Praying Mantis Position
Updated: May 31, 2021
Praying mantis - the 'new' craze on the bike!
For a while now, I've held my tongue on the praying mantis fad that has been sweeping triathlon since lock down. Maybe because so many more have been on turbos inside (like we have been doing for 30+ years!) and so have been tempted to tinker with their bike position. Locked into this position, they are safe from not having any control of the bike..., that is until they head outside! Two situations have sprung me into action, the first not a biggie, but the second one has huge consequences. The first was sitting outside my hotel here at camp, which is on a straight safe flat piece of road. 3 out of every 5 riders with time trial bars rode past with their hands nearly touching their noses. Powering along with 2 out of the 3 going about 25 km/h, while weaving all over the place. But this new 'fad' is awesome as it's more aerodynamic! To who, to where, to why? Well, I watched the pro cyclists in the time trial at the various tours, and I've read all these articles by experts that know all about this!
The second and most alarming, is that I'm noticing many more photos of Trisutto athletes using the 'new' praying mantis fad.., 'this is a more aerodynamic position Sutto'. Well Sutto is here to tell you, that is not so. Unlike most, I've seen real data, not in the wind tunnel but rather scientific testing on a velodrome where the bike was moving on nearly road like conditions at 50 km/h. But we won't go down that rabbit hole, in this blog. At Trisutto, our bike time trial technique involves using bigger gears than the Normie's, and the arms are an intrical part. With our 'grip it and rip it', where we stomp on pedals rather than spinning, the praying mantis fad actually results in a time adding component to bike performance. We advocate flat bars with J shaped extensions that bend up at the end.
With these bars we can get a good leverage position to pull on. We also advocate not having the pads too close together, so we can have better control and balance on the bike. Thus driving the front wheel in a straight line. Having arms too close and then adding the up at the elbows, pivotal to the praying mantis position, results in some loss of control over the front wheel position on the road.
But there IS more...
We use the 90 degree shoulder to elbow angle to take some of the weight of our upper torso off the back and dissipate it down through the shoulder to elbow into the pads. This eliminates a lot of back problems we see from athletes when they have completed the bike, in turn affecting their run.
In our experiments, from as far back as 1992, this rookie tri coach was a know-all swim coach who thought that bike positions back then were so non aerodynamic - 'these people just don't know.' Well the rookie coach learned that many of his athletes complained of sore arms, sore shoulders, sore lower backs, the feeling of cramping when trying to run off the bikes and that was for just Olympic distance races. As soon as we went flat and 90 degree shoulder to elbow ratios, magically it all went away. The soreness that is! Bike performance flourished for both men and women across all distances of triathlon. You want examples, they are too many to write but I'll give you an extreme one from two weeks ago when Nicola Spirig rode off the front at Challenge Mogan on a road bike with training wheels and clip on extensions.
Now before we have a bike debate, check her arm carriage illustrated above. 90 degrees, and her arm width is the most extreme in the sport. No one will argue with this. At Challenge Mogan she jumped off the bike, and as many of the pro men will attest to, ran the half marathon like she hadn't even ridden the hilly 90km bike. Do I think her position on the bike helps her run? Yes I do. Do I think it will help you? Yes I do. Do I think that getting her into a more aero position will help her be faster? No!
But it doesn't stop every person in the sport who wants to help her say 'you have so much more free speed to be had with your bike position'. Thank you, but no thank you. The bottom line, at least to all Trisutto athletes that should know better, is being cramped up like a pretzel on the front of the bike will not only hurt your bike split but will also decimate your run split. If you're not a Tristto athlete but a keen knowledge student you just got some actual 'free' speed if you follow my advice. The hands up at the front, for an unconfident bike rider, is a non-starter with me. For those that don't push big gears or use arms, it's still a non-starter for me. Why? Because it will affect your run split. A spinner with great bike skill might find a few seconds. However when the lower back and tight shoulders come to visit you on the run, those few seconds are meaningless as you lose minutes on the run. At that point in a race there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Just the way I see it!