ExperiencePlus! Blog

Back to Bicycling Basics: Bike Fit and Pedaling Technique

Little Adjustments Can Go a Long Way

Back to the basics

If you have traveled with us, you are familiar with our bike fitting and safety talk at the beginning of each bicycle tour. The adage “it’s just like riding a bike” does hold some truth to it, it is pretty natural to jump on a bike and quickly find your balance no matter how long it has been since you have cycled. True as that may be, a little refresher never hurts and might even add a little extra comfort during a long ride. As cycling season ramps up in much of Europe and North America, we thought sharing a few key bike fit and cycling mechanics could do no harm.

Bike Fit

Bike fit matters. Period. Properly adjusting your bike based on your body shape makes a world of difference in comfort, lowers your chance of injury, and improves your cycling form.

Getting a good bike fit means:

  1. The saddle is properly raised so you get enough leg extension for maximum efficiency. When your seat is too low you don’t get good extension which can put undue stress on your knees. This is often a problem, especially with inexperienced riders or for those cyclists coming back to the bike after many years.
  2. The saddle is correctly positioned front to back with the correct tilt. If you find your hands getting numb, for example, tilting the seat slightly can change that. Alternatively, sliding the seat forward a little will allow you to sit more upright, taking pressure off your hands, wrists and shoulders.
  3.  Selecting the correct saddle for your anatomy. Seat comfort varies with everyone’s individual anatomy. If you have had problems with uncomfortable seats in the past and finally found one you like, bring it along! We’ll mount it on your bike. Otherwise, we have a variety of saddles for you to choose from and we carry spares in the van in case you need to switch out.

Coming on tour soon?

You know that Customer Information Form we keep pestering you about?  Bike fit is part of the reason we want your information! Our bike mechanics customize every bicycle before it leaves our headquarters to ensure we send a properly sized bicycle for you.  Then, to be sure we’ve got everything just right our tour leaders will help you dial in your adjustments before your first test ride. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or even ask to tweak your bike fit as the tour progresses. Comfort is key!

Efficient Pedaling and Cadence

How much simpler could it get than pedaling a bike? Sure it seems straightforward, but efficient pedaling takes some technique. We often see people pushing as hard as they can on bike pedals operating under the common misunderstanding that the more you push, the better the workout. However, pushing a hard gear is hard on your knees and is difficult to keep up day after day over a long ride. You are better off if you spin the pedals in an easier gear while keeping a pedaling cadence of 80-85 revolutions per minute. The “mantra” that racers use for this technique is “spin to win,” since they know that the rider who spins will last longer than the rider who pushes a bigger gear.

Proper Extension and Efficient Pedaling:

  1. Position the front third of your foot on the pedal with the ball of your foot right above the axle of the pedal.
  2. Make sure you aren’t reaching for the bottom of the pedal stroke. Have a tour leader (or friend) follow you on your bike and to tell you if you are rotating your pelvis as you pedal. Your pelvis should stay level as just your legs go up and down.
  3. Keep your upper body still. If you find you are pulling on the handlebars as you pedal, and are wobbling back and forth, try to focus on pedaling from the waist down without moving your upper body at all.
  4. Divide your pedal stroke into four segments of a clock: 1-5 is the down stroke when you push the hardest; 5-6 you begin to lighten up (imagine that you are scraping mud off of the bottom of your shoe, your heel should rise); 6-11 the foot on the upstroke becomes light as a feather; 11-2 you prepare for the next down stroke, your heel begins to level as you prepare for the next downward stroke.

*For more resources on how to pedal see Loren Mooney’s article in Bicycling Magazine, “The Perfect Pedal Stroke: How to get the most energy from each crank revolution.”

Next time you go out for a ride consider spending a few minutes focusing on how your body feels and moves on the bike. The more comfortable your body is on the bike, the more you will be able to enjoy your ride and take in your surroundings.