When cyclists ride off the saddle, their center of mass (CoM) appears to go through a rhythmic vertical oscillation during each crank cycle. Just like in walking and running, the pattern of CoM movement may have a significant effect on the mechanical power that needs to be generated and dissipated by muscle.
To date, neither the CoM movement strategies during nonseated cycling nor the limb mechanics that allow this phenomenon to occur have been quantified.
Here we estimate how much power can be contributed by a rider’s CoM at each instant during the crank cycle by combining a kinematic and kinetic approach to measure CoM movement and joint powers of 15 participants riding in a nonseated posture at three individualized power outputs (10%, 30%, and 50% of peak maximal power) and two different cadences (70 and 120 rpm).
The peak-to-peak amplitude of vertical CoM displacement increased significantly with power output and with decreasing cadence. Accordingly, the greatest peak-to-peak amplitude of CoM displacement (0.06 ± 0.01 m) and change in total mechanical energy (0.54 ± 0.12 J·kg−1) occurred under the combination of high-power output and low cadence. At the same combination of high-power output and low cadence, we found that the peak rate of CoM energy loss (3.87 ± 0.93 W·kg−1) was equal to 18% of the peak crank power.
Consequently, it appears that for a given power output, changes in CoM energy contribute to peak instantaneous power output at the crank, thus reducing the required muscular contribution. These findings suggest that the rise and fall of a rider’s CoM acts as a mechanical amplifier during nonseated cycling, which has important implications for both rider and bicycle performance.