Modulating the power of your pedal stroke for better standing pedaling traction.

One of the most common complaints I hear when I suggest that riders should stand up more to pedal is how hard is it to keep traction, especially on climbs. While I’ve posted a video showing how shifting your hips back can help with this, another thing that can really help is being able to modulate the power of your pedal stroke.

This skill is best demonstrated by swinging a kettlebell of different weights and seeing how the speed and form look the same no matter what weight is used. If you used the same power you put into a 70 pound kettlebell with a 35 pound kettlebell you’d toss it over your head but you can’t slow down or else you’ll end up using your arms too much.

So you learn to keep the speed but modulate the power.

Same things with your pedal stroke. You have to learn how to feel the traction and know how to apply more or less power based on it instead of just powering your foot down. Sure, it takes more core strength and finesse than just winding up, pedaling like mad and hoping for the best but it also puts you in more control and allows you to sense and make up for mistakes.

In this video I show you how to this concept looks in action with the swing as well as explain a bit more about how it all applies to the bike.

This is admittedly an ongoing thought project and it may not make total sense yet. But mountain biking is an art that takes patience, thought and practice and hopefully this post has you thinking about how this concept can apply to the trail.

If you have any thoughts on this or questions about it please post a comment below, I’d love to hear them. And if you liked this post please click your preferred social media button below to help spread the word.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

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  1. Chris Cullen says:

    James, I ride both a mountain bike and road bike and i had a question for you. When discussing flats i haven’t seen cadence addressed (you may have and i missed it), so what is an acceptable cadence when riding with flats?

    Reply • February 7 at 6:03 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      You’ll naturally want to use a slower cadence and have more tension at the pedals. That will help with keeping your feet grounded and that type of pedaling works better for the trail anyways. Check out this article on why you need torque more than power on the trail.

      Reply • February 7 at 12:22 pm
  2. Wacek says:

    I think I have something great for you James in the standing pedalling topic. You might have covered it somewhere and I might have missed it but here it comes: riding at a harder gear minimizes the risk of loosing traction. I boticed that after I switched to 36 chain ring from 32t. I was affraid that I will spin out on wet roots or steep gravel roads but surprisingly it wasn’t an issue. I haven’t noticed it at firstbut then I was riding a snowy uphill on the way home and I realized that harder the gear the less I slip. Then I remembered that I always start a car in winter on second gear as it spins out on 1. Off course that requires more torque and therefore more strength, but hell that’s what it is all about aye? As a side effect of running harder gears we are more keen to keep the momentum and we become faster. Standing pedalling FTW, seating just for regeneration.


    Reply • February 7 at 8:40 am
  3. Mike says:

    Thanks for posting this. It affirms something I have been discovering on the trail. I ride a hardtail with an eccentric bottom bracket, which allows me the option of converting it to a singlespeed ~ which I did again last weekend. I’ve been out on three rides since then, and I feel like I’m climbing better than I do with gears. Perhaps it’s because I’m an older rider with limited power, but I have been instinctively modulating my power during my standing pedaling efforts ~ relying more on torque than on brute strength. I also repeat Lee McCormack’s advice to myself like a mantra, “Heavy feet, light hands, attack position.” I find that when I can execute those things, traction hasn’t been a problem. Am I on the right track?

    Reply • February 7 at 8:34 pm
  4. Patricia says:

    Hello James!
    Then a good way to train the neuromuscular system for being able to better modulate the drive in one’s legs, when climbing, would be to alternate light and heavy weights in the same exercise, be it KB Swings or another, wouldn’t it?
    Thanks for sharing your outlook/thoughts on the subject!!

    Reply • February 8 at 12:03 am
  5. Thomas Cheatham says:

    I almost never pedal standing. It just seems so inefficient. It does give a small boost in power, but it seems to use way more energy proportionally, so it introduces a much longer rest period.

    Plus now my knees are getting worse and even one standing pedal stroke is quite uncomfortable.

    Reply • February 6 at 7:12 am
    • admin says:

      I certainly understand that everybody’s physical situation is unique. Thanks.

      Reply • February 8 at 6:23 am

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