Three bike-handling tips from pro Meredith Kessler’s personal guru.
Meredith Kessler will be the first to admit that for many years she was not fond of riding her bike outdoors, preferring the ease and comfort of the trainer for more than 80 percent of her bike training. With front-pack swim and world-class running abilities, three years ago, on the recommendation of her triathlon coach, Matt Dixon of Purplepatch Fitness, she turned to New Zealand-based cycling coach Paul Buick to help finesse her bike-handling skills and turn the bike leg into a strength. This past June at Ironman 70.3 Mont-Tremblant, she set a new bike course record, eclipsing the mark set by Daniela Ryf during the 2014 Ironman 70.3 World Championship race. She also broke the bike course record on her way to the win at last month’s Ironman Arizona.
Here are Buick’s top tips to help you achieve your fastest bike split.
1. Be conscious of how you sit on the bike.
Buick recommends that riders be aware of how they interact with their bike. You’ve spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars getting the perfect, aero bike fit with the best equipment, but all that could be wasted if you can’t sit comfortably on the bike for the duration of the race. Be aware of how you sit on the saddle and note whether you are fidgeting around during long rides, moving forward or backward on the saddle. If so, you may need to revisit your bike fit. The forearms should rest on the arm pads of the aero extensions with your fingers wrapped around the aero shifters. When riding, keep your eyes forward and head down.
Mistake to avoid: Don’t “choke back” on the aerobars, as this could be an indicator that you are rotating your pelvis backward.
2. Use all your gears.
Buick believes major gains can be made in cycling performance purely by learning to select the smoothest gear at any point in time over the course of a ride. Kessler agrees, adding that “Paul’s emphasis on when to not ‘over’ gear and when to not ‘under’ gear has been pivotal in order to be able to drive the most power possible.”
When executed poorly, gear selection can result in a sudden loss of momentum. During training, Buick recommends that you practice frequent gear changes, in particular from the big to little chainring, across all types of terrain, until you can do so fluidly.
Gear changing tip: If using 53×39 chainrings when riding on a constant uphill gradient, you will typically select two gears harder on the cassette when switching from the big to the small chainring.
3. Manage the terrain.
Kessler points out that Buick has been instrumental in helping her learn how to read a bike course and understand the terrain in order to maximize her physical resources. In particular, she credits the bike course record at Mont-Tremblant as evidence of her improved ability to ride rolling terrain. Buick explains that there is a difference between short and longer rollers, especially if they are repetitive. On longer rollers or continuously rolling terrain, avoid adding force at the bottom of the roller; rather, carry momentum with effective gearing and chain tension and let the terrain increase the load. At the top of each roller, if choosing to crest seated, maintain the climbing effort as the gradient eases and until you are descending. If you have trained an effective standing option (see below), applying body weight to efficient pedaling—without adding effort—will further compress the time it takes to build speed over the crest. While it may be tempting to recover as you crest a roller or a climb, there is much to be gained by building and carrying speed into the downslope.
Standing pedaling tip: Buick instructs athletes to incorporate standing pedaling to gain momentum over the top of rollers and climbs. Time your stand so that you take about 6–8 pedal strokes out of the saddle to get you over the crest of the hill.