also pointed out that many pros (esp. Sky) have stopped wind tunnel testing because CFD plus power meters plus real world riding is more accurate.

  18. Shoe covers should be worn in two situations;

    1. Cold weather to keep the tootsies warm

    2. A time trial, where whatever the actual aero gains are, are compensated for by the psychological benefits of believing you are more aero.

  19. @Fausto

    @tessar

    @ChrisO

    The simplest things you can do to improve your aero profile are to wear shoe covers

    Actually, shoe covers are a controversial item. Apparently only very few models actually save any time, and quite a few even increase drag. The ones that tested faster than the baseline (read: no cover) were the smooth rubberized rain covers: Notably, Pearl Izumi’s, which are hot as hell. A few other models broke even (or insignificant difference), while most “aero” covers actually made the rider slower. A cycling shoe is not a bad shape to start off with, especially in the case of wire-closure shoes.

    A rule to live by: Aero is weird.

    Source? I’d like to read the article, if only to give me more ammo to mock people who show up to crits / club rides / sportives in shoe covers. FFS.

    I don’t have a specific (single) source, but several people who operate testing facilities (A2, San Diego LSWT, Jim from ERO Sports and Andy from AlphaMantis) all said the same. For example. The AeroCamp (and 2.0, which was in a tunnel) also tested that.

  20. @wiscot

    2. A time trial, where whatever the actual aero gains are, are compensated for by the psychological benefits of believing you are more aero.

    The lower ventilation speeds up the time until you start dripping sweat from your chin, which looks pro as hell!

  21. I hadn’t realised how good our bunch was at riding tempo until there was a road safety initiative that started with a bunch ride. It was poorly attended and was populated by “easy” bunch riders, those of a more recreational nature. This guy ended up on the front and decided that the 28km/hr posted average needed to be the speed they sat on the entire ride. Result? Smacking it up hill and imploding the bunch every time, then riding the brakes down the other side whilst the bunch regrouped.

    When I made it to the front I started riding tempo that the bunch could hold and boy did he get cranky when I would ride at his pace up the hills and rode away from him on the back side.  I tried to explain what he was doing to the bunch (killing them!) and yes, by the end it was no longer a bunch ride but he didn’t understand.

    Glad I don’t have to put up with that on a weekly basis.

  22. @Gianni

    The guns have been shaved as of two weeks ago. VLVV. Done in the middle of winter too, so that makes me double-hard.

    @ChrisO

    Yeah, the aero frame thing was a bit tongue-in-cheek. I ride a BMC SLR02. I toyed up between a TMR01 and the SLR02 (I preferred the 02 model) and went with the SLR. It’s not flat here by any means and I’m fat… so whilst I’d crush the descents and flats on the TMR, I would suffer (well, suffer more) on anything that has a positive gradient.
    I work on the following: shoe covers are worn when it’s wet or cold, aero lids make the head look like a penis and to cheat headwind or wind resistance when pushing harder I use the drops or lay over the bars.

    Essentially I am a wombat. Wombats aren’t aero; we’re rugged, determined and stubborn. I just work with what I’ve got.
    A power meter has been a great investment though, even though I barely put out enough watts to power a lightbulb.

  23. @Gianni

    @Edster99

    @Ccos and he’s now the British RR champion.

    See…white socks gives a man extra power and vigor! He will now look even more awesome wearing the nice national champion jersey, and white sock, white shoes.

    Always had a problem with men in white shoes and socks.  No matter how funny or fast.

  24. @Owen Crikey, bitter much?

  25. Hey Gianni, you’re right to lament the loss of some of the old traditions in our sport. Watching Channel 4 coverage of the TDF back in the 80’s I was fascinated by the local riders approaching Hinault et al to ask for permission to push on and see their family by the roadside and the pride of the locals that one of theirs was riding Le Tour. Traditions like this are what make our sport so special. All is not lost though, remember Bradley Wiggins slowing things down after Cuddles punctured on tacks thrown onto the road and Nibali getting out of the saddle to stop the attacks on the Champs on Sunday after Peraud was taken out. Who made the great statement when Contador attacked Schleck after shipping his chain “Alberto gained a great opportunity to win, but he lost the opportunity to win greatly.”

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