Pedalling is the easy part of cycling, yes? We might all get tired legs as we struggle up hills, be too slow going downhill, or be out of shape and overweight - but at least we all know how to pedal. But do we really?
In fact pedalling technique, and getting it right, can make a big difference to your cycling performance and - just as importantly - your cycling pleasure.
Unfortunately learning how to pedal effectively is a bit like the childhood game where you try to pat your hear and rub your stomach at the same time - easy when you know how but seems impossible at first.
First thing is to remember that your feet are moving through a 360 degree circle with each pedal turn, and that you usually only push down for about 60 degrees of that. What about the other 300 degrees?
'Experts' will tell you that you need to 'pedal in circles':
- push down on the pedal for the whole downstroke,
- pull up on your leg when it is coming back up again (works better with cycling pedals or your feet will just come off the pedals!)
- sweep your feet backwards at the bottom of the stroke (like wiping your shoe on a doormat)
- give a little push forwards when your foot is at the top of the pedal turn
All great advice - until you try to actually do it. At the top and bottom of the pedal cycle your legs apply almost no force at all, and physically pulling up on your legs at the back of the cycle becomes very tiring very quickly.
However the idea of pedalling circles is a good one, and thinking about what your feet and legs are actually doing at each stage of the pedal cycle will greatly help your cycling performance.
The most important aspect to remember is that when one leg is pushing down it is (1) pushing the bike forward and (2) lifting the other leg back up again. The first os good, the second less so! So try this:
Don't actually try and pull the pedal upwards, which is quickly very tiring, but try to get in the habit of taking some of the weight off the pedal as it comes back up. Just a slight lift to the leg that is coming up and you will find the forward motion becomes more easier.
This action also tends to improve the action of your pedalling at the top of the cycle if your leg is not actually pushing down on the pedal
The other aspect that can be improved quickly and easily is at the bottom of the pedal cycle, when your leg has just finished pushing down (just before the pedal / crank is vertical). Try this:
Instead of cycling with your feet always in a horizontal position, try to give a little extra push down with the ball of your foot at the start of each downstroke, so that your foot ends the stroke with the toes a little lower than the heel.
Doing this, and with practice you will find that you are continuing the pedal stroke a little bit further with each turn - perhaps to the point where the pedal and crank are vertical, perhaps even a little further. This also takes the weight off the pedal as your foot moves backwards to begin the upstroke.
Of course, it seems unnatural at first, and it is hard to remember to simultaneously do one thing with one leg and something else with the other leg - so ideally you need to practice enough that it actually becomes second-nature (i.e. until you are doing it without thinking about it).
Anyway, give it a try next time you are out on a ride - and if you have any other suggestions for improving pedalling technique please let us know below.