Episode #16 – Finding Cheap Momentum to Save You Energy

Episode #16 – Finding Cheap Momentum to Save You Energy

Madison hand-slings are a classic way to get cheap momentum but there are lots more ways. This episode looks at many of the ways to save time and energy when racing.

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I can’t go past the USADA dropping bombs this week. Even after reading a lot of press and expecting as much from the documents, and reading The Secret Race, it affected me differently than I expected. I expected, just like during and after reading The Secret Race that the insights just add another layer to my love of pro-cycling, but what I experienced is a total surreal feeling where I felt disconnected as a fan and rider. It was quite unexpected but my emotions changed a lot in the first few days after I spent a night reading through most of the documents.

As someone that has never been close to the inner circle of pro-cycling, I have always thought that there are elements of cycling racing and training that are secret and not spoken about. While that still holds true, what was unfolding in front of me was lies built on lies built on lies. It makes me angry that anyone who benefited from doping knowingly stopped clean riders from fulfilling their potential.

To that end, I missed the sincerity in all the press releases from any of the legs 11, the former Postal riders named in the documents. Which makes me think that the only reason the information came out was because of the legal ramifications outweighed keeping their mouth shut. USADA are definitely a pro outfit and have built a thorough case, and so this adds to the decision of each of the riders. It also looks like there will be a larger fallout, especially in Australia. Everyone’s interested in Oz has been peaked by Matt White and the 4 Corners report. Those not in Australia, I have the video on my site under this week’s episode. Check it out, it’s worth it.

The question I keep asking myself has cycling lost its innocence over the past year? Are we as fans hardened and a little most jaded but better off in their understanding of how ugly side of our sport operates? I say yes. Not shying away from the truth only leads to further insights, deeper understanding and a clearer view of potential suspect performances. It’s also just cause to call for the UCI to take a look at themselves, and the Pro riders to be forewarned of a greater fallout shall they choose to dope.

Now, let’s get to some bike riding!

Using Cheap Momentum to Save Energy and Effort

Momentum is a fundamental element to riding a bike on two wheels. Nothing new there, but it also plays a great part in the subtle art of cycling. Conserving energy, cheap place gains and closing gaps with ease.

It’s more than just riding smoothly, as riding smoothly is something that is done when all other things remain constant, the bulk of bike racing is done with nerves, mishaps and attacks. So having strategies to get some cheap gains that can give you the edge between winning and losing. A few quick examples of this are what I spoke to Dylan Cooper about in Episode #13, riding over the top of a hill instead of just to the top and the classic Madison hand-sling, even check being done in this year’s E3, check out the left hand side at 0:37 seconds. Hat tip to Jock for pointing that one out!

I’m going try and expand on this. This is a guide to using momentum to your advantage in most forms of riding. Let’s start on momentum in a broad sense though, training.

Momentum in training is building on consistency

No consistency in your training means, at best, limited improvement, and, at worst, overtraining and loss of fitness. It’s a simple but powerful idea and one that many semi-pro careers are built on. Building momentum through consistent training over many years. Sounds like cycling training in a nutshell.

It’s based on the premise that nothing does more to limit or reduce fitness than missed rides. The human body thrives on regular patterns of living. When cycling routinely and uniformly progressing for weeks, months, and years, fitness steadily improves. One of the biggest mistakes a rider can make though is also neglecting moderation. Building momentum through moderately increasing training stress rather than having weekly changes in duration and intensity. Outside of simply not riding, the other element to consider is playing catch-up and putting in a massive week on the back of little to no training. This is a recipe for disaster because the adaptation process the body goes through cannot move this fast. It’s a downward spiral from this point, you may survive one or two of these ‘big’ weeks but eventually it’s going to rock your body and you will break down. Whether it’s injury, burnout, illness or over-training, something is waiting to happen which will stop you again from building your fitness and performance.

I have this idea of cheap momentum: Momentum that comes at none or very little extra effort to go further and faster than you otherwise would.

Cheap momentum is embodied on a pump track, but it’s when the lessons from the pump track are transferred to un-curated trails that you start to feel to power of this knowledge. Harnessing the energy you are creating by moving over obstacles or through pedalling is valuable in conserving energy. The repetitive motion builds momentum and propels you along. It’s basic physics: Momentum, such as that from riding a bike, provides continuous power if you pedal at a consistent, steady pace. Changing pedaling speed or pedaling with an inconsistent method uses more energy. So shifting gears before you need to is a way to avoid breaking the continuous power. Two examples are standing up on a climb and going into a gully or dip on a mountain bike. Shift gear prior to standing and dropping into the gully to maintain momentum to make the transition smooth.

On a side note: I have another sneaky tactic, if you are stuck behind someone in single track and there is no place to pass, then drink and eat behind them. This will serve you well when you need want to pass them, as it will most likely happen at a part of the course that is also a drinking or eating opportunity i.e a wide flat spot.

Mountain biking uses inconsistent terrain to generate cheap momentum, whereas cheap momentum on the road is fed from the angle of the corner or the steepness of a hill, and the actions that the rider takes in relation to other riders.

An example of this is criterium racing. I’ll link to this great clip I found on youtube. It’s made by Ashley Powell of http://catup.com and it’s awesome.

I don’t know what level these dudes are but the insight is just awesome. This is a technical crit course compared the dedicated crit tracks I’m used to. Other than all of that the commenting is is sharp and spot on, especially the first minute or so, but if you can watch the entire thing. You will see that it really demonstrates cheap momentum in a criterium. Watch as other riders wash off speed just because the guy in front brakes but Ashley just slips straight through them, sometimes even landing at the front of the bunch. I have pulled things like this in local crits and at times I would get yelled at, and other times it would mean the difference between getting in the winning break or avoiding a crash. The only time it’s dodgy is cutting dudes off on the inside of someone in a tight corner, that’s just bad form.

Say you do arrive at the front after pulling some of these moves, this is an opportunity to attack. Depending on the pace at the time (and your race plan). Attacking when there is a lull will maintain your momentum against the bunches. There is no point attacking when the pace is high because the momentum needed will not created the same effect. So stating this simply, when you move from farther back in the pack you should attack to get the jump on the other riders. Especially if you are are going into turns or starting a hill. Another element of attacking is when you make the decision to attack, make it count. Even if it’s a split second decision, move with intent and purpose and commit yourself to the attack. Looking back at such a crucial moment only slows your forward momentum while giving your opponents a chance to catch you off-guard. So just put your head down and go for it.

If you choose not to attack when you hit the front move out of the wind, watch the criterium video to see where you should move back to. As Ashley puts it, the sweet spot is about 15-20 riders behind the front. Once you have a handle on the skills in the video don’t be afraid to move around a little and conserve energy by protecting yourself and not fighting for position. As long as you can make it to the front of the bunch at crucial moments then any cheap momentum earned is not wasted.

A couple of other ways to not lose momentum is being conscious of when you take on food or a drink. The worst time to come out of an aero position is when going the fastest, that’s nearly always downhill. The best time is when going the slowest. But that’s usually a hard uphill when it’s hard to drink or eat. That leaves the flat terrain. So think about it before you break your aero position for a drink.

In much the same way that breaking your aero position compromises your momentum, drafting is the classic way to avoid losing momentum and can be used to slingshot passed another rider, especially in a sprint or attack. The slingshot is to ride up behind another rider with help from his draft, then use the momentum to sprint past. It’s also called dropping the wheel.

While I’ve been talking about tactics for moving around and off the front of the bunch, these are all based off other riders. Where skills for keeping momentum on downhills requires more intrinsic actions. Downhills are the obvious places for momentum. There is no need to work as hard going downhill as there is going uphill. I understand though that you don’t want to lose touch with other riders or lose significant amounts of time. Without focusing on working hard I have a list of quick ways to maintain momentum on the downhills. Specifically in braking, cornering and steering.


  • Wash off your speed before the middle of the corner
  • Feathering or pulsing the brakes rather than slamming them on use less energy to get up to speed again
  • Use your body as a way to slow down by moving out of an aero tuck

While I am mentioning aero tucks, this is mine:

Hands together next to the stem on the top of the bars, elbows tucked in as tight as possible. Head down low and close to stem without risking damage if I hit a bump. If the road conditions allow, I get extra tuck by moving my chest over my hands and chin towards the front wheel. I maintain eye contact with the road ahead, but just by looking up as mush as possible. My knees are tucked in tightly and touching while I move from having my arse from the tip of the saddle to a standing position if I move my body forward. One side note, in traffic I will be on the drops maintaining a low body position but have my elbows and knees tucked in. In either position my body is relaxed to absorb shocks.


  • Look ahead as far as possible and look where you want to go, even on blind corners
  • Cover your brakes in either blind corners or unstable surfaces by placing your hands over the levers. This reduces reaction time for emergencies


At speed you are not steering, you are leaning the bike. The faster you go the less input is needed. There is a common theory that you should lean the bike, NOT your body. My take is that it’s going to vary when you do these as both are necessary.

In wet conditions you want to lean more body than bike into a turn because you want the contact patch of your tire to have the maximum amount of rubber available. Contrast this to a dry crit when you can afford to put more of body into the corner. A couple of factors influence this decision here, first a smooth and clean surface, meaning a predictable corner, and it a closed circuit, less danger.

Michelin Tyre Levers

Yelow Michelin Tyre Levers

If you’ve been in the game a while you will know these beauties. If not here it is, the best tire levers known to man. Michelin tyre levers (the yellow ones). You cannot mess with these puppies. I can’t guarantee they are unbreakable but I have had mine for 15 years? And they are still kicking. They don’t have sharp edges so you can even use them when putting a tire on, even though it not PRO move, but we are Semi-Pro after all. BAAM!
Photo Credit: Ty Domin


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