We all do things in life that appear to be simple and intuitive on the surface. We do these things without much thought as to how to do them right.
Biking is on the face a very simple activity. You jump on your bike and peddle. Peddling is something that we do pretty much without thinking about it. Left, right, left, right. You use the big muscles in your leg and off you go. If you want to go faster you peddle harder or faster or harder and faster. But peddling right, ah, that is another story all together. And when you go the intuitive route, you miss a lot of potential power.
Most people who are serious bikers use special peddles and shoes that clip in, a lot like ski boots and skis. The reason we use those peddles is that they allow you to peddle stronger. They allow you to pull up with your legs along with pushing down.That allows you to peddle harder.
There is also another real benefit to peddling correctly when you are on a mountain bike or on a loose surface. And this one is perhaps more critical to Leadville next year.When you are climbing on a steep climb, on a loose surface, the back tire can spin out a little bit (sometimes a lot bit). That represents lost power and slower climbing. Weight location is a big part of that, but so is peddling. When you peddle wrong, the power goes through high and low points. And what tends to happen then is your tires spin out when you apply the higher load. When you peddle correctly the power put to the tires is constant and you get better traction.
I’ve read enough on biking to know what the proper way to peddle is. I have even tried to do that at times. But I discovered over the weekend that my form was, well less than optimal.
On my Saturday training ride I was supposed to peddle one legged. It was enlightening.
Here is an exercise for you to try (if you are a biker, and if you have the proper peddles, and if you care ;)). The best place to do this is on a trainer. But I found a pretty flat section of quiet rode and did it there. Unclip one foot and peddle with just one foot. When you are on the top of the stroke try to jam your toes into the front of your shoes. When you are on the bottom think about wiping off some dirt (or dog poo, that might give you more motivation or a better visual). On the up stroke pull. The down stroke pretty much takes care of itself (you have after all been practicing this one part of the peddle stroke since you were a wee little one). They key here is to concentrate on not having any dead spots in your peddle stroke.
What I found was a couple of things.
1. New muscles that I have not used to peddle.
2. Those muscles are weak and tire quickly.
3. Its hard to get the upstroke fast enough to keep the power constant. I tended to get tired, then a little slow going up, then my cranks would clink as I caught up to my engagement point on the down stroke.
This however is a really good time (i.e. it doesn’t matter how weak or slow things are right now) to figure these things out.