There are many cyclists of various shapes and sizes. Whether you are short or tall, either one of you could have a better performance than the other in different scenarios. Some people who follow pro cycling may even argue that cyclists of a certain build have more of an advantage.
Does height give you an advantage in cycling?
Your height when cycling has no direct correlation to having an advantage in the sport of cycling. Depending on the type of riding you do, cycling flat roads or hill climbing, your height might be a small factor in how you perform. In fact, having an advantage in cycling has more to do with genetics, your body weight and power output than it does your height.
Being 6ft’1″, weighing 199lbs, I can speak from experience that my height does not make me a better cyclist, able to ride longer, ride faster nor tackle difficult climbs. The only advantage I could find, that really isn’t an advantage at all, was that when I fell off my bike I had a long way to fall so it looked like I was in the “Matrix” falling gracefully with style.
I want to squash the common misconception that being a tall cyclist gives you an advantage and share what factors really make a difference.
Your Genetics Play A Part
You are born with a unique set of genes derived from your parents. In some cases, if your parents were short and fast, you likely will be short and fast. The same is also true if your parents were tall and slow, you most likely will be tall and slow.
There are good and bad genes that we all wish there was a choice in our favor. Especially when it comes to sports we really wish we could be as fast as Usain Bolt, swim fish-like as Michael Phelps, and dominate in the Tour De France like Chris Froome.
But the reality is that we have to take what was given to us. So in cycling, your genes come into play whether you have stronger leg muscles than another cyclist, or greater lung capacity to handle higher elevation while climbing.
There are cyclists who possess good genes for endurance and genes that influence how well they tolerate pain, metabolism, and motivation. Along with having good genes, it’s important to note that practice makes you better. The more you practice utilizing those good genes the better you will perform.
Although genes are not everything when it comes to having an advantage in cycling, it does play an influential part.
How Much You Weigh In Relation To Your Height
For most sports that are physically demanding, the athletes that weigh a certain amount usually have an advantage. This is one of the reasons why there are certain weight requirements and classes athletes who compete have to consider. Another reason weight matters have to do with health.
In the sport of cycling, there is also an ideal weight for riders to perform at an elite level. If you notice the more aero rider are ones who are usually lean and short, while the heavier and taller riders can sprint faster on flat pavement.
Why is weight so important in cycling?
Part of the reason why weight is so important is that in order to perform the best in cycling one must be light and as strong as possible to have an advantage.
Of course, pure talent and physics also come into play. You can’t deny the fact it will take more power and energy for someone who is tall and lightweight to propel themselves forward than someone who is short and lightweight.
If you ever compete in cycling, there are ideal weights for specific stages in a race. Check out this chart from Wenzel’s Coaching:
Taking a look at the graph above you’ll see a pattern for good climbers, for instance, favoring lighter and shorter riders. For good climbers, like some of the pros, they have a height of 5’8″ and weigh between 122-147 lbs for men, whereas for women the height at 5’8″ and 118-134lbs is ideal for them.
All of these little details are only important to those who compete but to answer the question, if weight matters in cycling, the short answer is yes.
Your Power Output Cycling
One of the easiest measurements to determine an advantage in cycling is knowing one’s power output. By using a few tools that you can attach to a bike such as a bike computer and power meter, you can measure a cyclist’s power output.
The power-to-weight ratio is measurable in what they call watts. When determining which cyclist has an advantage, this is one indicator that could separate the two.
For instance, it takes having a good power-to-weight ratio to be a good climber. If you can put out massive watts on a bike whether you are tall or short, you might have a slight advantage over others. Even then, it will depend on the type of riding you are doing which will determine if you’ll have a greater advantage.
Check out this entertaining video on the watts produced by a Cat 2 cyclist versus a track cyclist:
Do Long Legs Help In Cycling?
It may seem apparent to some that cyclists with long legs usually are the ones cycling past everyone else. It also may seem that those with longer legs have more power to distribute to the pedals as well.
But the honest truth is that having long legs isn’t going to make much difference in relation to cycling better.
You could have two people of similar height and leg length and one could cycle better than the other simply by pedaling at a different cadence. Also, the other cyclist of similar height and leg length could be better at climbing than the former.
So what other factors could explain the difference between two cyclists of similar height and leg length?
Not knowing too many other factors except the cadence at which the to pedal and that they can climb, one can only assume that its the way the cyclists use their legs and the power they produce that would explain the difference.
Do Short Cyclists Have A Disadvantage In Cycling?
When you consider whether or not height gives you an advantage in any sport, it seems that those who are short are being underserved.
In the sport of cycling, being short does not give you an advantage nor a disadvantage. It really comes down to your dedication to training, conditioning, and pure skill. The greatest advantage regardless of your height is how you can outwork your competition.
If you cycle competitively, worrying about the advantages or disadvantages of another rider’s height will be the last thing on your mind.
Some things to consider will be to use whatever you can at your disposal to perform your best. So, if you are shorter than others take note of some positives being short:
- Shorter lightweight riders usually perform better climbing
- Shorter riders benefit more from drafting opportunities in a headwind
- Shorter riders can be more aero
- It takes relatively less power propelling forward for a shorter rider
- Shorter riders have bikes with short wheelbases that make it easier to handle hairpin turns
- Power-to-weight ratios tend to favor shorter riders
- Short riders have bikes that are lighter and stiffer
The bottom line is that cycling is one of those unique sports where performance is not completely dependent on height. Cyclist of short or tall stature can both do equally well. Working with what you have and playing on your strengths will help you in the long run.
Does Cycling Increase Your Height?
The effects that cycling has on the body are numerous and one could only wish it had an impact on height.
There actually is no scientific evidence to support that cycling increases height. In fact, there is no exercise that can increase height but cycling regularly can tone and lean one’s body giving the appearance of increased height. Cycling alone, as an aerobic exercise, helps you lose weight and heavily engages the muscles of the body.
Wish you were a little bit taller?
Consider the two main factors that determine height:
- Protein-Rich Diet
Like we mentioned at the onset of this article, genes are just a start when it comes to having height, strength or ability to perform in certain sports.
Health experts also encourage having a healthy diet of protein-rich foods. In addition, eating the right amount of calories in relation to how much you burn will be important as well.
There are no guarantees that you will increase your height even after following all the health advice in the textbooks. We, unfortunately, stop growing at certain ages and are only left with the idea of appearing to look taller.
Is there a correlation between cyclists’ height and success?
There isn’t a direct correlation between a cyclist height and success in racing. You will find that the ideal height of a professional cyclist is 5’9″ but there are many riders who have succeeded in cycling despite being tall or short. Success in cycling is not dependent on height but involves many variances, such as genes, nutrition, dedication in training/condition, and pure talent.
Why are so many cyclists skinny?
If you cycle for sport competitively, being at a certain weight is important for performance. A cyclist will work toward an optimal cycling weight to increase their power-to-weight ratio. The goal is to achieve a weight where you will have the best power-to-weight ratio without negatively affecting your health, performance or strength. Since weighing less means losing body fat and going lean, competitive riders will look skinny compared to other athletes in different sports.
Photo Credit: Flikr –Gene Bisbee