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Pedalling in circles

Old 10-02-01, 08:44 AM
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Pedalling in circles

As I continue trying to improve my cycling, I periodically have an epiphany of sorts. At those times I like to come back here to report so that 1) I can get confirmation that I am still headed in the right direction and 2) perhaps offer something others can use.

The most recent of these revelations has to do with pedalling. For nearly the last year I have been focusing on pedal stroke and cadence. For months things seemed to be improving then suddenly my legs just seemed chronically fatigued in the area just above the knee. Even after weeks of taking it very easy, they would immediately get very tired at this spot. A visualization that was suggested to me some time back is to "float" your feet in your shoes, feeling no pressure of pushing or pulling. I was trying to do this but apparently still pushing.

Then one day recently things clicked. I was pedalling without pushing and fatiguing the muscles around the knee. What I found was that I needed to visualize the upper legs as levers being raised and lowered by the large muscles of the upper thigh/abdomen and hamstring/gluteus. The lower leg is almost passive, serving only to transfer the movement to the pedals. Viewing the process this way, the muscles just above the knee are much less involved and therefore do not fatigue. If I start pushing and those muscles do get tired, I am reminded to correct myself and by reverting to the big muscles, the smaller ones recover pretty quickly even continuing at the same cadence. If I do need to increase power to the pedals, I try to do it by pulling the lever down with the hamstrings/hips rather than "pushing" the leg straight ( actually pulling since muscles cannot push) with the muscles in the knee area.

Does this sound like the right direction? I know I have a tendency to overthink these things, but I want to try to avoid learning bad habits. You more experience guys here are my collective "coach".
Thanks,
Raymond
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Old 10-02-01, 07:24 PM
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Thanks for the idea Rainman. I tried to think of pulling instead of pedaling in circles today on my ride and it helped a lot. I have tendinitis in my knees and have been working on the circles idea for a long time. However, just thinking of it in a different way made things that much smoother. My knees thank you.
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Old 10-02-01, 08:07 PM
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Glad you posted that, Rainman. How in the world anybody can "pull back like you're wiping your feet" at 90+ RPM is beyond me (I'm not saying it's not possible, just beyond me). And I'd be interested to hear what others have to allow on this subject, too.

What you describe, is basically what works for me, except I focus on lifting my upper leg (specifically, lifting my knee toward my chest), and just letting it uncoil or re-bound, if you will, during the down stroke. I try to keep my lower leg relaxed and keep my feet following the pedals, more or less. It doesn't work for climbing or hard acceleration, but is great for relatively steady-state cruising.

I remember reading somewhere that Greg LeMond said that he just tried to "feel" the pedals all the way around the stroke. This technique lets me come the closest to accomplishing that.
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Old 10-02-01, 10:04 PM
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Rainman it sounds like you may be on the right track, however if this pain you mention is vey close to the joint and not actually in the muscle, but is an attatchment between the muscle and the joint- you may need to adjust your position. Don't forget the "for-aft" adjustment by dropping a plum-bob from your tibial tuberosity to make sure it's intersecting the pedal axle when the crank in the position described below, a touch behind the pedal is OK for climbing or TT riding, slightly ahead for sprinting, ( not more than 1 cm).

Start the change in direction of your pedal force BEFORE you need to, ie; when the crank arm is pointing straight forward and is parallel to the ground you should ALREADY be starting to pull back. Remember you want the force to be going TANGENT to the crank arm, that is 90' to the arm.
Ride in circles
Pat

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Old 10-03-01, 06:57 AM
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Thanks for the input, gang! Pat, it is not pain, just fatigue in the muscles. Now when it happens, it is my signal that I am pushing the pedals. As soon as I correct it, the fatigue in that area drains away quickly as those muscles are not being used anymore.

Roadbuzz, your feeling of lifting the upper leg and letting the lower leg relaxed and following the pedals is exactly what I am talking about in slightly different words. That's good. I find I often have to read descriptions of things in several sources before I completely understand. That is why I have several bike repair books. One may describe a process in slightly different words that make it very clear to me where another left me scratching my head.
Regards,
Raymond
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Old 10-03-01, 06:59 PM
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Originally posted by pat5319
Remember you want the force to be going TANGENT to the crank arm, that is 90' to the arm.
Okay, I'm with ya. But when you're spinning along at 100+ RPMs, are you really able to direct the force roughly tangentially (did I invent a new word?) throughout the spin?

Not a fast-twitch in the bunch,
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Old 10-04-01, 02:07 AM
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It's probably impossible to keep the force going "tangentially" all the way round the pedal circle, even many world class riders can't do it. Someone did some tests and found that even the very best riders put downward force on the pedal during the up stroke, in other words they couldn't pull up fast enough to keep the pedal from pushing their foot up.
Many experts advise against pulling up very far, if you pull up too far and too hard you can injure the back of your knee/leg very, very easily, that is why most advise to "pull back".
Ride the tangents
Pat
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Old 10-04-01, 06:11 AM
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Hi Rainman,
You have touched on the Holy Grail of cycling. When I first started cycling I noticed almost everyone was a gear masher and always in the 52 or 53 tooth chain ring. I knew that I was a very small watt motor and a small motors best way to go fast is RPM. The first year I rode I forced myself to stay in the 42 tooth front chainring and work on spinning. I even went so far as to remove the 52 tooth front chainring. Your statement about the floating foot was interesting as thats exactly the way I stated my spin tech was to have no apparent pressure on my foot during the spin. It was hell for awhile with everyone passing me but not today I blow by the same people with a grin. *S*I can now do a nice smooth 150 rpm without looking like a jack in the box. When I am spinning at a high rpm to me my feet are like horizonal pistons ..one foot moves forward as the other foot moves backward. Keep your feet flat and do NOT point your toes. You can point your toes if you are trying for a high spin and you find yourself bouncing in the saddle as the toe pointing with take the lower calf out of the equation and stop some of the bounce but go back to a flat footed posture as soon as you can.
I like to spin so much that I replaced my 52 tooth with a 48.

Spin spin spin.....Dudley
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Old 10-04-01, 06:54 AM
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Dudley,
Good points. I notice that if I point my toes down it almost force the small muscles just above the knee to get involved. Keeping my foot flat encourages use of the big muscles like the hamstring and hips.

For the better part of a year I have been doing as you describe, trying to learn to spin faster in smaller gears. I am getting faster, able to maintain 90-95 pretty much all the time but still can only manage 100+ for a mile or two at a stretch. I have only "touched" 130 a few times. I hope I will progress now that I think I have the pedal stroke a little closer to where it needs to be.

I really need to lose another 30-40 pounds to make any real progress.

Thanks for the input.
Regards,
Raymond
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Old 10-04-01, 09:11 AM
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Rollers really smoothed out my pedal stroke. A few minutes every so often does wonders. Oh, and buy the cheap rollers...they work fine, and nobody is around to look down their nose at your low-status equipment. Then you can stop thinking of tangents and foot pressure and blah blah blah (even tho that can be entertaining too).
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Old 10-04-01, 10:36 AM
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Originally posted by Bikinguy
spinning at a high rpm to me my feet are like horizonal pistons
This is good stuff, more helpful than reading how the pros do it.

Anyhow, how does saddle position and foot/pedal orientation factor in for you? Do you do the standard "ball of foot and wotzit tuberosity directly over axle" setup? What about saddle position? Do you ride up over the pedals, or slid back more?

Been riding solo too much lately,
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Old 10-04-01, 11:18 AM
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Hi roadbuzz,
I am just a novice at this so you may want to look for an experts advice. But here goes....I have found that for me I like the cleat in the back most position on a 3 position cleat. I know most seem to use the middle postion but the back on my particlular SPD seems to center my foot over the center of the pedal for power. When I use the center position it puts too much tension on my achilles(sp)? tendon.
On saddle postion I use a more neutral position or rather not feeling I am behind the pedals or in front of the peddles when I ride. Hope that helps some.


Rainman...good spinning dude...*S*

Ride Safe.....Dudley
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Old 10-04-01, 11:22 AM
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roadbuzz
I scoot back in my seat a bit to spin and up a bit for power but I do this to work different groups of muscles. Setting your seat up to be level as you can get it is good also. I have heard that Lances mechanic uses a builders level to keep his seat perfectly level.

Ok I am outta here ! *S*

Dudley
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Old 10-04-01, 11:58 AM
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I have a friend who in his days (Olympic champ) could spin 200rpm on a fixed gear bike.. yeeeeekk

A
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Old 10-04-01, 12:46 PM
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I will tell you about my setup for what it is worth. I still am not convinced I have things set up just right. I am comfortable, but I plan to spend some time with my LBS buddy to check me out.

After trying different positions, I have my saddle all the way forward. My knees SEEM to be over the pedal axles, but I have not confirmed this. I don't know if my bike has a longish top tube or what, but I am most comfortable with my seat forward and a shorter stem (replaced 130 mm with 100 mm and thought about 90 mm). The more stretched out position seemed to put too much weight on my hands and was uncomfortable. I have the same saddle on two of my bikes. One feels more comfortable level, the other needs a tiny bit of nose up or I feel like I am leaning forward to much. Saddle to bar distance is the same, but one bar is a little lower which may account for the difference.

Dudley, in Bicycling a few months ago there was a blurb about fore/aft saddle position. According to them, scooting forward promotes faster spinning and sliding back provides more power, bringing the bigger hip muscles into play more. Note that the pros sit way up on the nose when they are really spinning the pedals which I guess confirms it. HOWEVER, like you, I tend to move back when I am spinning faster. (Scratches noggin in confusion.) I can see how sitting forward should give one more freedom of movement. They used to have a phrase "riding on the rivet" when someone really had the hammer down, referring to sitting forward because Brooks saddles, which used to be the pros' choice many years ago, have a rivet right on the nose. Paul Sherwyn even used the term last week during one of the Vuelta stages. Guess we'll continue to figure it out with a little help from our friends.
Regards,
Raymond
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Old 10-04-01, 08:29 PM
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Thanks everyone for the comments.

My tendency has always been to pedal slowish, for a cyclist. Probably averaging around 90 RPM. Seat slid back, and knees (ischial tuberosity) a little behind the pedal axle. And saddle high enough that my legs are a little stretched out. It works well for being able to push/pull the pedals, but it's pretty hard to keep a smooth spin when you raise the RPMs.

Getting up over the pedals by pushing the seat forward, and lowering it a little seem to work better for spinning faster, but you lose some "mechanical advantage" by having your legs bent more, and it's harder to pull back on the upstroke when climbing or accelerating. This is the setup I'm using now, since I'm focusing on developing a better spin.

It sounds like it might be worth trying to push the seat back again, but keeping it a little lower so my legs aren't stretched out as much.

For what it's worth, I'm not new to cycling... I've been an avid cyclist 15 years or so. It's just that now I'm finally really trying to focus on developing a better spin. So Rainman's thread is a timely one for me. I've noticed a couple of benefits from spinning already. Overall, my speeds are a little slower, but I still have more power (to escape dogs, etc) toward the end of my rides. And recovery is better, too. The last couple of centuries I've ridden, my recovery has been much quicker. I used to be toast the day after a century. Now, the day after is not something to be dreaded. Admittedly, the bike still usually gets a day off.

Circles?
Squares?
Who Cares!
I just like to ride!
Roadbuzz
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Old 10-04-01, 08:50 PM
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Originally posted by roadbuzz

Circles?
Squares?
Who Cares!
I just like to ride!
Roadbuzz
Right you are, Roadbuzz! We're just here for the fun of it, though I really don't care for the "square" BioPace chain rings on my old Bianchi. I replaced the small 42T ring with a round 39, but now I'm spending more time on the big ring so I have to do something about it, too!

You know, I'd really like to see that guy spin 200 on a fixed gear. Actually, I just want to see him stop!
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Old 10-06-01, 12:45 AM
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I ran across this web site pertaining to pedaling technique and fit adjustment.

I thought it was very informationative.

home: https://www.kevinlippert.com/index.html

bike fit:

https://https://www.kevinlippert.com/bike_fit_202.htm :dance:
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Old 10-13-01, 01:18 PM
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Roadbuzz,
You CAN work on your spin in your original position, I ride with my tuberosity a bit behind too, and can spin in excess of 160 rpm, (for a SHORT time). Many pros ride the same position as it does help power and climbing. When your'e spinning/time trialing just slide forward on the saddle as/if needed.
Ride well
Pat

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