Wattbike’s Eddie Fletcher on how to develop the perfect pedalling technique
For most of us, the last time we were taught to ride a bike was in childhood, and once we were able to ride safely that was that.
Elite triathletes have a very different experience – they have a coach who not only assigns their training but also coaches technique. Coaches often talk about pedalling in circles, quite obviously the pedals do turn in a circle but that’s not the same as applying the force in a circle or using the correct leg muscles to produce both forward momentum and leg speed.
As bipeds we are designed with large muscles at the front and back of our legs which allow, with the aid of gravity as we lean forward, walking and running. They are very powerful when straightening the leg (as in pushing down on the pedal), but are less effective when drawing the pedal back at the bottom of the pedal turn. As a result trying to elicit the same force at the bottom of the pedal turn as during the down stroke would be an ineffective use of the body’s natural strength.
With the use of a Wattbike and its unique Polar View it is possible to have a visual display of how the force is applied in the pedal turn.
If the pedals were being turned by a motor – the optimal shape for the force curve would be a circle, with even distribution of force applied at all points in the pedal turn, but the human body is not designed like that.
The Polar View Explained
Wattbike’s Polar View illustrates the force applied to the pedals throughout the entire stroke in real-time allowing a rider to identify and improve upon pedalling technique.
Point A – Both pedals are in a vertical line – left leg is at top of pedal stroke; right leg is at bottom of stroke
Point B – Both pedals are horizontal – the left leg on the drive phase – the right leg on the recovery phase
Point C – Both pedals are vertical – left leg is at bottom of pedal stroke; right leg is at top of stroke
Point D – Both pedals are horizontal – the right leg on the drive phase – the left leg on the recovery phase
The Shapes of the Polar View
Figure of Eight – Beginner
An untrained rider with a strong drive but poor recovery, essentially stomping down on the pedals. There is a power dead-spot at the top and bottom of the pedal stroke. Improvement of technique should happen quickly and will have a great impact on speed.
Tip: Being properly attached in the toe cages or using cycling shoes and clipless pedals allows you to scrape back at the bottom of the stroke and get power on early over the top
Peanut – Intermediate
A committed cyclist with a strong drive and improving recovery phase. The rider is using their hamstrings to draw scrape back the leg at the bottom of the stroke before pushing down with opposite leg. Further speed and endurance gains can be made.
Tip: Imagine scraping mud off the bottom of your shoes to help extend the leg drive and improve the transitions.
Sausage – Elite
The shape illustrated by World and Olympic Champions as the rider scrapes through the bottom of the pedal stroke, engaging both the hamstrings and calf muscles. Power lost between leg transitions is at a minimum.
Tip: Pedalling is a double-action, focus on getting the power on early at the top of the pedal stroke in addition to scraping through at the bottom of the stroke to maintain momentum.
It’s no coincidence that whenever I test top cyclists and triathletes they apply the force in the sausage shape distribution. This is about producing the force using the correct leg muscles with optimum physiological effort.
A figure of eight pedalling stroke is quad dominant with greater force being applied at the angle of peak force to create the overall force profile. In general my data shows this increases the physiological effort required. As the shape moves towards the sausage the correct muscles are being engaged to produce the force, thus reducing the physiological effort.
In practical terms this means that if two riders (Basic and Elite pedal technique) are side by side the Elite rider will be producing the same force at a reduced physiological effort. The overriding point being, a rider with good technique will produce the same force for less effort.
My research indicates that cyclists/triathletes who have refined their pedalling technique report the ability to produce more power and higher cadence with the same physiological effort. Triathletes report a faster bike leg and as a consequence of more effective pedalling technique and physiological effort, a faster run leg.
Perfecting your pedal technique on a Wattbike is a win-win for triathletes at all levels.