Monday, 20 June 2011

Learning to pedal properly

Remember these?
When I was a child PC's were not common place - in fact when I started working in 1987 - I was one of the first people to use a PC on a daily basis. I took to it like a duck to water and have never looked back, except for one area - I can make a spreadsheet sing and do things you would have not thought possible I even have "mad skillz" (as my kids would say) in relational database theory etc.

There was one thing I never got to grips with and that was how to type properly - when I started using a PC it was mostly spreadsheets I was dealing with not writing letters and later emails - the need to type words just grew and grew each year gradually - now I probably say more in words on my PC than I say out of my mouth - but can I type properly - no I can't. The problem is that I (like many others of my generation) just sort of type in a self-taught way.

I have tried on a number of occasions to learn proper touch typing - but although giving it a good attempt I always go back to my old ways - the trouble is I am just too fast using my own technique and I slow down when I use the proper way. Time pressures being what they are I soon find myself reverting back to my old method to get my work completed on time and before I know it I have completely given up on touch typing. But my typing technique is far slower than that of a proper touch typist - I am therefore caught in a trap - I am fast enough to meet my needs but if I had started off typing in a proper fashion I would be 40% faster now, but sadly for me that is never to be.

So what this all leading to?

So taking the above into account let's get onto the topic of this post - I have the same issues with my peddling technique as I do with typing. As a child I just use the normal peddles - in my youth is where all my cycling habits were formed. 

I think there has been a long enough break though between my youth and cycling now, for me to break any old habits. I have been using clips for about 3 months now and I have tried to actually apply force throughout the whole turn of my peddle, but as soon as the "need for speed" rears its ugly head I forget all about technique - what is needed here is some patience and a desire to get it right before I am too old! 

I have started by making an effort to slow my frenetic pace down and focus more on my technique. I still do occasional bursts of speed just to shake the cobwebs out though. One of the first things I have noticed is I am getting cramp in my under thigh of my left leg too quickly when I cycle properly. This I have discovered is down to my saddle height, I have found a couple of good links for bike fit and saddle height.

Just how long are the legs of this bike owner?
Since following the advice on the links I have moved my saddle height up about one inch. This I found has helped quite a bit. I was totally under the impression that my saddle height was fine but I think a combination of now wearing cleats and ever growing confidence has shown me I need to increase the height, anyway since raising the saddle a little I definitely have less cramp. I think that if you are cycling without cleats you should probably have your saddle a bit lower than if you are.

Once the saddle height is no longer an issue, it is just going to become a case of me forcing myself to build gradually and for it to become natural to peddle correctly. I have a feeling that this more than anything else is going to be a major step up for me in how fast I can ride.


Now please excuse the fragmented nature of this post because I am sort of using this post as a diary of my experiences - today I ended up increasing my saddle height about three times (it has probably gone up about 1 3/4 inches in total which has surprised me as I thought I had it pretty near correct). I think I have it where I want it (at least for now, one of the things I found was that, this ended up with me needing to tilt the saddle a small fraction forward at the front - this seemed to be more comfortable to cycle with now the saddle is higher, I have not changed it a lot as I want to still be able to sit on my saddle without giving the handle bars a "Glasgow Kiss" (smacking my head on them). 

So far this new set-up (and I have still to test it extensively) seems a lot more comfortable when I use the peddles properly. Now I am less prone to cramping in the back of my legs from pulling the peddle up on the backstroke and I think I am able to get a faster spin going with the same effort. It is now also more natural feeling to use the correct peddling technique and I have to make a less conscious effort to do it properly (but that may just be because I have been working on it over the last few days). 

This may be a bold statement but I feel like all this is giving me about 8% increase on my average speeds (my timing on my commute run have gone from about 35 / 36 minutes to 32 /33 minutes. 

I have also adjusted my handlebar height down by about 1/2 inch - I could go more but my shoulders are suspect so I don't want to put too much strain on them - but anything to get less wind resistance on the windy London roads. I also put my saddle forward about 1/2 and inch.

The only minor downside to all of this has been that I am using my lower muscles in a slightly different way - so my muscles are going to need a bit of time to readjust to the new strains - but after that I am hoping for a even more improvement.

What I am noticing, is that there is plenty of good advice on the net - and as long as you are willing to put a little fiddle time in, the results can be quite stunning - but please bear in mind what you need your bike for - if it is for a commute, then speed is not everything - I have tried to ensure the changes I have made have left the bike still comfortable to use for longer rides and I am certainly willing to take a step back if I loose the comfort of my bike. Also I am one of those people who likes to mess with things, so the whole procedure has been quite entertaining!


  1. saddle height: I've had that, after being off cycle for a while I had to lower my saddle and then gradually bring it back up. Prob something to do with stretching tendons and muscles and other bodily bits.
    As for pedaling, just keep saying to yourself "smooth circles ... smooth circles", and the legs should get the idea

  2. Well I suppose I can say I am going up in the world? "Smooth Circles - Smooth Circles" I was repeating this as a mantra on my way in to work today - some git went passed me - started to peddle like crazy and forgot the mantra :-)

    But seriously - I can see myself saying this phrase like a prayer for a while as I cycle.

    Thanks for the post