The laws of physics dictate that a smooth, continuous application of power makes the most of momentum on the bike. Changing your pedaling rpm (revolutions per minute) while riding takes more energy than pedaling with a constant, continuous flow of energy.
If you are lunging on the pedals, you are constantly increasing the speed of the tire through the pedal's down stroke. Coming back up with your foot, you change the direction your foot was traveling. To change from a lunging-down stroke to coming up, you slow down.
This implies that lunging is not the most effective way to pedal, however fun it is. If you are interested to know the reasons why this is true, dig up a book on physics and look up rotational motion.
Proper pedaling uses a continuous flow of energy from your legs to rotate the pedals around the center of the crank. The spin is fluid and smooth. Keep in mind the circle of the crank as you pedal. Try to match it with the pressure you apply to the pedals. Clipless pedals and toeclips can help by allowing you to pull up on the pedal when your rpms drop or when trying to get over a rock or log, as well as pushing forward when you are rounding the top of the stroke.
Clipless pedals also allow you to use a different set of muscles on the upstroke than those used on the down stroke.
The downside of emphasizing pulling up is that you do not have gravity helping, as you do on the down stroke. Pulling up seems to take more energy than the effort's worth. Concentrate instead on pushing at the top of the stroke and pulling at the bottom of it.
The standard position for pedaling has the heel slightly higher than the pedal, as the foot rotates around the crank. This allows for a more direct application of force to the pedal. It also reduces the amount of flex to the arch of the foot when you're pushing down. If you maintain this position on long rides, though, you will find fatigue a companion.
Using the same muscle groups in your legs over and over will stress these muscles. On long rides, you will want to rotate your foot so that at times it is parallel to the ground to relieve fatigue. At other times it may be more comfortable to have the foot at various angles towards the ground. By changing the angle of the feet occasionally, you will be using slightly different groups of muscles, allowing the primary ones a rest.
The ball of your food should be slightly turned in on the pedals. The knees should be very close, almost touching the top tube while pedaling. This position will reduce stress on your knees. Women, because of their wider pelvic structure, need to strive for a straighter line from the hips to the feet when pedaling. The natural tendency will be for the knees to be further from the bike frame than they should be. Relieve the stress that this position will cause by drawing the knees closer to the bike.
The gear to use is the one that is comfortable to spin. The proper gear can be determined by the force exerted upon the pedal. The force you use to pedal should be firm. Spinning the cranks at 80 or more rpm is a standard that many road cyclists strive for, in order to obtain a credible level of aerobic fitness and endurance.
Eighty rpm is suitable for riding on relatively smooth surfaces, like asphalt or well-graded gravel roads, but on a difficult mountain trail, the pedaling rate will be lower. There will be plenty of times on uphill climbs where you will not be able to exceed 30 or 40 rpm in the lowest gear; so when you can, spin at 80 to 90 rpms.
As a general rule, remember that pushing high gears on steep grades can cause knee injuries, while spinning low gears puts less strain on the knees.
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