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.
- 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.
Almost every climbing style imaginable (and some not) can be found in the 2010 Fleche Wallone finale:
*Thanks to G’rilla for inspiring this article.