Question: Seems everyone has a Single-Speed mountain bike to train on these days. Am I missing out on something?
Answers: Single speed training isn’t just for dedicated single speed racers! All mountain bike racers interested in improving their limiters in a fun and specific way can benefit from riding and training on a single speed.
In the image above, you can view a Quadrant Analysis (QA) that was generated using Power-Tap data collected from one rider on both a geared MTB (in yellow), and a single speed MTB (in red) . This QA compares the physical demands of each MTB ride. The rides were similar in intensity (about IF .8). Each point within the QA plot shows the pedal force and pedal speed (think cadence – the vertical line corresponds to a cadence of 85). QA helps to identify the neuromuscular demands of a cycling genre. What is striking in this plot is the relative differences between SS MTB and geared MTB demands in terms of force and cadence. The iso-power lines illustrate that when pedal speed (cadence) gets very low, pedal forces must be very high to maintain power.
Single speeders spend more time at higher and lower cadences than gearies. Gearies concentrate the majority of pedaling around a small preferred cadence range, whereas single speeding requires cadences in a huge range, from 20 rpm to over 130 rpm. Single speeding puts you out of your cadence comfort zone and stimulates new abilities.
The force distribution differs significantly between both riding styles. Single speeders spend more time pedaling at higher force levels at lower cadences (i.e., they do a lot of mashing and a lot of standing). It is a matter of physics – to maintain a given power output if cadence decreases pedal force must increase, and as cadence gets really low pedal force must increase a lot. To single speed successfully you have to push a lot harder while pedaling slowly! The cadence and force characteristics of single speeding are similar to structured training drills such as spin-ups or force repeats. The single speed mountain bike is a valuable training tool!
Any hard tail mountain bike can be converted into a single speed. Everybody has an old hard tail in their garage – right? Take off all the shifting stuff and put on a handful of cassette spacers, a chain tensioner and a single speed cog.
Another benefit of riding a single speed is that single-speeds are the ultimate bad weather training machines. Sloppy conditions are hell on drivetrains. Train on a single-speed through mucky and wet conditions to save your bling race bike and components for race day.
Training on a single speed builds fitness in a very specific way.
Low cadence/high force pedaling time improves low cadence power abilities mimicking the goal of structured workouts such as force repeats or muscle tension sessions. Increasing leg strength on the bike is more specific to mountain bike racing than lifting weights in the gym and comes along with the added benefits of cardio and skill development.
Full body Strength
Pedaling uphill, off-road, out of the saddle with high force and low cadence is a full body effort. This type of training increases upper body and core strength in a riding specific position.
Improve Pedal Stroke
High cadence pedaling time improves pedal stroke and replicates the goal of skills workouts such as spin-ups.
Bike Handling Skill
Single speeding enhances technical skill development with a simplified focus. Single speeding requires no gear-choice, attention and there is no need to ease up on the pedals to plan a gear shift. This frees up all pedaling and thought time to conquer a technical challenge. Hammer straight into an obstacle and attack!
Without a big ring to accelerate after momentum loss, the penalty of technical mistakes is magnified on the single speed. It teaches you to maintain speed in corners and traction while pedaling out of the saddle. You become a more efficient rider with increased skills to maximize efficiency and conserve momentum.
Trail momentum killers such as soft dirt, holes, bumps and rocks become bigger features to the single speeder with no big ring to power it out. The penalty of losing momentum is a strong motivator to ride the fastest line on the trail. You will learn how to keep your bike flowing along with less power. You will become a smoother rider.
Incorporate single speed training into your program as a way to improve limiters in a manner most specific to cycling. The new challenge will add variety, simplicity in bad weather, and most of all you will reap big training benefits while having a ton of fun out on the trails.
Lynda Wallenfels coaches and consults with mountain bike racers and is the 2009 24-hour solo singlespeed USA National Champion. Lynda is currently taking applications for her 2011 roster. Contact her through her LW Coaching website for more information. http://lwcoaching.com