The "Holy Grail" of Cycling
Searching for the "Perfect Pedaling Technique" is like searching for the Holy Grail: The experts will send you in different directions.
What is the most powerful or most efficient pedal stroke? Just like all aspects of cycling technique, there is no single “hard-and-fast rule” or “one-size-fits-all prescription” to pedaling. Let’s look at some of the important, yet subtle and difficult-to-measure elements of pedaling technique.
Pedal Mash vs. Perfect Circles
Pedal Mash (PM) defined: The most powerful part of the pedal stroke is the “downstroke” – that phase of the stroke from “2 o’clock” to “5 o’clock”. (2 o’clock is located just in front of – or just past – the top of the stroke. 5 o’clock is located just before the bottom of the stroke.) To mash, simply press down on one pedal, and then the other!
Circular Pedaling (CP) defined: To get a feel for circular pedaling, pedal using just one foot at a time. (You can unclip your other foot, but be careful.) This exercise is called single leg circles. To pedal perfect circles, apply equal force around the entire stroke: Pull up on the back of the stroke, sweep forward at the top of the stroke, press down through the front of the stroke, and sweep back through the bottom of the stroke.
Triangular Pedaling Variation (TP) defined: You can also divide the pedal stroke into three vectors: 1) Push down/forward. 2) Sweep back across the bottom. 3) Pull up/forward. The top of the stroke becomes the apex between the third and first legs of the triangle.
Pros and Cons of Each
PM Pros and Cons: Pedal mashing focuses on using gravity to move you forward. You alternately apply your body weight first to one pedal, then the other. This is efficient but limits the work of each stroke to specific muscles, while others remain inactive.
Using the PM technique, you are less likely to unweight the opposite ascending pedal. This means that some of your downward pedal force is lost to lifting the other leg and foot. (Let's call it "free-riding".) With the focus on the downstroke, the abrupt weight transition from the bottom of one stroke (left) to the top of the next (right) results in a rough and choppy stroke, and you are more apt to bounce in the saddle.
Leg "free-ride" and saddle bounce are both inefficient.
CP Pros and Cons: Perfect circle pedaling recruits many muscles to move the pedal around the entire circle. While this spreads the duty around to lots of muscle groups instead of one specific group, it is not the most powerful or efficient stroke.
Circular pedaling does result in a very smooth stroke and “saddle silence”. However, since one leg pulls up as the other pushes down, you end up with more weight in the saddle, which can increase discomfort. (Note: You must use a cleat-and-pedal system to pedal in circles or to practice single-leg pedaling.)
TP Pros and Cons: Triangular pedaling is based on the conceptual exercise of projecting a triangle on to the stroke – yet your foot continues to follow a circular path. If you are successful at applying this concept, TP recruits more muscles than PM, but less than PC. The focus on the back-sweep across the bottom of the stroke can smooth the “bottoming out” effect experienced in PM.
The Perfect Stroke
As you seek your perfect stroke, keep this in mind: Efficient cycling technique is a dynamic (changing) and harmonious relationship between you, your bike and gravity. The Zendurance Cycling Self-Study Guide examines pedaling technique by first improving your awareness of this complex relationship.
You have a unique relationship with each bike you ride. The geometry of each bike frame and the position of each saddle is unique. Your riding position(s) are unique on each bike. So is your pedaling technique - as subtle as the differences may seem between each bike. The Zendurance Cycling Self-Study Guide will help you develop the skills to perceive and respond to these differences.
Asymmetry: Your body is asymmetrical, but your bike is symmetrical. Your left pedaling technique is different than your right pedaling technique – whether you are aware of it or not. (If you doubt this, try riding on a Computrainer Stationary Stand and watch the right and left Spin Scan analysis.)
Cadence and resistance affect pedal technique. They fluctuate as you and your bike respond to a constantly changing environment.
Finding Your Holy Grail
Your optimal pedaling technique changes with each stroke, as you respond to the unique conditions of each moment. The perfect stroke for this moment is different from the perfect stroke of the previous or the next moment. The differences from one pedal stroke to another may be extremely subtle.
The greater your awareness and the more diverse your pedaling skill, the more effectively and appropriately you will respond in a given moment. You can hold the "Holy Grail” in each moment – but you cannot possess it as a stable object and put it on a shelf forever.
TheZendurance Cycling Self-Study Guide provides methods for intensive investigation into the very subtle nuances of pedaling technique. These include:
- Smooth pedal-weight transfer
- Maximizing pedal-weight / minimizing saddle-weight
- Ankle articulation
- Knee leading
- Circular pedaling
- Pedal sensing
- Cadence building
Add many subtle techniques to your quiver, and you will have the perfect stroke for every occasion.
For both performance and comfort, maximize your weight in the pedals and minimize your weight in the saddle. You need more than big quad muscles to do this. You need to develop neuromuscular intelligence. The Zendurance Cycling Technique Drills help you develop this intelligence.
Zendurance Cycling Self-Study Guide
Even if you don’t experience cycling impotence, you can learn more about training methods to maximize pedal weight at: Cycling Impotence.
Cycling Technique for Cycling Performance
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