Souplesse (French) - suppleness, softness, flexibility fluidity
With typical je na sais quois, the French use the word souplesse to describe that most elegant of cyclists, the beautiful and efficient pedaller on the bike. Smooth, economical, relaxed and poised on the bike, a rider with souplesse would be comfortable with the advice of Bernard Hinault that you should able to play the piano whilst riding a bike.
Above all, a rider with souplesse is efficient, giving the appearance of effortlessness even in the midst of the hardest effort. Unsurprisingly, there are many factors and much work that go into achieving the holy grail. What seems a simple motion actually has many elements.
To start, you need to be fitted well on the bike to have the platform for correct pedaling style, efficiency and power. Cleat position (critical to protect the knees) and saddle placement (height, tilt and fore/aft setup) are central places to start. Correct reach and extension in the 'cockpit' are also crucial, and too often people move a saddle out of the ideal position to compensate for an overly short or long stem.
Fitted properly on the bike, we can concentrate on the pedalling. The most efficient style is pedaling in a circle, applying force to every point in the stroke, knees tracking straight up and down. The torso is a still and stable platform, with no rocking in the hips or shoulders in the saddle.
Watching a pro rider, and indeed many a track rider, is to get a lesson in souplesse as they glide along at a steady tempo, still, elegant and smooth. Of particular note in the souplesse clubs over the years have been riders like Jacques Anquetil, Stephen Roche, Miguel Indurain, Rochelle Gilmore, Marianne Vos, Lizzie Deignan and Brad McGee. All a delight to watch.
Working on your own souplesse? We were taught and still recommend rollers as a great way to become a pro pedaller. Any imbalances or quirks show up quickly in your balance and lets you smooth them out. You can check out a masterclass here.
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