Pedalling efficiency is something that people are starting to talk about more and more now there are a number of training bikes and power meters out there that can measure both left and right leg balance and power. Wattbike Trainer/Pro, Garmin Vector and Powertap P1 pedals are three that quickly come to mind. Wattbike have gone one further and developed their own PES (Pedal Effectiveness Score).
"The Pedalling Effectiveness Score is inspired by the Index of Force Effectiveness (IFE) which compares the gross force applied to the pedals with the net force – the proportion of force that actually goes towards creating torque and turning the chainrings.
The Pedal Effectiveness Score is calculated from high quality 100Hz force data in real-time. It maps changes in pedalling efficiency to provide a highly informative measure that helps drive performance.
The result: you see a visual representation of how adjustments in your pedalling can change your cycling efficiency in real-time."
So, is this something that we should be worried about in our training?
Cycling is a sport in which we rarely focus on technique and efficiency, which seems crazy when you think about it. At a cadence of 90rpm, we pedal 5400 times an hour. On a five-hour ride, that's 27,000 full pedal revolutions! Increasing your efficiency and reinforcing your muscle memory just a little is going to result in large dividends.
What goes into a pedal stroke?
Realistically, a good amateur is unlike to apply significant upward force during the 4th phase of each revolution so focus on ‘un-weighting’ the rear foot from the pedal. There seems little point in applying 250W on the down stroke if 30W is needed to lift the other leg on its upstroke!
Like everything, practice and training is the key to improvement so we have put together 4 drills to improve your technique and to include within your regular training.
1. Single leg pedalling drills. These are best done on the trainer to be safe. Without shifting your butt on the seat, unclip one foot from the pedal and with the other leg, spend 30-60sec pedalling in a light gear. You'll see that it's not easy to maintain positive force on the pedal to keep the cranks turning in a smooth manner. The goal is to be able to pedal with the one leg for this period of time eliminating "chain slap" and keeping things smooth. Repeat three to five times for 30-60sec on each leg.
2. Spin ups. Starting in a light gear on a slight downhill or with a tailwind, gradually increase your cadence so that for the final 15 seconds you are spinning as fast as you possibly can without your butt bouncing on the seat. Repeat three to five times with a 45-60sec interval.
3. Strength endurance. Find a climb that has a segment of 8-10 minutes at a 5-6 percent gradient. With your chain in the big ring, ride at your lactate threshold (Z4) with a cadence of 50-60rpm, concentrating on pulling up and over in the second half of each pedal stroke. Do not do this exercise if you suffer from knee problems! Repeat three to four times with an 8-10min interval.
4. Out of the seat pedalling. Efficiency can be increased for out of the seat efforts as well. Standing up gives us the ability to increase torque and power output by utilising other muscles, although this does result in burning more energy. This can be improved simply through repetition. Whilst out of the seat, concentrate on achieving the perfect rhythm of rocking the bike away from the leg that is down, using your opposing arm to pull up to the leg that is pushing down. Your bike short be rocking underneath you, whilst your body should remain fairly neutral. Repeat up to 3 times with a 5-10min interval.