Bonus Analysis of Pedaling Dynamics with Colby Pearce

We asked Colby Pearce a simple question: Tell us what you know about the pedal stroke. Colby gave us a monologue of gold.

Colby Pearce Cycling in Alignment Podcast
Colby Pearce hour record Aguascalientes 2018

Today we’re pulling from the Fast Talk Labs vault to hear from one of our favorite guests, Colby Pearce. We asked Colby a very simple question: Tell us what you know about the pedal stroke. 

We anticipated an intelligent, albeit relatively short answer. What Colby gave us was a monologue of gold.

We also caught up with reigning U.S. national road race champion, Ruth Winder, of Trek-Segafredo for more on how to train the pedal stroke, on and off the bike.

RELATED EPISODES: How to Pedal a Bike with Chris Case and How to Pedal a Bike, Part Two.

Primary Guest Colby Pearce: bike fitting expert, coach, and holder of the 45-49 world master’s hour record
Secondary Guest Ruth Winder: U.S. national road race champion with Trek-Segafredo

Episode Transcript


Welcome to Fast Talk developer news podcast and everything you need to know to write like a press.


Chris Case  00:13

Hey, everyone, welcome to Fast Talk. I’m your host Chris case. Today in Episode 96. We pull from the Fast Talk Labs vault to hear from one of our favorite guests Colby Pierce. We recently asked Colby a very simple question. Tell us what you know Colby about the pedal stroke. Well, we anticipated and intelligent I’ll be at relatively short answer. And what Colby gave us Well, that was a monologue of gold and highlights why we’re so excited that he’ll be launching his own show later this month. Yep, that’s right. We’re very happy to say that Colby is the newest member of the Fast Talk Labs family. Look for Kobe’s new show in the coming weeks. Check the Fast Talk Labs website for more details. Thanks again, for everyone out there who has sent us questions via email and through our Google voicemail. The email address to contact us in the future is Fast Talk at Fast Talk And that phone number is 719-800-2112 Let’s make you fast.


Chris Case  01:21

I know that you’re going to know a lot about this because this is one of those nerdy subjects that you just love to dig into the pedal stroke with Colby Pierce. So what are some of the myths about the pedal stroke that you can just smash right here and now? And what are some of the other tips and tricks that you can share with listeners about not mastering but improving their pedal stroke to get the most out of that pedal stroke?


Colby Pearce  01:49

Hmm. Myth number one would be that you should pull up at nine o’clock or that’s the middle of the backside of the stroke and then that will make your stroke rounder or more efficient.





Colby Pearce  02:02

Myth number two is that you should scrape the mud off the bottom of your foot at the bottom. And it’s not that I’ll this came from lemons book as far as I know. I won’t say that pulling back at the bottom of the stroke is a bad thing. In fact, I would say the opposite that is a desirable trait of a good pedal stroke. However, the scrape the mud analogy is problematic because it implies that your toe should be pointed. And to that end drawing into the next one is inkling is a good thing. And in general, there are fitters who would dispute this I explain inkling for. So while loosely we can define an inkling as the more your foot moves during the pedal stroke or moves into dorsiflexion, which is when your toes point up towards your knee, or plantar flexion, which is when your toes point down away from your knee articulating Yeah, yeah, the more out the stroke. Yes. And so inkling someone who is quote ankling is a typical cycling term like they don’t specify whether they are or not moving with more and more ankle motion, but inkling is known as moving is allowing the ankle to move more through the pedal stroke. And some people particularly perhaps an older school line of thought is that more inkling is better. Ostensibly, the objective of making good power on the bike is to apply tangential force to the pedal stroke. What does that mean? What’s a tangent? Well, you know, back to high school geometry, right? tangential force would mean that you’re always applying force on the tangent of the circle, the circle being the nice big circle that the pedal makes, as you make one revolution of the crank set. So 10 gentle means it’s always perpendicular to the direction of the crank, no matter where the crank arm is on the circle. So for example, if your crank is horizontal, or what I would call three o’clock on the drive side, though, I mean, you’re right crank is forward, right? I’ll use that clock analogy repeatedly just so we have the same, same language to speak from. So when your cranks at three o’clock, you’d be pushing straight down, that’d be tangential perpendicular at a right angle to the crank arm at six o’clock when the cranks at the bottom of the stroke, not bottom dead center, but the straight bottom, the geometric bottom, you’d be pulling straight back at nine o’clock, you’d be pulling straight up and at 12 o’clock, you’d be pushing straight forward. Okay, that’s really neat and tidy on paper. But how does that actually work? We’re going to take a human being and apply force to a pedal. Pop quiz, Chris, what are humans meant to do physically? What’s our primary task?


Chris Case  04:15

To survive?


Colby Pearce  04:16

And how, what’s one of the most core mechanisms to survival visibly in terms of movement or motion, like running? Yeah, running and walking. Right, exactly. We are bipedal, and we have a gait cycle. And why is that important for running for survival? Because you have to walk to water. You have to walk after roaming herds of Buffalo, then you have to run after them to hunt them. You have to walk up to that cute girl. survival. Yeah. And then when you screw up, you have to run from her. Right? So my old joke, almost all the people I’ve fit are laughing right now. Yeah, you told us one before so. So running and walking are primal and they’re so primal, in fact that they’re the gait cycle is actually rooted into all vertebrates. It’s really fascinating. You can find some really cool videos on YouTube that look at the gait cycle of decelerate cats. So this is a cat that’s alive, the body suspended in a harness, and the heads been severed from the body but the spinal cords been, then the spinal cord been cut, but everything’s alive. Right? How do they do this? I don’t really want to know it’s not cool. But they take the body and they lowered onto a treadmill. And guess what happens? You can still walk can still walk, why does the headless chicken run across the yard because it can still run. The gait cycle is hardwired into your spine as a vertebrate and most of us can remember learning how to ride a bike most of us can learn remember learning how to swim, but nobody remembers learning how to run or walk because as soon as you could, you did it was just a thing that you had an imprint on you it was in you. So what what are running and walking comprised of mostly generating downforce pushing down and this is not rocket science, we can look at how the body is without going down a different rabbit hole either evolved or was manufactured. To make downforce, we have all these muscles that are designed to open the hip and open the knee, right? We have very few or less musculature comparatively, that can close the knee and close the hip. Right, close the knee, we’ve got hamstrings pull up, yeah, pull up right. And to close the hip, we have iliacus. And so as so as it’s a very long muscle, and it’s very strong, it’s very thin. And it’s also the muscle that joins the the legs to the torso, and it is the most problematic muscle in the body, according to many people who study these things. So we don’t have a lot of ways to generate up force into pedal stroke, nine o’clock pulling up, we’ve got hamstring and then as we approach 10 1112, we have iliacus. And so as right now, what’s the problem there that there are a couple problems there. One is that people tend to forget when we look at force pedals, graphs of force, as it’s made in the pedal. Unless you’re an astronaut, or scuba diver, you tend to forget about this thing called gravity. And legs weigh a lot, right? Yeah, um, thank you gravity for not letting me be flung helplessly into space. I love you. So we legs way alive legs, my legs aren’t even that really muscular. They’re pretty curvy. And they weigh about 20 kilograms each. So there’s a lot of weight falling on the pedal even without generating force. So that means on the upstroke, you’ve got to lift that leg, usually with the downforce of the opposite leg. So this is why when you look at force graphs, even people really try to focus on pulling up and pulling over the top, they barely ever even break even on the amount of force because they have to pull up within a force to offset the weight of the falling leg and gravity and then the net is zero, or maybe even not


Trevor Connor  07:31

zero, you’re not putting power into the bike, when you’re trying to pull up on the pedal, the best you’re really looking at is not putting a weight on the pedal that your other foot has to fight against when it’s when on the downstroke.


Colby Pearce  07:47

But there are lots of problems with this, because going back to our gait cycle and how it’s hardwired into vertebrates, Cycling is a learned activity. And when you focus really hard on doing things like pulling back and up with hamstrings, and then activating iliacus or so as over the top to kick through a 1011 and 12 o’clock pedal stroke, you’re doing something with a really long, highly innervated muscle that was designed for posture and a bits and pieces of running and gait. You’re trying to do it with something repetitive, and very mechanical in a very mechanical sense. And usually what happens is hemispheric dominance comes into play and you do it really well on one side and horribly on the other. This is really common. So the more contrived, you make a pedal stroke, and the further from will say air quotes nature you get, the more likely it is you’re going to fall off the path and make something that’s contorted and weird, and awkward. Awkward. This is what I see this all the time. In my thing lives people come in and like I feel so twisted on the saddle. I don’t understand why my pelvis is rotated or why have pelvic fear. And I keep going to my therapist and going to my chiropractor and doing all in foam rolling and doing all these things, they still end up with the same pattern. It’s because they’re making force in the same way. And frequently. It’s because they’re punching really hard on one side within with the quads and glutes, and then on the other more often quads and glutes and the other side. They’re yanking hard with the hamstring. And then of course that rotates the pelvis and causes all sorts of problems and hovik obliquity. Yes, exactly. So really common in, in cycling universe. And what I love about it is that most people walk to the door and they think they’re a special case. And I let them tell their story. And then I say yes, yes, or deadline. Yep. So Cycling is a sport that makes you a horrible athlete, by the way, figured that out. It’s true. The more you ride your bike, and the less you do everything else the crappy You are a general athletics. This is


Chris Case  09:28

true. But this, this whole discussion makes me appreciate how cool bikes really are totally like the act of pedaling. But he just took minutes and minutes and minutes to explain all the stuff that’s going on. And the fact that we can use them for all the cool things that we get to do is awesome. Totally.


Colby Pearce  09:46

But let’s get back to the pedals. You’re talking to the biggest bike dog in the world. How can I claim that? Yep, I’m world champion. At one thing, it’s being a bike dork. Which is a lofty claim.


Chris Case  09:54



Colby Pearce  09:54

Where were we tangental for so now what whenever you put someone on a bike and you haven’t make tangible Forest and you just go pedal, especially a relatively novice level cyclist, you get this massive downstroke at three o’clock. Why? Because that’s what most closely resembles running or walking. It’s a giant smash at three and then more downforce at four followed by some downforce at five, and then even some downforce at six when they should theoretically be starting to pull back, and maybe even seven if they’re really sloppy. And you can see the cyclist from a mile away, because whenever someone pedals like that, their shoulders are rocking and their heads bobbing and their torsos rotating and twisting. So okay, let’s take what we’re good at. We’ve got all these muscles that are designed to make downforce we’ve got glutes biggest muscle in the body, we’ve got quads, hamstrings, even make downward force, we’ve got all the calves, the gassed rocks, etc, right soleus. So we’re pushing down on this pedal of this massive force, let’s refine it, instead of stopping down at three o’clock, start pushing down or really forward and down at 12. Use the entire downstroke. Now there’s some requirements in the world of fitting, and this will be an unpopular opinion. Hmm, we love those. We love those Why don’t love to have them because they’re unpopular, but I have the frequently and then they end up being unpopular. So anyway, just to clarify the order. But in order to start having, applying force to pedal at 12 o’clock, and a forward and down motion using cludes, quads, and glutes, the saddle has to be far enough back behind the bottom bracket. And so when you put a rider into a forward position, what you’re doing is extending the dead spot, the dead spot doesn’t change, because gravity doesn’t change, you still have a dead spot at 910 1112. But now, because the athlete cannot push forward and down at 12, because you slam their saddle forward, they can’t push forward and down until one or two. So you’ve made the dead spot longer in time. And you’ve also encouraged them to be quad dominant. And what do all at what is every person who walks through the front door of a PT clinic end up with a diagnosis of your posterior chain is not firing well enough because you sit too much. So the posterior chain is all those muscles on the backside of your body. The lumbar musculature, the upper back musculature, your neck, if you’ve got forward head posture, your your glutes and your hamstrings. We’re not using those as much as we air quotes should and I hate the word should but this one a few times I’ll use it, we’re pushing it 12 we’re pushing forward and down one o’clock, we’re pushing forward and down to clock we’re pushing down and forward three o’clock. This is like wind, Southwest, South, three o’clock, three down four, three down, let’s be realistic five, probably still straight down six o’clock, or between five and six is bottom dead center. That is the longest point. The point of maximum leg extension from the saddle, which is not at six o’clock, you we want you to start pulling back by driving the heel into the heel cup of the shoe for the record any shoe that is any good. What it actually does is stabilize your foot in the heel cup of the shoe not clamped down with a bunch of fancy boas, it drives this foot into the back of the heel cup and prevents it from moving forward, this is critical. And then and you’re driving that heel back into the heel cup of the shoe with a flat or nearly flat foot. If an athlete goes through three o’clock and their foot is level, which is very common, close to zero degrees, and at four o’clock, they’re still level at five o’clock, they’re still level and then they actually plantar flex or start to ride toe down at bottom dead center, then I know their saddle is too high on popular opinion number two. And you can see this when the hamstring lights up like a Christmas tree in the backside of the stroke because they can’t drive through and drive the foot into the back of the heel the heel cup. And this is a beautiful moment in the world of bike fitting because people who live in flat places ride like this all the time and have no freaking idea. No clue why? Because flat terrain camouflage is dead spots using inertia. Mm hmm. Right? Then they come to Colorado or they go to go to race the top of the hill and they hit a climb and they go, what happened to me I’m terrible. And they blame it on the altitude, which probably is also to blame. Right,


Chris Case  13:53

right. But


Colby Pearce  13:54

if your saddles Too high and too far forward, you will not be able to start applying force at 12 o’clock downforce nor will you be able to drive back at the bottom of the stroke at six o’clock with the heel and you’re left to a matching pedal stroke from about two to four. That’s all quad dominant on the front side. And then in the back side, you end up yanking up hard, which flicks your heel up by the way, which then sets you up in a poor position to apply force across the top of 12. Because if the toe is pointed, you can’t drive with a glute. Mm hmm. Right? How do you snap the bar up in a squat or a deadlift you drive the heels into the floor. The position of your foot influences recruitment team patterns up the chain. So when your toe down, you can’t activate glute. It’s impossible. It just doesn’t work. So there’s a rule and strength conditioning, which Jess has quoted Jess Elliot, one of your other podcast, podcast guests, and a brilliant strength and conditioning coach. She has said and I think she’s quoting Cal Dietz, who wrote a really cool strength of vision book I won’t waste time trying to remember right now, which is joint angles dictate muscle function.


Chris Case  14:58

She says something like that. Oh All the time. Yes,


Colby Pearce  15:00

I like to take what she quoted and modify slightly until it and change it to joint angles indicate muscle function because of course, the angle doesn’t dictate the muscle function. It tells us what muscles are firing and what aren’t. And this is a beautiful law, because I can look at a on at someone riding a bike and tell how they’re making power just based off the angles between their knee and their ankle and their hip, I can see it because there are certain rules, there are certain angles, that muscle cannot apply force to a joint with you Just once you understand how the muscle works, it’s pretty simple. Not to reduce the body to a system of pulleys and levers only there’s far more that goes into it than that. But on a very mechanical level, there’s some truth to that. So when an athlete’s toe down to the bottom stroke, I know they’re not driving through into the heel cup of the shoe with strong hamstrings. When you go to the gym and you do hamstring curls on the hamstring curl machine. You don’t do them with pointed toes. You do them with a dorsiflexed foot or a foot this closes Yeah, yeah, slightly. Right. So pretty basic. So that plays into it. So what I’m saying in the big picture is, in order to have proper pedaling technique, you have to have your bike set up correctly, you can have great technique, but



if your bikes a disaster, you’re only going to get so far and going in there. Then there are anatomical differences, like short femurs that might affect this or of course,


Colby Pearce  16:16

certain things like that. Yep. Right. But you can figure all that out in the fit lab pretty easily. It’s really not rocket science. And you don’t need a bunch of crazy gizmos, because we can look at joint angles, and you can just palpate you can just poke the rider in the glute with permission, or the quad



gets permission being key. Oh,


Colby Pearce  16:31

yeah. So you, you hold the brake and you put the pedal in a certain stroke, and then you have them push on the pedal. And then it’s really easy to figure out which muscles firing and which one isn’t which one is yellow, and which one is hard as a rock. Mm hmm. So then you know which muscles are firing a certain point. And that’s very illustrative to a rider because it can help them figure out like, Oh, yeah, I guess I am applying power in this in this moment. And then all you need is an iPad with the slow mo video, and you can watch how they pedal and how they make force discuss the joint angles. And this is maybe related, definitely, but slightly off topic. But this is why when I fit a rider, I never just make changes to their bike and shove them out the door. Because if someone’s been riding with a saddle at a certain height, and I lower it 28 millimeters and fling it back 21 millimeters, which is not uncommon, but I don’t instruct them on how to make force more why I want them to make force this way, they’re gonna get on the bike and be like, this feels terrible. And then they’re gonna make it four days before they wake up, break out an Allen wrench and undo everything I did. And then we’ve wasted a bunch of time and money. Now, that’s why the money back guarantee fits because I want the client to get something out of it. I don’t want them to run off and change everything back. That doesn’t solve any problems. Right, right. But it’s also why in bike fitting, I have to be instructive with my client and explain what the technique to peddling is. How do we maximize this techniques? By going to the extremes of cadence 10 minutes zone three tempos at 110 rpm. eight minute low cadence non maximal efforts at high force, 40 RPM 4050 RPM depends on the athlete and you have to cue them very carefully on what to look for. You have to make sure you they’re using the right technique. They’re breathing a little bit. They’re not letting the knees collapse in their heart towards the top tube if you send someone out the door who’s got really sloppy mechanics right and you give them that drill. They give themself tendinitis in one ride. Yeah,


Chris Case  18:13



Colby Pearce  18:14

right. So you these are really important. The high canes ones the beauty of those is other than keep your head still you don’t have to get in a lot of queues because in order for them to pill that fast under these typically prescribed and you know tempo power for me, there’s not a lot they can do wrong. All they can do is a flail around until it gets they learned to pedal more quickly and with a supple muscle. And that’s an art that I think is lost and in particular goes down the tubes when people spend all winter on swift doing races are not yet locked in and they just pick the gear that they want to use. And that ends up being 89 RPM a lot of the time. So we got to work some extremes of cadence on either end, so forth, and some speed because what is power made of? It’s how hard you push, which is force, which in a circle is called torque times your speed, which is how quickly you pedal which on a bike is called cadence. That’s what makes up our


Trevor Connor  19:03

trainers a great time to be playing with kids. Yes, it’s


Colby Pearce  19:06

hard to do outside or even better. They’re the things they’re called rollers.



Oh Hmm.


Colby Pearce  19:12

One of the best training tools ever made. super old school. I’ve taught many of my clients to learn how to ride rollers and they’ve gotten better in the peloton. Actually, we could have brought this up during our conversation about riders who have trouble writing in the group. If you’re you learn how to ride rollers you become more stable on the bike, your handling skills become more responsive you become more intuitive about how subtle changes right in your bar position or your weight distribution influence the handling of the bike so rollers can be a lot of tools to help riders sharpen their grip right skills when they don’t have access to a


Trevor Connor  19:39

group ride. We also caught up with Rainey, US National Road Race champion Ruth winder of trek segafredo. For more on how to train the pedal stroke on and off the bike.



I do a lot in the winter. I do a lot of low cadence intervals in the winter and I have to really be mindful of Where I’m putting the pressure and pulling up and everything like that, and especially my knees, my right knee especially likes to collapse in quite a lot. So then I try and be really mindful of keeping that straight.


Trevor Connor  20:10

So what are you focusing on during that pedal stroke,



I try and focus a lot on my on my recovery on my backstroke when I’m pulling up with my hamstring, because I tend to be a little lazy, they’re just much more quad dominant, which most of us are, I think, so being really mindful of pulling up with my hamstring and really locking in my core, and like making sure my core is strong. And I try and think like, while I’m doing these located intervals, like if someone came and tried to like push me off my bike that I wouldn’t be able to be pushed off because everything is so solid from my core down through my glutes and my hamstrings,


Chris Case  20:36

you do anything off the bike, to supplement



with my pedal strokes? Yes, exactly. I do single like squats to help with my knee tracking in that respect, like I try and help with that because I have a little bit of low back pain. And so I think that because of my right knee collapsing all the time, like it’s kind of pulling all the way up my my back. So I do single leg squat squat stuff with that.


Chris Case  21:03

That was another episode of Fast Talk. As always, we’d love your feedback. Email us at Fast Talk at Fast Talk Labs comm or call us at 719800 to one one to subscribe to Fast Talk. Wherever you prefer to listen to your favorite podcasts. Be sure to leave us a rating and a review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Our handle is at real Fast Talk Labs for Colby piers Ruth winder and Trevor Connor. I’m Chris case. Thanks for listening