How to Find Your Cycling Strengths

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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How to Find Your Cycling Strengths

Knowing what you’re good at on the bike can help you with everything from finding the right cycling events to tailoring your training plan to work on those things you might not be as good at. But knowing what you’re good at isn’t quite as simple as it sounds and may require some on the-bike testing to figure it out.

Here’s what you need to do to determine your cycling strengths and create your own rider profile.

TYPES OF ROAD CYCLISTS

While determining whether or not you’re more suited to road cycling, mountain biking or cyclocross can be useful if you want to concentrate on one discipline, we’re going to concentrate on the different disciplines in road cycling. Most riders fall into one of the following categories:

Sprinter: You have fast-twitch muscle fibers to spare, and when you hit top-end speed, there are few others in your cycling group who can hold your wheel. If this is your strength, short and flat races may be to your liking. Criterium races are another option.

Attacker: Short, maximal efforts are your thing. This can be useful when riding in groups and you want to separate yourself from the pack or when riding a course with lots of short, punchy climbing. This type of cyclist can’t hold their top power for long, but they can usually do multiple efforts as long as there are short breaks in between. Look for races with rolling hills and sections of flat in between.

Time Trialist: The key highlight of this cyclist is sustained, steady power. While you might lack top-end speed or the power to chase down other cyclists in front of you, you can hold mid-range power for sustained periods. This is ideal for solo racing such as the 20km and 40km time trial events.

Climber: Lower bodyweights and strong legs are hallmarks of climbing specialists. These cyclists excel on longer climbs of 3 miles or more, but usually can’t put out the same kind of power on flat roads as the other rider profiles. Endurance is also a key characteristic here, and long cycling events with plenty of long sustained climbs will likely be your thing.

All-Arounder: While you might not have the top-end characteristics of any of the rider profiles above, you can do it all fairly well. This unique cycling skill set features versatility above all others and allows you to adapt to the situation easily. Multi-day races or stage racing will likely suit you best, though you can ride almost any event without too much of a problem.

TESTS TO DETERMINE YOUR CYCLING STRENGTH

To determine which of the rider profiles above you fit into, you’ll need to do some testing out on the road or on an indoor trainer at home. Ideally, you’ll need a power meter to make this happen. If you don’t have one and don’t have a ride partner who can let you borrow one for the testing, consider an indoor training model like the Kinect inRide that hooks up to your trainer and is reasonably priced. You can also use these devices to train on apps like Zwift and Sufferfest.

Here are the four different tests you’ll need to complete. For the best results, do them on separate days of training instead of doing them all at once.

5-Second Power: After a warmup, this test is quick and painless. All you’ll need to do is sprint as hard as you can for five seconds. Record your highest average power over these five seconds. To get the most accurate results, do the test multiple times over varying gradients and using different cadences. Out of all the tests, you’ll use the results with your highest average power.

1-Minute Power: This test finds the highest average power you can sustain for one minute. This is an all-out effort, and you should go as hard as possible from the beginning and try your best to hold on. While it might seem like a flat road is your best option, most people get the best results by completing this test on a short, moderate climb. Either way, try different gradients and cadences to achieve your best results.

5-Minute Power: While you can get away without pacing on the other tests, this one requires you to monitor your effort for the best results. It may take some practice to get it right, so try it out on a few different days to see how much your numbers vary. Once you have an average-power output you’re happy with, move on to the next test.

1-Hour Power: You can get these test results by simulating a 1-hour time trial on the road or indoor trainer. While these might give you the best results, this kind of effort is extremely difficult and can be hard to get maximum effort out of an hour of riding if you aren’t used to this type of cycling or aren’t good at pacing for long periods. To make getting these results a bit easier, ride for 20 minutes at maximum effort. Once you have your average power over these 20 minutes, multiple that number by 0.95.

WHAT TO DO WITH THIS INFORMATION

Now that you have a bunch of data, you can begin to use this information to determine the type of cyclist you are. One more bit of number crunching you’ll need is your power-to-weight ratio for each of the tests. To calculate, divide your average power on each test by your weight. Once you have these numbers, use this chart.

This gives you a ranking of your power-to-weight ratios for the testing in each category, ranging from pro cyclists to complete novices. The categories rank you from a novice 1 (beginner) all the way to world class (Think: Chris Froome). Find the number closest to your results on the chart for each of the tests.

If your results on the chart are horizontal, meaning all of your results fall into the same category (novice, fair, moderate, good, etc.), you are likely an all-around cyclist. On the other hand, if your results go up the longer the duration of the test with your best results in the 1-hour, you likely fall into the climbing category. If your results are the opposite, meaning your best results are in the shorter tests (5 second), you fall more toward the sprinting as your top skill.

Results that are highest in the mid-range like the 1- and 5-minute tests signal you are an attacker. If your 5-minute score is significantly better than your 1-minute, you fall into the time trial category.

Once you’ve figured out your category, you can look for races that suit your strength and tailor your training plans to work on some of those weaknesses — especially if you’ve got one category that significantly lags behind the other. This helps build your fitness and slowly but surely progresses you to the all-around cycling category.

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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