While the steering column is very much the captain of the ship in cycling, it is the pedals that are the engine room, drawing their energy from the rider and converting it into the power that drives the bike on.
What is crucial to this process is efficiency. From a mechanical point of view, this means that all the working parts of the bike must be in prime condition, otherwise progress is going to be impeded. In terms of the rider’s input into the process, it means that pedalling action must be disciplined and economical so that the maximum amount of energy can be transferred to the bike with the minimum of effort.
So how do you go about achieving this marriage of man and machine? Simple: first, ensure that the bike is of the correct size for you; then, make sure that your posture is good. Both these elements will ensure that when you put your feet in the pedals, your legs will be at a right angle to your ankles.
On no account do you want a riding technique that involves your knees moving outside the line of hip to ankle. Otherwise your foot will not be making correct contact with the pedals, effecting your ability to pedal and putting yourself at risk of injury at one or more points in the lower body.
Now for the process of pushing and pulling. The first element is easy, as it is the action of pushing down on the pedal that causes the crank arms to turn and the chain to begin the process of driving the bike forward.
The pulling action is equally important, ensuring that the contact between foot and pedal remains constant on the upward turn. So, rather than relaxing the right foot as the left pushes down, and vice versa, think of both feet working in unison to effect each revolution of the pedal set.
It is fair to say that this pulling technique is aided by the use of clipless pedals whereby a cleat in the bottom of the cycling shoe attaches to the pedal, in effect locking the foot to the pedal, thereby eliminating any tendency to lift or relax the sole from the pedal surface during the upward turn.
But pulling can be achieved without any additional equipment; it comes down to executing a smooth rhythm. To achieve this rhythm, don’t succumb to the temptation to coast when you get to a certain speed as this will break the pedalling cycle. And be disciplined in your use of the gears so that you never have to either ease off or push harder on the pedals.
Pedalling will be further aided by wearing the correct footwear. Casual cyclists needn’t have to invest in specialist shoes such as the cleat-soled model described above, but at the very least, a thick sole will prevent pain caused by pushing down on the pedals over a long period. This pain, in turn, will affect your ability to concentrate on your pedalling action and spoil your enjoyment of the sport.