How to clean up your pedal stroke and increase efficiency

There is one common goal among all aspects of cycling that will make you a better rider almost instantly…cleaning up your pedal stroke will apply more power to the wheels no matter what discipline of riding you call your own. The fact is that every rider should focus on how they can more efficiently transfer the power from their legs to the cranks –> chain –> rear wheel –> tire –> ground.

What does a more efficient pedal stroke do for you?

  • Faster over longer rides
  • Strengthens muscles in the legs that improve balance and technical riding ability
  • Faster with less effort
  • And a whole host of other immeasurable benefits…

The Typical Beginner Pedal Stoke

The typical beginner pedal stroke is best explained by looking at a square. After a little bit of ride time on their new, shiny clipless pedals (and some personal interaction with the ground!), the rider starts to realize that they can get more power to the rear wheel by pulling up on the backside of their pedal stroke as they push down on the front. This creates a pull/mash technique as you can see by my archaic illustration below. Many seasoned mountain bikers are still using this pull/mash technique to this day because they haven’t taken a serious look at how to create more power using their current fitness level and energy. That is why making a conscious effort to increase certain aspects of your cycling is so important.

What is wrong with the pull/mash square stroke technique?

While the pull/mash stroke is more efficient than and mash/mash (only ever pushing down), you still have tons of dead space in between motions that you could be transferring power to the rear wheel. This waste is time and energy that you can never get back during your ride. The key is figuring out how to use all of your pedal stroke to generate energy to the rear wheel to create a more enjoyable ride on the trail or road.

Square Beginner Riders Pedal Stroke

So what should I be doing while pedaling?

As you start to analyze how you are pedaling on the trail, you need to picture, in your mind, circular movements. Makes sense right? Your already pedaling in circles…you just didn’t actually realize that you were pedaling squares. Some of the best advice I was given while improving my pedal stroke was to imagine sweeping the bottom of your stroke with your feet.

By sweeping the bottom of your stroke (pulling backwards immediately following pushing down in a smooth motion), you are getting rid of one of the corners of the square…the bottom, right corner and turning the bottom dead space into power. In turn, by getting rid of the bottom, right corner…you are effectively removing the top, left corner in the process. Your concentration is on creating power at all stages of the stroke and you are now sweeping the bottom and pushing the top. While I am pedaling…I mentally visualize small circles as I sweep and push. The mash/pull comes naturally already as it should for you because your body is already trained to create power in that direction. You are now training your body to create power in the dead areas of your stroke to become more efficient.

How to pedal better on a mountain bike - push and sweep

198’s Pedaling Confession

I do have a confession to make. I have been riding mountain bikes…seriously…for 12+ years. It took getting on a road bike over the past couple of months to fully realize how badly I needed to clean up my pedal stroke on my fat tire rides. I had a ton of dead space in my pedal stroke, and this became painfully obvious as I started to throw my leg over that 16 lbs, skinny tired machine. Through my work on the road bike, I have drastically improved my mountain bike pedaling technique.

Now…the good news is that you can improve your pedaling technique without having to get on a road bike. Next time you settle in for a long, extended climb, make the effort to focus on your pedal stroke under load. As you start to visualize moving in circles instead of squares, you will start to notice that you are climbing much more efficiently. In the beginning, you might be a little sore after the ride as you start to condition different leg muscles, but the more you get used to it…the more it will transfer into all aspects of your riding (its just as important in dh) and you will become a better overall rider that can ride for longer distances.

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