Is a Fast Cyclist a Thin Cyclist? Better, Is a Thin Cyclist a Fast Cyclist? I Have Certainly Changed My View on the Subject Over the Years.
I read an interesting article in Cycling Weekly about the drive to be thin, or in many cases, skinny to be fast. The title of the article then teases that you should get fast by ditching the skinny part but doesn’t give much in the way of why or how. Having been a skinny cyclist (<2.2 lbs per inch), and not by design – I rode so many miles I couldn’t eat enough to keep my weight up. I’ve since rectified that issue, thank you BBQ, Roast Beef and Burgers.
The main point in the article was that too much emphasis has been put on cyclists being ultra-thin, old spaghetti arms Chris Froome as the shining example.
The article does a fine job of labeling cyclists as victims of their own dieting at the urging of their (often overweight) managers and, if you’ve read more than a post or two here, you know I don’t subscribe to the “woe is me” blame game, but what about we weekend warrior cyclists? You can’t ride in a pace-line for 50 miles without hearing the fast people talk about weight at some point.
The article doesn’t delve deeply enough into the science of being able to ride healthier, happier, faster, and farther when you’re not a rail. Actually, in my case, I’d instead call me slightly fat and happy. Maybe cheerfully chubby.
Anyway, there’s no question I’m faster today at 178-ish pounds than I was at 154 (though I prefer 165 to 170, or 2.3 pounds per inch but too many of the aforementioned hamburgers have made that weight difficult). Let’s dig into this a minute, though.
There’s no doubt I can ride further with the extra 24 pounds. I can’t remember the last time I bonked completely (it’s been years). Of course, there is that uphill asterisk, but when things are all averaged out, I’ve got one heck of a reserve in the tank if my body needs something to burn. The one time that weight really does hurt a cyclist is on the “ups”, though. Conversely and humorously, on the flat and downhill sections, it’s clear; some fat is fast. If you want to see something funny, take one of those spaghetti people and put them next to a Clydesdale on an 8% descent. Have that little fella draft the big guy, and no pedaling. It’ll be shocking how much faster the big fella is than the skinny one. I see it often in our group. Hills I coast down, the skinnier, smaller girls have to pedal their asses off just to stay in my draft.
Another benefit to having a little bit of weight is overall health. While I wasn’t quite skinny enough to present health problems, I was close. The rail-thin climbers in the pro ranks are always on the razor’s edge of being fairly healthy and sick and they often have a team of people to help look after their nutritional needs (or so I’ve been told by those in the know). While I certainly wish I could climb a hill a little faster, my body’s immune system is absolutely rockin’ and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. As a 50-year-old weekend warrior, I’d never trade my health for a faster time up a hill.
Finally, it’s quite simple, if you want to win in the master’s class races, then by all means, watch your diet and obsess over whatever you have to to stay thin. Me? I will have fries with that. As long as I’m careful about how much I eat, I can maintain a decent, healthy weight and eat some really fun food in the process.
Hell, folks, that’s why I ride a bike in the first place.