cycling · Fit Feminists Answer

You ask, Fit Feminists Answer: Soft pedaling, why do cyclists do that?

We have a thing here that we do from time to time, and that’s “you ask, fit feminists answer.” It goes like this — you ask, we answer (as best we can).

This question came from a new cyclist friend, what is soft pedaling and why do cyclists tell you to do it?

First, what is it? Soft pedaling is the act of turning over the pedals without applying any power.

Like my friend, I first encountered it when riding closely with others in a group ride. Sometimes I would coast and was told instead to soft pedal. Just shift to an easier gear and keep pedaling even though it has zero effect on your speed.

Okay but why?

Reason 1: “When riding in a group you often find that small changes of speed can mean that you do not need to pedal when the group slows down and have small bursts of power when the group speeds up. By soft pedaling when the group slows down your legs will already be spinning when its speeds up again. All you need to do to speed up is shift.” (from what’s the purpose of soft pedaling? )

Reason 2: Coasting is bad form in a group ride because it signals to the people behind you to slow down. If you can keep soft pedaling everyone will keep moving and you don’t get those big differences in speed between the front and the back

Reason 3: You avoid coasting which is also bad for your legs on a long ride. Your legs will be much happier if you keep spinning even with no resistance. You can read the posts of the late Sheldon “Coasting Is Bad For You” Brown and he’ll try to talk you into riding a fixed gear bike. With a fixed gear bike you can’t coast and it certainly breaks the habit. But you could just try coasting less without going that route.

Soft petals from Unsplash

One thought on “You ask, Fit Feminists Answer: Soft pedaling, why do cyclists do that?

  1. Another important soft-pedal use: waiting for group members who have fallen off the back (at stop signs, at hills, or because of a mechanical issue) to grab back on. If you are riding anywhere near speed and expect your friends to jump back on and stay on you’re wrong: they will be drained from sprinting to catch the pack, and will need a minute or to to recover. If you soft pedal you help them jump back on more easily and grab speed with the group without raising their heart rates unsustainably. Really important for getting back up to speed after a slow-down effectively!

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