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How Should I Pedal When Standing?

By Fred Matheny

Road bike rider logo
Q: I have read many articles about circular pedaling techniques, but they all relate to seated riding. When I’m standing and climbing on short, steep hills, my feet feel like they’re attached to a stair climber and I’m just pumping up and down. What exactly should my legs be doing when I’m climbing out of the saddle? — Keith D.

A: When you stand, pedal action changes. It’s hard to pull up because you aren’t in contact with the saddle — there’s nothing to brace your hips to pull against.

Generally, when you pedal standing you should use your body weight to help you push down. Let the bike rock rhythmically side to side in an arc of about 6 inches (judged by the movement of the handlebar stem). This gives each leg a direct push against its pedal and makes the best use of your weight.

You can think about getting the non-pushing foot out of the way by attempting to pull up. But classic pedaling form is almost impossible.

Be careful not to lean too far forward when standing on climbs. Doing so overly weights the front wheel. It presses the tire into the pavement, scrubbing off speed. Stay back a bit and find the front-to-back sweet spot. This helps center your weight over the crank to drive the pedals as just described.

On short, rolling hills, the trick is to click to the next higher gear (smaller cog), then stand and pedal over with a slightly slower cadence. This keeps quads from loading up with lactate because it helps you pedal with body weight. In fact, it can actually feel like you’re stretching and refreshing your legs.

During more than 30 years in cycling journalism, Fred Matheny has written hundreds of fitness & training articles for top bike magazines and websites. Many of his best eBooks and eArticles are on sale in the RBR eBookstore. As a rider, he has raced to medals in state and national championships, plus a senior world record in the Team Race Across America. As a coach, he has worked with hundreds of riders at PAC Tour Training Camps, Carpenter/Phinney Bike Camps, and Dirt Camp.



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