How to Pedal a Bike: Part Two

Great episode to reflect on, particularly the elastic <-> rigid phenotypes/continuum.

The rider that I suspect is the most fluid on this spectrum is Mattieu van der Poel (VDP.) I wonder if he is going to prove to be a rider of a lifetime, like Merckx. Fortunately he has had a few human performances ie 2019 Worlds where he cracked in the finale. It wouldn’t be great for the sport if he turned all of cycling into what he has shown in cyclocross - winning what 22 races in a row at one point??

I’m a core strength/rigid rider and had always perceived riders with upper body/arm movement pedaling as leaking energy. Thank you for making me understand the benefits and circumstances where this style is more helpful. I’m going to try to think of my elasticity in those situations in the future.

I had always wondered if VDP was too elastic ini certain circumstances. Now I understand that he might optimally balance rigidity and elasticity when situationally indicated.

This is probably a Colby question, but here goes:

After listening to part two of “how to pedal a bike” I resurrected my old SMP Drakon saddle, which I retired several years ago after it suddenly and inexplicably went from amazing to intolerable. It’s affixed to my indoor trainer setup now and I want to re-evaluate it for bringing it back. This morning I did my first workout on the SMP and it really felt nice. Very smooth bottom dead center and almost no hip rocking. Progress!

Now the question. My primary racing discipline is CX. One of the demands of the event is getting on and off the bike. Another is the ability to smoothly transfer weight from the front tire to the rear tire while cornering to optimize traction. I am concerned that the SMP does not optimize either of those demands.

I imagine that re-mounting is just a matter of getting used to the sensation of landing on a concave surface. However, I feel as though the optimal positioning of the SMP naturally introduces a forward weight bias because of the tilt of the surface supporting the ischial tuberosities. I feel that a neutral weight bias and significant flexibility with respect to altering that bias is key, so I need to get some weight off my hands. Removing weight from the hands means tilting the saddle nose-up, but this interferes with power production and potentially creates opportunities for numbness. Incidentally, this Drakon saddle used to be on a hardtail MTB, and I ended up compensating for the above effect by drastically pushing the saddle backward behind the bottom bracket. In hindsight this seriously compromised my ability to weight the front end but I made great power.

So that’s the predicament. I know from experience that tweaking SMPs is a labor of love. I wonder if there is an SMP model that you find is a bit more appropriate to more dynamic driving scenarios.

Steve, that’s a great question for Colby, and I’ll pass this along to him. I’m afraid I don’t have much to add with regard to the SMP saddle as I’ve never ridden one before. I’ve always been into a relatively flat perch to sit upon. Out of curiosity, what was the intolerable feeling you experienced that caused you to retire it several years ago?
Coach Ryan

Another question most likely for Colby…

I have a SMP Dynamic on my main bike that is now on the trainer. Saddle is 3 degrees +/- 0.2 or so (multiple readings from the angle app on my phone) and setback is whatever.

Today as I was finishing up my trainer workout, I decided to perform a Steve Hogg balance test for a quick and dirty assessment. I was able to swing the arms back in a ski jumper pose while continuing to pedal comfortably for several seconds, I could have pedaled in this fashion indefinitely or until my core gave out. Not surprisingly to me, I did notice having to activate more of my core to do this.

What I did notice was increased pressure where the front half of the undercarrage was resting on the upturn of the saddle before the saddle nose turn down to the eagle beak. Is this an indication that more saddle angle might be warranted, reduction/increase in saddle setback, mayeb some combination of both?

This might be unrelated; but, the information might help. A couple of sport lifetimes ago, i.e. more than a couple of decades; I was a college football player. A bench riding tight end to be specific. My legs looked like a track sprinters, actually my upper body probably did too. My girlfriend (now wife) used to joke and say I didn’t walk but waddled like a duck. I would say that my posterior chain and quads still have more mass (maybe not so much strength anymore) than an average cyclist, at least those I see out of the road. Because of that, I feel like a good ride is one where both sides of the legs feel equally smoked at the end. If just my quads hurt going up the stairs after a ride, I feel like I spent too much time on the rivet.

Hi @Schils, just chiming in to tag @colbypearce on this one. Great question for him!
Coach Ryan

Happy New Year @schills, and thanks for your Q.

If your dynamic saddle is 3 degrees nose UP, I would be quite surprised if this was the final solution that is optimal. When the saddle is this far nose up, you will probably be able to pass any balance test, at the peril of your jewels and/or with extreme pressure in the front of your crotch. A normal angle for a SMP is 2-5 degrees nose DOWN. This is measured across the highest points of the saddle. I have some photos on my website if you need further clarification.

As you are experiencing pressure in the front when performing the balance test, if you raise the nose angle to be more nose up, we would anticipate an increase in nose angle pressure. Not a decrease.

Also, the report that you could have ridden that way “indefinitely until your core gave out” tells me you probably need more saddle setback. You should feel the core be active during this test when the saddle is in the right position, but the rate limiting factor to riding in that position [in a hypothetical thought experiment] would not be core strength. It would probably still be crotch pressure, but only after several minutes [not an immediately noticeable sensation].

I hope that helps.


It felt almost like a bruise on the isopubic ramus. My theory at the time was that some blood vessels shifted position as an adaptation to the saddle and changed the optimal interface between the saddle and the soft tissue. Either way, I woke up one day and could not sit on the saddle. Weird!

Since my post I have continued with the SMP on my trainer. It’s going well but I haven’t put in 3+ hour rides either.

Sorry, saddle is nose down, it was obvious in my mind. Not so much with the written word only. I couldn’t imagine riding with a SMP nose up, maybe if I was riding a unicycle. :wink:

Today, I dropped the seat angle to -4 degrees (approximately). No surprise, there was even less front pressure. The balance test felt pretty close to what Colby described. I might try 5 degrees down bubble just for giggles. One other thing I noticed was I could feel the back rise of the saddle keeping my posterior in place. Seems like forward progress.

You’d be surprised…I have seen it all. Sounds like you are on the right track. More nose down is generally better IME, but obviously not to the point where you are sliding forward or “type-writering” to the nose and back.

Hi Colby @colbypearce

I listened to your How to Pedal a Bike podcasts with great interest and have made some changes to my fit based on them including moving my saddle further back and lowering it. Two questions if you don’t mind!

  1. I’ve moved my Shimano cleats on my Bont shoes as far back as they go (~2cm behind ball of foot). I find that the position feels more stable and I have less ankling going on. I also feel like I am able to better recruit my glutes and hamstrings. For a rider focused predominantly on sustained efforts/climbs, some road racing, are there any downsides to this approach?

  2. I don’t sit square in the saddle - my right hip has an anterior tilt while my left hip has a posterior tilt, partly due to an old left hip injury that persists despite regular off the bike exercises. I also sit on the saddle with a pretty aggressive anterior tilt, now moreso after moving my cleats as above. I listened to your how to find a saddle podcast and you mentioned some saddles may not work for people with a “twisted” pelvis. Any recommendations on something I can try? I’ve used the Fizik arione for years but it places undo pressure on my perineum particularly on longer rides.

Thank you.

Hi, thanks for listening and for your comments. It is great that you are feeling increased glute and hamstring recruitment, most riders are better off from a change like this. In myhbn90p[q4h p89a experience, most riders are heavily reliant on quads and this has lots of problems over time. However, just like anything, you can go too far and end up too far behind the BB, or with your cleats too far back. The trade off is a balanced recruitment of muscles [anterior and posterior] and if the cleats are too far back, pedaling can lack a moment of leverage at 3 o’clock, as well as lack fluidity. I recommend you search Steve Hogg’s site for cleat position guidelines, this is the method I use. He explains it clearly there.

Regarding your comment on sitting crooked in the saddle, welcome to being a human being :wink: Everyone sits crooked in the saddle and twists to one side or another. The question is; does this cause pathology, and how do you manage it? Simple methods include: twisting the opposite way [this is harder than you think it might be], having adequate core strength for the demands of your sport, myofascial release, proper hydration, stretching, deep massage, and in some cases wedging and/or shimming can help. I will be brutally honest here and say it straight up: the Arione is the worst saddle design on the market, bar none, in my opinion. I feel entitled to say that because I rode it for 8 years, including at the Olympic games, and I would never ride one again. That saddle needs to be assassinated. The design philosophy is completely wrong. I am heavily partial to SMP saddles because of my own experiences with them, and more importantly because I have overwhelmingly positive results with my male clients, and very very good results with my female clients. SMP is not a solution for 100% of all riders, but for men, it’s probably over 90% best solution. I have a test program on my website which was born out of demand for people to find test saddles. There are other good saddles on the market but this is my starting point for most riders.

Hope this all helps.