I may not play a lot of tennis, but the same theory applies - an Athletic Stance ensures great balance and stability
When riding a mountain bike fast downhill what is required, ultimately, is control. As the alternative – being out of control – is often quite painful. It is only once you have control that you can have the confidence to start playing with its limits, which tends to be where the fun really begins! This control is achieved when a rider has both balance and stability.
Although in casual conversation these two terms may be used relatively interchangeably, they actually have quite specific meanings. Balance refers to a person’s ability to remain in a steady state. While stability refers to the ability to maintain balance in the face of external forces. I find that the best way to understand this nuance is with an example where a person is displaying great balance, but not necessarily great stability, such as a person pulling a wheelie. In this example, the rider may be expertly managing the effects of accelerating, braking and gravity to maintain a state of equilibrium in order to remain on their rear wheel, but an external disturbance, such as rough terrain, is likely to destabilise this situation. So, someone pulling a wheelie could be described as displaying good balanced but, potentially, poor stability.
Athletic Stance is a term used to describe the position a person adopts whilst playing a sport – normally the starting position before accelerating or whilst waiting to react to an external factor (to hit or catch a ball, for example). For whatever reason, it tends to be a term more commonly used in America, with little traction here in the UK, but people adopt an Athletic Stance in sports that are played all over the globe. The stance can vary depending on what sport is being played, but a tennis player waiting to receive a serve, a cricket player preparing to catch a ball, a golfer about to tee-off or a weight-lifter preparing to snatch are all examples. It is a position that allows a person to maximise their strength, power or speed in any given direction. This is because an Athletic Stance begins with great inherent balance and stability.
Riding a bike off-road should be no different. If you are out of the saddle attacking a challenging trail then you need to adopt an effective Athletic Stance to enable you to react to the terrain. Where cycling differs from other sports is in the placement of the feet (which in cycling are governed by the pedals, while in other sports they tend to be placed slightly wider apart than the shoulders) and the placement of the hands (which are holding a handlebar rather than preparing to catch, block, hold a racket, etc.) However, like the examples given for other sports, all of a rider’s weight should be supported through their feet (as discussed in my previous two Blog posts).
Therefore, I believe that a good starting point for establishing the correct relationship between a bikes bottom bracket and the handlebars for a given rider is simply to ask them to adopt an Athletic Stance whilst holding their handlebar (no bike required!). It’s actually quite surprising how repeatable this position is. One advantage of adopting this position without the use of an actual bike (just the handlebars) is that it guarantees that there is no body weight being supported through the hands – lean forwards and you will simply topple over! Once the relationship between the bottom bracket and the handlebars has been established, all that remains is to decide upon the correct seat tube angle to provide sufficient length for a comfortable position whilst pedalling seated. A bike frame designed in this way should ensure that the rider is placed in the correct Athletic Stance whilst standing on the pedals, resulting in inherent balance and stability.
I’ll be using the approach described above to help confirm the geometry of my new bike that I will be building early in the New Year. Between now and then I’ll be deciding on the rest of the frame geometry and selecting all of the components that will hang off it. I’ll also be writing about the whole process here in the Blog. As always, I’d love to know what you think.