Why two years off the bike might have made me even faster

It has now been two years since I ‘stopped’ riding my bike due to a minor traffic accident. To say stopped, that doesn’t mean that I completely gave up cycling, but I did not ride nowhere near as much in the two years time. The accident, however, wasn’t the sole reason for quitting, but it did amount to losing my interest in cycling for the given amount of time.

Zvoh, 1971 m a. s. l.

Thinking two years back in time, I did ride, well let’s just say, a lot. In the first season, I cycled for about three-thousand kilometers, which is quite a lot for someone’s first year of cycling. The effort was even greater thinking I had to pedal a classic 53/39 tooth chainring in the front, which is to say large, even for the pros these days, as smaller, compact chainrings are becoming more popular.

Shortly after I bought the bike, I switched to a 13-29 tooth cassette in the back, as the original 11-26 was just too hard to pedal in the alpine land of north-west Slovenia. Still, the bike was difficult to get up to climbs with gradients greater than 15 %, which are actually quite common here.

Look road bike with 53/39 chainring and 13/29 cassette

Soon, I got used to the heavy transmission of the bike, and I didn’t experience issues regarding the gear ratios on steep climbs. But when I returned to cycling after two years, I realized just how painful it was to pedal the bike, and while my stamina was in great shape, my legs weren’t.

For two or three weeks, trying to get back in the cycling shape I used to be, I don’t remember ever running out of breath, but my legs hurt like hell. Most of the time, found myself using the smaller 39 tooth chainring, even on the flat road. The larger one was only useful on the descents and was just too hard for anything else. However, despite mostly using the little one, Strava times were really close to the ones from the two years back.

Jošt bike race, May 2015

That got me thinking, how it was possible that the new Strava times were so similar compared to the old ones, despite the fact that I hadn’t really ridden much. As explained previously, my stamina was great, in fact, as I mostly spent the two years running. What changed was my preferred pedaling cadence.

Cycling previously, I constantly spun at around 90 rpm, and now, I’m feeling more comfortable at 100-110 rpm. Looking at research studies regarding cycling at different cadences, I found that the cyclist’s preferred cadence is correlated to the cyclist’s unique style and their proportion of different kinds of muscle fibers: Type I, slow-twitch muscle fibers are useful for long-distance and endurance training whereas Type II, fast-twitch muscle fibers are for more powerful bursts of movement.


It has been found that cyclists with greater proportions of slow-twitch muscle fibers are more efficient pedaling at lower cadences (80 rpm and lower). I imagine that previously, I was more efficient (and comfortable) at those cadences that I am nowadays.

So, what could have caused this change in my preferred cadence? Looking at my Garmin Forerunner data, and my average running ‘cadence’ which is referred to as spm (steps per minute), I came to a conclusion that the change in activity might have affected my muscle composition. My average running cadence was close to 170 spm, which is a considerably high cadence for amateur runners and demands less slow-twitch fibers than fast-twitch ones.


That might have caused the development of my fast-twitch muscle fibers. Similarly, cyclists have to complete a significant amount of high cadence training to become efficient at higher cadences (Chris Froome, Lance Armstrong). While more stamina-focused, muscles use less glycogen than during forceful pedaling at a lower cadence, and the effect of training is the cyclist becoming more comfortable riding in the saddle (which is also more efficient than riding out of the saddle at a lower intensity).

Essentially, that means that with the change of activity (to running), my cycling style consequently changed in two years time. By doing less, but more intense, it shifted from more endurance-based to more high intensity, stamina based.


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