La Vie Velominatus: Standing Grace

We are bipedal creatures. Fact. Bipedal locomotion sucks. Also a fact. This makes being a human somewhat challenging in the sense that we don’t have opposable toes or a tail with which to swing from tree limbs. Swinging from your tail seems a little bit like bliss, if you ignore the associated demotion back into the Food Chain.

We Cyclists elect to circumvent these shortcoming by pushing our legs around in circles rather than in whatever shape makes a walking pattern or a tail-swinging pattern. It’s quite unnatural, riding a bike, and even the most casual study of the common Cyclist will reveal that most are not terribly good at it.

Which is why the graceful Cyclist is such a pleasure to watch; the mastery of the unnatural. A Cyclist who coaxes the pedals about their arch with fluid grace and power is not so much an athlete as an artist. This is a creature who has dominated the nature and become something wholly of another world.

Rising from the saddle in search of more power is perhaps the pinnacle of the art. Planting our butts in our saddle provides a solid platform from which to crush the pedals; it’s a handy way to keep our limbs from setting off in independent orbits. But when we’re really on the rivet and in the search for Speed Plus One, that rump is going to have to get lifted up into the air.

The most skilled in this craft are a beauty to behold. In one fluid motion that does nothing to limit the venom in their stroke, they rise out of the saddle and allow the machine to sway beneath them in  response to the power being applied by each thrust to the pedals. The saddle sways from side to side in an almost hypnotic rhythm as the rider suffers without revealing any external signs of the effort they are applying.

The only hint is that the amplitude of the saddle’s sway increases as the power does. And when the time comes to return to the saddle, the amplitude is reigned in and brought back to home with perfect precision and no loss in the pedal stroke.

Cadel Evans looked horrible out of the saddle; he gave the impression he was trying to strangle his machine for some untold afront. Sean Kelly, on the other hand, could rise out of the saddle without you even realizing he was standing, so smooth was the transition.

On my best days, my saddle returns to me in perfect unison; I am one with my machine, a symbiotic lifeform. Upon a visit with the Man with the Hammer, I almost need to coast in order to return my rump to its home on the rare occasion that I manage to lift it off in the first place.

Mastery of this art is one I continue to pursue. Vive la Vie Velominatus.

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66 Replies to “La Vie Velominatus: Standing Grace”

  1. @frank

    @Haldy

    So much awesomeness in this photo…a glorious old school funny bike( minus crank bolt covers I am sure!), and Sean Kelly full tilt out of the saddle. Kelly was one of my all time favorites..such that my son is named Sean! But I digress. One way for any Velominatis to help improve rising and returning to the saddle would be to spend some time on the glorious banks of my favorite cycling spot…a velodrome. Track racing is very unforgiving to those who do not have smoothness of stroke. When racing a full tilt…gliding up out of the saddle and caressing the pedals for more speed ends up all for naught if you cannot return to the saddle smoothly. When one just “plops” back to the saddle after winding it up, you can watch a couple of mph of speed get scrubbed off by the impact of them dropping back to the saddle. It takes a bit of practice to launch, then return to the saddle while still churning out that smooth power through the fixed gear.

    The skill involved in track racing is crazy. And I can’t imagine crashing with the added pleasure of splinters.

    Was at the Glasgow race in the first sequence and saw the whole thing – bizarre crash

  2. @Matt

    @frank

    @Matt

    2 I’d reckon, eh? Which means that Big Ring has gotta be, what, 54? SUR LA FUCKING PLAQUE. And can’t be more than 23 out back.

    I’d say 46 or 48 at least. 42 is only a bit bigger than 39 and there is no air between the 54 (or even a 56?) and the inner ring!

    And I’d bet my left big toe that there isn’t anything bigger than 21 on the back. Maybe even 19. 23 back then was the mountain gear.

    So here’s what I’ve gathered…

    Less Big Ring: V

    Big Ring: VV

    Cassette: V – VV

    Correct. Class dismissed.

  3. @frank

    @Matt

    2 I’d reckon, eh? Which means that Big Ring has gotta be, what, 54? SUR LA FUCKING PLAQUE. And can’t be more than 23 out back.

    I’d say 46 or 48 at least. 42 is only a bit bigger than 39 and there is no air between the 54 (or even a 56?) and the inner ring!

    And I’d bet my left big toe that there isn’t anything bigger than 21 on the back. Maybe even 19. 23 back then was the mountain gear.

    Yeah, I reckon it’s a 48/54 set-up.

  4. Start them young. In and out of the saddle accelerations and particularly a fluid transition from one to the other is a key session of mine with the club kids. The ability to jump, then if needed jump again, wins races.

    When they get it it and use it, it’s an awesome thing to see.

  5. @frank

    @Haldy

    From the same 87 Tour TT- Roche was also a master at this…an Irish thing perhaps?

    Something else they share is the Rolls saddle, certainly the most beautiful saddle ever made, and arguable the most comfortable.

    Not to mention their resistance to the clipless pedal.

    I strongly suspect Kelly is on a Reydel GTI saddle. Tried one myself all those years ago. Not unlike a Rolls really…

  6. @The Grande Fondue

    The looking good out-of-the is a puncheur thing:

    Being an Irish puncheur, Dan Martin makes it look great, but I can’t find a great pic. Valverde looks fantastic out-of-the-saddle, but I won’t post a pic of that.

    Great shot of one of my favourite all or nothing attacks of all time. Worth the rainbows for  that alone

  7. @gilly

    @The Grande Fondue

    The looking good out-of-the is a puncheur thing:

    Being an Irish puncheur, Dan Martin makes it look great, but I can’t find a great pic. Valverde looks fantastic out-of-the-saddle, but I won’t post a pic of that.

    Great shot of one of my favourite all or nothing attacks of all time. Worth the rainbows for  that alone

    Not to mention one of the most Rule Compliant riders of the current generation.

  8. @frank

    @gilly

    @The Grande Fondue

    The looking good out-of-the is a puncheur thing:

    Being an Irish puncheur, Dan Martin makes it look great, but I can’t find a great pic. Valverde looks fantastic out-of-the-saddle, but I won’t post a pic of that.

    Great shot of one of my favourite all or nothing attacks of all time. Worth the rainbows for  that alone

    Not to mention one of the most Rule Compliant riders of the current generation.

    No doubt

  9. @Teocalli

    @Beers

    Not forgetting to move to the drops first.

    If sprinting (crossings or bridging) yes. Climbing, non. The elaborate process explained is more when standing to climb. Sprinting, it’s chaos anyway so bike chucking is just part of the fun.

  10. @Haldy

    @Joe

    @Haldy

    Hear hear.  But no need for a velodrome, just the time-tested early season miles on the fixed gear road bike to regain the smoothness lost during the previous season (or off-season).

    I wholehearted agree. Not many folk are willing to do the fixed thing in training these days in the off season though. Another great place to work it on it..on a set of rollers!

    Agreed.  Nothing like riding fixed in the off season for fitness and fluidity.  When I worked at a shop, we used to try to encourage such practices by leading fixed-specific rides.  Sadly, only a handful picked up on this awesome technique, but it’s still a habit I continue today.  When I’ve finished cross, I get on the fixed gear until about February.  Actually, anytime I’m feeling a little less like Kelly and more like Cadel, I get in some time on the fixie to remind me of my position, my stability, my smoothness.  It’s odd how we lose it sometimes, but when that feeling of ease and grace returns it’s incredible.

  11. @frank

    @RobSandy

    The ability to rise out of the saddle every now and again is something I am working on. I tend to keep my arse firmly plonked on the saddle whenever I can, and this is not ideal for speed and not ideal for my arse.

    Interestingly, I had an issue with my rear derailleur on a route I did a week or so ago which features two of my steepest local climbs, whereby I could not shift to my biggest sprocket. I was forced to stand up to take on the climbs more than I normally would.

    The net result? I went faster. Changes to my bike are being meditated to enable better (harder) gearing.

    That’s a shocker!

    I’ve oft contemplated the 42T inner chainring, and I’ve gone so far as to buy one. I have not mounted it, and I don’t know why not; I’m very rarely in my lowest gear.

    That goes to show how much stronger than me you must be! I’m planning to go from a 34 to a 36! And that’s only because I really want a 52T big ring.

    That said, I’m now riding my commuter as if it’s got a standard 52/42 crank (it’s actually a triple but I use the little ring so rarely I could take it off), and I can see the attraction of having a bigger inner ring, and having your two rings closer together in size. I’ve also fitted a 12-26 8spd block so I have to work much harder than I’m used to when I’m climbing.

    I think eventually I will have a 52/36 with a 11-25 block on my Nr#1, and that will be perfect for most riding I’d ever want to do.

  12. @gilly

    @The Grande Fondue

    The looking good out-of-the is a puncheur thing:

    Being an Irish puncheur, Dan Martin makes it look great, but I can’t find a great pic. Valverde looks fantastic out-of-the-saddle, but I won’t post a pic of that.

    Great shot of one of my favourite all or nothing attacks of all time. Worth the rainbows for  that alone

    And the thing is that every single person there in the race or watching knew exactly when and where he was going to attack and no one could do anything about it. (Though Óscar Freire claimed he would have won it if the Spainish had helped him instead of Valverde. Seems unlikely to me)

    Another good thing about that attack is that you can see exactly the same one every year in the Amstel Gold. If Gilbert is in form he wins, if not then he doesn’t – simple as that.

  13. Went for a short, hard ride with 2 of the racers from the club last night. We rode as a 3 man chaingang at a pace where I could just hang the back wheel in front. Just.

    At the top of a long, fast easy angled climb it dissolved into a sprint. I knocked it up a couple of gears, stood up and dropped them both 100m before the summit.

    This is why I ride my bike.

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