Pardon the allusion to the classic new wave track "Dance Mother Fucker Dance" by The Violent Femmes (though it's more of the rock-a-billy genre).
Spinning is a time-honored practice in bicycle racing. Coaches will demand your base miles all be done in the small chainring. This is mostly to ensure you don't damage anything from trying to push a hard gear when you don't have the base miles, but it also means you have to turn a high cadence to go fast. Developing leg speed is a crucial aspect of bike racing.
They will advocate riding rollers at a high cadence to smooth out your pedal stroke and keep you riding smooth straight lines. This can be accomplished with stationary trainer, but it's easy to get sloppy at a high spin on a stationary trainer, and it doesn't really do anything for your fitness if you don't have to worry about keep the bike up. No, spinning classes don't help with spinning the pedals on a road bike, unless you're starting from scratch. Even the Great Eddy Merckx loathed stationary trainers for anything other than warming up. His famous quip on the subject was 'all you learn from riding a wind trainer is how to pedal squares'. They didn't have magnetic or fluid trainers in his day, but the concept is the same. Sitting on a stationary trainer (as opposed to rollers) allows you, and almost coerces you, pump your legs up and down, not pedal circles. (OK, I know it isn't exactly what he said, but it's the gist, and he did use the term 'pedal squares'. If you're anal enough to worry about the exact phrase over the intent, then I suggest you shut the fuck up and get on a set of rollers).
This brings me to the actual subject of this post: Fixed Gear Training.
I'm not talking about track racing, I'm talking about riding a fixed gear bike with a ratio in the low to mid 2s for a few hours at a time on the road.
My Friend and fellow blogger Exemplar Solobreak has a post on power training, where he referenced the idea of mashing a big gear over varied terrain as a training tool.
But, That's something to be saved for later, _after_ you develop your base miles.
It's winter. When the roads are clear, I love riding a fixed gear. Last year was tough since it snowed so early and we had snow on the ground from the day after thanksgiving through the end of march. This year does'nt look much better for winter miles so far, but you know what they say about new england weather, all this snow could be gone next week (though I find it highly unlikely)
So, let's talk about riding one gear, no coasting, trying to keep a cadence of about 100 rpm on flat ground, while keeping your HR in the low aerobic range, about 80%, for two to three hours.
This teaches you several things:
1) Spinning a cadence on a fixed gear makes you pedal a circle. If you have a bad pedal stroke, keeping the bike smooth and steady as you zip along at a higher cadence - say 120 - will bounce you all over the road.
2) It prevents you from taking it too easy. If you want to get home, you have to push the gear. No coasting, no shifting up/down on the hills,
3) It teaches you to be attentive - while I personally would _never_ go out on the open road without two working brakes, it's a good learning experience for keeping your pace steady, especially when riding with a group.
Of course, the right gear for your area is essential. in flat areas, like where Solo lives, you can get away with a heavier gear, possible something pushing a 3.0 ratio. Where I live, we have a lot more rolling hills with some short steep climbs. I've been using a 42/16 for almost 20 years (2.625:1). I can ride most of the local hills and still keep my cadence over 70, and they aren't long enough to horribly stress my knees.
This brings us to another aspect of fixed-gear training. Depending on the route, I can pick out hilly route to work on power, or longer flat routes to just work on base miles. Of course, the hilly routes are much shorter in duration, and the beauty of the smaller gear is that I can get an effective warm-up/cool-down by spinning to and from the hills I want to work out on.
Conversely, on some of the _downhills_, in isn't uncommon to spin up to 160 rpm. This brings me to a question I'd like to ask from anyone who may skim past this blog that has any knowledge on the issue. The question is 'spinning vs. being spun'.
A coach that I hooked up with a few years ago was not a fan of fixed gear training. He felt that it didn't really teach you to spin a high cadence smoothly, since usually the high cadences one experiences on a fixed gear occur on the down hills. He said, there is a big difference between spinning and being spun. I think I see his point, but I think it's relative minor. I think the benefits of fixed gear training vastly outweigh any detriment from 'being spun' on a downhill, and I also think there is a benefit to letting the bike push your leg speed up past the 160 rpm range. I think that pushing your legs in a circle at that speed is something that _must_ be done consciously, and therefore it _does_ teach you how to spin your legs smoothly.
Did you notice how many times I wrote "I think" in that last paragraph? Hell, I'm not a coach, and I'm quite mediocre as a bike racer, so it doesn't really matter what I _think_.
Tell me what _you_ think. Any professional coaches that may wander this way are especially welcome.