Road Bike Pedaling Technique

When Lance Armstrong fought back from cancer, he credited changes in his pedaling technique for his transformation from a decent rider to an indomitable champion. Armstrong's widely publicized high-cadence pedaling (over 100 revolutions per minute) requires superior technique to maximize the efficiency of each pedal stroke.

  1. Mechanics

    • Think about pushing your foot in the direction shown by the arrows in each part of the rotation.

      Most of the power in your pedal stroke is generated between the 2 o'clock and 5 o'clock positions in the pedal rotation. The best way to maximize pedaling efficiency through the whole rotation is to think of your legs as drawing circles, not as pistons pushing up and down. Experts in pedaling mechanics agree that there are two "dead spots" (sections where power drops significantly) in all cyclists' pedal rotations: when your foot is at the top and bottom of the stroke. Cyclists who learn to push their feet forward at the top of the pedal stroke and pull backwards at the bottom have the least slack in dead spots and ultimately ride faster.

      It is in vogue to advise cyclists to "pull up" on the recovery (back) section of their pedal stroke (assuming you clip into your pedals). However, cycling experts generally recognize that in sub-maximal efforts, very little power is actually generated by the unnatural movement of pulling up on the pedals. Instead, make sure that you lift your recovering leg just enough so that your opposite leg doesn't have to compensate for its dead weight.


    • To minimize power lost through dead spots, think about foot position. If you watch a pro cyclist's pedal stroke in slow motion, you would see the heels drop slightly below the ball of the foot from 5 to 7 o'clock. Conversely, from 11 to 1 o'clock, the heels lift somewhat. At the top of your pedal stroke, think of "rolling a barrel under your foot" or "throwing your leg over the handlebars." At the bottom, imagine "scraping mud off the bottom of your shoe" to initiate pulling up during the recovery phase. With a clean, "circular" pedal stroke, you can ride at a higher cadence without bouncing (which wastes energy). With a high cadence you can maintain speed by spreading your power output over more pedal strokes, fatigue your muscles less.


    • Drills ingrain better pedaling mechanics into your muscle memory to improve technique. "Isolated leg drills" show you where in your rotation you lose momentum. Once you know the sections of your pedal stroke that need work, "focus boxes" address your weak spots. Doing "spin-ups" teaches you not to waste energy at a high cadence by training your muscles to fire (and stop firing) exactly when you need them to. (Learn how to do these drills by clicking the Beginner Triathlete article in the References section below.) Another exercise for efficient pedaling is to stay in an easy gear for a predetermined stretch of road. Instead of shifting to keep up speed, you must increase your cadence. If you are bouncing in your saddle, you need to do more drills.

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