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Cyclists: Pedal Better

How to improve efficiency on the bike

Faster, stronger, easier we are all looking for ways to ride further and ride faster. One simple, and often overlooked, way to achieve this is to improve pedaling mechanics. Pedaling more efficiently improves overall cycling efficiency, defined as the amount of power produced for a given level of oxygen consumed.

Here are a few simple rules to follow to pedal better and ride better:

#1. Push harder on the pedals. The best riders push down harder than the slower riders and therefore go faster! Remember to transfer the hard push to a “pull back” through the bottom of the pedal stroke to make the most of all of that pushing. But, most important of all: PUSH forward and down on your pedals.

#2. Variables you can and cannot control. Genetics plays a role in your maximum potential as an athlete. BUT, lower body fat, lighter bikes, increased strength and power, better tactics and correct sports nutrition will make you a much better rider. There is also data that shows that a rider with a lower VO2 max (maximal aerobic capacity) can adapt and make up for this shortcoming with increased riding efficiency.

#3. Cadence. Is a higher cadence better for everyone in every situation? In short, no. A higher cadence in and of itself does nothing for making you go faster; it must be accompanied with producing higher power outputs (wattage). A pro rider may be able to ride at a cadence of 100 rpms and sustain a power output of 400 watts. But most everyday riders maintain strong power at a cadence of 75-85 rpms, especially when climbing.

Choose a cadence that mirrors your power output. Most riders, elites excluded, will most likely benefit from using cadences of about 85 rpms. It is beneficial to deliberately vary cadence during rides, eg low cadence hills (50-60 rpms with smooth, controlled pressure) or brief (8-10 sec) fast spins. There is more than one speed of riding and by keeping it varied, the nervous system, muscles and energy systems have to adapt.

#4. Ride Rollers. Rollers are for intermediate to advanced riders and consist of 3 barrels (rolls) that you ride indoors. They require more strength, balance and a smooth pedaling technique in order to simply stay upright on them!

#5. Research shows that the new non-circular front chain rings can help to improve pedaling efficiency. These rings can make pedaling feel easier especially when climbing.

#6. The simplest way to be a better cyclist: Ride More. Good riders ride their bikes several times per week on a consistent basis. Time spent improving bike handling skills helps to create a more efficient bike/rider partnership.

References: Peak Performance Newsletter #286.