What presents the greatest challenge to the singlespeed rider? The changing terrain of the typical mountain bike course. A geared rider can maintain a fairly even cadence throughout a race, while the singlespeed rider has to change theirs to accommodate the terrain. Singlespeed riders tend to excel on the climbs and in technical sections, with a more efficient drive train and lower weight. As a singlespeed rider, you need to deliver high power at low cadence, moderate power at very high cadence as well as steady power at a moderate cadence. Acceleration out of tight corners or through rock gardens requires explosive strength. Climbing at mid to low rpmâ€™s requires sustained strength and a well-developed core and upper body. And, while you can develop strength naturally through riding, optimal performance requires some specific training. Some athletes go into the gym to build strength, but here are a few on-the-bike techniques Iâ€™ve found to be effective. Somewhat ironically, most of these drills are easiest to do on a geared road bike.
Over Gear Efforts are great for building leg strength. These are done on a moderate hill in a very large gear (53×15, for example) at 50-60 rpm. Start conservatively, with 2 sets 5-10 minutes in length. Allow 5 minutes rest between sets and increase sets or duration of effort as your training progresses. These efforts should be done seated. Over Gear Efforts are on-the-bike strength training, ie. resistance training for cycling specific muscles.
Another good strength builder, and itâ€™s not a fun one, are Increasing Rate Hill Intervals. These are done as out of the saddle accelerations done up a fairly steep hill at 80-90rpm. Start the effort at 70% effort for 10-15 seconds then increase to 80%, 90%, finishing the last 15 seconds at 100%. Do 2-4 sets with full recovery in-between (10 minutes), depending on where you are at in your training.
Sprint Efforts are also good training. Sprint Efforts are usually done in sets of 4-6 with full recovery between all-out sprints. You can do these on your singlespeed, but you’ll probably find it easier to do them on a geared road bike. A computer or power meter for feedback never hurts.
Building a solid core and good upper body strength is key for delivering maximum power at lower cadences. Yoga, Pilates, and other dynamic workouts are good for this. Physical labor, or sports like kayaking or rowing, can also help build these muscles.
The biggest challenge for the singlespeed racer are the near flat sections of a course. You can coast down hills and climbing can be our advantage, but the flats are tough. Singlespeed riders quickly loose their ability to pedal efficiently and are often forced to coast, losing valuable time. Track sprinters face a similar challenge, they need to ride a gear which allows them to accelerate quickly, but also give them top end speed. They do this by developing excellent leg strength, and by training their legs to deliver power at very high rpmâ€™s. There are two main tools used to do this, One Legged Drills and high cadence roller workouts.
One Legged Drills are done at typical cadence, alternating with one foot pedaling for 20-30 seconds, then the other. 4-6 times on each leg. Make sure to focus on driving through the entire pedal stroke. This is best done on a flat road on a road bike, and care needs to be taken to avoid injury.
Learning to ride rollers and doing high cadence workouts will help smooth out your pedal stroke and develop more fluid pedaling. My wife, coincidentally a track sprinter, often does this roller workout: 15 minute warm-up in a light gear, then 3-4 sets of 1 minute at 110rpm, 1 minute at 120rpm, 1 minute at 130rpm, 1 at 120, 1 at 130, then a 15 second max sprint. Do this effort 3 times at 5 minutes, with 5 minutes recovery in between. The entire workout should last 45 minutes.
High cadence workouts are used to train the body to deliver power efficiently at high rpmâ€™s. By improving your ability to pedal smoothly and at high cadence your efficiency on flat sections will improve, though itâ€™s still the singlespeed riders biggest challenge.
Does this look like singlespeed training?
These drills and techniques can help a singlespeed rider become stronger, more efficient, and faster. As with all training exercises, these are best done as part of an organized training program and under a coachâ€™s supervision.