Falling Into Bad Habits

A couple of weeks ago, I was on a ride in the country on my own. I wasn’t worried about speed, although I maintained a nice average pace. I was just out to enjoy the ride before the day became oppressively hot.

As I rode, I started noticing something about the way I was piloting the bike. I felt like I was mashing the pedals going up hills. Every so often, the gears would crunch when I shifted — and it didn’t matter if I was shifting up or down. Hm, I thought — that’s odd. I haven’t been getting that on the bike lately.

And then it occurred to me: Sure I have. It seems like every ride I’ve done lately has had its share of crunching gears and mashed pedals. I know better. But I’ve let myself lapse into bad habits.

It didn’t used to be this way. I used to regularly do a ride where all I concentrated on was my cycling technique. But I haven’t done that for a while now, and I can tell.

So, what should I be doing?

Well, on the hills,I like to keep up my forward momentum by “pedaling in a circle.” That means applying even pressure to the pedal throughout the stroke. It’s a more efficient, and more powerful, way to ride. I know I’m doing it right when I feel a burn in both my calves and my quadriceps. Maybe that’s why I don’t concentrate on doing it as often as I should. I am pain averse.

But because pedaling in a circle stresses the big leg muscles, it makes you a better rider. You get up the hills a tad quicker, and you have the strength to power through tough spots on rides — even if they’re on the flats.

It’s something I have to remind myself about. I resolved (once again) to pay attention to my pedaling technique and make sure I pedaled in a circle more often.

The shifting thing is an easy fix, too. I knew the problem didn’t lie with my chain. I replaced the chain not too long ago. No, this had to do with something I learned way back when I was young.

Ease up on the pedals when you shift.

It’s tough when you shift while you’re stomping on the pedals. The chain makes a nasty noise as it scrapes across the cogs. When I was a kid and got my first English three-speed “racer” bike, I was told to pedal backwards while shifting gears. I think that was my father’s way of telling me to let up on pedal pressure.

From that point on, I concentrated on each shift. I kicked myself (figuratively) when I forgot to ease up on shifts, and congratulated myself (literally) when I shifted smoothly and noiselessly.

That was two weekends ago.

On today’s ride, there was the “crunch” again. And I caught myself mashing up a short, sharp hill again.

What’s the rule? You have to perform a new action for 21 days straight to break a bad habit?

I think I have several weeks of habit-breaking ahead of me.


  1. says

    I’m with you on this one. I’ve gotta keep practicing technique all the time. For me, commuting is what seems to take the toll, because riding through town is not the time to be focusing on riding form. I get out of the habit, then the next time I find myself out on the road I have to re-teach myself how to do it correctly!

  2. David says

    I always try to predict the gears I need when going uphill. When I feel that I’m about to slow down or lose the power to push a certain gear, I quickly switch gears before I lose the forward momentum. This allows me to still move forward fast enough, and ease up on the pedal for a stroke or two.

    I realized that this works well for me, because gear mashing always happens when I’m going way too slow, and in order to move forward, I have to push hard. Needless to say, my gears take a beating if I change then!

  3. Tim says

    This is weird. I was thinking about doing a similar post. You beat me to it again (screams in his best James Kirk voice: “NOOB!”)

    On yesterday’s ride I starting getting hot spots again. It was toward the end of the ride after fighting 20+ mph winds for nearly 30 miles. I noticed that I was relying on downward force on the pedal, especially with one leg. When I concentrated on pedaling circles, the hot spot stopped complaining.

    Looks like I need to join you in a habit-elimination effort.

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