Mountain bike your best

How Foot Placement Affects Mountain Bike Handling and Cornering. (part 3)

In the last 25 years one topic that has come up multiple times is how foot placement affects mountain bike handling and cornering, especially going into a corner or switchback. I have heard always have the outside foot forward so you can start to pedal earlier on the exit of a corner and I have experimented with that and the opposite, having the outside foot trailing as you go into a corner. This was actually my first foot placement article that I was working on before a student asked a question that sparked part 1 and 2:  http://wp.me/p49ApH-15o    http://wp.me/p49ApH-15P

Turns out, having your outside foot back while cornering is faster, but not for you! Or me, or three-time World Cup Champion and three-time World Champion Greg Minnaar). Confused? Well, in a second I will explain why having your outside foot back in a corner can help you a little bit but first I have to explain what will help you a lot! The number one thing that determines cornering exit speed (your goal) is vision. As you enter a corner you should be looking at least five feet past the exit of the corner and up to 30 feet past if possible (I know, in dense woods you often can’t even see the exit from the beginning of a corner, in these cases you have to look as far as you can, then as you enter the corner look further). Next you must finish all of your braking in a straight line before the corner and be in proper body position (that is a blog article in itself). Doing those things consistently is tough and why Greg Minnaar, Aaron Gwin, Cody Kelly and Mitch Ropelato are so consistently on the podium, they do this 100% of the time!

foot placement

Greg Minnaar nailing the big picture elements of cornering.

Can you consistently corner as well as those four racers? Even though I have coached three of them I can’t consistently corner that well and neither can most other pro downhill racers, very few if any pro cross-country racers and very few riders of all levels/experience. I have video of hundreds of pro racers (including me) and thousands of amateurs racers looking at the apex or closer as they enter a corner. The same videos show most racers, pros and amateurs alike braking in the corner and often out of position. These racers/riders are missing 98% of what creates exit speed. Having their feet in the right position (outside foot trailing inside foot) at the entrance might make them corner 2% faster but looking through, braking before the corner and maintaining the correct body position would make them 50-100% faster! Since we all have a limited amount of practice time (drill time, not riding time) our time would be better spent working on the big picture,(looking through the corner, braking before the corner and using perfect body position) before we worry about a little detail like which foot is forward.

Why can be faster to enter a corner with your inside foot forward and outside foot trailing? It allows you to easily distribute your weight exactly where you want it, by simply “letting” the outside foot drop to where you feel most balanced (from 50% of your weight on either foot to 60-40, 70-30, 71-29, etc., and you can slowly shift your weight to the outside foot or quickly shift your weight). This is much harder when your forward foot is your outside foot (for me this is a right hand corner as I ride left foot forward) as you really have two choices, outside foot level with inside foot or outside foot down. The micro adjustments are much harder with your forward foot making turning away from your forward foot a little more awkward than towards your forward foot. If you could switch which foot is forward instinctively, with zero thought, cornering towards your forward foot would be faster (a little bit!) but in my 15 years of coaching over 3,000 students I have yet to find a student who can do this effortlessly. Even my fastest student, Greg Minnaar cannot do this without thinking and then screwing up a more important element of cornering. I do believe as the world cup gets more and more competitive racers will start adjusting which foot is forward as they enter corners to gain that extra 10th of a second or two tenths. This is something that will take a YOUNG racer years to master. Your time and my time would be better spent perfecting the more important elements of cornering!

BetterRide student Aaron Polly getting the picture skills right!

BetterRide student Aaron Polly getting the picture skills right!

How your body deals with this is interesting. After 40 plus years of riding left foot forward (biking, skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing) I have twisted my legs, hips, back and neck. Despite years of yoga, stretching, foam rolling, massage therapy and chiropractic care my right hip is WAY tighter than my left and back gets sore quickly. With this in mind I have started riding awkward foot forward on the easier sections of trail. While this won’t make up for the imbalance in my body it might keep it from getting worse!

So focus on the Big Picture techniques like vision, balanced and neutral body position and braking before the corner. IF you ever master these then you can worry about which is forward as your enter a corner or switchback.

7 replies
  1. Griff Wigley
    Griff Wigley says:

    Well done, Gene. I like your measured tone.

    I, too, “have started riding awkward foot forward on the easier sections of trail.”

    And I’m focusing most of my efforts on hip flexion to get more of that balanced body position and letting the foot placement to my unconscious for now. 😉

    Reply
  2. John Weber
    John Weber says:

    Just wanted to drop a line to say thanks! I am a newbie to bicycling. I became a daily commuter 6 months ago & am approaching 1k miles riding the roads on a touring bike. Thanks to your lessons on hill climbing, cornering etc…etc. I can ride better, make fewer mistakes & enjoy it more! Note that your guidance on maintaing a balance neutral position while riding solves a lot ills in technique for me. Thanks Again!

    Reply
  3. Tom Loonan
    Tom Loonan says:

    Nice read and quite insightful as a continuing effort we all owe ourselves as we continually promote both our sport and individual accomplishments.
    I, too, began switching it up quite a number of years ago, for a pretty different reason though. As my lefty son grew up, struggling with some skills in sports, I decided to augment my skills and experiences by doing almost everything ‘backwards’. My biggest problem was, and still is, getting a goofy foot forward; whether it is cornering or just regular straight shots when not pedaling. Thinking after the read, in hindsight of course, how good could I have been in the early 80s racing BMX with this information…?
    Thanks Gene, as always.

    Reply
  4. Clay
    Clay says:

    I also suffer from much tighter hips…especially the hip flexor on the right side. I would guess this is fairly common because I believe a chief cause of it is all the time we spend driving our cars. Most people use their right foot almost exclusively to do the accelerator and brake pedals. It has been my observation that I keep tension in my right leg as to be poised for a quick adjustment in speed or braking. I now try to use cruise control as much as possible and consciously relax while driving to minimize it’s effects on my muscle imbalances.

    I’ve been working on switching forward foot posittion for left and right turns based on which position allows me to twist my hips into the turn better. I believe I’m more effective at turning my hips into the turn with the outside foot forward.

    Reply
  5. Andy Huber
    Andy Huber says:

    As you may already know Brian Lopes agrees with you on foot placement.( I would say he knows a thing or two about going fast). Gene, you should write a book, like he did. I would be the first to buy it.

    Reply
  6. Mike Gleason
    Mike Gleason says:

    Gene, I took your class in last year in Marin county with Dylan Renn and I have to say my cornering has improved 110% from before using outside foot down. Busy doing 4 triathlon’s this year, coaching my 17 year olds baseball team I finally entered my first mountain bike race of the year last week and finished 2nd place (not bad for a 58 yr old)!!! Easy to make up time in the corners now and is real fun. Dylan was a great coach and I cant thank you enough and am looking forward to the next class.

    Reply
  7. Billy
    Billy says:

    Outside foot down is best option no matter what the corner is like (bermed , flat , off camber) unless of coarse you don’t have the ground clearance (rock gardens , roots , breaking bumps). Outside foot back is a close second because it maximizes your ground clearance and you finish your turns clean . Think about how your profile looks when you tabletop your airs . If your opposite foot is back (laying it over to the left so right foot back) you can really lean it over .

    Reply

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