Do you ride with your male partner or male friends and they all seem to be able to get up those short sharp rises or hills with so much more ease than you can? Is your son able to tackle harder and longer rides than your daughter at the same age?

Statistically the average female has only about two thirds the strength and power of the average male. They can rely on that power and strength, rather than technique, to get them up and over or through some of things we find challenging on the bike. Don’t take this in a bad way ladies – I think you will get what I mean – if you see yourself as “average” then your  primary focus and goals need to be on good technique and efficiency.  Once you have good technique then you can develop strength and power.


It is the action of pedaling that propels the bike and moves it in the direction you steer. This gets you to where you need to go, up that hill, over the bump and over that rock or tree root. The action of turning your pedal (known as a pedal stroke) comes from the large powerful muscles in our legs. These muscles work to drive your hip, knee and ankle joints, working together and at different times, some more dominant than others, to push the pedal – to complete a pedal stroke.

leg muscles used in the pedal stroke for cyclingThe large powerful leg muscles used during pedalling.  A = Gluteus Maximus, B = Quadriceps, C = Calf muscles, D = Tibialis Anterior, E = Hamstrings, F = Hip Flexors.

A good, efficient pedaling technique can have a big influence on your riding. Chi Riding is about ease and efficiency, it develops the platform to allow you to improve your pedaling technique and allows your riding to feel and become easier and more enjoyable.

Chi Riding – a goRide SERIES to develop or enhance an understanding of your position and form on your bike. 

Have you heard of Chi Running? It is a running technique that emanates from the principles of pilates, yoga, and tai chi. We are going to piggyback on that concept and introduce you to Chi Riding – a riding form that emanates from some of those same principles of being relaxed, having less tension and stress when you ride, efficiency, ease, engaging the senses and core control (control from your mid region). All things that will make time on your bike more enjoyable, easier, will give you less discomfort, it will also have positive effects and influences on other aspects of your life.

Chi Riding – forms the platform to allow you to improve your riding and challenge yourself whether you are a beginner or an experienced rider.

How do we achieve efficient pedaling while on the bike? If you have worked your way through the Chi Riding tips you will start to see a pattern here. Pedaling efficiently while on the bike comes back to understanding your riding position, core control and engaging the senses, combined with a good pedal action.

Riding Position:  The first thing you need to do is make sure that the height of your seat is correct. This will allow you the optimal bend and straightening of the hip, knee and ankle to give you the maximum transfer of power and strength to your pedal. See Bike Seat “Sweet Spot”  with resource 3 Simple Bike Seat Adjustments – Height, Tilt and Reach for further information.

If you are not wearing clip in shoes we need to consider placement of your foot on the pedal. The ball of your foot needs to

Correct foot position on the pedal

Correct foot position on the pedal

make contact with the pedal. Close to the arch of your foot.

The heel position relative to your toes should be similar to when you stand. Basically your heel should not point excessively out or in.

This will give you the most efficient transfer of energy from those large powerful leg muscles through the foot then to the pedal. It will help you to maintain a position of stability so it reduces the chances of your foot slipping or getting thrown from the pedal. A position that allows you to have relaxed ankles which will allow good movement of the ankle.

Core control:  You drive your pedal stroke with the large powerful muscles of the leg. For these muscles to work efficiently, to give you good strength and power and to be able to sustain that strength and power over the duration of your ride,  your mid region needs to be stable. In fact if your large powerful leg muscles work without that stable mid region they produce all sorts of horrible shearing forces on your low back and pelvis that can potentially lead to pain and dysfunction.  Ever finished a ride with an aching back?  So the message is engage your core! Tip 2 – Core Control. A stable core allows you legs to relaxed and loose which will allow good hip, knee and ankle movement, essential for an efficient pedal action.

The Pedal Action:  There is a lot of information out there about what is the most efficient pedal stroke.  We are going to keep it really simple and our focus is pedaling while seated for the recreational, everyday rider.

A pedal stroke refers to a full revolution of the pedal that is going from 12 to 12 on a clock face. However both the left and right leg contribute to this revolution, to a pedal stroke.

  • Push Phase – The most powerful part of your pedal stroke is the push part, between 12 and 5 o’clock for both legs. This is also the easiest and most natural part of the stroke. We have big muscles that are designed to do that push, pushing down at all 3 joints the hip, knee and ankle  and it is easy for them.
  • Momentum Phase – With a good efficient push phase you will have momentum to carry you through from 5-6 o’clock
  • Recovery Phase – (Note the opposite leg is in the Push Phase during the Recovery Phase) the leg is light on the pedal during this phase, so as not to provide any resistance to the push from the other leg and allows this leg to come around to prepare to repeat its push phase

Pedaling is continuous from one side to the other, a complete pedal stroke (from 12 to 12 on the clock face) comprises

  • L leg push and momentum while R leg recovery
  • R leg push and momentum while L leg recovery

and so on. Often we can have a dominant leg, so be aware if both legs are even?  Is your left and right legs contributing equally?

As long as we keep the whole action smooth, continuous and rhythmical, not jerky, and we can keep the momentum between the push and non push phases then the result will be efficient pedaling.

Chi riding pedaling correct hip knee ankle alignment goRide

Correct hip, knee ,ankle alignment when looking down

The Alignment.  When you pedal your knee should be in line with your toes. When viewed from the front, your hip, knee and ankle should all line up.  As you look down during a pedal stroke there should be times when you can’t see your toes because your knee should block your vision.

Engage the senses:  Chi Riding is about being aware. Being aware of your riding position, your foot, heel and knee position as you pedal. Being aware of your pedal action. Just by being aware you will be amazed at the small changes you will start to make.

Why is it important? We understand that having good efficient technique is our pathway to making our riding easier and more enjoyable. Efficient pedaling will help you to improve your riding, getting up those little steep inclines or hills. We also know that if the large powerful muscles that produce the action of pedaling are allowed to work without being matched by good core control then they can potentially cause pain and dysfunction.

The goride way. Whether you are a beginner or experienced rider, commuting, road riding or mountain biking improving your pedaling on the bike has benefits for us all. The benefits of improving your core and leg strength go well beyond the bike to our everyday activities. In riding, efficient pedaling provides the platform for you to improve your riding and challenge yourself allowing you to goRide more places, more often.

Thanks for reading. Used together our stories and resources support you to achieve and develop as a rider. 

oRide is a shared journey, so we would like you to assist in guiding it along the way.  Contact goRide.  Your thoughts, comments or feedback are welcome. Thank you for being a part of the goRide way.