4 reasons to ride flat pedals on your trainer

If you’re not injured, and it isn’t snowing in your neighborhood, I hope you’re out ripping (go NorCal!). But if you, like me, are tied to the trainer, this is a great time to experiment.

1. Really learn how to pedal. To spin high rpms smoothly and powerfully, you must learn to engage the entire pedal stroke. You won’t actually be pulling your pedals up the upstroke, but you do want your muscles to actively follow the circle.

It’s a funny feeling to explain, but when you’re truly engaged, your feet will stay in perfect contact with the pedals, and your entire engine — lower torso, hips and legs — will feel evenly and fully engaged. Braaap!

2. Watch where your feet end up. After a few thousand revolutions, your feet will settle wherever they want to on the pedals. None of our bodies are perfectly symmetrical, so most of our feet will end up uneven. My right foot ends up farther forward and pointed slightly outward. See where you feet want to be, and try setting your cleats to achieve the same position.

3. Build the rpms. Counting for a minute here and there helps pass the time. My cruising rpm is 80-100 rpm. I can maintain 120 rpm for a while, and my top speed is currently about 150.

150 rpm is decent, but, as Olympic medal-winning BMX coach Greg Romero says, “until you reach 180 rpm, you should still be accelerating.” Pro BMXer Jason Richardson has been clocked at 225 rpm — we all have work to do.

4. Torture yourself a bit less. If you ride the trainer long enough, you’ll end up feeling like a rat in a cage (despite all your rage). Flats feel more free than clips, and regular shoes make it easier to sneak into the kitchen to re-energize. Don’t even wonder how long it takes to burn a pint of Ben & Jerry’s …

Wherever you are and whatever your condition, go get some!

20 replies
  1. Eric says:

    What about avoiding repetitive stress type injuries? It seems like you’d be especially prone to joint problems and the like while riding clipped in and cranking away for hours on a trainer.

    Also, 225rpm is inhuman. And my downstairs neighbors would kill me. I’ll strive for 150.

  2. leelikesbikes says:

    Yes. Great point.

    Since you’re not locked in, you’ll never be forced to repeat a bad movement — which is the source of injury.

    225 … sheesh!

    Even with a powerband from 50 to 150 rpm, you can triple your speed without shifting. BrraaaAAAAPPP!!!

  3. Michael says:

    I always hear you guys talk about spinning high rpm’s on the trainer – what about the opposite? Cranking the thing down and simulating a tough climb? To prepare for, say, Mr. Toads in Tahoe would it not be a good way to train?

  4. leelikesbikes says:

    Excellent observation, Grasshopper.

    My bike is under-geared for the trainer. Yeah, that’s it!

    Your trainer sessions should focus on whatever you need in real life. Most of us should mix it up: fast spinning; slow grinding; hard intervals; easy recovery; the whole bit.

    If you’ll be dragging a single-ring bike up Mr. Toads (the magazines always leave out that climb!), I suggest some intervals in a hard gear and low rpms.

    Toads, circa 2002:


  5. Scott Barnard says:


    What are your thoughts on using the trainer with a fixed gear bike? Improve the pedal kung fu or train the legs in a way that will never be used on dirt?

    Thanks & heal up!

  6. leelikesbikes says:

    1. Any riding is better than none.

    2. Spin cycles (the ones at the gym) are fixies, and they are a proven way to improve fitness.

    3. Fixed-gear bikes are a proven way to smoothen your spin. Do you know why? Because riders who fail to get smooth don’t survive the learning process. Fixies are dangerous in the wrong hands.

    4. I used to commute on a fixed-gear bike, and while I survived the learning curve (barely) I got in the habit of pedaling EVERYWHERE. That can be good — and bad!

    5. Refer to #1.


  7. Chris says:

    The fastest way to hurt my injured knee is to ride in clips. What you say about natural foot position is valid for me.

    I’m guessing only those fast-twitch types will ever see 200+. This slow-twitcher won’t do it.

    Cherub Rock!

  8. leelikesbikes says:

    JRich squats over 500 pounds. I think that might be related, somehow, to his crazy speed.

    Funny: He hates lifting, and he’ll quit when he’s done with BMX. “I can’t wait to just ride my road bike and do some yoga.”

  9. Chris says:

    The electro-bikes at the gym have cadence so I did the experiments. I can sit and spin smoothly, no hands, at about 150. Fine. I wind it up standing and get to 180 with a bit of effort. Style is terrible. On my next go I get into the 190s. Now I can’t quit ’til I crack 200. It took another three or four goes to get the display to flash 201 (seated, I could only get to high 190s standing) for a moment but my stroke was erratic and I was genuinely scared of slipping off the pedals. The difference in mental effort between 190 and 200 was enormous.

    225? Impossible for me.

  10. Chris says:

    Though I must add that out on the trail my usable cadence would far narrower than what I can do on a plastic stationary bike in the gym.

  11. leelikesbikes says:

    That is still super impressive! If you dedicate some attention to this matter, I’m sure you’ll hit 225.

    Also: The cranks on those gym bikes are super short. That helps you spin faster.

  12. Greg says:

    Hi Lee;

    Things must be on the mend! That is great.

    A while back I asked a question about interval training on a stationary bike. You responded and I believe you were going to offer up some workouts at a later time. Did I miss them?
    Could you point me in their direction if I did? I’m 50 and ride trails with a friend on a GF HiFi Pro. I was thinking that the ability to do, a 5 minute interval, to mimic a hill climb, would be a good starting point to aim for. Comments, Feedback, Make sense? Best way to get there?

    Cheers Greg

  13. leelikesbikes says:

    Hey Greg, you haven’t missed anything. I’ve been off the back.

    You’re on the right track. If you want to be able to climb a 5-minute hill at a certain pace, start with short intervals at that pace, and gradually work up to longer ones. Maybe this week you can hold that pace for one minute. Two minutes next week, and so on. When you reach five minutes, you can keep extending the duration, or you can start pedaling harder.

    Between each interval, rest long enough so you can hammer the next one at your desired pace. Get some rest and try again in a few days.

    Stay tuned — I will get that article written …

  14. Greg says:

    No worries Lee, I know you have a lot on your plate. Just wanted to check that I hadn’t been asleep at the wheel.

    Thanks for your pointers. I have yet to purchase a trainer so I’ve been doing intervals on the treadmill at least 3 times per week. I can run 1 min. intervals with no incline till the cows come home it seems.

    Additionally, I’m up to at least one 4 min 30 sec long interval on the flat in a session which is putting me on a pace for a 5 min 20 sec mile. Which I’m pleased with, given my age.

    So I figure I’ve got the endurance to do a 5 min interval and as you pointed out I can either extend the duration or up the intensity. ( in this case add incline ) I’ve been playing around with that too and have started back at 30 sec. intervals at maximum treadmill speed and maximum incline.

    This is tough to do more than 3 times per session at the moment so I figure I’m heading in the right direction.

    I’ll keep on plugging away and watch for the article.

    Cheers Greg

  15. Jim says:

    What a great idea. I’ve got many thousands of miles (over 1800 last year) on the trainer over many, many years. I put the flats on this afternoon and I’ll never risk my life trying to walk up the wooden stairs in Look cleats again. -Jim

  16. Trevor says:

    i train in clips, i ride in clips!

    what trainers do people use, i just got a kenitic road master and its the best i have ever used! i love it, and it bright green which is a fast colour!

    and as for look cleats i never figured out why the had a slippy lino floor at the newport velodrome cause at 2 people would bin it getting off 30 minuets of 1 lap sprints, thats torture

  17. leelikesbikes says:

    You’re right: The best way to train for riding in clips is … riding in clips.

    I just did 1:15 on a CycleOps Fluid (an older one). It’s OK, but it tops out at 600 watts — not enough for sprint training, but just fine for spinning and intervals.

    The new PowerBeam Pro would be rad — it contains a power meter — but it’s $1200!!!!!

  18. Buck says:

    Had to throw my 2 cents in.

    Kreitler rollers for me. Smooth spin mandatory. No computer gadgets, just a clock and a mirror (cuz I love ME, ha ha).

    Warm up with a spin in easy gears. Every 10 min stand for a 100 strokes in the highest gear at whatever cadence works for you (no crashing please). Then sit and work a high gear until you really feel it. Easy spin & repeat. Standing builds balance and form while allowing your blood to flow to your junk. Recently I have been doing one leg drills to build strength in my right leg since I had my ACl fixed in late Oct. I’ll use a Bob trailer skewer in place of my regular skewer to prop my toe on while the other leg goes round and round. I feel I’ll still need to do some lifting with my bum leg to get it bak at 100%.

    I can’t stand the dead feel of a bike in a fixed position, I feel it makes me slumpy. The rollers keep me light and “on top” of the bike.

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