Moab Happenings Archive
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Mountain Bike HAPPENINGS - June 2023
Pedal in Circles
by Chile Pepper Bike Shop

This phrase has different meanings for different people. Jill Kintner, Norco and Redbull athlete and multi-time world champion mountain biker, once told my mother that the best thing she could do to increase her skill and confidence on a bike is to go pedal in circles. Later that day I came across my mom turning her bike in a literal circle in the race venue parking lot. I asked her what the heck she was doing, and she told me that Jill told her to pedal in circles. I began dying laughing and told her that Jill was talking about the actual pedal stroke, and pedaling the cranks in circles with your legs. A light bulb went off in my mom’s head. When she told Jill about it later, they both had a good laugh.

Pedaling your feet in an actual circle is very difficult to do. If you can hone this skill, it will make your power output, balance, and endurance much better. This is especially true on Moab terrain. We are lucky to ride some of the steepest surfaces bikes will ever encounter, due to the sticky rock. However, technique is still key to unlocking Moab trails.

The weak point in a pedal stroke is when your feet are at the top and bottom of the circle. To create a power circle with your feet, start with locking your core- everything comes from your core. Concentrate on pulling your lower foot backwards, hard, while at the same time pushing your top foot forward when you are in this position of a pedal stroke. It will be sloppy and nearly impossible to do without being centered from your core.

While seated, the circle is a little easier to make happen. Standing and climbing steep techy sections is where this gets hard, but when done right, it’s unreal what you can power up. On super steep climbs, I’ve found it helpful to put the tip of the saddle at the tailbone and pull back on the bars, not to do a wheelie, but to lock in my position. Then crank in circles, while looking ahead and being deliberate with line choice. From this power position you can lift the front or back wheel, or bunny hop the whole bike up obstacles. Timing of shifting is key too, to create momentum and have pedal strokes timed correctly to avoid pedal strikes on obstacles.

Don’t forget to engage your calf. Your ankles flex - let them. There is a ton of control and power to be found if you are flexing your ankle one way or the other throughout your pedal circle. If you find yourself locking out your ankle and doing everything with quads and glutes, relax, flex the ankle, fire the calf, and be fluid.

Dropping your heel drastically helps under braking. You should not find yourself flat footed or on tippie toes on descents. Drop those heels, and use your feet to control your traction and weight distribution under hard braking.

Lastly for this article, always always always, elbows up. This may be the single most important thing to creating a strong power position on the bike. If you catch your elbows drooping toward your sides, lift ‘em up! Create a strong box between the handlebars, your arms, and your shoulders.
Now go ride your bike!

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