Is it true that the "round pedalling stroke" is a myth?



vspa

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Jan 11, 2009
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dominikk85 said:
here is an interesting article: http://www.bicycling.com/training-nutrition/training-fitness/perfect-pedal-stroke he seems to devide the stroke into thirds instead of the usual quarters and emphazises to initiate the down stroke as early as possible. I don't know if he has any credibility though.
of course they have ! if it is the same Bicycling magazine of the past, they were the best source for science into cycling, with people like Steve Bauer, Andy Hampsteen and Greg Lemond contributing their inside knowledge from european races, i had a subscription at the time. Articles were always backed-up, like they do in this one, writings from a biomechanist in a sports medicine center, thanks for your contribution !
 

vspa

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daveryanwyoming said:
Yes, it's very common sense as are many things steeped in cycling tradition. But that's exactly the kind of thing sports science try to sort out via structured studies and both of the long held traditions you've mentioned have been studied and found wanting. Healthy humans are not limited by lung volume or depth of their breathing (sure an asthmatic or someone with COPD but they're not really the target cycling athlete) nor do highly skilled racers pedal 'in circles' no matter how appealing those ideas sound or how solidly they exist in cycling tradition. Spend some time on pubmed and you can find studies on both topics. -Dave
im doing my share of reading but on the powermeter stuff, i confess that i am a bit behind the curve on power, for this thread im pretty confident im not wrong, im just coming from training paying special attention on my pedaling, even when sitting down i can see my knee coming up to the 12 o'clock position, which makes your leg milliseconds ahead in position for the downstroke, its an acquired thing that´s why people forget about it, at the very least it will make you look good pedaling and not like a newbie, maybe focusing on breathing in-itself won't make you recover faster, but while you do it your mindset will shift from "hell am toasted" to "come-on i can catch them" ! its like the Karate Kid kind of training, which is replaced today by psychologists and such,
 

daveryanwyoming

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Oct 3, 2006
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Originally Posted by vspa .


.... for this thread im pretty confident im not wrong, im just coming from training paying special attention on my pedaling, ...
You're certainly entitled to your beliefs, but when those beliefs aren't backed up by anything other than your own conviction and when they reflect long held but similarly unfounded beliefs they're generally known as myths which is what this thread is all about.

Yeah, maybe you're just so far ahead of the curve that sports science will take a while to catch up but I wouldn't bet on it.

-Dave
 

dominikk85

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Oct 29, 2012
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Originally Posted by daveryanwyoming .

You're certainly entitled to your beliefs, but when those beliefs aren't backed up by anything other than your own conviction and when they reflect long held but similarly unfounded beliefs they're generally known as myths which is what this thread is all about.

Yeah, maybe you're just so far ahead of the curve that sports science will take a while to catch up but I wouldn't bet on it.

-Dave
well no need to get into an arguement here.:) Certainly the data are like they are but still that is no proof that trying to have a round pedal stroke is bad. maybe it is not generating a lot of force but it might at least limit breaking forces. for example your graph shows basically no positive forces in the back half of the circle but if you would not try to lift the trail knee at all the breaking forces might be higher. you might also be able to avoid some breaking forces in the "scrap the mud" phase.
 

alienator

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dominikk85 said:
well no need to get into an arguement here.:) Certainly the data are like they are but still that is no proof that trying to have a round pedal stroke is bad. maybe it is not generating a lot of force but it might at least limit breaking forces. for example your graph shows basically no positive forces in the back half of the circle but if you would not try to lift the trail knee at all the breaking forces might be higher. you might also be able to avoid some breaking forces in the "scrap the mud" phase.
It's not clear what you mean by "breaking forces".
 

frost

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Oct 25, 2007
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Originally Posted by dominikk85 .

well no need to get into an arguement here.:) Certainly the data are like they are but still that is no proof that trying to have a round pedal stroke is bad. maybe it is not generating a lot of force but it might at least limit breaking forces. for example your graph shows basically no positive forces in the back half of the circle but if you would not try to lift the trail knee at all the breaking forces might be higher. you might also be able to avoid some breaking forces in the "scrap the mud" phase.
Not necessarily proof that trying itself is bad (actually IIRC I've read about some studies saying that doing anything else but what comes naturally will reduce efficiency) but if you are putting a lot of effort and especially valuable training time doing single legged riding or other pedalling drills that could be used much more productive way by just concentrating on riding.
 

daveryanwyoming

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Oct 3, 2006
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Originally Posted by dominikk85 .

well no need to get into an arguement here.:) Certainly the data are like they are but still that is no proof that trying to have a round pedal stroke is bad. maybe it is not generating a lot of force but it might at least limit breaking forces. for example your graph shows basically no positive forces in the back half of the circle but if you would not try to lift the trail knee at all the breaking forces might be higher. you might also be able to avoid some breaking forces in the "scrap the mud" phase.
Did you even read the first page of this thread?

Originally Posted by daveryanwyoming Bottom line, as much as it seems like common sense and is steeped in tradition, circular pedaling isn't all that important as long as you're smooth enough to get your feet out of the way during the upstroke so you're not actually fighting yourself. But beginners probably have to learn even that bit and many folks struggle and bounce at higher than normal cadences so some attention to pedaling probably makes sense for folks who's events demand a wide useable range of leg speeds and cadences (e.g. track racers or crit sprinters)
So yes, I agree completely that learning to pedal smoothly enough to get your feet up and out of the way on the back stroke is likely useful for most beginners or those trying to extend their useful range of cadences. But that still doesn't alter the answer to the OP that circular pedaling is a myth.

The problem with pervasive myths like this is that they spawn even more myths like the need to scrape mud at the bottom of the pedal stroke or as Frost points out, squander good riding time with legged drills or that clipless pedals increase power by allowing a rider to pull up on the backstroke. All of these are debunked with a look at pedaling torque plots but many folks still hold onto and perpetuate those myths because they sound plausible or feel right.

-Dave
 

tonyzackery

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Dec 23, 2006
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One of many ancillary benefits of having an on-the-bike power meter is being able to conduct ad hoc tests of different pedaling styles and observing the power numbers reflected. Critical to good power production, for me anyway, is consistently starting to apply pressure on the pedals before either pedal reaches TDC - say, around 11 or 1130. Waiting until the pedal is at 12 or a little past is too late in my observation. As such, I'm obviously a neutral or heels down pedaler versus having an 'ankling' style.

Striving for a relatively even distribution of force throughout the revolution is a worthwhile thing. Think about the fastest runners. You don't see the fast guys/gaals mashing the ground. There is an evenness to their gait - a relatively equal (appearing) push against the track, and pulling up of the leg via the hamstrings, et al. I think the same concept of effort can be applied to cycling. The lower and more even the forces required by the muscles, the better.

But in the end, I think it to be more a matter of individual physiology and anatomy (femur to lower leg ratio - the higher the ratio, the more a cyclist will tend to be a 'masher', other things being equal) that dictates the most powerful/efficient/economic style of pedaling a cyclist employs. And this is done at a subconscious level - the brain knows without having to be told or coached. We've all seen the most fluid pedalers on the pro circuit sometimes 'pedaling squares' due to fatigue regardless of the fact they would rather 'spin'. Take these opinions for what they're worth...

edit: Needed to also add that more important than a circular, or even, pedaling action, I find right/left power balance to be of greater influence on higher/lower sustainable power production. In my observation and YMMV, of course...
 

gudujarlson

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Originally Posted by daveryanwyoming .


The problem with pervasive myths like this is that they spawn even more myths like the need to scrape mud at the bottom of the pedal stroke or as Frost points out, squander good riding time with legged drills or that clipless pedals increase power by allowing a rider to pull up on the backstroke. All of these are debunked with a look at pedaling torque plots but many folks still hold onto and perpetuate those myths because they sound plausible or feel right.
This brings up a related question. If clipless pedals don't increase efficiency, what good are they? I've been using for years now because I thought they made me more efficient, but lately I've been searching for any reason at all to use them. Some people claim clipless pedals prevent injuries caused by slipping off the pedals, but personally slipping off the pedals is the least of my worries. I've never been injured by slipping off platform pedals, but I have been injured more than once because I could not get my foot out of a clipless pedal.
 

daveryanwyoming

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Originally Posted by gudujarlson .


This brings up a related question. If clipless pedals don't increase efficiency, what good are they?...
When I've ridden platform pedals without cleats, clips, or straps my feet will occasionally slip, not in a dangerous way nor completely off the pedals but I do lose part of a pedal stroke here and there repositioning my feet. That's gotta be worth something in terms of efficiency but when I've done 20 minute Threshold intervals on platform pedals and tennies (which I've done a couple of times, once when my pedals seized up and needed to be replaced and once when I broke a cleat on my normal cycling shoes) the sustained power was within a couple of watts of what I'd expect with my clipless pedals and cleats. Still not having to reposition the foot or worrying about it slipping around is pretty useful.

In terms of safety I feel far safer with my feet secured to the pedals when it comes to tight cornering, especially on fast and bumpy descents. That alone is enough reason for me to ride with a good pedal and cleat system. It's most dramatic in cyclocross racing where folks crash all the time after a hilltop remount where they don't get back into their pedals quickly enough and lose it on the bumpy descent. Sure in a pinch we manage but it's far better to be able to carve through turns with your feet secure, pull up with your feet to bunny hop bad pavement or road debris and generally have secure contact to steer with your hips and down through your feet.

Maybe that doesn't apply to you and certainly the BMX racers seem to do just fine with platform pedals but I definitely believe there's a safety advantage to being attached at the pedals. I'd also argue that it's far safer to jump hard out of the saddle in a full out sprint when you're securely connected to the pedals, if you've ever pulled out of a pedal during a full out sprint you know what I'm talking about. But no, I can't point to anything other than my beliefs on this one and others may see it differently.

But in terms of the basic question, look at those pedaling torque plots again, there is very little to no upward force being applied during the upstroke of the pedaling cycle and the fastest cyclists actually apply less torque during the upstroke phase. If we don't apply force during the upstroke then being attached to the pedal for the purpose of pulling up doesn't matter. But as mentioned above if it helps keep your feet exactly where you want them then there's still value.

-Dave
 

dominikk85

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Oct 29, 2012
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Originally Posted by tonyzackery .

One of many ancillary benefits of having an on-the-bike power meter is being able to conduct ad hoc tests of different pedaling styles and observing the power numbers reflected. Critical to good power production, for me anyway, is consistently starting to apply pressure on the pedals before either pedal reaches TDC - say, around 11 or 1130. Waiting until the pedal is at 12 or a little past is too late in my observation. As such, I'm obviously a neutral or heels down pedaler versus having an 'ankling' style.

Striving for a relatively even distribution of force throughout the revolution is a worthwhile thing. Think about the fastest runners. You don't see the fast guys/gaals mashing the ground. There is an evenness to their gait - a relatively equal (appearing) push against the track, and pulling up of the leg via the hamstrings, et al. I think the same concept of effort can be applied to cycling. The lower and more even the forces required by the muscles, the better.

But in the end, I think it to be more a matter of individual physiology and anatomy (femur to lower leg ratio - the higher the ratio, the more a cyclist will tend to be a 'masher', other things being equal) that dictates the most powerful/efficient/economic style of pedaling a cyclist employs. And this is done at a subconscious level - the brain knows without having to be told or coached. We've all seen the most fluid pedalers on the pro circuit sometimes 'pedaling squares' due to fatigue regardless of the fact they would rather 'spin'. Take these opinions for what they're worth...

edit: Needed to also add that more important than a circular, or even, pedaling action, I find right/left power balance to be of greater influence on higher/lower sustainable power production. In my observation and YMMV, of course...
After reading that article (cited by me on page 1 or 2 of the thread) I tried that early intiation (just before 12) too and I felt a lot more power than before. the article mentions that most initiate the down stroke too late (probably when they are at two o clock and not at or before 12). I also used to merely glide the foot forward till about 2 o clock ("the book" talks about kicking the foot forward then push down) and then stomp down. this caused me to get my force peak probably too late (more like at 4 o clock when the optimum power phase is already nearing its end) instead of at 2-3 of clock. this might be because you cannot get to max force immediately for building power.

so initiating early might be beneficial even if you then waste a little energy for crank compression at 12 or clock (you push forward of course but still you won't be able to push perefectly forward and thus waste some energy on non perpendicular forces) because it allows you to have full power over the whole "power sector" instead of coasting through most of it.

this felt weird and not really smooth at first but I was able to ride about 4-5 kph faster than usually (but not for long:D) because I had more power. before that I could only generate speed at very high gears when I was almost spinning out because I could not generate a lot of down force despite being quite strong.

I will experiment some more with this and hopefully soon be able to do that at higher cadences too.
 

gudujarlson

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Originally Posted by daveryanwyoming .
It's most dramatic in cyclocross racing where folks crash all the time after a hilltop remount where they don't get back into their pedals quickly enough and lose it on the bumpy descent.
But isn't that caused by the fact that clipless pedals make for very bad platform pedals when not clipped in? My SPD pedals on my road bike are quite dangerous when I'm not clipped in, but the same is not true of the BMX/DH platform pedals I have on my mountain bike. On my BMX/DH platform pedals, I can position my feet in all sorts of ways and they stick dry, wet, or muddy.

In terms of safety I feel far safer with my feet secured to the pedals when it comes to tight cornering, especially on fast and bumpy descents.
I've heard others talk about cornering as well. I just don't get that one, When I'm cornering tightly, I'm not pedaling, so how would my feet slip off? I worry a lot more about one of my wheels slipping and having to put my foot down to control the slide. Bumpy descents on the other hand... I have slipped off my platforms a couple times while mountain biking down a bumpy hill at high speed (never on the road though), but it didn't cause a crash or an injury.

Bunny hopping is certainly easier with clipless pedals, but it's not impossible. In fact, I remember reading a article that suggested I need to learn to bunny hop without clipless pedals to learn to do it correctly. I'm not sure if this is true, but I have found that when I am clipped in I bunny hop differently. I discovered this when I bunny hopped out of my clipless pedals one day. Clipless pedals can give me a false sense of security and allow me to be sloppy. I also read an article that suggested riding on platform pedals periodically to relearn how to pedal correctly. The thought was that clipless pedals allow the rider to be sloppy and form bad habits. I'm not sure if there is any truth to that either. It's just food for thought.

Did you grow up using platform or clipless pedals? I road platforms exclusively until my late 20's, switched to clipless, and then switched back to platforms on my mountain bike but stayed with clipless on my road bike.
 

jollyrogers

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Aug 25, 2009
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Originally Posted by vspa .


of course they have ! if it is the same Bicycling magazine of the past, they were the best source for science into cycling, with people like Steve Bauer, Andy Hampsteen and Greg Lemond contributing their inside knowledge from european races, i had a subscription at the time. Articles were always backed-up, like they do in this one, writings from a biomechanist in a sports medicine center,
thanks for your contribution !
There isn't any science in that article. Science below:



http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18273633

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19417225

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17545890

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22174105
 

daveryanwyoming

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Oct 3, 2006
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Originally Posted by gudujarlson .
...Did you grow up using platform or clipless pedals? I road platforms exclusively until my late 20's, switched to clipless, and then switched back to platforms on my mountain bike but stayed with clipless on my road bike.
I'd been riding and racing for almost a decade when clipless pedals were invented so yes I grew up with platform pedals and then raced with toe clips and straps for a number of years before moving to clipless pedals in the late '80s.

But yes I suspect you're right that if you totally scrap clipless pedals and go to a large surface area platform pedal you'd do just fine which is exactly how we rode early mountain bikes before off road clipless pedals hit the scene. Again, the BMX racers even at very high level events don't seem to struggle with this and they do plenty of technical fast riding and sprinting out of corners and such.

But you asked what reason there is to use clipless if they don't actually allow you to pull up. I gave you my reasons and was careful not to state that those reasons were universal or factually proven. So use clipless or use platforms or whatever you like but when folks repeat the mantra that clips and cleats improve power efficiency it just doesn't stand up under inspection. As to your follow on question as to why folks use them if they don't improve actual power well I've offered my reasons but other folks may have other reasons.

-Dave
 

alienator

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Jun 10, 2004
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I feel similar to daveryanwyoming re: clipless pedals: I feel more secure on the bike over bumps, and I feel more connected to the bike. By connected, I mean that it seems as if I get a bit more feedback from the bike in terms of what it is doing. There is an overall feeling of having more control over the bike no matter the road surface or situation. I also think that leg length disparities, varus or valgus wedge issues, or other body geometry issues are better managed with clipless pedals. Those are just opinions. There are not based on any physical evidence, just my experience. It should noted that there is signifiant size difference between BMX bikes are road bikes and between MTB and road bikes. Perhaps the larger size of the road bikes (spatial size, not mass size) is a factor.