Friday, June 5, 2009

A (pedal) stroke of genius, or at least a good alternative.

Pedaling positions and styles are controversial issues in cycling. I came across this interesting article the other day and it raised some issues that I have been considering lately. The gist of the piece is the idea that a large portion of the cycling community is going about the business of pedaling all wrong. They are not pedaling backwards rather than forward, or trying to accomplish the task one-legged, but they are directing the pedaling force through the balls of their feet when - allegedly - the arch is a much more efficient zone for power transmission. Taking into consideration the location of the pedal under the ball of the foot as dictated by current clipless cycling shoes, most cyclists use the largest leg muscles - the hamstrings, quads, and glutes - to power the bike and use the calf as merely a stabilizer and conduit rather than an active participant in the process. This forces the argument that much energy is being wasted and that it would be more efficient (read also: comfortable) to relocate the contact point under the arch in direct line with the major leg muscles.

I am less concerned with these arguments as related to the racing community than for recreational riders and commuters. I don't know how many new riders I've come across thinking they need clipless pedals and shoes to ride effectively or how many are battling with the introduction to their use, complete with the accompanying stress and nervousness of getting in and out of them in traffic. This all relates to what the against-the-grain folks at the Rivendell Bicycle Works refer to as the "Shoes Ruse," or the idea that you don't need special shoes to ride effectively or comfortably, hell little kids do just fine.

This issue came to my mind after I threw some platform pedals on my cruiser so that I could ride in flip flops or sandals without my toes getting shredded by my toe clips. What I found that I often found myself sliding from the familiar ball-over-the-pedal stance to the controversial arch-over-the-pedal position. And you know what? It felt better! I got more power, less strain on my calves, and felt less prone to slip off the platform. As the article notes, there is more snap resultant from the ball-over-the-pedal stance so the act of sprinting does not seem as explosive with the arch-over-the-pedal position, but lets be serious how much sprinting does one do on a daily commute or ride to the grocery store?

None of this is to suggest that I plan on hooking myself up with a pair of biomac shoes, or intend to drill out my shoes in order to move my clip back a few centimeters, however I do feel more inclined to locate my foot where it feels good and not worry that the ball of my foot is not over the pedal. Its kind of liberating, much like bicycle commuting in and of itself.


chillwill said...

hells yeah special shoes aren't necesary to ride! or fancy bikes either! i just have platforms on the old crusier, more pedal would be comical!
but, I am super happy with cages when riding the fixie or road bike. they are totally neccessary on a brakeless fixie to stop. slow or skid and nice on the roadbike to be able to pull up as well as push down.
i am pretty sure i am somewhere behind the ball, but maybe not all arched out though. i'll have to notice when i leave the coffee shop!

ps...i never knew you were so into feet...

Brendan said... is having a debate about it, too.

I'm pretty much convinced that clipless is the way to go. I don't really mind wearing special shoes. I like retention.

El Presidente de China said...

My lifestyle is way too multi-modal for special shoes. If I had clipless pedals, I'd have to carry regular shoes with me, which would be in addition to a computer, rain gear, lunch, camera, and, well, other stuff maybe. Yeah, no special shoes for me.

Karma said...

Ignoring the shoe aspect does anyone think that the foot position argument has merit?

Karma said...

p.s. I am an EMS trained "foot guru," just sayin'

Brendan said...

I think float is important. I'm not convinced about this.

Remy, Patron Saint of Rainbows and Puppies said...

I'm unswervingly committed to my shoes and clipless pedals. If I had more than one functioning bike, I'd try to get the same pedal for each. Feeling as if you're locked into your bike, as if the bike were merely an extension of yourself, just can't be beat. As for multi-modal, that's why I only wear mountain bike shoes.

Still though, I wish I had the option to try this arch thing with my shoes. It's a little disappointing that shoes don't come with that freedom.

Brendan said...

And, they've got spikes/cleats for impromptu soccer or baseball games.