Cycling out of the Saddle: Why & How To Pedal Standing Up

October 20, 2021 0 Comments

Front view of three men cycling uphill and standing on their bikes as they pedal

Cycling out of the saddle is one of the best ways to boost your power on the bike. Sometimes you just need another gear, and the only way to get it is to pedal standing up.

But if you’ve done it incorrectly before, you might have just found it awkward — even unsafe. It’s true: out of saddle cycling without the proper technique will rob you of the benefits.

Not only that, but we’re big saddle advocates here at Selle Anatomica, and we won’t argue that you should stand more often than you sit on the bike! Still, there is a time to sit and a time to pedal standing up. Longtime cycling Coach Darryl MacKenzie will take us through the benefits of standing on the bike and how to do it well.

Pros and Cons of Sitting in the Saddle

Before we get to out-of-saddle cycling, though, let’s talk about sitting. This is how you’ll spend the majority of your time cycling, and for good reason. Sitting allows for smooth pedal strokes and uses far less energy than standing. You probably even got a bike fit and dialed in your saddle height for optimal performance. Plus, it’s just comfortable, especially if you have a well-made, tensioned leather saddle that moves with your pedal strokes. 

Still, as Coach Darryl explains, “it’s good to get your butt off the saddle occasionally in order to rest the legs and apply higher pressure.”

When it comes to sprinting and intense climbing, sitting just falls short. It’s hard to get the power you need in these situations, and you’ll end up with tired, sore legs if you try to slog it out while staying in the saddle.

Pros and Cons of Cycling out of the Saddle

When you stand on the pedals, you have the full weight of your body behind every stoke. This makes it an especially potent technique for sprinting and climbing hills. When you need the extra boost, a brief stand can give it fast.

It’s also a good way to change things up and give some parts of your body a rest, especially on long rides. The longer he’s on the bike, the more often Darryl takes time to stand and pedal out of the saddle, even on the flats.

Standing has its downsides, though. First off, it requires far more energy. Darryl notes that most cyclists will see their heart rate increase by 6–10 bpm when they stand. That’s because you’re using energy to pedal and hold up your body weight instead of resting it on the saddle. Even worse, though, standing incorrectly is downright dangerous.

“It’s not at all uncommon for the front person standing to take down the rider behind,” says Darryl. To understand why, let’s look at how to do it right.

How To Stand and Pedal Safely and Effectively

To get the most out of standing — and keep others safe — there are a few steps to take. Darryl advises that you practice this on your own before you’re doing it around other riders.

  • Check your equipment. This is something you should do now and then before a ride. The added stress from standing can break a plastic cleat that’s already been compromised (it’s happened to Darryl). Look for signs of wear or stress at least a few times a month to make sure nothing needs to be replaced.
  • Warn other riders. Before you stand, yell “Standing!” as a warning. Your pedaling cadence changes when you transition from sitting to standing, and other riders need a heads-up. You’re liable to slow down quickly while you’re going uphill, and that’s why the unsuspecting rider behind you might run into you.
  • Reverse shift two or three gears. Because you are suddenly putting so much more power into your pedal strokes, you’ll find yourself awkwardly (and choppily) spinning your legs if you down downshift. Take your rear chain a few gears harder to provide more resistance so you can put your newfound strength to good use.
  • Pedal harder at first. Once you’re in a harder gear, really put power into those first few strokes until you have a good rhythm going. That will minimize any slowdown or choppiness in your pace. As Darryl explains, you should be pedaling hard enough that your head is bobbing up and down.

When you transition from standing to sitting, you’ll follow a similar pattern, warning other riders, then shifting two or three gears easier and continuing to pedal as you sit to smooth out your transition.

The benefits of standing on your bike are too good to ignore, and any cyclist should know how to do it properly. If you’ve never had success with it, try out these steps before your next group ride. When you get to that next hill, you’ll be glad you did.

Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.

Photo by Munbaik Cycling Clothing from Pexels