PEDALING TECHNIQUE

By Nenad Rodic
posted 04/05


Perhaps the most neglected aspect of cycling technique is also the most important, the pedaling technique. Anyone can get on a bicycle and turn the pedals around. In fact, some people are even quite fast on a bike and yet have no clue as to what their legs are doing. For a small, underpowered guy like me, the technique of pedaling plays an important role. Besides, since I compete in eight-hour events, I don’t fancy wasting energy on unnecessary movements or going slower because I cannot utilize everything I have.

In order to begin a discussion about technique, you must be properly fitted on your bike (refer to our “Choosing the bike” page). Without a proper fit, it is impossible to achieve a full pedal stroke with a good rhythm (cadence) and maximum power output. Assuming that you are properly fitted on your bike, let’s talk about the pedal stroke. The shape of the stroke should be as round as possible. When I say round I mean that force should be applied as evenly as possible during all phases of the stroke. Naturally, during some parts of the stroke it’s easy to put out a lot of power (stepping on the pedal 3 o’clock), while applying any kind of force (top of the stroke 12 o’clock, dead spot) during other phases is nearly impossible. By concentrating on the most powerful parts of the stroke, a rider will develop short, syncopated stroke. There is also a possibility of great muscle imbalance that will lead to injury. Resting your leg on the back side of the stroke (6-12 o’clock) will also make a dead spot truly dead, making steep climbs too steep. In order to eliminate the dead spot and make the stroke rounder, some coaches suggest pulling up with your leg on the up stroke. Perhaps “pulling up” is not the best phrase to use for describing what this action should feel like. In reality, it is more like pulling back, starting just passed three o’clock on the downstroke. If you continue pulling back throughout the upstroke, you will find it more natural for your foot to come into the perfect downstroke position, one in which your heal is pointed down slightly. With this, the dead spot will not be as dead anymore. Once your foot is positioned with the heal down at two o’clock you will be able to put as much force as you have onto the pedal, but remember to start pulling back again passed three o’clock.  Back to top

1 Left photo: beginning of the strtoke 12 o'clock
Right photo: 2 0'clock-power phase of the downstroke and the start of pulling back phase
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1 Left photo: 3 o'clock-the most powerful part of the downstroke. Heal is pointing down.
Right photo: 4 o'clock-heal is still down. Concentrate on pulling back more.
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1 Left photo: 6 o'clock-the bottom of the downstroke. There is only pulling back that provides any force in this phase.
Righ photo: 8 o'clock- pull back and up with the whole leg. Heal is pointing up now.
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1 Left photo: 9 o'clock- there's very little power here but other leg is at the power spot.
Right photo: 11 o'clock-try to think about putting the heal in the right position (down).,
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There are a variety of tools and drills to help you increase the efficiency of your pedal stroke. First, high cadence training helps develop good, round stroke, but does not necessarily increase the power output of the upstroke. Also, big gear seated climbing is a helpful way to drop your heal in the downstroke, and single leg pedaling will help both the up and downstrokes. Artificial ways, or tools, for improving your pedal stroke include a fixed gear bike, as well as a fairly new product called Rotor Cranks (www.rotorcranksusa.com/whatis.htm), which are not locked at a 180 degree angle, but force you to pull back in order to avoid any slack. Finally, the computrainer (www.computrainer.com) and SRM help you improve your stroke by giving you a pedal stroke analysis (histogram), thereby giving you a visual image of your pedal stroke and thus which aspects of your stroke need adjustment. In terms of pedal stroke help during racing there is only one product that makes any difference, in my opinion; elliptical Osymetric chain rings, as seen on Bobby Julich’s bikes and Alexandre Vinokurov’s world championship TT bike (www.osymetric.com). Finally, let me briefly discuss the cadence controversy. In recent years we’ve witnessed a rise in the popularity of high cadence style, mainly due to the success of Lance Armstrong. This style is nothing new. It was used before Armstrong by the best time trialists of the Miguel Indurain and Tony Rominger era. What all of these athletes share in common is the fact that they all have amazingly high VO2max which allows them to find a riding style that feels best for their legs without causing concern for the energy demands. Why am I saying this? Simply put, every time your leg is in the upstroke, you are wasting energy regardless of how good your pedaling stroke is. Tests show that the most efficient pedaling rate is at 50 rpm and the oxygen consumption (energy needs) at this rate is considerably lower than at 100 rpm for the given power output. Low cadence riding is too stressful for the joints and tendons. So, on the one hand we have low cadence, efficient but stressful, and on the other hand we have high cadence, wasteful but easy on the joints. It seems that 90 rpm is a compromise between efficiency and joint stress. I suggest that you start from 90 rpm and experiment with different cadence riding styles. See what works best for you. Back to top


By Nenad Rodic, founder of Triathlonplace.com