Bike-handling is integral to riding outdoors, and this series covers the basics — from cornering to descending to handling rough surfaces and now how to ride out of the saddle. While sitting in the saddle is generally more comfortable — and a good way to conserve energy over long distances — there are times when cyclists should get off the saddle and stand while pedaling.
Use this guide to learn when out-of-the-saddle cycling is recommended, and what you can do to improve your pedaling technique to be as efficient as possible.
Riding out of the saddle can feel awkward (at least at first), but that doesn’t mean you should always stay seated. Not only does it give you a boost of power when you need it, but it also provides some relief to achy or heavy leg and back muscles.
Here are a few on-the-road situations where out-of-the-saddle cycling can help:
- Climbing: While it’s easier to generate power for extended periods on long climbs by staying seated, plenty of pros and recreational cyclists prefer climbing out of the saddle. Whatever side of the fence you fall on, when you need a boost of power on particularly steep gradients, getting out of the saddle helps. This is also true in a race when you’re trying to stay on someone’s wheel or for a brief acceleration to create a gap between you and another rider.
- Sprinting: If you’ve ever tried to out-sprint another cyclist by getting to your top-end speed quickly, then you’re probably aware standing is your best bet. Keeping your hands in the drops and standing is how you can generate as much power as possible for a short sprint.
- Aching Legs and Back: The hunched-over position in road cycling can put a lot of strain on your neck and lower back. When you ride for long distances, staying in the same position can also make your legs ache and become stiff. For this reason, standing out of the saddle and changing your position occasionally can provide relief to each of these muscle groups and work out some of that stiffness. Standing every few miles for 30 seconds to a minute can also help keep some of this pain and stiffness from occurring, and make you feel fresher toward the end of your ride.
Riding out of the saddle correctly requires more than just letting your weight fall side-to-side on the pedals. In fact, the upper body and the up-stroke become extremely important when you’re attempting to generate more power during sprinting or steep climbs.
Here are a few tips to adjust your out-of-the-saddle technique:
- Shift to a harder gear: More weight on the pedals makes your cadence jump up when you stand. For this reason, shift down one or two gears before getting out of the saddle.
- Stay over the pedals: Most of your weight should be directly over the pedals when you stand. Avoid moving too far forward or staying too far back.
- Bend your knees: Just as you would seated, there should always be a slight bend in the knees when you pedal standing, even at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
- Move the bike, not your body: The side-to-side rocking motion can help generate power, but try to rock your bike and not your body to be more efficient.
- Pull up on the handlebars: For extra power, try pulling up on the same side of the handlebar as the foot that’s pushing down.
- The upstroke: On steep gradients concentrate on pulling the upstroke and letting your weight fall naturally on the pedal during the down stroke (12 o’clock to 6).
Like anything else, safety should be your number 1 consideration. When riding in a group, moving from seated to standing can cause your bike to lose momentum for a second or two. This is called kickback, and if there’s another rider directly behind you this can cause your rear wheel to move into their front wheel and cause an accident. Be mindful of this and either move to the side for extra space or concentrate on pedaling harder for your first stroke to minimize the loss of power as you shift from seated to standing.
To get better at standing out of the saddle, you’ll need plenty of practice. A good way to gain comfort is by doing hill repeats. Find a short hill that only takes a minute or so to get to the top of and practice riding out of the saddle from bottom to top. Balance, how to shift your weight and finding the right cadence will all be things you’ll figure out the more often you practice. Before you know it, you’ll gain comfort and be much more efficient.