The following post is the third in a monthly series from Steve Schulz. Steve serves as course director on Cycle Oregon. He is also the owner of STRADA, a fitness and adventure training center in Portland, Oregon. STRADA offers specialized training rides and programs designed to help riders get the most out of Cycle Oregon.
At this point you should be in full cycling mode. If you’ve been working on your aerobic base, strength, flexibility and posture, you’re well on your way. Now is the time to get efficient on that bike. In the months to come you’ll be pushing things a bit harder, so you want to make sure you don’t do that pushing with bad habits. If you develop maximum efficiency on the bike, your entire body – and your riding – benefit from it. The key things here are your pedal stroke and cadence. Most of us can use work in these areas – even if we’ve been cycling our entire life. If you’re now riding four days a week, which ideally you are, you should work on these areas at least two of those days.
Your chain ring is in the shape of a circle – and your pedal stroke should be, too. Think about making a circle as you move through your stroke, not just pushing hard on the downstroke, which is very common. Unfortunately, if your pedal stroke consists only of the downstroke, you’re not efficiently utilizing the biggest muscle in the body (that would be your gluteus maximus – you know, the thing you sit on…). Its job is to extend the leg. While this happens a bit when you “push down,” unless you’re thinking about it you won’t typically engage it enough to help. If you focus on following through the bottom of the stroke and then consciously pulling up, you’ll engage not only the glutes but the hamstrings as well, resulting in a much more powerful stroke. Try some single-leg pedaling drills to find your weak spots and then work on them.
An efficient cadence is between 80 and 100 rpm (measured by how many times one pedal completes a circle each minute). For some this is easy, while for others it’s quite challenging to maintain a cadence this high. Start with an easy gear and work on staying in this range. Not only will your energy systems work better, but your knees will thank you!