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Singlespeed & Fixed Gear "I still feel that variable gears are only for people over forty-five. Isn't it better to triumph by the strength of your muscles than by the artifice of a derailer? We are getting soft...As for me, give me a fixed gear!"-- Henri Desgrange (31 January 1865 - 16 August 1940)

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Old 09-10-07, 11:09 AM   #1
n8tron
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Pedaling Techniques

I'm surprised there is not more talk about them so I thought I'd start a thread to discuss different pedaling techniques. I never learned a specific "right" or "wrong" way to pedal, I do what feels natural, so I figured I could get some advice if there are better ways to pedal.

On the way to work today I tried to notice what I was doing. If I am up to speed and pedaling leisurly I find I keep my feet fairly flat and pressure down and forward and release going up to the back. I do this if I don't need to be gong fast and want to conserve energy. If I'm pushing it, I noticed my feet are tipped down a bit when I push forward and down and then tilt back a bit to keep the pressure going when I my feet are starting the cycle again. Its pretty slight but I find I can put pressure on the pedal for most of the cycle.

Another thing I do occasionally, which might be not the best thing to do, is during acceleration from a stop. Sometimes if I really need extra acceleration I pull up on the straps when the pedal is coming back around... thus pushing down and pull up. I find I can get my speed up very fast doing this, but there also seem to be a bunch of negative side effects. First my motion is alternating, which is probably wasting energy, in fact I'm sure it is because another problem with this technique is that I get tired out very quickly. Also, an annoying side effect is that it will stretch out my straps pretty quickly.
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Old 09-10-07, 11:14 AM   #2
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Pulling up on the pedal will give you a bit more power but it's not as efficient as a regular circular pedalling motion. As long as your feet and knees aren't hurting, your pedalling technique is fine.

Bicycling magazine reported on a study done on pedalling techniques and the researchers found little to no difference in differing styles except that about pulling up on the pedals.
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Old 09-10-07, 11:40 AM   #3
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Push down with the pedal you're pushing down, and lift up with the pedal that's coming up. That's one of the reasons that clipless pedals are great, you can apply power all the way through the pedal rotation.
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Old 09-10-07, 11:56 AM   #4
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have someone take a video cam

and video you rolling by while you are pedaling the best way and hard as you know


then compare your body motions to that of the pro peloton. adjust accordingly.

you will see that 2 pros side by side may have different pedal styles, but also
there will be things common they all do. one of them is smooth circular action...

so, emulate those who already pedal efficiently and you'll be good
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Old 09-10-07, 12:05 PM   #5
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When I think about it, I do my best to push down, pull back, pull up, and push forward. If I am just cruising, I just pedal. I would guess that I still follow the above, but just not as well.
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Old 09-10-07, 12:18 PM   #6
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I am most concerned about my pedal technique when I am climbing. With only one gear you can not down shift and spin fast up hills. At a lower cadence the angle that your feet are positioned at can make it much easier (and faster) to climb.

Your crank arm is a lever to which your feet apply power. This power is most efficiently applied when the pedals are at the 3/9 o'clock position because you are pushing on the lever at a 90 degree angle. At this angle all of your energy is going into the drive train. The time you apply the least power is pushing straight down at the 6 or 12 position. Here all of the energy goes into trying to stretch/compress your crank arm.

By consciously adjusting the angles of your feet during the pedal revolution you can keep the angle between the pedals and crank arms closer to 90 degrees for a longer period. The most important parts are thinking about "scraping" the ground with your toes as you past the bottom of the stroke, and angling your toes upwards as you pass the top of your stroke. With practice this technique will make it much easier to climb on a single speed.
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Old 09-10-07, 12:23 PM   #7
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That makes sense. I usually just get lazy and do little zig-zag traversey-thingies if I'm struggling with a hill, but I rarely encounter that problem around here.
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Old 09-10-07, 01:12 PM   #8
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Another thing I do occasionally, which might be not the best thing to do, is during acceleration from a stop. Sometimes if I really need extra acceleration I pull up on the straps when the pedal is coming back around... thus pushing down and pull up. I find I can get my speed up very fast doing this, but there also seem to be a bunch of negative side effects. First my motion is alternating, which is probably wasting energy, in fact I'm sure it is because another problem with this technique is that I get tired out very quickly. Also, an annoying side effect is that it will stretch out my straps pretty quickly.
Clipless, my friend...clipless
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Old 09-10-07, 01:18 PM   #9
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Pulling up on the pedal will give you a bit more power but it's not as efficient as a regular circular pedalling motion. As long as your feet and knees aren't hurting, your pedalling technique is fine.

Bicycling magazine reported on a study done on pedalling techniques and the researchers found little to no difference in differing styles except that about pulling up on the pedals.
People in the anti-clipless pedal crowd (mostly retrogrouch types) will argue that clipless pedals are not needed because cyclists don't pull up on the upstroke. This may be true for most normal pedalling, but if you accelerate hard, or sprint up a hill with clipless pedals, I guarantee you that you will be pulling up on the backstroke. No, its not efficient, but thats not the point, the difference in power is immediately obvious when you switch to this pedaling mode for short spurts. You can't pedal like this with platforms and I doubt that you could get the same amount of power out of clips and straps...I could be wrong, I haven't ridden with them for years.
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Old 09-10-07, 03:34 PM   #10
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get some rollers and ride em for a while you will find out real quick what your doing wrong
one bit of advice on the down stroke try to crush the nose of the saddle with you inner thigh
one the up stroke imagine there is a grape between the saddle and and you leg and try to smash it by pulling up so hard with your leg that you stick to the saddle learn to relax your lower leg when riding in the saddle and use your upper leg and core to push and pull
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Old 09-11-07, 11:24 AM   #11
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It takes a lifetime to learn to pedal, and we'll all probably die before we get it right.

Most of us, all of us, learned to pedal by mashing.

We rode platform pedals and had no other choice except to mash, and, besides, mashing comes naturally.

The first thing we learn, the way we learn it, and the setting in which we learn it becomes the file into which we put all subsequent learning regarding whichever skill or preference we have learned.

"They" call this primacy of learning.

Whatever we learn first affects everything we learn thereafter.

At some point in our riding, it occurs to us we can improve our pedaling by pulling up on the back side of the spin cycle.

Toe clips and straps represent the first means of pulling up on the back side of the spin.

Those who ride on the track and take it very seriously can strap in so tight they can pull backwards on the pedal at the bottom of the spin.

My son, who rides a geared bike (coasting bike) on the street, prefers clips and straps to clipless pedals, and he straps himself in tight; so tight he can't easily pull his foot out of the clip and strap.
He can do this because, when he wants to stop, he can coast and bring his foot up within reach of his hand while he loosens the strap.

On a fixed gear bike, though, riding on the street and not on the track, strapping in that tight requires considerable skill.
I think on the street most people choose or learn to ride with their straps loose enough so they can pull out of them in an emergency.
This also means for a portion of the spin, say from 6 to 8 o'clock (viewed from the right), the rider with loose straps cannot pull backwards and up without pulling his foot out of the straps.

Set that aside and let's talk about clipless pedals and shoes.

When clipless riders first start studying their spin, they tend to pull up on backward part of the spin, from about 7 o'clock to 10 o'clock, and then they mash from 1 o'clock to 5 o'clock.
Many riders have difficulty remembering to do this, and only do it irregularly, when they think of it, usually when the fronts of their thighs get tired from mashing.

Additionally, most riders think they pull as hard as they mash.
Not everyone does.
Old habits and accomodations die hard, and, since mashing feels normal to us, we have little means of measuring the amount of effort we put into the mash as compared to the pull.

If we have the luxury of riding our bike on a computerized force-measuring training device, we can see a real time graphic representation of how we distribute the work throughout the spin.
Almost all of us, without coaching or training, pull from 7 o'clock to 10 o'clock, and mash from 1 o'clock to 5 o'clock; and we mash more than we pull.

Further, given the additional luxury of a coach watching us from the side, he will probably point out to us that, on the back side of our spin we raise our heel and point our toe down, and, by doing so, we make the backs of our thighs do all of the pulling.

So, how do we fill in the clock, so that we do as much work 5 o'clock to 1 o'clock as we do from 1 o'clock to 5 o'clock?
And, do we really want to go to all this trouble?

Regarding the motivation to fill in the clock, one might have heard the saying "many hands make light work."
Applied to the body, one might also say "many muscles make light work."

When we only mash in our spin, from 1 to 5 o'clock, three and a half of the four major muscles in the fronts of our thighs do all the work, produce all the watts, that get us from here to there.
The rest of our thighs, calves, hips and buttocks just go along for the ride.
However, with a full spin, we recruit the second half of the most powerful muscle in the front of our thigh, as well as the backs of our thighs, the fronts and backs of our lower legs (calf and shin), and many more of the muscles of our hips and buttocks.

So, let's say we want to fill in our spin and get all of those muscles involved, each doing a small part of the work and not getting tired.
The recruiting of many muscles makes light work.

The easiest way to fill in our spin involves a three-part visualization.

First visualization: the rider should imagine he wants to bring his knees to the handlebars as he pulls up on the back side of the spin.

When we visualize bringing our knees to the handlebars, it recruits the single most powerful and complex muscle in our thighs, so that it first brings the thigh forward.
This muscle, the rectus femoris, alone of all the quadiriceps, does not touch the thigh bone.
Rather, it begins in the pelvis and travels down the thigh, attaching to the knee cap, and directs its force to the front of the shin.
The rectus femoris both flexes the thigh at the hip (brings the knee up to the handlebars) and straightens the knee (mashes), but only one task at a time: it can't do both at the same time.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rectus_femoris_muscle

When we visualize bringing our knees to the handlebars, it pre-organizes our muscles so that the rectus femoris pulls up on the thigh, and so that the various deep muscles of the hip and back (some of which run from the spine, through the pelvis, to the thigh bone) all get involved in the pulling, as well as the obvious muscles in the backs of our thighs.

Second visualization: drop the heel.

We normally, in the absence of coaching, drop the toe and raise the heel.
This seems, intuitively, like good and effective form.
For various reasons, requiring too many words to explain, it works the opposite of what seems right to us.
For maximum effectiveness, and fullness of spin, we should drop the heel.

The third visualization helps us "see" the wisdom of dropping the heel.

Third visualization: square the circle.

We have used clock positions to describe the spin.
Clocks normally have round faces.
Make the face of the clock square, especially so that the back side of the spin at about 7:30 o'clock becomes a corner of a square clock face.

If the rider aims his heel at this back corner, at 7:30 o'clock, it will automatically square the entire spin, and, in the long run, make the spin more circular.

Yes, square the spin to make it more circular.

Gotta laugh.

Anyway, when we direct our heel towards this back corner, with the anticipation of bringing our knee to the handlebar, it makes us involuntarily "scrape" the bottom of the spin.
Similarly, it will also make the rider "push" over the top of the spin.

By visualizing a square and directing our heel towards the back corner of the square, we fill in the empty spots from 5 to 8 o'clock, and from 10 to 1 o'clock.

In a nutshell: visualize bringing the knees to the handlebars, drop the heel, square the circle and direct the heel to the back corner of the square...and then bring the knee to the handle bar, drop the heel, square the circle and direct the heel to the back corner of the square...and then bring the knee...

Try it with just one leg and foot.
Don't try it with both.

We all have a dominate leg and foot, just as we have a dominant hand.

Pick the dominant leg and foot and try the visualizations.

Then switch to the other leg and foot, and without judgement (bad leg!), compare the two sides and let the right leg teach the left leg teach the right leg teach the left leg.

Spin with visualizations with one leg for awhile (the other leg can go along for the ride), and then spin concentrating on the other leg for awhile.

Do this whenever the rider thinks about it, and, after about four months it will become natural, especially on hills and into a wind.

By the way, I didn't invent this out of my own head.

At this phase of my life, I happen to have the means to afford coaches and therapists, and they have taught this to me.
I like to share and I enjoy the challenge of putting these ideas and concepts into words.

Please let me know if this works for anyone.
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Old 09-11-07, 12:06 PM   #12
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excellent post Ken, very helpful. I'll be trying these techniques next time I ride. the "square circle" actually makes a lot of sense.

Last edited by sixfive; 09-11-07 at 12:16 PM.
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Old 09-11-07, 01:21 PM   #13
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excellent post Ken, very helpful. I'll be trying these techniques next time I ride. the "square circle" actually makes a lot of sense.
Like most of his posts there is some good advice but it's all based on a foundation of misunderstanding and bull****.

We don't want to apply the same force throughout the pedal stroke. THe pushing muscles are much larger then the pulling ones so we will tire the pulling ones out and not be able to ever put out maximum power if we try to do that.

Most of us can still benefit from focusing on putting more force on the pedal outside of it's ideal orientation but constant force should never be a real goal.
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Old 09-11-07, 01:56 PM   #14
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Competitive riders receive coaching and use spin analyzers specifically to equalize force throughout the entire 360 degrees of the spin.

By distributing the force, or the expenditure of watts, throughout the spin, one also distributes the workload to a larger number of muscles, so that no one muscle or group of muscles becomes unduly or prematurely fatigued.

This in turn lets the cardiovascular system do its full job of providing oxygen and sugar, and removing the byproducts of work.

If a muscle or muscle group fails prematurely due to carrying more than its share of the work load, cardiovascular fitness becomes moot.

Spread the work throughout the spin and to as many muscles of the body as possible.

For example, our trunk muscles, when properly organized and recruited, contribute much more to our spin than it would seem on the surface.
Some natural athletes utilize their core muscles without thinking about it; and, the rest of us have to learn how to use them.

The more of our body's parts we use, the less energy each part has to produce.
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Old 09-11-07, 02:12 PM   #15
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When my knees are sore, I focus on "the rest" of the circle - mainly pushing my knees towards the handlebar and scraping mud off my shoe (to paraphrase ol' Greg). It takes the pressure off the knees and changes things up a little.
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Old 09-11-07, 02:48 PM   #16
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Competitive riders receive coaching and use spin analyzers specifically to equalize force throughout the entire 360 degrees of the spin.

By distributing the force, or the expenditure of watts, throughout the spin, one also distributes the workload to a larger number of muscles, so that no one muscle or group of muscles becomes unduly or prematurely fatigued.

This in turn lets the cardiovascular system do its full job of providing oxygen and sugar, and removing the byproducts of work.

If a muscle or muscle group fails prematurely due to carrying more than its share of the work load, cardiovascular fitness becomes moot.

Spread the work throughout the spin and to as many muscles of the body as possible.

For example, our trunk muscles, when properly organized and recruited, contribute much more to our spin than it would seem on the surface.
Some natural athletes utilize their core muscles without thinking about it; and, the rest of us have to learn how to use them.

The more of our body's parts we use, the less energy each part has to produce.
The problem is the size of the muscles working in different regions on the pedal stroke varies. at the top and bottom we are stuck using very small muscles. If we try to make them do as much work as much larger stronger muscles THAT will cause us to fatigue earlier than a more sensible though not as even pedal stroke. Same goes for the back but to a lesser extent.

Further considering work done by the muscles is misleading we should instead be thinking in terms of force applied not work done by a given muscle.
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Old 09-11-07, 03:24 PM   #17
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whoa, there is a lot to read here.. My 2 cents:

The simplest way to improve pedal stroke is to improve the "sweep" at the bottom; mash down and focus on pulling the pedal back until the up begins... IMHO you'll get way more out of this than worrying about how hard you are "pulling up".

If you have tight clips or clipless pedals you can worry about the upstroke after you get the sweep down, but at this point you are working on pushing in a nice circle rather than mashing.
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Old 09-11-07, 09:13 PM   #18
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Don't pull up as much as pulling back at the bottom of the stroke, like you're wiping your shoe.

For steep climbs, learn how to stand and get good at doing it for a long time. This is like having a lower gear on a fixed, and you can tackle long steep hills a lot better than you would imagine. Watch Lance during the Tour, he would stand and crank for miles at a time up the steep mountains. But it takes time to learn and get conditioned.

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Old 09-11-07, 09:57 PM   #19
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I have the following experience. riding with clips and straps, i examine my pedal stroke more and like to get it in a fluid circular motion thats me pushing forwards and backwards (like "wiping your shoes") with little to no discrepincy between the multiple forces (up/down/forwards/backwards). you can just feel yourself being assertive while also feeling like you're just coasting with the bike. (assuming we're talking fg)

riding clipless, i had the problem, albeit for a brief period only, i found myself leaning towards sloppier pedal stroke and just flat out mashing up and down, it just wasnt comfortable with me at first, and probably wont ever be my preference. guess im a retrogrouch.
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Old 09-12-07, 10:27 AM   #20
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Speaking of out of the saddle, I find the further forward and more erect I can stand, the easier it gets.

When I do this, the visualization of bringing the knees to the handle bar becomes even more important.

Nowadays, I find that I PULL myself uphill much more easily than I MASH myself uphill.

The more erect and forward-leaning stance lets me use my the big thigh muscle that runs from the pelvis to the knee cap to flex my hip, or bring my knee up to the handlebar.

The forward-leaning part lets me pull earlier in the spin.

I no longer feel myself pulling up on the handlebars while pedaling uphill out of the saddle.

In fact, now that I have a more circular spin, I no longer feel myself using the handlebars for anything other than hanging on to the bike.

If a rider finds himself pulling up on the handlebars in order to mash harder on the pedals, he works much harder, with less efficiency, than he needs.
And, eventually, his knees will punish him for abusing them this way.

When we mash and pull on the handlebars, the quads in the fronts of our thighs not only straighten our leg, as if doing a dead lift with a weight in our hands, they also pull the shin bone up into the knee joint and needlessly multiply the forces meeting in our knees.

If the rider pulls himself up the hill, he will still mash, whether he wants to or not (otherwise he would fall down or collapse on his bike), but he will also greatly reduce the stress on his knees; and, although it will feel like he does most of the work with pulling, he will have actually balanced the amount of work done by the fronts of his thighs with the amount of work done by his trunk, buttock and hamstring muscles.
The quads in the front of the thigh will feel as if they do less of the work, but, finally, they will really do only do the same amount of work as the rest of the body, as opposed to doiing the majority of the work.

On a long hill, the rectus femoris will begin to complain in a way not felt before.
This comes from the rectus femoris flexing the hip instead only extending the knee.

I saw a picture of a Jan Ullrich, as he rode uphill out of the saddle.
As he brought his knee up to the handlebar, the rectus femoris muscle in his thigh stood out like a python.
It stood out like a python because the other three muscles of the quadriceps remained in a relatively relaxed state as the hip and the knee flexed (as the hip and knee bent, as opposed to straightened).
As soon as Jan would have begun to mash, the other three muscles in the quadriceps would have reburied the rectus femoris as the knee extended.
However, for that portion of the spin, as Jan flexed his hip and brought his knee up to the handlebar, this impossibly huge single muscle in the front of his thigh stood out like a live snake.

Almost the single largest gain from rising out of the saddle comes from making it possible for this major thigh muscle to flex the hip (raise the knee) instead of straightening the knee.
It won't, can't work if we already have our hip flexed (body bent forward) because of our position in the saddle with our hands on the bars.
We need to straighten out our body for this mega-muscle to do its knee-raising job.

For that reason, I ride with bullhorns so that I can lay out over the handlebars in a climb.
I lean waaaay forward and climb better than anything else I do on a bike.
As soon as my cadence falls to certain point, I pop out of the saddle and change my body's organization so my front thigh muscle can help pull the rising pedal up.
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Old 09-12-07, 05:28 PM   #21
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For that reason, I ride with bullhorns so that I can lay out over the handlebars in a climb.
I lean waaaay forward and climb better than anything else I do on a bike.
As soon as my cadence falls to certain point, I pop out of the saddle and change my body's organization so my front thigh muscle can help pull the rising pedal up.
Agree. I'd like to add that by consciously resisting the bike from doing the conventional rocking side-to-side when out of the saddle (which is what bullhorns are really good for) , you can greatly increase the amount of pull you are able to generate. When climbing, I get way forward, supporting myself on the bullhorns as if doing tricep dips, then flex the descending foot and pull the pedal up and over in a sweeping arc.
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Old 09-12-07, 08:41 PM   #22
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Wait, why is it bad for the bike to rock side to side when climbing a hill out of the saddle? This is exactly what I see in the TdF...
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Old 10-01-08, 10:21 PM   #23
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I know this is an old thread, but I'd like to revive it, but with a slightly different topic. Techniques for learning to spin FAST? I think I'm alright, but when I get to somewhere around 140rpm i start to feel a bit of a flex/ shimmy? So any techniques for getting faster, other than gearing down and just spinning?
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Old 10-02-08, 01:58 AM   #24
andre nickatina
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Buy rollers and use them religiously. Learn to maintain high cadences for a few minutes at a time.
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Old 10-02-08, 02:36 AM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Cox View Post
Toe clips and straps represent the first means of pulling up on the back side of the spin.

Those who ride on the track and take it very seriously can strap in so tight they can pull backwards on the pedal at the bottom of the spin.

My son, who rides a geared bike (coasting bike) on the street, prefers clips and straps to clipless pedals, and he straps himself in tight; so tight he can't easily pull his foot out of the clip and strap.
He can do this because, when he wants to stop, he can coast and bring his foot up within reach of his hand while he loosens the strap.

On a fixed gear bike, though, riding on the street and not on the track, strapping in that tight requires considerable skill.
I think on the street most people choose or learn to ride with their straps loose enough so they can pull out of them in an emergency.
This also means for a portion of the spin, say from 6 to 8 o'clock (viewed from the right), the rider with loose straps cannot pull backwards and up without pulling his foot out of the straps.
being able to apply force to the pedal at the botom of the pedal stroke is accomplished more effectively with slotted cleats (although getting out in an emergency would be further complicated).
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