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Newbie Question - Pedaling in Circles(20 posts)

Newbie Question - Pedaling in Circlesmjd
Nov 20, 2001 3:59 PM
I'm fairly new to road riding and find myself getting hooked. Over the past several months, through reading various articles, trade rags, etc., I've come across the opinion that one of the most important things one can do to become a better (or more efficient?) rider is to "pedal in circles".

Does anyone have any insight in how I can train my muscles to do this? I try to focus on it on my rides, but I think I must be missing something.

Would appreciate any input/tips. Thanks.
Aaah jeeez....Ahimsa
Nov 20, 2001 4:24 PM
Well, uhm...I'd say that first off I assume you are spinning lower gears and not cranking away at big ones, eh?

Well then, the point is to produce a smooth power stroke all the way around. There tends to be a dead spot that can be eliminated with a sort of "pulling through" scraping dogsh!t off your shoe.

"I try to focus on it on my rides, but I think I must be missing something."

In all honesty, if you are fairly new to cycling I think you should forget all about this hoo ha and just ride the bike. You'd be better off really. Trade rags tend to make new cyclists into whores to convention and trend. Have fun and your form will improve with experience on its own.

Focus on putting in miles. Lots and lots of miles. Focus on learning to fix your own bike. These two things will benefit you much more in the long run. Save that trade rag money for beer after a really long ride.


yeah, and...mr_spin
Nov 20, 2001 4:41 PM
As a newbie, don't start messing with technique at least until you have a good amount of base miles in. Say, 1000 miles or so of just riding around. Seriously. You could easily do 1000 over three months, at 300 a month, 75 a week, 35 Saturday, 40 Sunday. No problem. That's what winter riding is for!
Beats riding in circlesKerry Irons
Nov 20, 2001 5:09 PM
Agree with the other posters that some of this will come with the miles. However, the basic mental picture you want to have is one of applying power around as much of the circle as possible, as opposed to just pushing down. While the "scraping the bottom of your shoe" concept is one that can be drilled at low rpms, it is very hard to do at spinning rpms, and testing has shown that even the pros don't do it when their cadence is high (90+). So, focus on keeping a high cadence, and simply try to develop a "feel"
of a smooth, round motion. It will come, grasshopper.
Beats riding in circlesmjd
Nov 20, 2001 5:18 PM
Thanks for the input. Agree with the posts so far - definitely need to put in the miles (and am doing so), and I'm sure my technique will evolve as I ride more and more. Same as with any sport, really. Just looking for comments, such as yours, as to what folks do (i.e., mental picture, etc.) when riding to achieve the smooth stroke. May as well start with good habits rather than bad.

Thanks again for the insight.
Beats riding in circlesgtx
Nov 20, 2001 5:27 PM
agree with all of the above. You also might want to make sure that you have the right fit/riding position. A good shop or experienced riding friend can help you with that.
Good habits rather than bad...guido
Nov 20, 2001 8:38 PM
All the posts are well put.

Let me add: stay on top of the gear, that is, choose a gear you can work without having to push down on each pedal stroke. That's how you'll be able to feel the gear, and develope a "spin." When your legs get it down, you'll be able to power higher gears around in circles you're quads wouldn't be strong enough to push on their own. Even at low rpms your legs will be able to power the crank around in circles. You'll also naturally keep the upper body more stable, and develope a fine feel for the bike.
Beats riding in circlesRay Sachs
Nov 21, 2001 5:19 AM
I agree with what everyone has said, but in addition, if you can't ride outside for a period this winter, get a cheap set of rollers (about $100) and try riding those a few times a week for an hour or so. That'll smooth out your pedal stroke really quickly, although your first few minutes on them will scare the bejeezus out of you. If you're still hooked after a year or two, try riding a fixed gear, but I wouldn't recommend that to someone who's just starting to ride. Very addictive and very beneficial though.

pedal strokesTig
Nov 21, 2001 8:47 AM
Sure, they are right about not spending too much time and energy on technique and stuff, but it won't hurt to at least be aware of a few things while you build base miles. These and other techniques will be more useful to you later, but playing with them just a little won't hurt.

You will hear about the "scraping mud off from your shoe at the bottom of the pedal stroke" method. One that I learned much later than I should have is to think about bringing your knee up a little harder at the top of a pedal stroke. Try to smoothly bring the knee towards your shoulder and not focus too much on what your lower leg is doing. I use this one to gain an extra 1 or 2 MPH when riding into the wind or at time trial pace. Doing it too aggressively will cause your toes to point down too much on the up stroke, or cause a choppy style. Another one is to "think circles" and not the push-push stair climber motion.

One other thing to be aware of is the angle of your feet. Watch a few cyclists from the side and you will see most of them pointing their toes with their heels up when they are on the up stroke. Some people prefer this style. It all depends on your physiology and what feels right. When I was first learning, a few old road nazi's would try to make everyone pedal with their feet flat the entire circle. After experimenting, I found this to work best for me and have pedaled that way ever since. I have very large calf muscles with a wonderful amount of fast twitch fiber (thanks to mom and dad) so I like to spin at about 105-120 RPM. Combine that with the "knees up hard" technique and you will start using the muscles along your shins as well as your ham strings and upper thigh's much more. To each his own...
Pedaling in CirclesJack S
Nov 21, 2001 4:54 AM
get in a very low gear an pedal with one leg.
one legvanzutas
Nov 21, 2001 6:56 AM
without using rollers, pedaling with one leg is the best way to work on circles. It will show you where your dead spot is very quickly. When you are out riding base miles pick a safe spot take one foot off and do about 30 revolutions then switch to the other leg for about 30 revolutions.

Great time of year to do it, indoors on trainer NMscottfree
Nov 21, 2001 7:14 AM
Pedaling with one leg reveals a lot (nm)Kristin
Nov 21, 2001 9:15 AM
I was cranking along one day, before I'd ever seen Bicyclingbill
Nov 21, 2001 7:24 AM
Magazine or this board, and it hit me. My feet are not going up and down, my feet are moving IN CIRCLES. Changed my life. Then, what really changed my life was working on rollers. I also agree that one-legged drills are very helpful to understanding and developing your pedal stroke.
I disagree that you shouldn't think about technique as a newbie, although I can agree to the extent that you don't necessarily UNDERSTAND technique advice until you have some miles.
Put it in a moderate gear and don't shift or coast.MB1
Nov 21, 2001 9:30 AM
In other words ride ride single speed for a while. You'll get better on the hills and the flats. I like a 42/16 or 42/17 for all round riding even 42/18 is good for flats.

Riding in just that one gear you will learn how to change your speed with cadance and you will become an efficient pedaler through endless repetition. You will also get really strong on the climbs-don't worry about looking like a dummy you'll be getting stronger all the time.

Folks spend big bucks to buy SS bikes or Fixtes-you can do the same for free by not shifting.
Sorry MB1Jack S
Nov 21, 2001 9:38 AM
Can't get the same effect as fixed with a SS. And nobody should spend big bucks- say more that $250 total built up from scratch- on a fix.
Agree and disagree.MB1
Nov 21, 2001 10:52 AM
I agree that you can't get the same feeling on a SS as a fixed but for a new rider SS will get the job done-might not be as much fun or as hard since you aren't forced to spin down hills. Still it isn't a bad way for a new rider to improve the spin and learn how to pedal circles. You are still going to be spinning like mad to get anywhere on the flats and working pretty hard going up hill. All without spending a dime.

BTW I've spent a lot more than $250 on my fixte-not because I had to, because I wanted to and I could.
Recipe for injury?Kristin
Nov 21, 2001 10:31 AM
Correct me if I'm wrong, but shouldn't a person spend sometime conditioning their muscles in an easy gear before trying single speed? (Please correct me if I'm wrong about this.) I commuted on a single speed cruiser after college and, while I got in shape, I also got petelar tendonitis. On September 14, 2001, after a two week layoff, I got ITBS while mashing 40 miles in too big a gear. Riding one gear will force mashing--especially if your not strong. I'm very gear weary these days, but a newbie myself. Is my thinking correct or incorrect here?
That is why you use a moderate gear. Spin, spin, spin! nmMB1
Nov 21, 2001 10:46 AM
re: Newbie Question - Pedaling in CirclesWoof the dog
Nov 24, 2001 3:00 AM
First, they mean "think pedaling circles" because you still don't pedal circles, or not perfect circles at least. Think "pedal triangles" and it will work out better for you. It makes sense and the pedal stroke will smoothen out eventually. On the hills work on really pulling up. Remember, something like 1/3 of power comes from the upstroke. So on hills you can really pull. Ride rollers in winter, it definitely makes a difference. Overtime, you will notice yourself pushing through the top part of the stroke where I (at least me, not sure about the others) had a deadspot. Now, I just kind of push my toe forward, its kinda cool! Adds power and I go faster, dude. Practice makes perfect, but never enough! Pedaling with one foot helps but boring as hell. Rollers are better IMO for that purpose. I didn't read what others wrote above, but hope my small input will help you become a cat 1 rider (or a pro). Keep at it and it will get better.


Woof, the smooth dog....NOT! hehe