How to Pedal Like a Pro – Techniques and Tips

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David Fiedler loves cycling jokes and posts them on his website. You’ll appreciate his take on a guy who was peddling along, minding his own business, when another cyclist approached screaming, “Pig, pig!” 

Unwilling to stop in mid-pedal, the guy responded with choice swear words-just before he hit the pig head-on and destroyed his bike. Are you so engaged in your favorite sport that you forget everything else but the wind and the road? It happens. 

You may not run into farm animals on your daily ride, but you can develop the right pedaling techniques that save you time, energy, and muscle pain. We’ve got tips on everything from pedal types to pedaling techniques. You’ve got a bike. Jump on and take a literal ride while learning to pedal like a pro.

Who Invented the Bicycle?

Many people claim credit for inventing the bicycle, but only one dude is usually given credit for the pedal, say BBC historians. Blacksmith Kirkpatrick Macmillan, born in 1812 in Dumfriesshire, Scotland, grew weary of having to put his feet on the ground constantly while riding his bike, so he invented the first pedal-driven model. 

It took him until 1839 to work out the kinks, but by 1842, he was able to cover 14 miles of a country road in less than an hour. His record-setting ride to Glasgow would give today’s rider a laugh: It took two days to make the 68-mile trek. If he hadn’t stopped to help the little girl he hit, he might have made the journey in less time.

Sadly, Macmillian was all about inventing and failed to patent his system. When folks asked whether he was bitter that Gavin Dalzell of Lesmahagow has done so, he just shrugged. All he wanted a ride that didn’t require him to put his feet down!

What role do pedals serve when you ride?

According to the Los Angeles-based website, dismissing pedals as being just pieces of equipment that comes in pairs diminishes the value of these essential parts. In fact, the type of pedal you choose can mean the difference between an efficient ride and one that’s not so much.

Here you can read our reviews for the best commuter bike pedals.

Designed to accommodate specific riding styles, the terrain you like to travel should always determine the pedal style you select. 

Will you hit the dirt, go “full roadie” or are you focused on commuting or touring?

Importantly, are you striving for what Pure Cycles calls “the power transfer and efficiency of a clipless system or the relative ease and maneuverability of a platform?” 

Alternately, you may want both. Thanks to engineering innovations and design, you have plenty of choices in today’s market.

Types of Bike Pedals

Platform Bike Pedals deliver a stable, wide surface on which to support your feet. You can wear any shoe you like. Today’s lightweight version has come a long way, baby. 

Sealed bearings repel grime, moisture, and junk. Some offer replaceable pins to hype foot grip when things get slippery. Standard platform pedals even stand up to gravel

Pedal Toe Clips and Straps resemble small frames surrounding toes when attached to platform pedals.

These gems give you the power you need to efficiently pull up and push down during a perfect pedal stroke

Adjustable straps support the ball of the foot. Cyclists find these products to be durable, light and affordable.

Clipless Bike Pedals could remind you of ski bindings if you’ve had occasion to hit the slopes. 

This system is engineered to mount metal or plastic cleat to a shoe sole that then snaps into spring-loaded clips fastened to the pedal face. 

If you’re a control freak, this is your locking system choice. Expect a learning curve when you first try them out.

There’s so more to learn about types and styles of pedals, so continue your education by visiting this website to expand your understanding.

How to Pedal Like a Pro

Photo by VELOBAR+ on Unsplash

Ellie Ross is no cautious peddler or Red Bull, everyone’s favorite supercharged drink, wouldn’t have asked her to author a column on peddling techniques.

She discusses the importance of conditioning and suggests hitting the gym to work on your core, prioritizing split squats, single-leg squats, planks, bodyweight squats, and press-ups. 

We address the fitness topic in detail further down the page, so keep reading.

If you’re too busy riding to read Ross’s entire article, here are synopses of her recommendations, each of which is based on the comprehensive research conducted by Leeds Beckett University (U.K.) research fellow/applied scientist Barney Wainwright:

1. Devote the time necessary to set your bike up properly. 

If you don’t, your muscles won’t function properly at the time you need them to perform optimally. 

Further, you risk reaching a plateau and experiencing a dangerous left-right imbalance if your cycle isn’t properly aligned and set up. 

If you’re serious about your sport, it’s worth engaging a trained bike fitter to check your set-up.

2. Respect your cadence.

Ross says that optimum pedaling rates were the subject of research studies in the 2000s when Lance Armstrong and other competitive cyclists promoted fast leg speeds. 

There’s nothing wrong with aiming for 90 to 100 RPM to sustain your pace without flagging during long-distance rides. 

Force yourself to peddle at a faster rate than you’re comfortable sustaining and you may never succeed in achieving the “souplesse,” a French term that refers to bike propulsion that’s so smooth, it’s downright elegant.

3. Find a mountain, cycle it and evaluate your power distribution. 

You can’t do this on a flat surface if you are to attain your goal of reaching 50-percent of power production from each leg. 

Achieve balanced power distribution and you will not only become a more efficient cyclist but positively impact your bike speed, too. 

Ross and other experts recommend employing a turbo trainer to enhance your stamping technique to power through every pedal stroke.

4. Single leg drills should top your list of drills to attain ideal power distribution on each leg. 

These drills force each leg to work on its own rather than depending upon the other limb to pick up the slack. Dr. Wainwright adds his sage advice: “Initially, try not to focus on both left and right sides at once – this can be quite confusing. 

Start with a focus on one side and then the other, and then alternate the focus on each side within one session.” Read more about this dynamic scientist’s theories and practices.

5. Master semicircular motions that require you to pull rather than push those pedals. 

Does that mean the old ax, pedal in circles, is no longer valid? 

The answer is yes; circles should be avoided, as a matter of fact. 

Semi-circles, on the other hand, can improve everything about your technique. 

Intersperse left- with right-semi-circles and with enough practice, you’ll discover how seamlessly you are able to make the transition from, for example, left pull-back to right push-down.

Four fitness tips to up your performance

Gale Bernhardt, a Triathlon team coach for both the 2003 Pan American Games and the 2004 Athens Olympics, recommends cyclists undertake four drills to improve their pedaling techniques. Master all of them and you will notice a difference in your cycling performance and stamina.

1. Bernhardt recommends isolated leg training to “work the dead spot out of your pedal stroke.” 

After she warms up, she uses light resistance on an indoor trainer, doing 100-percent of the work on only one leg and then swapping legs. 

The other rests on a stool. She compares the bottom of the stroke to scraping mud off a shoe bottom; the top of the stroke is accomplished by driving her toes and knees forward while those toes relax. 

Strive for 60 seconds per leg at a time, working up to from 3 to 5 minutes total per leg.

2. Add spin set-ups to your conditioning routine. 

You’ll need a low resistance indoor trainer capable of “a pedaling cadence of 90 rpm.

”Warm-up for between 15 and 20 minutes before pushing the rpm to 100 for 3 minutes followed by 110 for 2 minutes and 120 for 1 minute. Recover with an easy spin and do the aforementioned a second time.

3. Up your AQ (acceleration quotient) by working on your leg speed with interval moves. 

Warm-up, undertake 30-second accelerations, slow down and pedal for 2.5 minutes and return to those 30-second accelerations. 

Four to 6 of these intervals should do the job but if you love a challenge, keep increasing the number to up your coordination and performance.

4. Time for sprints. Warm-up and complete several of them that last between 10 and 30 seconds each. 

Recover via easy spinning and return to sprint intervals following Gale’s suggested timing: begin every sprint at the 5-minute mark. Sprint for 10 seconds; recover for 4-minutes; 50-seconds. 

You should experience the same feeling of strength and power at the end of each sprint if you’re doing it right.

Sit or stand-it’s a contentious topic

Photo by Talles Alves on Unsplash

Ever heard of Sheldon “Siddown, You’re Rocking the Bike!” Brown? 

He considers himself something of an authority on this subject and feels that one of his missions in life is to thwart, “bad advice from racing or racing-oriented cyclists, who assume that the techniques that help win races must be the best approach for all cyclists.”

In concert with John Allen, whose revisions to Brown’s commentary may make the topic easier to understand, Brown complains that general cyclists get short shrift when it comes to advising because most of it appears to target racing cyclists or off-road cyclists.

His thesis? “A great many cyclists stand up to pedal much more often than they should.” If this describes you, you should find the following perspective informative.

Brown doesn’t argue that standing allows a cyclist to exert more force to those pedals than when seated, but he questions the impact on the body for ordinary riders. 

Not only does standing stress out joints, impact normal breathing rates and waste energy, but he claims cyclists also stress out their bicycles to such a degree, even when the parts straighten back out, they may lose some of their integrity.

Bottom line is that while it’s no picnic to have to keep replacing broken pedals because the bike has simply been pushed to the extreme, but the chances of breakage when a rider can least afford trouble can lead to crashes and potential injuries. 

Brown’s argument is a good one and is particularly relevant for cyclists who risk their safety by standing on pedals connected to bikes that are not in excellent condition.

Do your eyes have that “deer in the headlights” look because you stand on your pedals all the time? 

Relax. Brown says there’s no reason not to do this occasionally, especially if you require a short burst of acceleration or can’t shift down.

But don’t go all daredevil if there’s a question about your bike being in less than optimal condition. 

Your safety is at risk every time you literally and figuratively put the pedal to the metal, and there are too many people who count on and care about you to take more risks than life throws your way, on and off your bike!      

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About Alek Asaduryan

Alek Asaduryan is the founder of YesCycling and has been riding bikes and in the cycling industry since 1991. Since then, his mission is to make cycling more accessible to everyone. And each year, he continues to help more people to achieve that. When he's not out riding his beloved fitness bike, Alek reports on news, gear, guides, and all things cycling related.