25 Oct 2016


Pedaling is such a basic and fundamental element of cycling that you may barely notice how you’re doing it – or give much thought to whether it’s good or bad. Yet like most things, it’s a technique, and there are gains to be found in perfecting it.

Inevitably, however, there’s a lot of conflicting advice on exactly what the correct technique is. Most agree that concentrating on pedaling smooth circles, and on pulling up with your back foot, is best.

Others disagree, insisting there’s more performance to be had by concentrating on developing power from the top (or just before) of the stroke and peaking around halfway down. With this thinking, you should push forward from just before top dead center and then thrust straight down as you pass the two o’clock position. Concentrating instead on lifting your back foot, goes the argument, simply weakens your effort.

Certainly it’s true that consciously altering your technique takes a surprising amount of brain power. It also takes a lot of hours to build the muscle memory required for the changes to stick, even under duress, in your unconscious.

Push me, pull you
Either way, there’s no denying the simple physics. On average, your legs represent 35 percent of your total weight. So for a 76kg (168lbs) rider, each leg weighs around 13kg (29lbs). Even seated, a large proportion of that rests on the pedal. If you’re not lifting it on the upstroke, some of the power from your other leg is being cancelled out. This is known as ‘negative force’.

If you’re looking to tune your technique, a power meter is very useful – especially one that can measure each leg’s output separately.

More important still is good bike fit – for road, MTB, CX, TT and tri. If your saddle is too high, for instance, it will stop you getting your heel down and powering through the stroke. And that’s before you get to the discomfort and injury that poor fit can cause. It’s always the place to start when looking to improve. FSA has a range of stems, bars and seatposts to easily adjust your cockpit to the ideal fit.

But what if your bike fits perfectly? There are various ways of boosting your pedaling technique:

Single-leg pedaling
This can reveal a lot. Ride for 30 seconds with only one foot clipped in, concentrating on smoothness and silence. After a brief recovery with both legs, switch to the other. The parts of the stroke where you’re jerky are your weak points – isolating each leg makes it easier to see what needs work. This exercise isn’t easy, and can even be dangerous, so it’s best kept for the turbo trainer!

Off-bike exercises
Find a suitable program of lunges and squats to strengthen your glutes.
This not only helps with power, but also with keeping your knees in line, reducing the chance of joint problems. You also should add core exercises to give your legs the best base to push against and revel in the difference. There are any number of regimes available online.

Mountain biking
Studies have shown that cross-country mountain bikers show the least ‘negative force,’ where pressure on the rising pedal negates some of the output on the other side. Why? Steep, slippery climbs demand very smooth, even torque all the way around, forcing riders to concentrate on delicately balanced pedaling.
That makes mountain biking excellent practice for developing a naturally efficient technique.

For more information, check out our sister site Vision’s Perfect Crank Length feature.