Pedal pushers are part machine

Bionic humans are nearly a reality according to a recent newspaper article that says scientists are close to getting skin and metal to join. They won’t be the first to create human machines though. You become part machine every time you get your bike out of the shed. But behaving as a machine is counter-intuitive to most of what we learn naturally. Take pedalling.

It’s easy – you get on your bike and push the pedals, right? Yes, but only partly. If you’re only pushing down, you can end up with a jerky pedalling motion. Even the best cyclists don’t have a natural style. Lance Armstrong’s coach described him as a “masher” when he first took him on. He had to learn how to pedal efficiently.

If you’re not planning to tackle the Tour de France why does it matter? It comes back to being part machine. All machines suffer less wear and tear, and consume less energy if they’re operating smoothly and efficiently. Your ride to work or outing on a Saturday becomes a lot easier and more enjoyable if you’re well tuned.

We’ve talked about setting your seat at the right height. That allows the strong muscles in your thighs to work more efficiently because they can stretch out on the down stokes. We’ve also talked about spinning your pedals faster rather than “pushing a big gear”. It’s easier and you won’t tire so quickly.

Now you need to be aware of your feet. It’s your feet that control your legs and the pedal action to achieve a consistent pressure throughout the stroke. They don’t stay fixed as you pedal – or they shouldn’t. The trick is to pedal evenly through the whole cycle, including the top and bottom of the pedal stroke. So you must be mindful of your feet.

Many experienced cyclists use toe clips or cleated pedals. They allow you to pull through the upstroke and keep same pressure on at top and bottom. It gives you a nice, smooth pedalling motion. “I like my feet firmly attached to the pedals,” they say. With platform pedals you can’t take advantage of that and you probably need to think harder about your pedalling style.

With your bike set up right and a smooth pedalling action you’ll be more relaxed. Reflexes are faster and you won’t feel so worn out after a ride. It’s all about getting comfortable and enjoying your ride.

See you on the road soon, God willing. Eddie Barkla

First published in the Bendigo Weekly Friday 28 July 2006

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