Bike-Handling Basics #9: How to Sprint

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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Bike-handling is integral to riding outdoors, and this series covers the basics — from cornering to descending, handling rough surfaces, riding out of the saddle, riding in a paceline, doing tricks on the bike, drafting, shifting — and now sprinting.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a sprinter, there are times when you’ll want to bridge a gap to a riding partner, break away from a group during a cycling event, make a light or simply smash a timed segment on one of your training rides.

Learning to sprint can improve your balance, strength, bike-handling and make you a more well-rounded cyclist. If you’re not comfortable with sprinting or are just looking for a way to improve your overall technique, this guide explains the basics of body position, technique and includes a basic workout for your training regimen.

Whether it’s climbing, time trialing or sprinting, getting in the right body position on the bike to generate the maximum amount of power is key. Here’s the basic sprinting position you’ll need to get comfortable with to deliver a short burst of speed:

  • Head: Cyclists can sometimes be guilty of looking just ahead of their front wheel instead of up the road. When you’re sprinting, always keep your head up and your eyes focused on where you’re sprinting. The further up the road you scan, the longer you’ll have to make adjustments like moving around slower cyclists.
  • Hands: Keeping your hands in the drops gives you a lower center of gravity, more control over the bike and additional traction.
  • Elbows: Bending your elbows helps to lower your chest and head closer to the handlebars, which improves balance and aerodynamics.
  • Back: Instead of being straight up, focus on keeping your back flat and your chest parallel to the handlebars. A flat back can help you generate power while staying aerodynamic.
  • Hips: When sprinting, you should always be out of the saddle. While not as efficient over long distances, sprinting standing out of the saddle allows you to have a quicker acceleration and deliver more power to the pedals.

Once you’ve practiced getting into the right position on the bike and have gained some comfort sprinting at moderate speeds, you can start to fine-tune your technique. Here are a few tips you can practice during your sprint workouts:

1

DON’T SHIFT YOUR BODY TOO FAR FORWARD

As you get out of the saddle to sprint, your body moves forward, with your hips moving directly over the pedals. To maintain good balance and ensure control over the bike, make sure your shoulders don’t move past the axle of your front wheel.

2

PULL UP ON THE HANDLEBARS FOR EXTRA POWER

To generate the maximum amount of power, you’ll need to use your whole body. Instead of just holding onto the handlebars, practice pulling up with your right hand at the same time your right foot is in the push phase of the pedal stroke (and same for the left). This technique also improves your balance at high speeds.

3

GET INTO THE RIGHT GEAR

Before you decide to stand and set into your sprint, work your way down your gears. When you’ve maxed out your power in the seated position and are a short distance away from your target, shift down 1–2 more gears just before you stand for a quick acceleration.

4

KEEP THE UPPER BODY STILL

Excessive upper body movement while you’re sprinting slows you down. Practice keeping the upper body as still as possible, using your arms and bent elbows to rock the bike side to side.

Sprint efforts should last from 5–30 seconds. If you ride mostly in an aerobic training zone, these short bursts of high energy can be difficult. Like anything else, if you want to get better at sprinting, you’ll need to work on improving your technique and your overall strength.

Here’s one workout you can include 1–2 times per week that helps to develop your sprinting prowess. This workout can be done either on an indoor trainer or a flat section of road with no stop lights.

Warmup: 10–15 minutes easy-to-moderate cycling
Sprints: 6 x 30 seconds as hard as you can, 30 seconds easy seated spinning at/above 90rpm
Cooldown: 10–15 minutes easy cycling

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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