Go faster with these MTB pedalling tips

This is how to gain time out on the trails simply by pedalling smarter.
By Ric McLaughlin

Motor-assisted e-bikes may be all the rage these days, but that doesn't mean that the old holy trinity of crank, pedal and chain has had its day just yet.

In road cycling pedalling technique is king, and is seen as paramount in terms of unlocking those final few ever-vital watts. In mountain biking though we often just see pedalling as a means to an end – a tool that once suffered through, unlocks our favourite descents.

However, just as with our Lycra-wearing cousins on the road, proper pedalling can mean so much more to mountain bikers. Here's how to better propel your way around and to get even more from your local loop.

1. Cleat position

The HT X2 pedals used by UCI World Cup champion Aaron Gwin on his YT Mob Tues bike
HT X2 clipless pedals as used by Aaron Gwin © Bartek Woliński

Whether you use clipless style pedals or trusty low-fi flats, the position of your foot on the pedal is paramount to efficient pedalling, and if wrong, it can lead to serious discomfort.

As a rule of thumb, position your cleats in the middle of the ball of your foot and then try adjusting them fore and aft to see if you're more comfortable. A marker pen will help you keep track of positions and match up the pair.

Many gravity-orientated riders prefer to run their cleats further back in their slots to mimic the feel of a flat pedal. This can be slightly less efficient in terms of pedalling performance, but it's ultimately down to personal preference.

2. Proper saddle height

A close up of the Prologo X8 saddle on Italian XCO rider Marco Fontana's F-Si Carbon 2015 bike
Marco Fontana’s Prologo X8 saddle © Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

Being seated at the correct height is a big part of extracting the most from your pedalling. When seated, your legs should be able to move through their full range of motion without having to stretch for the pedals, which robs power and balance. Sitting too low can lead to back pains and sitting too high can also lead to joint ache.

3. Selecting the right gear

Julien Absalon and Nino Schurter battle each other at the La Bresse XCO World Cup Round 3 on May 29, 2016
Climbing kings Julien Absalon and Nino Schurter © Bartek Woliński/Red Bull Content Pool

Selecting the most efficient gear for pushing is, unsurprisingly, quite important. Settling on the right cadence is a big part of getting the most out of the bike and your legs.

High gears, which are tough to push, are great for short, instant bursts of acceleration, but try and push one all ride and you'll soon be a puking wreck with jelly legs. Low, easy to push gears are much more energy efficient. You may feel like you're able to push harder on the cranks, but easier strokes, although not necessarily faster in terms of speed, equal better use of energy over the course of a ride.

When it comes to riding technical sections, like sudden short and steep climbs, get used to be in the correct gear before you actually hit them. Preemptively shifting will help you clear things a lot easier without the dreaded mid-climb crunch.

4. Spin circles

Manuel Fumic goes under the bridge during the 2015 Windham XCO World Cup on August 9, 2015
Manuel Fumic on the long Windham XCO climb © Bartek Woliński/Red Bull Content Pool

How you actually turn the pedals through their rotation can make a massive difference to how efficiently you transfer your energy into forward motion, especially if you clip in.

The pedals downstroke is the most power-packed phase of the motion, but this power phase really begins from around the 10 o'clock position so it's important to spin a smooth, complete circle not just a heavily-mashed downstroke.

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