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How To Improve Your Riding Efficiency

26 Aug 2015
Gary Cairnduff
I want to focus on the crucial link where the motor meets the machine: the drive train interface of foot-pedal. For the purposes of this blog, we are going to ignore the cycle component with its inherent mechanical advantage, and focus on the motor.

Let’s compare cycling to running…

When running we must support and balance the load of body weight on one leg during the support phase of each leg. We have to absorb the load of the body against gravity and prevent it collapsing to the ground. Then we have to propel the body forward over that leg, bringing the opposite leg forward into a position where it too can propel us forward.

In cycling the body is supported at 6 contact points. Further stabilisation of the system is aided by momentum (ever tried to ride a bike as slowly as you can in a straight line?). There is no impact loading phase. And whilst it is tempting to think of cycling as a series of footfalls, nothing could be further from the truth.

Electromyographic analysis of cycling indicates electrical activity in several muscle groups of the lower limb throughout the entire 360 degrees of the pedal revolution. Whilst the amount of torque that some of these muscle groups contribute to overall torque is debatable, the fact remains that both legs contribute to torque production at the same time, and right throughout the pedal cycle. Some of those muscles have the effect of smoothing out the pedal action.

Many studies focus on the foot, the question focusing on the sole of the foot, and as such the inevitable question is – “ Do orthotics make any real difference to cycling?”. In the case of cycling, I don’t feel that this is as an important question for cyclists as it is for runners, because as the electromyographic studies indicate, all of the action doesn’t just occur on the sole of the foot - there needs to be good transfer of tension, not only from the foot to the pedal axle via the metatarsal heads in the 25 deg -> 160 deg power stroke, from the foot to the pedal axle in the 90 deg -> 270 deg via the heel counter, in the upstroke the load is transferred from the foot to the pedal via the instep, and from the foot to the pedal via the toe on the 315 deg to 45 deg range.

Efficiency is about being able to generate smooth torque for a prolonged period throughout a range of training intensities (cadence or resistance), and therefore several regions of the shoe /foot interface need focus if we are to create a smooth, efficient torque. Certainly over the past 10 years training this skill has been greatly aided by the advent of reliable on affordable power meters.

My advice to those who can’t afford a power meter/ watt bike, but want to improve their skill is simple; Concentrate on various regions of the shoe/foot interface whilst cycling. This can be done in interval fashion when on your wind trainer or on the road. As you improve then work on feeling different regions of the shoe/foot interface at the same time – and Lo and behold – the nature of your pedaling will change. This approach can be used clinically in many clinical situations to allow the cyclist to keep training, and offload painful structures.

1: Bousie J.A., Blanch P., McPoil T.G., and Vincenzino B. Contoured in-shoe foot orthoses increase mid-foot plantar contact area when compared with a flat insert during cycling. J.of Science and Medicine in Sport. 16 (2013) 60-64.

2:Hug F., and Dorel S., Electromyographic analysis of pedaling: a review. J.of Electromyography and Kinesiology. 19 (2009)182-198

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