Road Bikers: How to Pedal Faster, Smarter

August 11, 2015


Road cyclists: Want to log longer rides, get stronger, avoid injury, and have more fun on your bike? Linda Freeman, a Vermont-based personal trainer who specializes in cycling, says mastering your pedaling technique will help you get the most out of your rides and reduce your risk of getting hurt. She sees three elements as key to a solid pedal stroke.

1. Pedal Selection
According to Freeman, the best choice for road cyclists is the clipless pedal (pictured in the inset photo, above). Despite the confusing name, clipless pedals require specialized shoes that click into a mechanism on the pedals, providing consistent points of attachment between the cyclist and the bike. Clipless pedals help prevent injury by reducing lateral movement and letting your legs work smarter, not harder, by engaging your muscles on both the up and the downstrokes.

Different types of clipless pedals are available to suit a wide range of cyclists—even those who are uneasy about being clipped in. A transition pedal, for example, is clipless on one side and flat on the other, allowing riders to master the art of clipping in and out at their own speed.

Baskets are another option, although they’re not as easy to get out of as clipless pedals, and they don’t provide as consistent a point of contact between the cyclist and the pedal.

2. Bike Fit
Ideally, every cyclist would get his or her bike fitted by a professional. Even minor tweaks can make a big difference in how well your bike suits your body. At the very least, cyclists should check their reach, or the distance from the saddle to the handlebars, as well as their handlebar and seat height. The seat should be high enough to allow a slight bend in your knee when the pedal is at its lowest point.

3. Pedaling Mechanics
The goal here is to maximize efficiency. Cyclists should think of the pedaling motion as a circular or elliptical shape. “The movement is not pounding up and down but rather circling in a smooth and continuous motion,” Freeman says.

It can help to think of the pedal stroke as a clock face. Instead of pressing down with your foot, use your quads to drive your feet forward through 1, 2, and 3 o’clock. The foot should stay relatively flat, with only a slight sense of dropping the heel through the downstroke. Move into 4, 5, and 6 o’clock by pushing through the calf muscle, hitting 6 with the foot relatively flat. Start the upstroke by engaging the hamstring to gently pull through 7, 8, and 9 o’clock, countering the forward movement with the opposite leg. Lift the heel slightly through the upstroke.

Engage your core throughout to add power and to hold your pelvis steady. You’ll also want to keep your upper body relaxed to release tension, which can drain energy. On climbs, sit slightly back in your seat, keeping your feet slightly forward. On descents, pedal if you’re able; otherwise, keep your feet at 3 and 9 o’clock.

With improved pedaling technique, you’ll make the most of every ride, and you’ll be riding faster and farther in no time.


Learn how to correctly fit a bike, change a flat, and hone your cycling technique.

Then take your bike for a spin on one of the paths that make up the East Coast Greenway.

Search AMC Outdoors and Blogs

Search for:

Sarah Galbraith

Sarah Galbraith is a backpacker and cyclist who recently started putting the two together on bikepacking trips with her young daughter. She lives in northeastern Vermont.