Michael Hanslip Coaching

If you want to go faster, you have to pedal harder

September 2022

The Solo Racing Mindset

On the track you have the Individual Pursuit and the Time Trial (the kilo). On the road there is the Individual Time Trial. In mountain biking it is the Enduro and DH disciplines. What these all have in common is not knowing how fast your opposition is travelling, regardless of whether they went before you or behind you.
A common mantra for the road and track side of things is repeatedly quizzing oneself if it is possible to pedal any harder
right now. It is quite easy to slide off the pace just one increment. Over a typical 40 km ITT that can easily drop 30 seconds off your time. It is a rare event that 30 seconds is unimportant to your final placing. At nationals one year, I tied with another guy for second place – they went back to the timing system to sort out who might have been second because they hate ties, but that is close (it was me!).
One of the ultimate tests of this whole approach is the hour record. For nearly 150 years, the hour record has been a pinnacle event for the road or track cyclist looking to prove their ability. Around a velodrome for 60 minutes, distance over that period is your result. When there was a flurry of records in the 90s (after only one new record in 20 years) amongst four riders: Boardman, Obree, Rominger and Indurain (twice each except for Indurain), they were active roadies who seemed to only have ridden some practice 20-minute sessions in the lead up.
The current record holder isn’t even a “cyclist”. He is a support team member for the INEOS pro road team. In contrast to the usual, he apparently rode at least 40 full hour sessions on his record bike in order to get used to the length of the ride, the position of the ride and to achieve his speed desires. It worked well because he added a decent distance to the record.
Having had one crack at the Master’s Hour myself, I can say that perhaps I would have benefitted from having ridden a few. Although it was unpleasant and maybe after a few trials I wouldn’t have continued to have interest in the record? I was sick on the day and had to pull out after around 35 minutes of riding well off my chosen pace.
Things are even more complex on the dirt. With much of the velocity provided by gravity, speed is a function of
not-braking. Thus, one must identify sections of the track where it would be OK to get off the brakes completely. The resultant speed of doing this can be quite scary. Paradoxically, the mountain bike works best off the brakes so it might be the best way through some sections to be off the brakes and going fast. Speed is your friend too, going over certain kinds of bumps – then the tyres only bounce across the top of the peaks (lacking time to fall into the holes in between them).
Every obstacle on the course presents a question about speed. I’ve ridden a long straight and relatively smooth piece of firetrail letting the bike rip – over 70 kmh was the result. That is fine. But bumps, jumps, drops and corners all require a level of control. The top racers are so close that it comes down to how well executed the plan is, and sometimes to even finer details like who selected the faster line through a section. On a five-minute course, sometimes the separation between first and second is fractions of a second.
Whenever racing against the clock, it takes a special mindset to maximise the results (whether that is first or twenty-first) because it is so easy to go slower. The best way to develop that mindset is to use it – practice! Fun races. Club races. Enter as many as you can to work on your personal going fast.

Road gearing

If you begin looking at road bike gearing in the 1960s, everyone had a 144 mm spider that would accept a 42T small ring. Not surprisingly, that happened to be the standard at the time. By the late 1980s the spider has shrunken to 130 mm (135 mm for Campagnolo), with a small chainring standard of 39T (the 130 mm will accept a 38, just as the 144 mm will accept a 41 - but neither was common).
Both of these small ring sizes were usually accompanied by a 53T big ring.
By the mid-1990s, the triple chainring option (which was usually 74 mm for the granny and 110 mm for the two outer rings) was losing favour to the better shifting "compact" crank option of two rings on a 110 mm spider. Standard rings for the compact are 34T for the inner ring and 50T for the outer ring. I remember when this 16T jump taxed the ability of front derailleurs, but they have improved considerably since then.
Over the same period of time, the set of sprockets on the hub have added more choices and a bigger range. In the early 1980s most bikes had 5 sprockets on the freewheel. By the early 1990s the sprockets were now a cassette (the freewheel mechanism became part of the hub) with 7 gear choices. My 1992 road bike had the brand-new 8-spd gearing from Shimano.
Serious riders would pick their 5 options from a larger range to suit the course they were riding. A 12-16 had five one-tooth jumps for flat courses. A 12-24 had huge jumps between gears, but provided a more hill-friendly option. With 8 choices, there was far less need to swap cassettes between rides. A 12-24 with 8 sprockets has comfortably small jumps so it is suitable for both flat and hilly rides.
The low gear on that 8-spd road bike was 2:1 (42/21), a relatively high gear choice. I attended a road race in Buderim Queensland in approximately 2000. I was still on 8-spd and I brought my 12-23 cassette with me just in case the course was hilly. It was actually pretty flat except for one climb which was incredibly steep. I could barely make it up there in a 42/23! Someone from Canberra leant me their lower geared 8-spd cassette and I removed my 16T and added in the largest sprocket from their cassette just in case the state of wear was different between my chain and their cassette. I didn't want the chain to skip and I didn't have time for testing. I got terrible shifts across the gap where the 16 was meant to be and then into and out of low gear, but I managed to get over the climb multiple times in a many lap race.
This trend continued until now, all high-end road bikes have 12 sprockets on the hub. My current race bike still has a 39/53 up front, but now it has a 11-29 range at the rear. My commuting bike runs a compact up front (34/50) with the same 11-29 at the rear.
I read somewhere that most pros choose to ride most races solely in the big ring, using the wide range of modern cassettes to avoid the use of the front derailleur as much as possible. I note that the lowest gear in my big ring (53/29) is considerably lower than the lowest possible gear on my old 8-spd bike (42/21). In fact, almost 10% shorter gearing. That is why I can ride a lot of places around Canberra only in the big ring if my fitness is OK and I am going swiftly.
The lowest gear on my commuting bike is a whopping 71% lower than my old 8-spd road bike. But! The top gear is also 3% larger.
The trend has been towards smaller chainrings and more range in the sprockets (smaller = higher high gears and larger = lower low gears). Where 8-spd sprockets started at 12T (and freewheels could go down to 13T, but usually started at 14T), now all 12-spd cassettes start at 11T, except SRAM (which uses a different style of freehub) which uses a 10T high gear.
The only drawbacks to smaller sprockets are higher wear due to the fewer teeth to share the chain load and chordal action, which happens noticeably with bike chain on sprockets 14T and smaller - this phenomenon is of low importance on a bike but not of no importance (it causes vibrations and fluttering in the drivetrain).
In the days of 8-spd cassettes I was routinely able to get over 20,000 km out of one chain and cassette. Now with 12-spd cassettes, despite much better metallurgy and surface treatment, I believe my commuting bike won't make 6,000 km on a chain and cassette. Despite the 12-spd one being markedly more expensive too.
Modern stuff is super-effective and easy to ride along with being incredibly reliable, but it just can't last the way older stuff did. I have often opined that an 8-spd system made using 12-spd material science might last the life of the bike. I don't know if many would be willing to go back to 8 sprocket cassettes - I don't think I would do it.

P Zero Velo

Having had a couple of failures with the tubeless tyres on my commuting bike (holes that leaked all the sealant out instead of sealing up), and being unable to purchase the tyres I've decided to try next, I was forced to pick something from my "inventory" of spares.
On the rear of the bike I put a GP4000Sii because I've found the Conti race tyres to be quite puncture protected. Less puncture critical, I put a P Zero Velo on the front. And that is how the commuter bike has been for a few months of commuting.

Last night it was merely damp out and I suffered two punctures on the way home. The first was an unpleasant discovery when I got my bike from the bike parking at work - must have picked up some glass on the (dry) way into work. The second was about 400 metres from home. I got off and walked rather than deal with it on the side of the road.

This morning I took the bike down off the wall to have a look at the tyres. The rear tube had 2 holes in it on opposite sides of the wheel. No wonder it went down rather quickly. The rubber isn't worn through to the fabric, but there are some very thin patches and some historical holes where the fabric is visible. That's about what I expected given the two punctures in one day.
The front was interesting and unexpected. There were about 1000 small cuts in the Velo tread and perhaps 20 pieces of super-sharp glass in the tread face. I haven't had a lot of experience with these tyres but I am much more impressed now than before. Given Pirelli's history in the tyre business I can't say I'm surprised, but it is a very pleasant surprise. Some of the glass pieces were deeply imbedded in the rubber but were stopped by whatever puncture layer is in that tyre.

Which bodes well for my chosen tubeless tyre: the Pirelli Cinturato Velo. As soon as they come back into stock I will be putting a pair on my Checkpoint.

In the meantime, I have replaced both tyres on my bike with some Conti GP4 Seasons. They are a tried and true commuting option being both grippy and very puncture resistant. I borrowed them from my partner's commuting bike (she isn't using the bike - in fact it's for sale if anyone wants a small commuting bike?) and put some brand new tyres on that bike so it is still rideable.

Given the third summer of La Niña, I expect more rainy commutes to come. The GPs will do well to fill in the gap until I can go tubeless.

But, next time the race bike requires new rubber I will seriously consider the P Zero option after seeing the damage withstood by my front tyre in months of commuting.

Instability training

Cycling in general, but MTB riding in particular, benefits from instability training. Bikes are only as stable as the rider can make them, so unstable exercises contribute to better riding outcomes. If you doubt this for a second check out a video of either Nino Schurter or his teammate Kate Courtney to see how much unstable work they do, and how good they are at doing it.
Machine weights are super stable and essentially isolate a single muscle in the exercise. Free weights are far less stable and the stability muscles that control across a joint (knee, hip, etc) have to be included in the process. I use kettlebells for most of my weight work. The one-sided and swinging motions are less stable again than traditional free weights. The final level is actively unstable exercises, such as one-legged squats or any drill on an instability platform (I use BOSU, there are others).
Machine weights are like standing up while touching the wall – eventually muscles will get tired but they are very static while you stand there. Free weights are like standing in the centre of the room – not that much different to machine weights. One-legged drills are challenging even without weight. Try to stand on one foot for as long as you can, it gets tiring quite quickly. Then take that one-legged standing drill onto a BOSU. It takes practice just to do it at all.
But are unstable training sessions right for you? Only if you are proficient at stable training already is the short answer. I remember when I did my Level 2 coaching course. We spent a day with an amazing strength coach from the national track program. He recognised four levels of weight room proficiencies in his cyclists. Level 1 were people who needed close supervision in the gym to address imbalances in the body and technique in lifting. Level 2 were people who were ready to do proper basic exercises (imbalances addressed, technique sound). Level 3 were ready to challenge some aspect of their strength, balance and flexibility in the weight room. Level 4 were the peak athletes who were ready for the most bike-specific drills and explosive moves because they’d mastered their body and were more than ready for this stuff (almost no one made it to L4 ever).
I take a slightly different tack in my weight sessions with coachees. I like to see them doing unstable drills with only body weight from early on to help address balance in motion. Doing some weights and some unstable drills achieves progress on two fronts. Hopefully it isn’t too long before the two come together. Also, since I’m not trying to develop world champion track cyclists there isn’t a lot of weight involved at any point. We do reps rather than kilograms.
How can you incorporate this into your own training? Get off the machines and into the free weights. Get off two legs and onto one. Don’t use a barbell all the time and start using one-sided drills that challenge stability across the body (one dumbbell or kettlebell instead). Finally, consider replacing two-leg drills with one-leg drills.

AXS installation

I have done a few installations of Shimano’s Di2 digital shifting system, but I recently had my first experience with the SRAM version: AXS (pronounced access according to SRAM). AXS being wireless is its distinction from even the newest 12-spd version of Di2, which I’ve seen referred to as wired-less (the derailleurs are wired to a common battery while the shifters have their own power supply and communicate wirelessly with the derailleurs). AXS has one battery per unit – in the shifters it is a CR2032 button battery and in the derailleurs and seat post it is a small LiIon clip-on battery that gives a decent amount of run time (typically around a month I’m told) for frequent riders.
Being totally wireless means there are no connections whatsoever to run through or around the frame. Bolt on the derailleur(s) and set them up with the SRAM set-up tools. Attach the control mechanisms and align them for rider preference. Then pair the controller and the controlled unit (derailleur or seatpost) by clicking a button on each one. Super simple and worked first try with each pairing.
SRAM has an AXS app. I have it on my phone already because I use a Quarq power meter and it gets new firmware updates from the app. But using it for AXS was new to me. One “builds” a bike in the app and all the associated wireless devices show up there. I can see the derailleur, both controllers but not the seatpost on this particular bike. I know it can see the seatpost since I updated the firmware to the latest version on initial connection. One is meant to be able to swap shifting functions to any logic one desires – even if it makes no sense – but I couldn’t move rear derailleur functions to the seatpost commander.
Flight Attendant, the digital lockout controls over RockShox suspension also appears in the AXS app (and they use the same batteries for their power supply), permitting the Flight Attendant specific left controller to be programmed for which paddle does which function (and presumably to make a mess of things if one desires by including right paddle functions too).
By far my favourite aspect of the AXS process is fine tuning the shifting. Hold the button on the shift lever down while tapping the shift lever in the direction of required change and the derailleur moves one tiny amount in that direction. Di2 has a similar function but I always have to look up what the process is to invoke adjustment mode. With AXS there’s nothing to remember.
The owner of this bike has small hands. She sometimes is challenged to do the shift she wants towards the end of a race. AXS means no physical effort is required to effect the shift – she will be able to shift any time as desired.
Shifting seems faultless. The motor has a bit of grunt so it just moves the chain regardless of the terrain or pedalling going on at the time.
In the Reverb seatpost, it is virtually instantaneous between touching the paddle and the saddle being freed from its current position. These AXS Reverbs benefit from no hose connection either, so they can easily be removed from the frame for maintenance, flights or whatever. And when the post gets a bit squishy from air on the oil side of the floating piston, just flip the post over and insert the bleeding tool to free the air. New hydraulic Reverbs do the same, but it is hidden under the saddle clamp as the bottom side is occupied with a hydraulic fitting.
AXS is available across XX1, XO1 and GX. In GX it costs roughly the same as analogue XX1 – which is expensive but for anyone who has shifting issues with mechanical systems then the digital option is a good way to go. My own AXS-equipped MTB is now about 2 months away (if delivery date can be believed) so there will be more on AXS in a future post.