Technique & Fitness

5 Steps to Pedal Power

see original article by Laurel-Lea Shannon

Cyclist's foot on the pedal

photo by Richard Masoner

Most of us learn how to pedal a bike when we’re tots, but the up and down strokes that work on a tricycle won’t cut it on a road bike. To maximize your pedal efficiency, think circles and clocks, not pistons…

Pedal Through the Dead Spots!

A pedal stroke has two dead spots, one at the top of the stroke in the 11 to 1 o’clock position (imagine the pedal as a clock), the other at the bottom of the stroke in the 5 to 8 o’clock position. The challenge of correct pedaling is learning how to push and pull through these dead spots and pedal in a circle.

(These instructions are for clips and clipless pedals)

5 Steps to Pedal Power

  • 11 to 1 o’clock
    Push your foot forward across the top of the pedal stroke as if you’re rolling a barrel.
  • 1 to 3 o’clock
    Push your foot forward and down while dropping your heel slightly below the pedal
Clock face coloured to show phases of pedal action
  • 3 to 5 o’clock
    You gain most of your power in this part of the stroke. Fully extend your leg while pushing your foot down. As you approach the 5 o’clock position, your toes will be pointing downward (lower than your heel).
  • 5 to 8 o’clock
    Pull your foot back as if you’re scraping dog poo off the sole of your shoe.
  • 8 to 11 o’clock
    This recovery phase can be the most difficult part of the stroke to master. There are times when you will want to pull up on the pedal in this position, such as when you’re pedaling slowly, or pedaling standing out of the saddle. But when pedaling fast you’ll want to relax and de-weight this foot. Your opposite foot is now doing the power part of the stroke. Your job is to not interfere with that by adding dead weight with the recovery foot.

Practice Makes Perfect Circles!

One-legged pedaling is the best way to practice pedal technique. You can do this indoors on a trainer, or outdoors while riding your bike on a flat, deserted road.
Indoors on a trainer: Unclip one foot and rest it on a stool set up beside the pedal. Rotate the other foot practicing the steps above. Do this for 30-60 seconds. Switch legs when you tire. Continue for several minutes. Over time, build up to 3 minutes per leg.
Outdoor on the bike: Relax one leg while the other leg pedals. Do this for 30-60 seconds or until your leg is fatigued. Briefly spin easy with both legs, then shift the pedaling to your other leg. Continue for several minutes.

Take the time to learn how to pedal correctly and you’ll be a more efficient, faster cyclist.