Sprinting with clips

I’ve been riding flat pedals almost exclusively for a couple years now, and my handling and pedaling skills are better than ever. Lately I’ve been wondering, what will happen if I clip back in?

Yesterday’s test results were pretty powerful.

I rode clipped in for 20 years

I clipped in when the first SPDs came out. I “learned” to ride clipped in. Learned is in quotes because I actually sucked really bad. Even when I was winning Cat 1 national DHes and ran top 10 at Masters DH Worlds, I sucked.

Over the past 10 years or so I’ve tried to really Learn (capital L, no quotes) how to Ride. As part of that adventure, I learned to ride flats for pump/jump, then DH, and finally trail. For the past two years I’ve ridden flats for everything: pump, jump, DH, XC, coaching and even the road. I’ve finally reached the point where I can ride flats competently in most any situation.

My sustainable power, comfort, smoothness and cadence have improved noticeably over the past couple seasons. Part of it’s increased aerobic fitness, part increased toughness due to fatherhood, part improved technique (Check out Embracing pedaling as a skill). I’ve spent a lot of time learning how to pedal better, and I’m teaching some pretty cool techniques. One elite XC/CX racer just reported an 8 percent power increase — at the same heart rate. Pedaling is a skill. Rock it!

So here I am, finally decently competent on flat pedals, and I want to know how much I can gain (if at all) by clipping back in. I don’t expect much benefit with sustained power, but I suspect I might find a few watts in the sprints.

So the pendulum swings …

The test

Yesterday I installed some ancient Shimano DH pedals (red and bent!) onto my LeMond Revolution-mounted S-Works Tricross, ratcheted on some foreign-feeling Shimano XC shoes and rocked the Sufferfest Downward Spiral video.

Downward Spiral treats you to two sets of descending stair intervals. You go all-out for 2:00, rest for 2:00, pin it for 1:45, rest for 1:45 and work your way down until you’re fully pinned for 0:15. Easy spin then do it again. It’s pretty rad because you’re mixing aerobic work with anaerobic violence. This is not a straight-up max power test; it’s a real-deal hard freaking workout, and I sprint all-out at the beginning of each interval.

The last couple times I did this workout (with flats), my sprints were in the 1,000- to 1,200-watt range. This made me feel pretty great: I was measuring that peak power with clips two years ago, and my sustained power is way better.

Today I rocked the same exact workout. The only difference is Mr. Shimano was holding my feet onto the pedals.

Lee Likes Bikes LLC world headquarters. Check out the wheel stand.

Qualitative notions

• Yuck! This feels strange. The seat feels too low now. The cleats are in the wrong place (apparently they were for 20 years?).

• Sustained power feels about the same, but that’s not what I’m here for. One thing though: I don’t have to pay as much attention.

• As I warmed up, I eased into some sprints. During the rest I’d shift into the 50×17 and drop it down to 70 rpm. When Sufferfest said GO, I pinned it to max speed then sat and punched as hard as I could for the rest of the interval. Whew!

• At first the peak power numbers were normal, but — man — it felt easy: like, uh, my feet were attached to the pedals.

• Hmm, since I’m using different pedals, maybe I should pedal differently. So I started pulling up while I accelerated. Once I got moving, I just hammered as hard as I could. This was much less careful than with flats. The trainer jumped around. The frame wrenched loose from the Revolution’s mount. Tighten the QR and resume action …

• Whoa. The power numbers started increasing. The more I pulled during the initial acceleration and just freaking hammered down on the power phase, the more power I made.

I know yesterday’s test wasn’t scientifically valid, but it was pretty darn interesting:

Quantitative results

Before today, on flat pedals, the highest power I’ve seen on my LeMond Revolution with Power Pilot was about 1,250 watts.

Yesterday, clipped in, I hit 1,450 watts!

That’s a 16 percent increase. Pretty darn huge.

Oh, and this wasn’t a dedicated peak power test. It was a really hard hour-long workout. And my best number came on interval #9.

LeMond Revolution Power Pilot reading. Actual sweat.

But wait, there’s more

If I can sprint with 16 percent more power clipped in, you know what I’m doing at Sea Otter. But that’s at speed: 70 rpm to 180 rpm. What about accelerating from a stop, BMX style?

After the workout, I cooled down and did some stand-start sprints.

34×17 gear. Dead stop. BMX-style sprint for 5-8 strokes. Technique as in Pro BMX Skills. Repeat.

On flats, I was hitting about 1,050 watts, which isn’t bad.

Yesterday, clipped in, I hit 1,300 watts.

A 24 percent increase!

And that’s after a crazy workout.

What I think

• In my nerdy world, this is really big deal.

• My guess: Flat pedals helped me learn to pedal more efficiently. When I clip in, I can make more power than ever.

• Oh man I am sore today. New muscles used at very high intensity.

• This was one test, but an impressive one. I’ll keep exploring this.



Know more. Have more fun!

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