Friday, 24 June 2016

The Art of Fine Pedalling

Souplesse — only the French could look at the way a bike is being propelled and devise a term for it that makes it sound delicious. Although, to be fair, get your pedalling right and the results can be pretty tasty. Not just to look at, although that is part of the appeal, but in terms of riding efficiency.

Saddle up!

If you can put both feet on the ground while sitting on the saddle, then unless the bike is unusual (such as a recumbent), the saddle is too low. Your legs won't extend at the bottom of the pedal strokes. It will be like walking while squatted.

Raise the saddle so that, when the cranks are in line with the seat tube, one leg is straight if you have the heel of that foot on the pedal. As you pedal with the balls of your feet, your legs will be slightly bent at the bottom of each pedal stroke. When you stop, you'll only be able to get a toe down unless you get off the saddle.

This method of setting saddle height gives a good starting point, but be prepared to fine tune it until pedalling feels comfortable and efficient. If your knees ache even in an easy gear, go higher in 5mm increments; if your back aches because your pelvis is rocking from side to side, go lower.

Pedal with the ball of each foot over the pedal spindle. This enables you to use your ankle as well as your knee and hip, so that you're using all three 'levers' in your leg: upper leg, lower leg, and foot. It maximises pedalling efficiency.


It's easier and safer to pedal at a faster cadence if your feet are fixed to the pedals, as they can't then slip off. There are two ways to attach feet to pedals. You can use traditional toe-clips and straps, or you can use clip-in pedals. Clip-in pedals require special shoes, whereas toe-clips or straps can be used with ordinary footwear. Before using them for commuting, practise using either set-up until you can get your feet off the pedals automatically.

If you're using flat pedals without clips or straps, you need traction between shoe sole and pedal surface. Old-fashioned rubber-treaded pedals are great in the dry, slippery in the wet. Studded mountain bike style pedals offer good grip but can scuff smart shoes if they catch the uppers.

There have been plenty of studies about to developing your pedalling technique. What ideal cadence is and broadly speaking most serious cyclists tend to aim for between 80-100rpm—civilians tend to be happier at around 60rpm. Finding the cadence that works best for you and choosing the right. gear is the key to developing your pedalling technique.

Whether you can grind out big gears or are more effective spining in lower gears depends mainly on your muscle composition and the proportion of fast-twitch to low-twitch fibres they contain. Each of us has our own optimum cadence based on muscle makeup, although this of course, can be changed with appropriate training.

If you push comfortably high cadence when you train, you’ll develop the more efficient slow-twitch muscle groups and burn fat more quickly than you will if you’re struggling to turn the pedals in bigger gears. This is why you often see experienced riders preferring to use the small chainring in the wintertime or when training.

Developing the seemingly effortless, fluid-style that epitornises souplesse is fundamentally about finding the right cadence for your style of riding. So in that sense, there is no ideal cadence, no one size fits all. As a general rule, however, try to aim for somewhere between 85-95rpm. Finding the gear you feel most comfortable riding at that speed to maximise the efficiency of your pedal stroke.

Gears and Chains

Gearing also has a part to play when it comes to cadence. The main thing to bear in mind is that the gears a pro rider can spin are far higher than the average club rider can manage simply because they travel a lot faster.  But they too, will concentrate much of their riding spinning in relatively low gears.

Another way to maximise pedalling efficiency is to make sure you have an efficient drivetrain. This is dependant on gear selection and avoiding extreme chain angles which will both slow you down and increase wearout your chain, gears and sprockets.

The most efficient chainline you can have is one that runs in a straight line, directly from the chain ring to the sprocket. So the outer chinring is best used with the outer (smaller) sprockets and the inner chainring is best used with the inner (larger) sprockets.

As ever, good maintenance is also essential. So clean and lightly oil your drivetrain after every major ride. Not only will it last longer, you find you'll spin more effectively. After all, you ideally went to remain as comfortable as possible when you're pedalling,  stay loose so your pedal strokes feeling as effortless as possible. Remember, you’re aiming for souplesse, not useless.

Bikes Etc Summer 2016 "Souplesse-The Art of Fine Pedalling"

Ride On!

No comments: