Shoulder angle: Slightly less than 90° for recreational riders; slightly greater than 90° for road cyclists.
Trunk angle: Between 40° and 80° for recreational riders; between 30° and 40° for road cyclists.
Knee angle: Traditionally, experts have recommended adjusting your seat height to obtain a knee angle of 25 to 35° when the pedal is at its lowest point. This range minimizes the risk of knee problems and maximizes power. A 2008 study at the University of Central Arkansas found that the closer you can get to 25°, the more efficient you'll be and the less energy you'll burn.
Seat: Make sure your seat is level: Tilting up or down can cause discomfort.
Different muscles are activated at each stage of the pedalling cycle. If you're using special cycling shoes that attach to the pedal (or pedals with straps), you can pull the pedal up as well as pushing it down. The goal is to apply pressure in a perfect circle all the way around. One way to practice this is to pedal with one leg at a time - but only try this on a stationary bike, for safety reasons!
Dead spots: The hardest point to apply force is when the pedals are vertical. Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong's coach, suggests imagining scraping mud off your shoe when the pedal is at six o'clock, and standing on a barrel rolling it forward when the pedal is at 12 o'clock.
The best way to prepare for a long bike ride is with lots of long rides, but many people don't have time for regular multihour rides. Fortunately, recent research has shown that you can cram many of the benefits of long rides into shorter, more intense sessions. A study published in March by Jonathan Little, Martin Gibala and their colleagues at McMaster University found significant improvement in a one-hour cycling trial after just two weeks of the following regime:
High-intensity intervals: Warm up with three minutes of easy pedalling. Pedal hard for 60 seconds, then rest for 75 seconds; repeat eight to 12 times. Do this workout three times a week.
There's no "perfect" cadence - it depends on your bike, your fitness and the terrain. Cyclists are commonly advised to aim for 70 to 80 revolutions per minute, with more experienced riders hitting up to 90 rpm. But these numbers may be too high for older cyclists. A University of Rome study to be published later this year found that older cyclists reach peak efficiency at a lower cadence than younger cyclists under identical circumstances, possibly due to changes in muscle composition.
Pushing harder gears at a lower cadence relies more on muscular strength, while moving to a higher cadence in an easier gear shifts the load to your cardiovascular system. A study at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences found that 12 weeks of lower-body strength training [see Leg Press]allowed subjects to reduce their freely chosen cadence by 9 rpm and burn about 3 per cent less energy.
Your arms do a surprising amount of work: They support about one-third of your bodyweight when you're cycling, and they add power by pulling on the handlebar when you're accelerating or pedalling uphill. Make sure to keep your wrists roughly straight. Bending them back can hyperextend the ulnar nerve, leading to numbness on the outer part of the hand called "handlebar palsy." Bending them forward can cause carpal tunnel syndrome by compressing the median nerve, making the inner part of the hand feel numb.
Holding the same body position for a long bike ride can get uncomfortable, so it's a good idea to stretch out periodically. Be careful to maintain control while stretching on your bike, and look out for cyclists around you.
Back: Arch your back while dropping your chin toward your chest; hold for five seconds. Then straighten your back and lift your head as high as possible, again holding for five seconds.
Shoulders: Lift your shoulders toward your ears. Hold for five seconds, then slowly lower them.
Lower back: Keep one arm on the handlebar, and reach back to place the other forearm across your lower back. Twist your body toward the arm behind your back and hold for five seconds.
The best fuel for prolonged exercise is carbohydrate, stored in the form of glycogen in your muscles and liver. If you're going to ride for more than two hours, you'll need to supplement these glycogen stores with a sports drink (or gels, or a banana, depending on what your stomach can handle).
For shorter rides, it depends on the circumstances. A pair of recent studies by researchers at the University of Loughborough in Britain found that sports drinks had no effect on a 60-minute cycling trial if the cyclists had eaten a meal three hours before the ride, but did boost performance if the cyclists had been fasting. Your liver glycogen stores are about 50 per cent depleted when you wake up in the morning, since your brain and heart were running all night. As a result, if you're going biking first thing in the morning, you'll benefit from either a light preride breakfast or some sports drink throughout the ride, even if you're just going for an hour.