Friday, 4 May 2012

Pedalling - back to basics

One constant in cycling is the need to pedal effectively. The more we pedal the more the body will adapt to pedalling and the better it becomes.


Pedalling looks pretty simple and it comes naturally when you ride a bike a lot. There is just one really important technical issue with pedalling which relates to the correct position of the foot on the pedal. When pushing on the pedal the ball of the foot should be directly above the axle.

Think about running and jumping, the power is always delivered through the ball of the feet, the same applies to riding a bike, maximum power is applied through the ball of the foot. This gives rise to lots of discussion about the types of pedal and cleats. In reality most pedals with cleats (sometimes called clipless pedals) work perfectly well for those that want to use them although each rider will tend to have a preferred system.

For maximum power delivery the soles of the shoes used should be pretty rigid. There is also a theory that flat pedals work perfectly well and for most purposes except racing that is probably true, I've used flat and clipless systems for commuting and MTB and most of the time they are fine but in a sprint or hopping over an obstacle on a road bike the clipless have an advantage.

There are lots of studies and articles about pedalling technique but none that conclusively prove that techniques such as “ankling”, trying to pull on the upstroke or dragging the pedal through top-dead-centre make any measurable difference to the overall effectiveness of the rider. Training to pedal is therefore achieved by simply pedalling, lots and lots of pedalling.

The muscles that do most of the pedalling actions will develop as more of the fibres come into use and the circulation in the legs will improve in order to supply oxygen to the muscles. The muscles that are used  the most get bigger as more fibres are brought into use. That’s why after years of riding cyclists legs get to look different from other people’s legs (that and the shaving!).

How quickly should you pedal?

Does matter is how quickly you pedal. Ideally you should probably pedal faster in training than you think you should. If you want to know what quick pedalling looks like watch any video of Lance Armstrong - whatever he did or didn’t do in terms of doping he certainly developed the ability to pedal  quickly and comfortably.

Most people don’t pedal quickly enough and then in a competitive situation when they need to pedal really fast they can’t. If you train by pedalling slowly then your body adapts to be able to do that and pedalling fast is going to be difficult. If on the other hand you pedal more quickly when training the body adapts to be able to pedal quickly but it can pedal more slowly without difficulty.


Pedal quickly when training (watch Lance!)
Pedal with the ball of the foot over he axle
Pedal lots and lots

My next "Back to Basics" topic will be climbing with a bit of science for good measure.

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