road cyclists pedaling in the seated position

Riding your bike sitting down and riding standing up are different experiences. There’s a time to sit and a time to stand. Here’s how to figure out which one is best for you.

Ask Levi: When Do I Stand When Riding Outside?

Today’s question is about the proper time to stand when riding your bike…

I spent the winter months doing spinning classes, where 30 minutes of a 50 minute class is spent in standing position. Now I’m outdoors on my road bike (3-4 times per week) and mountain bike (one time per week). When do I stand? Is it only when necessary or should I be planning it out for certain spots? At present, I tend to stand only at steep, short parts of hills (often near the top) and sometimes on the flat to relieve my butt. I have yet to do much group riding this year to see what strategy works there. Some advice, please.

Planned Stan

Hi Stan,

It sounds like you’re pretty much on target right now!

Don’t be fooled by your experience this past winter. Real riding is nothing like most spinning classes; in real life, you’ll spend the vast majority of your time seated. It’s different for everyone, but even the real skinny climbers that stand a lot, still spend most of their time seated over the duration of a long ride.

Riding seated uses less energy, which is good for saving energy to finish a race strong, but not so good when a spinning instructor wants you to burn tons of calories. That’s why there’s such a big difference between the sitting vs standing times when you compare the two.

[Spinning classes and riding outdoors are vastly different. If you want to really compare the two, check out the “Keep It Real” ebook about spinning classes. In it, Jennifer Sage discusses how most spinning classes don’t actually help your real-life cycling.]

Seated Pedaling vs Standing Pedaling

Before determining when to sit and when to stand, you should be aware of the differences between the two positions.

You use your muscles differently. When seated, you can generate most of your power from your glutes. When standing, a greater portion of power will come from your quads.

You can use this to your advantage to delay fatigue. Simply switch between seated and standing pedaling to give your muscles some rest.

Your body position changes. Standing takes weight off your butt. It takes pressure off of your lower back, too.

You can generate more power when standing. There’s a reason cyclists always sprint in the standing position.

When standing, you can use your entire bodyweight to help push the pedals down.

And maybe it’s just me, but I feel I can engage my core much more solidly when I’m standing up (and putting the hammer down!)

You are more aerodynamic when sitting. So, the faster you are going, the more you have to consider the aerodynamic advantage of sitting.

If there’s a headwind, standing up could be a very bad idea.

When to Stand Up

Because too much sitting is never a good thing, here is some advice on when to stand up…

When to Stand on a Road Bike

Times when you should stand and pedal your bike:

  • For short hill climbs. Short, steep hill climbs are a good place to stand. You’re better off just powering over them and being done with them quickly.
  • Exiting a corner. Another popular place to stand when on the road is right out of corners, since it helps you get back up to speed faster.
  • At a stop sign. Similarly, if you’re getting going from a standstill, pedaling standing up works great. It’s just plain easier to start in a bigger gear than have to quickly shift multiple gears because you started out sitting down.
  • Critical moments in a race. If you’re racing and need to attack – or close a gap when someone else attacks – you might need to stand to generate enough power.
  • If you’re stiff and sore. Other than that, you’re usually standing when you want to stretch out your legs and use your muscles a little differently to prevent fatigue. And to relieve pain in your butt from staying seated! 🙂

So there is no set amount of time that’s best for everyone, on any given day. But you should probably stand sometimes.

When to Stand on a Mountain Bike (or Gravel Bike)

When mountain biking, standing is usually done in order to navigate obstacles. In those situations, you usually know when you need to stand. For example, you won’t be hopping many logs while staying seated!

Typically the decision isn’t about pedaling, it’s about negotiating an obstacle or maintaining traction. And you do what you need to do, to accomplish that.

Most of the time you can trust your gut.

But if you’re on fire roads or mild trails, be sure to stand every so often to stretch your legs, just like on the road.

The big difference for road vs gravel is that you often have to stay seated on the steep gravel climbs. (If you try to stand and power over them like you’d do on pavement, you’ll lose traction, spin out your back wheel, and lose all your momentum.)

Group Ride Warning

Make sure to coordinate your decision to stand with a hard pedal stroke. Otherwise, your bike could drift backwards when you stand up.

On a solo ride, that’s not dangerous; it’s just inefficient. In a group ride, it could cause a crash. (If your back wheel drifts backwards into someone’s front wheel, you just caused them to crash.)

So, when you want to stand, stand up as you take a hard pedal stroke.

I typically shift up one or two gears just before standing so that I’m certain to give it a good push forward.

What if it hurts to stand?

If standing and pedaling hurts, you probably need to:

  1. Get a professional bike fit.
  2. Improve your core strength.
  3. Improve your leg strength.

Happy trails!

This article was originally published on July 30, 2011. It was updated and re-published on October 22, 2019.

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