real life cycling

Cycling speed and the illusion of talent

Mark Cavendish

For those of us not blessed with the natural cycling talents of a Tour de France contender we have to find ways to level the playing field. The very least we can do is look fast, and feel fast.

Unless you are an actual pro-cyclist, chances are you will benefit from the playing the odd mind game on the bike. You should not consider yourself above the deception involved in looking and feeling fast. The fact is, even if you are an actual pro-cyclist there will still be someone like Peter Sagan around who will need reigning in from time to time.

You have to use every advantage you can find.

There are the obvious solutions: clean your bike, pay particular attention to your chain (a shiny bike with a satisfying click-click coming from the drive train will always seem quicker), paint flames down the side of your bike. That would work.

Mark Cavendish
Cavendish looking and going fast (Image: free stock via

And then there is your kit.

Your Pringle Argyle socks may look quick around the office, but they won’t cut it on the bike. A race-cut jersey only looks quick if the seams aren’t threatening to mutiny at the first sign of gasping effort. You should also make at least some effort at co-ordination; bright orange footwear paired with a claret and blue jersey might be OK for a footballer, but a cyclist should do better than that.

Getting these simple details right will penetrate the defences of any rival and demonstrate that you are not the type to cut corners (although, ironically, actually cutting corners is also a good way of appearing fast).

But there is one behavioural tick above all others that will give the general impression that you rattle through the world in a blur of furious velocity: it’s all about your on-board refreshment. You may think that having a drink mid-ride is a simple process of depositing liquid into your mouth, but your technique tells its own tale.

You should reach gracefully down for the bottle in one sweeping movement of a single arm. Your gaze should not leave the road, your upper body should remain stock still, and your cadence shall not drop. Then, you should do that thing the pro’s do when they insert the nozzle into their mouth sideways and squeeze out the liquid with fierce disdain.

Even if you are sitting squarely in the little-ring and barely troubling the pedestrians strolling alongside you on the pavement, doing this correctly should give the impression you are riding so intensely quickly that taking a drink cannot knock you off your stride even for a moment. You need to force the liquid into your body immediately, and with the minimum of fuss, to continue fuelling your furious pedalling.

Ultimately you, yourself, will know what makes you feel fast (because you’ll have felt it) and you’ll know what makes you look fast (because you’ve spotted yourself in a reflective shop-front window). But get the squeezing-drink-in-sideways thing right and you’re half way there.

Just don’t forget to actually practice being fast, whatever your lack of talent.

Quite an important bit is definitely still in the legs.


5 comments on “Cycling speed and the illusion of talent

  1. Wow, I have never read such a straightforward yet thorough explanation of the on-bike hydration process. I am terribly below par, I am afraid. I particularly need to work on the fierce distain part…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. And God forbid, don’t stop pedaling to take that bottle from the cage or to replace it!


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