Look Pro: En Danseuse

Look Pro: En Danseuse

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Clad in skin-tight clothes and cleated shoes, we walk with all the grace of a chicken with a repetitive stress injury. Yet once astride our machines, hovering above the tarmac and enraptured by the sensation of flight, we are transformed into a picture of fluidly harmonic articulation which belies the power and skill that drives us forward. Years of fine-tuning our position, together with thousands of kilometers passed under our tires have built to perfect our magnificent stroke and continue to blur the lines between rider, machine, and passion.

The still is shattered, however, as we move out of the saddle in search of more speed and power. Once an elegant creature, the rider is spontaneously transformed into a beast of bobbing head, swaying saddle, and protuberant elbow. It is a complicated matter, this business of riding out of the saddle, but when done correctly can embody all the grace and power of the seated cyclist. The French understand this well enough to have given mastery of this art a special phrase, en danseuse, which means that the rider exhibits all the elegance and beauty of a dancer when riding out of the saddle, particularly when going uphill. Few Pros embody this, and even fewer enthusiasts.

It’s not beyond the grasp of the Velominatus to Look Fantastic while standing. Next time you lift your caboose off the saddle, keep these points in mind.

  • Stand on the hoods or in the drops. This is Standing 101: absolutely never, under any circumstances, no matter what anyone tells you, whatever is happening, in spite of any special circumstances, ever, stand on the tops. Grab a handful of hoods or the drops when standing; these postions help get your weight lower and farther forward and give better control than do the tops, which are awkward and wobbly. Also shy away from the bend of the bars just above the hoods in favor of the hoods themselves; this is better than the tops, but not as stable and powerful as the hoods or drops.
  • Move to the V-Locus. The temptation is great to let your elbows flare out and stick your ass out like you’re trying to red-eye the rider behind you (and maybe you are, I’m not judging), but you should keep as much of your mass centered over your bike as possible. Shoulders down, elbows bent, hips forward of the saddle. Practice shifting your body forward and back a bit to weight the front and back tires differently and learn how it affects traction and power. Your weight distribution will need to change as the gradient does and on different kinds of road surfaces.
  • Go with the flow. As you stand, let your bike sway back and forth naturally in rhythm with your strokes. Don’t hold it too still or you’ll risk draining energy into holding the bike in place that could otherwise go into your pedaling action. On the other hand, don’t let it sway so much that you’re just swinging your bike around needlessly because you think it looks cool.
  • Hold your line. If Greg LeMond could have pointed his bike in one direction, he would probably have won the sprint against Gianni Bugno at Alpe d’Huez in 1990. Your tendency will be to let your bike swerve around as a result of the heaps of power you’re dishing out from your massive guns, but not only is that dangerous, every change in direction means a loss of energy and inertia. Some movement is natural, but don’t overdo it.
  • Lower your cadence. You’ll want to shift into a slightly higher gear just as you rise out of the saddle; standing gives you access to additional power, but it is also inefficient because you’re holding your body up with your legs and arms. Lowering your cadence helps steady your body and move it less.
Keeping in mind the principles above, below are some stylistic considerations.
  • Avoid the Bopping Betty. You’re trying to look like you’re dancing, but steer clear of doing The Bop. Alberto Contador is the master of this particular faux-pas, in spite of his astonishing speed. But assuming you’re carrying more weight on your upper body than a Spanish Beef-Eating Uphill Specialist, you’re going to want to keep the torso reasonably still; its the heaviest part of your body and every time you lift it up, it wastes energy.
  • Don’t Be a Handlebar Humper. We love our bikes, but not that much; try to keep from thrusting your hips into your stem like Lance Armstrong. Its a passable technique on dry roads, but riding with your weight so far forward not only looks distressingly sexual, but will unweight your rear wheel too much and you’ll find yourself slipping when the road pitches up or becomes damp.
  • Avoid the Monster Mash. Though you want to change into a lower cadence, you also don’t want to overdo it. Cadel Evans and Greg LeMond are two riders who come to mind as trying to mash their bikes to death, climbing out of the saddle in a monster gear.
  • Channel your Pantani Power Ranger. I don’t know why it’s so hard to climb in the drops like Pantani did, but it’s also wicked fast. If you’re looking for some extra power, go searching for it in the drops. You’ll burn out quickly, but you’ll get up over the hill quickly too.
  • Go Gorilla. Ask a Pro how they go so fast, and they usually look at you quizzically for a while before eventually giving an answer somewhere between “why would you go slower?” and “push harder on the pedals”. My favorite piece of advice is this: try to break your handlebars. Standing is all about counter-acting forces, and you can’t do it without using your handlebars, so try to break them. You won’t. Probably.
Example Photos:

Diabolical Finish: 

Almost every climbing style imaginable (and some not) can be found in the 2010 Fleche Wallone finale:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2itSMsLvRo[/youtube]

*Thanks to G’rilla for inspiring this article.

// Look Pro

  1. @Cyclops

    Today’s my burfday.

    Happy burfday, One-Eyed Wonder…..Cyclist!

  2. @Cyclops

    Happy birthday!

  3. @Cyclops

    Happy birthday young man

  4. Happy Birthday, Cyclops!

  5. @Cyclops love that stupid grin on your face while the guy in the background is so deep in the pain cave he can’t imagine a way out.

    Happy Birthday good sir.

  6. @Cyclops
    Happy birthday, hopefully the cycling gods looked on you favourably today!

  7. @Cyclops

    Happy B-day

  8. @Flying Crowbar

    Well, I contemplated, cogitated, and ruminated on my form while climbing with @sgt this morning, but I was so far into the red zone that I couldn’t do much about it. 

  9. @minion

    Even ditching all the winter crap when the weather improves (Jackets, knee warmers, spares, lights) feels like it makes a difference. For some reason I think Ullrich was the example from the study of the heavier rider which isn’t exactly heartening  for people who might think losing weight will get you across that arbitrary line.

    I commute to my office with my laptop and clothes in a backpack; it’s about 45km each way with significant enough climbing. I don’t know what that pack weighs, but it’s less than the amount of weight I’ve lost in the last few years.

    Amazes me that I coils climb at all because riding with that pack seriously puts the brakes on and kills the lower back. No wonder I used to suffer from backaches.

    But there’s a lot to the theory, without having read the article. None of this stuff is linear; what works for one weight class won’t for another, and it comes down to leg strength vs weight versus cardio versus mental.Complicated mess.

    For example, spinning doesn’t work for me; I might spin up in the 90-110rpm range when riding a flat a bloc or casually spinning, but I climb in the 70-90 rpm range. Below that I overlook the guns, above it I overclock the HR. it might have to do with my naturally high hr, maybe (resting ~45, max 202) that if I raise it by spinning I redline too easily.

  10. @farzani

    at 54kgs, I like to get out of the saddle in the drops on a climb.  I channel my own “farzani”

    My VMH does the same thing. She isexactly Pantanis height and weight and rides exactly Like him uphill (well, slower…)

  11. @Flying Crowbar

    @Flying Crowbar

    Well, I contemplated, cogitated, and ruminated on my form while climbing with @sgt this morning, but I was so far into the red zone that I couldn’t do much about it.

    Sounds like you need to think less. Just channel the V, contemplating, ruminating, and cogitating will only lead to one conclusion: you’re not in good enough form to do what you want to do.

    You’ve got to be the perfect amount of dumb; something @’clops has mastered!

  12. Great article – Also when in a group make sure to power up as to not throw your back wheel into the rider behind you when standing, unless he is a total jackass and needs to be dropped.  The same holds true when returning to the saddle.

  13. @Steampunk @ El Toro

    Nice stuff. The only thing missing (and alluded to elsewhere on the site) is making sure you don’t drop the bike back as you stand up. With or without company on your wheel, this is not cool.

    Refer to a Disney Principle: “If you are going to do it (animation), then make sure the audience sees it.”

    An intentional and clear move (standing) allows a rider behind to see that you are changing your position. Coming off the saddle smoothly, using the legs only to stand when in a tight bunch. No pulling on the bars. No push back.

  14. @Cyclops Hope your day was great. More experience and age — awesome!

  15. The best practice for riding out of saddle is practicing 1000 m time trial starts on the track.
    It includes everything, from standing in the drops, over the V-Locus to trying to break your handlebars.

  16. great one Frank

    lots of good points as i read down the thread, it sucks being out of the loop for a couple of days, cause getting caught up is like getting spit off the back and clawing your way back into the group.

    The kicker is on ‘out of the seat climbing’ or simply ‘nailing it’ is it is a completly different discipline as you well point out.  Some of us, me…, don’t hardly ever come out of the saddle.   in a group ride, in fact, it can be dangerous since most really don’t perform this with souplesse.  Thus, when climbing…my buddies will remark ‘why the hell don’t i get out of the saddle’, but my spin is good and i don’t necessarily see the need to.  Now, on days that we are out to break one anothers legs, then I do come out, most often when I am on a flat piece of road and need to pin my ears back and really drill it.

    I agree, while the hoods are a safe place to grab, the evolution of the STi shifting has totally lead to the ruination of the beauty of the drops to some degree, in fact it may have confused our whole geometric concepts/thinking on the ideal positons, and the tradition of grabbing the drops out of the saddle and nailing it like an incindiary dog like Yates et al use to.  Not that I am a purist or anything, but it is as you mention a harmonious balance we find ourselve in when able to perform.

    So, i far prefer the drops when coming out of the saddle.  There is no doubt a ton of power to be gained in it, but it also will tick you over into the redline much quicker, so be careful.  They say it takes ~25% more energy to perform the same workload from the seated position, to grabbing a handful of the drops and coming out of the saddle.

  17. @RedRanger Another choice for a gumwall Conti:  http://www.conti-online.com/generator/www/de/en/continental/bicycle/themes/race/racetyres/grand_prix_classic/grand_prix_classic_en.html

    I used a set of the standard GPs in 700×28 for Rouge-Roubaix and they worked well – the engine, not so much…

  18. In case you haven’t heard or read yet, a documentary on Marco is in the works.

    http://www.velonation.com/News/ID/12810/More-details-emerge-of-Marco-Pantani-cinema-documentary.aspx

  19. @frank

    @minion

    Even ditching all the winter crap when the weather improves (Jackets, knee warmers, spares, lights) feels like it makes a difference. For some reason I think Ullrich was the example from the study of the heavier rider which isn’t exactly heartening  for people who might think losing weight will get you across that arbitrary line.

    I commute to my office with my laptop and clothes in a backpack; it’s about 45km each way with significant enough climbing. I don’t know what that pack weighs, but it’s less than the amount of weight I’ve lost in the last few years.

    Amazes me that I coils climb at all because riding with that pack seriously puts the brakes on and kills the lower back. No wonder I used to suffer from backaches.

    But there’s a lot to the theory, without having read the article. None of this stuff is linear; what works for one weight class won’t for another, and it comes down to leg strength vs weight versus cardio versus mental.Complicated mess.

    For example, spinning doesn’t work for me; I might spin up in the 90-110rpm range when riding a flat a bloc or casually spinning, but I climb in the 70-90 rpm range. Below that I overlook the guns, above it I overclock the HR. it might have to do with my naturally high hr, maybe (resting ~45, max 202) that if I raise it by spinning I redline too easily.

    Do you still commute using a back pack or have you gone to the rack/pannier model? Started finally doing the commute (20-30k depending on location) on manageable days, found a decent pack, still working the “fit.” Its either side, lower back or neck depending on the day that gets tweaked. Haven’t decided whether to build up my broken cross frame that has the various braze-ons when I get it back or just keep working with the pack. None of my current rigs have the braze-ons for that shit. Not a word, @scaler, about n+1, not a word…

  20. Just to chime in…I ride a bike everywhere. My commute is pretty short, only about 10-15 minutes, but I’m riding around town (city) all day long on the bike. I now have a cross-commuter that just got upgraded with a rack. It has full braze ons for fenders, rack, two bottle cages, and some on the seat stays. Still getting used to it, as strapping stuff down can be more of a pain than tossing it in a bag. And, just started using some borrowed panniers to see if I like them. The verdict is still out. Riding “naked” is pretty awesome. But, takes getting used to the weight, getting out of the saddle with weight, maybe only having weight on one side. I do think I’ll come around to it, especially with a nicer bag.

    Commuting is so sweet. I think I’d go bonkers if I had to be in an automobile much these days. On a bike you are always going. My mind/body/spirit are just not prepared to handle sitting still, especially in traffic.

    Anyway, long-time backpacker user, rack and panniers seem pretty sweet though. Then again…still coming around to having so much junk on my bike…fenders, rack, panniers, when I love me a sleek road bike.

  21. @Mikael Liddy

    @Cyclops love that stupid grin on your face while the guy in the background is so deep in the pain cave he can’t imagine a way out.

    Happy Birthday good sir.

    Hey, that’s me back there!

    But yes I was deep in the pain cave that day. It was the Whidbey island cogal last year, which was 130k of endless rollers. I was dying that day.

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