How to develop a smoother, more efficient pedal stroke

To achieve a smooth pedal stroke should you do drill sessions, single-leg work or just get out and ride your bike? The answer lies somewhere in the middle, says Nik Cook…

Close-up of a road cyclist riding towards sunset

Pedalling technique is a big topic of debate among cycling coaches, with some advocating drill sessions, single-leg work and the use of pedalling analysis software. At the other end are those who say just get out, ride your bike and your pedal stroke will look after itself.


As with most things, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. If your training time is limited, it’s debatable whether purely technique-focused workouts would be an effective use of your time in terms of performance gains.

That said, if you’re doing a ‘recovery session‘, you might as well break up the monotony with some pedalling drills.

It’s really easy though to go down the rabbit hole of pedalling analysis with few gains and even losses. I remember talking to a rider who was proudly showing a screenshot of his ‘perfect’ pedal scan after having spent weeks working on it. His FTP had drooped off a cliff though and, when he did try pushing hard, his pedal stroke went back to his previous  mash-mode.

Interestingly, a study of pro-cyclists’ pedal strokes found a real mix of techniques with no single or common ‘perfect stroke pattern’ emerging – the only consistent finding was the scary wattage they were producing.

The two ways to improve your pedal stroke 

From personal experience, there are two really effective ‘real riding’ ways to improve your pedal stroke.

Ride a fixed gear

The first is to spend time riding a fixed gear (aka single speed). Whether on the road or the track, it hard wires smooth pedalling, increases your comfort at higher cadences and improves the efficiency at which the different muscles involved in pedalling switch on and off and ensures they’re not interfering with each other.

A great fixed-gear pedalling technique session is a recovery spin on rollers – if the whir of the rollers sounds constant, your pedal stroke is smooth.

I tend to do a fair amount of my winter road riding on a fixed gear. Partly due to loving the low maintenance aspect but also because you either tend to be spinning fast or grinding low, developing leg speed and leg strength, both of which force and smoother pedal stroke.

Ride off-road

The second is to ride off-road. Loose and slippery surfaces reward a smooth pedal stroke that delivers power evenly and punish mashy or choppy pedalling.

Learning to ‘feel’ for traction – especially when climbing off-road, is a brilliant way to hard wire the perfect pedal stroke. Whether it’s MTB, gravel or even racing some cyclocross and bit of the muddy stuff is great for working on your souplesse.

Top image credit: Getty Images