Like swimming, and running, there is technique to cycling. More specifically, there is a technique for optimizing your pedaling. If you’re going to on your bike a few hours, why not do it right from the beginning.
I found a terrific excerpt from a book that was recommended to me by a friend/triathlete. Click here for the book, Swim, Bike, Run. One of the authors is Wes Hobson who runs Triathlon Camps. He also co-authored the DVD, Science of Triathlon, available at our online store.
“Many studies have focused on pedaling mechanics. Just as we think we know everything we need to know, we learn more. Knowledge evolves as more discoveries are made and as theories are developed, proved, disproved, and overturned. The simple act of pedaling has seen many of these evolutions, with elliptical chain rings, one-directional cranks, camming cranks, power cranks, and vastly differing technical advice (supply power 360 degrees, pull up on the backstroke, lower your heels, point your toes, and so on). We like to keep it simple. The pedal stroke hinges on a simple motion: moving in a circle, the most mathematically perfect shape in the world.
When pedaling, think, circles: nice, smooth, round, perfect circles. This may sound like we’re telling you to supply power 360 degrees, but we’re not—this concept has been disproved. Human anatomy dictates that more power is available in the pushing downward phase with the strong quadriceps muscles than in the pulling up with the hamstrings. Go ahead and imagine supplying power all the way around, but don’t get hung up on the idea: don’t overcompensate at any point in the circle. Keep it smooth. Imagine your thighs are piston-driven levers and your calves connecting rods. Keep the pistons moving up and down with a nice, regular rhythm thighs doing most of the work, while the lower leg travels a relaxed circle. The connecting rods transfer that power smoothly to the pedal. You’ll need a smooth and quick cadence, as it is nearly impossible to perform at a low rpm.
Your calves, hamstrings, and gluteals supply a lot more power than you may feel or realize. After months or years of riding diligently, you may notice the greatest muscle mass change in your hamstrings first, then your calves, butt, and finally quads; inexperienced riders may notice quad development first. All these muscles are employed to complete a simple circular, mechanical action. Keeping it all smooth by balancing the work over these muscle groups is the key to efficient power transfer to your pedals.
Riders debate over foot angle: should it be level, toes down, heel down, or what? The answer: relax and do what comes natural. Don’t make a conscientious effort to alter the angle. Keep thinking circles, relax, and don’t lock up. Experiment however, under different conditions. When climbing a steep hill, try dropping your heels a bit; this works for many but also may work only if you change other body mechanics (more on this later). In any case, dropping your heels employs the calf muscles more, supplying additional power. Pointing your toes can be effective during high-cadence spinning workouts to reduce “hopping” in the saddle. But be careful, don’t make this a habit, as pointed toes keep calf muscles contracted and can lead to cramping, especially when transitioning to the run phase.”