Are you cycling using flat pedals? Are you wondering if there is a more efficient way to pedal to help you go faster and get more enjoyment out of your rides?
Indeed, there is a technique to pedalling a bike faster you may not be aware of. For example, one of the main advantages of clipless pedals (over flat pedals) is you can pull up on the upstroke...
To cycle efficiently though, you need to also make sure your pedal stroke is smooth, so the upstroke and downstroke are seamless – or feel more like one circular motion – not two.
The whole circular motion is pretty straight forward, but can take time to master. Like anything it takes practice, but once you get the right feel a few times, you simply need to be looking for smoothness on all your rides - hence the quote, "learn to cycle in circles NOT squares"!
So if you're still cycling in "squares" (with flat pedals) and want to see a large improvement in your overall cycling efficiency (speed), then you are strongly advised to move to clipless pedals asap...!
To help you here, I have a free beginner's quick-read guide to get your started with this system. Indeed it is rather scary to begin with. However, with a little practice and some EzVelo support, you'll be well on your way with being "clicked-in" and never look back :)....
FREE BONUS GUIDE...If you are interested in understanding the types of pedals in more detail, including how to ride with the clipless pedal system you don't want to miss...
"Cycling Pedals Demystified: A Beginner's Guide To Riding Clipless Pedals"
...We just need to know where to send your guide...Click button below to download!
Now, assuming you are using clipless pedals, there are two parts to efficient cycling pedalling technique:
Let's begin with understanding the dynamics of an efficient pedal stroke in the infographic below:
The Four Phases of the Pedal Stroke explained...
1. Transition to downstroke: Coming up to the top of the up-stroke pull your foot forward and press downwards to initiate the next pedal revolution. This is usually intuitive, but needs to be as smooth as possible.
2. Downstroke: You then push down with your foot with pressure. Your ankle is usually level or slightly higher than your toes. If you have the ankle lower, it requires flexible ankles when ‘spinning’ - be mindful, this can cause issues at higher cadences - find what works for you!
3. Transition to upstroke: At the bottom of the downstroke at about 5 o'clock you transition smoothly from pushing down to pulling up. The motion is like ‘scraping mud off the bottom of your shoe’ - if you can ‘visually’ see this motion it can help.
When spinning with a good cadence, you get a ‘flicking’ sensation with the heel at the bottom of the downstroke phasing to the upstroke – traditionally called ‘ankling’. You need a certain degree of flexibility in the heel to ‘ankle’ well, although again a lot of this can be trained.
4. Upstroke: At about the 8 o’clock position, un-weight your foot and let it rise up to about the 10 o’clock position, before moving back into the transition downstroke phase for the next revolution. Un-weighting helps the other foot press down with unhindered power. Again, smoothness is key…
In other words, the downstroke should always remain the power stroke to this technique – but it is the overall flow of motion transitioning from the upstroke to downstroke and vice versa, that’s important to your overall efficiency.
It's your overall "flow of motion" from upstroke to downstroke that determines an overall efficient pedal stroke
The variation in pedal stroke due to terrain:
In other words, the fundamentals in pedal stroke efficiency begins with learning to spin smoothly on the flat. Once you get this feel, you can start to apply it to more challenging terrain.
A good pedalling technique adapts to the demands of the terrain, so if it gets hilly and cadence drops, the heel tends to drop somewhat more towards horizontal at the beginning of the downstroke phase (11 o’clock position) – as it gives you that bit more power.
On the other hand, when pedalling on the flats with a higher cadence, you’ll find you raise your heal a little more at the beginning of the downstoke.
For efficient pedal stroke technique learn the basics of "spinning" on the flat before moving on to hills
Pedal Stroke combined with Cadence Cycling
By integrating both pedal stroke smoothness together with your optimum cycling cadence, you can achieve a very efficient pedalling style. You know when you hit on this because it ‘feels right’ and it feels ‘floaty’ underfoot – like floating on the pedals…!
And I remind you again that efficient pedalling is nothing without training your cadence. It is cadence training that IS the hardest part, but with time it will all start to fall into place…taking your cycling progressively to new levels!
I talk more about: How To Find Your Ideal Cycling Cadence in this post.
Find Your Own Style and Look for "Flow Feel" On Every Ride:
You’ll find over time you develop your own derivative of the above technique. After all, this is just ‘text book’ teaching. The most imporatnt thing here is to keep your pedalling as ‘smooth’ as you can and be thinking about it conciously on every ride from now on.
Over time the cycling technique does become more subconscious. Experienced racing cyclists will tell you they continually keep ‘looking for’ that perfect optimum with their pedalling whenever they ride - so should you!
Usually for pros, cycling technique is worked on during the winter months when they build up their road miles. But as you're not a pro and just starting out, I advise you start learning this technique as early as your next bike ride!
Tool Tip: Rollers Vs Turbo Trainer
Rollers are a super alternative to the indoor turbo trainer, the advantage being they are very close ‘in feel’ to riding out on the road. Reason being you engage all your cycling muscles including your core to support you whilst you ride on rollers – as you do when cycling outdoors.
The other important advantage of rollers over a turbo training is that spinning is more sensitive to lateral side movement, so any qwerk in your pedalling style will quickly show up as bouncing and weaving.
So rollers tend to be excellent for pedal stroke technique training because you're concentrated to remain steady – this way you can ‘iron out’ any pedalling flaws, specially if you use a mirror as well…
The drawback with rollers is you have to learn to balance on them, but it doesn’t take long to learn if you keep persisting for a few sessions. If you don't have rollers, you can still get a very good technique training from a normal turbo trainer.
If you're still a little confused, read the more detailed post: Rollers Vs Turbo in this post here.
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Image at top of post: Shutterstock.com