How to Improve Pedaling Efficiency

Arc Drills

If two cyclists were racing along two parallel paths, but one path was paved and the other was covered in roots, debris and ruts, which cyclist do you think would finish first? With all else being equal, it seems likely that the cyclist traveling the paved path would easily win the race: his or her journey was smoother. While triathlon races can include paved or unpaved paths, this scenario is meant to emphasize the importance of smooth motion. Smoothness improves speed and creates less work for the cyclist. Of course this applies to travel surfaces, but it also -- very importantly -- applies to the rotation of the pedals.

When pedaling your bicycle, the most efficient way to do so is to pedal smoothly all the way through the 360-degree rotation, eliminating dead or weak spots. A smooth pedal rotation increases speed and power, and decreases wasted energy. A great way to ensure evenness throughout your pedal stroke is to practice arc drills.

Arc drills require not only physical work on the bike, but also a great amount of mental concentration. To begin, you must first imagine the full circle of your pedal rotation and then picture it divided into quarters. This will give you four arcs to focus on:

  • Arc 1: Forward and down
  • Arc 2: Scraping the bottom
  • Arc 3: Pulling back up
  • Arc 4: Gliding across the top

[source: 63xc, The Offroad Fixed Gear Site]

When doing arc drills, you want to practice each arc individually. For example, pedal for a while putting force only on arc 2. In the next set, do the same, but this time apply force only to arc 3. In the final set, you will apply force only to arc 4. Because arc 1 is the intuitive part of applied force in the pedal stroke, you generally don't need to practice that arc. Try spending three to five minutes on each set of arc exercises. Remember to keep your toe-clips tight when practicing arc drills.

We have one more tip that will help you improve your pedaling efficiency. Check out the next section to find out what it is.