CrankBros EggBeater pedal

Mountain Bike Pedals, Flat or Clipped In?

Mountain Bike pedals, Flat or clipped in?  This is an update to a 2010 article I wrote as I continue to get a version of the following question at least once a month and as I have continued to ride and learn my feelings on this subject have evolved.

“I do have a question, I’ve only been riding for 3 months, at what point do you think I should get clips? I’m not sure I am ready for them but I notice the people I ride with are all clipped in and they are so much faster than me. Is that a big factor in speed?

Thanks,
Ada”

This is a great question.  First you never have to get clipless pedals.  Clipless pedals (the ones you clip into) are simply a different way of doing things, barely better in some ways, not as good in other ways.  I have heard from students who say that their local shop told them they need clipless pedals and nothing could be further from the truth.  A good set of flat pedals and sticky soled shoes is a better system for many riders. A good set of 5.10 shoes and thin flat pedals with grip like Canfield Brothers Crampon Pedals.

Mountain Bike Pedals

Thin Flat pedals like the Canfield Brothers Crampon with 5.10 shoes is a great combination!

Yes, I usually ride clipped in but it took me a lot of time and crashing to get used to clipping in and out and a lot of time to get used to riding clipped in.  The more I ride, coach and learn the more I see the advantages of flat pedals.  I have been riding both pedal types for years, now I mostly ride flat pedals for cross country/enduro type riding and I clip in for downhill! I know that might seem backward but this article will explain why.

Pros of running flat pedals

1. More Confidence! You can take your feet off quickly and easily making trying technical sections and learning important skills like track standing easier. I have a lot of friends who always ride flat pedals (for cross country riding) and like being able to put a foot down at will.  They say this enables them to try more technical moves and sections (especially going uphill) that they would be to scared to try clipped in.

2. Less fear for many riders, which allows the rider to stay in their comfort zone and relax! We ride much, much better when confident and relaxed.  Fear and learning do not mix, you can not learn when scared.  Muscle Tension (which fear produces) and riding do not mix well either.

3. Flat pedals provide more feedback, giving you an idea of how you are riding. Because you are not attached to the pedals if you are riding stiff and relying on your suspension to soak up the bumps (instead of using your body) you will notice that your feet bounce all over the pedals. This is a sign that you should be more relaxed and supple on the trail.

4. Flat pedals don’t allow you to cheat when doing lifting maneuvers such as rear wheel lifts, bunny hops and bump jumps. This can be valuable when learning proper technique. As a matter of fact, I never realized how much I cheated (pulled up with my cleats instead of using the bump to gain lift (pulling with cleats requires more energy and tends to stiffen you up and through you slightly off balance) when doing bump jumps until I switched to flats one day and my feet flew off the pedals doing a bump jump! After just three or four attempts with flats I had the motion down better than ever and was able to jump higher or further (depending on my goal) using less energy than I had been using clipped in.

5. My back! Flat pedals don’t allow you to pull up with your hamstring so you have to piston (pedal only by pushing down) which encourages standing and pedaling. If you’ve read all my articles on pedaling efficiency and/or taken a camp with me you know I that I believe seated climbing is better for steep climbs with loose conditions or changing conditions (loose, then hardpack, then loose then rock, etc) because it is much easier to adjust you weight for and aft (maintaining rear wheel traction and keeping front wheel on the ground) than it is standing. It takes a lot of concentration and core effort to not get too far forward and spin the rear tire while standing and climbing on a steep, loose climb. However, if you (like me) have a habit of curling your lower back to lower your chest when climbing (instead of hinging with a flat back) seated climbing can really tweak your lower back. I have found that standing and climbing allows me to keep a straighter back and flat pedals encourage me to stand when climbing, saving my back (but sometimes making loose climbs a little more challenging).

Pros of being clipped in:
1. I like clips for the “attached” to my bike feel. On flat pedals sometimes your boot will bounce off the pedal and when it lands with the heel on the pedal (instead of the ball of your foot) you lose the use of your ankle (which is a big part of your shock absorption) and you start plowing into the trail instead of floating smoothly.  So being attached to your pedal keeps you on the ball of your foot allowing you to be smoother sometimes. This is why most top World Cup downhill racers clip in (Greg Minnaar, Aaron Gwin, Rat Boy, Steve Peat, Gee Atherton, etc.)

2. Being clipped in does not make pedaling more efficient but it does allow you to produce a little more power when needed (by pulling up with your hamstrings). Pulling up with your hamstrings does make you less efficient but when you are about to stall on a steep hill you aren’t worried about efficiency, you are worried about producing enough power to get over the hill!

3. Being clipped in encourages you to corner with correct technique and body position and keep your feet on the pedals (usually when you take a foot off your pedals you end up in an out of balance position often causing a slide out). World Champion Greg Minnaar always uses clips when racing in the mud for this reason. He said in one of my camps, “with flat pedals you take your foot out instinctively, often when you don’t need to. This tends to put you in an out of balance position (weight below your bike instead of above your bike)”.

Which pedal type should you use?  Experiment!, find which pedal system you feel most comfortable on and confident riding on.

Look for my post on foot placement and which shoe/pedal combination (what kind of clipless pedal, what kind of flat pedal, hard soled shoe or softer shoe) will work best for you.

 

Braking on your mountain bike

Never Flat Again On Your Mountain Bike!

That’s right, I have found the way to never flat again on your mountain bike while still running low enough pressure for the best control, traction and shock absorption! I didn’t invent this nor am I going to make a nickel off this but I have to share it!

My last flat on my downhill bike was a week ago on my last practice run on Saturday for the Chili Challenge race at Angel Fire Resort! I don’t plan on ever flatting again! After front flatting on the fastest part of the race track I was mad, tired (from the long walk down) and frustrated. Then a friend said the magic words, “they have a couple sets of Procore by Schwalbe at the bike shop”. (disclaimer, I have no affiliation with Schwalbe tires, and they know nothing of this post) Procore is basically a mini-tube and tire that you inflate to 85 psi inside of your tubeless tire that keeps the tire from bottoming on your rim, eliminating pinch flats.

I have been waiting for this for two years and was so excited that they had that I paid full retail to get a set in my tires! One my first practice run on Sunday I was glad I did! I saw the rock coming,  square edged and almost as big as a cinder block, I knew I was going to hear a loud ping and then the sound of air rushing out of my tire! Except, it didn’t happen, there was no ping (despite hitting the rock so hard it stole 70% of my speed and nearly endoed) and the tire stayed inflated! I was stoked! This system is amazing, quite possibly the best mtb invention since the dropper post!

IF you like running low pressure and hate flatting check out Procore! http://www.schwalbe.com/en/schwalbe-procore.html

They do add 200 grams a wheelset but they have tires that are 200 grams lighter than regular tires made for this system. Including one of my favorite confidence inspiring tires, the Magic Mary.

Shawn Neer, Downhill switchback in Pemberton, BC

Some Mountain Bike Companies and Shops Want To Hurt You!

Some Mountain Bike Companies and Shops Want To Hurt You! Sounds unbelievable but it is true, James Wilson recently wrote this: ”

So what would you say if I told you that a major bike manufacturer was shipping all of their mountain bikes with a sticker that told riders not to use flat pedals? What if the sticker literally said that their bikes are supposed to be equipped only with toe-clips or clipless pedals?

And what if I told you that no one at that company can seem to explain why it is there? What if the company had been caught in several lies and that they were actually misquoting and misrepresenting laws in defense of the sticker?

And what if all of this was taking place while a lot of people in the mountain bike industry stood by and said nothing, deciding instead that a pro-clipless/ anti-flats sticker with no factual reason to be there wasn’t really a big deal?

Well, you’d probably call me paranoid and crazy. And, up until a few months ago, I would have agreed with you.

But then someone posted a picture on Facebook and I got sucked into a story that I still find hard to believe. Unfortunately, though, it did happen and the easiest way to start this off is to outline the events in the order they took place…

- A picture of a sticker was attached to one of my Facebook posts. The person who posted it said that it was off of a Trek mountain bike and that all of their mountain bikes – including their DH bike – were being shipped with them on the cranks. The sticker read:

“This bicycle is to be equipped with pedals that have a positive foot-retaining device such as toe-clips or clipless type pedals.”" More from James here: http://www.bikejames.com/strength/why-is-trek-putting-an-anti-flats-sticker-on-their-mountain-bikes/

How crazy is that? Toe-clips?! I can’t think of a more dangerous pedal type! Even clipless are quite dangerous until you train your feet/ankles to un-clip easily and consistently. Trek is openning themselves up to quite the lawsuit with this advice!

Here is an update on an article I wrote six years ago on pedals.

I get some version of the following question at least once a month and as I have continued to ride and learn my feelings on this subject have evolved.

“I do have a question, I’ve only been riding for 3 months, at what point do you think I should get clips? I’m not sure I am ready for them but I notice the people I ride with are all clipped in and they are so much faster than me. Is that a big factor in speed?

Thanks,
Ada”

This is a great question.  First you never have to get clipless pedals.  Clipless pedals (the ones you clip into) are simply a different way of doing things, barely better in some ways, not as good in other ways.  I have heard from students who say that their local shop told them they need clipless pedals and nothing could be further from the truth.  A good set of flat pedals and sticky soled shoes is a better system for many riders.

Yes, I usually ride clipped in but it took me a lot of time to get used to clipping in and out and a lot of time to get used to riding clipped in (a year before I became honestly as comfortable being clipped in as I was on flats!).  The more I ride, coach and learn the more I see the advantages of flat pedals.  I have been riding flat pedals the last few weeks and each day I like them more.

Pros of running flat pedals (with 5.10 Shoes)

Some Mountain Bike Compaines and shops want to hurt you!

Thin Flat pedals like the Canfield Brothers Crampon with 5.10 shoes is a great combination!

1. More Confidence! You can take your feet off quickly and easily making trying technical sections and learning important skills like track standing easier. I have a lot of friends who always ride flat pedals (for cross country riding) and like being able to put a foot down at will.  They say this enables them to try more technical moves and sections (especially going uphill) that they would be to scared to try clipped in.

2. Less fear for many riders (which allows the rider to stay in their comfort zone and relax!).  Fear and learning do not mix, you can not learn when scared.  Muscle Tension (which fear produces) and riding do not mix well either.

3. Flat pedals provide more feedback, giving you an idea of how you are riding. Because you are not attached to the pedals if you are riding stiff and relying on your suspension to soak up the bumps (instead of using your body) you will notice that your feet bounce all over the pedals. This is a sign that you should be more relaxed and supple on the trail.

4. Flat pedals don’t allow you to cheat when doing lifting maneuvers such as rear wheel lifts and bunny hops. This can be valuable when learning proper technique. “Proper technique” is in control, in balance and much more efficient than “muscling” or yanking your way over the obstacle.

Pros of being clipped in:

Steve Peat cornering hard and fast while clipped in!

Steve Peat cornering hard and fast while clipped in!

1. I like clips for the “attached” to my bike feel (although they have made me less smooth because of this). When you foot lands with the heel or instep on the pedal (instead of the ball of your foot) you lose the use of your ankle (which is a big part of your shock absorption) and you start plowing into the trail instead of floating smoothly.  So being attached to your pedal keeps you on the ball of your foot no matter how stiff you ride. This is the main reason I and World Champion Greg Minnaar clip in, downhill tracks are rough and it is easy when running flat pedals to have your foot bounce and end up in an awkward place on the pedal.

2. Being clipped does make pedaling a little more efficient.  Again let me repeat myself, a little more efficient, there have been no studies done that I know of.  If pedaling at 100% efficient vs. 99 or 98% efficient is more important to you than having a little more confidence clipped in might be for you. Remember, being efficient on mountain biking is more than just pedaling, smoothness, cornering ability and confidence will also help you become more efficient.  Turns out I was wrong about that, I still haven’t found a study that shows that clipless pedals or more efficient, I did find an article that shows that “pulling up on the backstroke” is a less-efficient way to pedal (it adds power at the sake of efficiency). Study here: http://wp.me/p49ApH-73

3. Being clipped in encourages you to ride and corner with correct technique and body position keeping your feet on the pedals (usually when you take a foot off your pedals you end up in an out of balance position often causing a slide out). World Champion Greg Minnaar always uses clips when racing in the mud for this reason. He said in one of our camps, “with flat pedals you take your foot out instinctively, often when you don’t need to and putting your out of position. Riding clipped in forces me to stay in balance and use proper technique”.

4. Although clipless pedals may not be more efficient they do allow you to produce more power by pulling up. This can be handy when you are climbing a super steep, challenging trail and need that extra power to help you get over the top! Sure, it isn’t quite as efficient but at that point making the climb is more efficient than stalling!

Which pedal type should you use?  Experiment!  find which pedal system you fill most comfortable on and confident riding on.

After 18 years of riding clipped in 99% of the time I now really enjoy being unclipped about 30% of the time. Riding flat pedals keeps me honest (efficient, smooth and relying on technique instead of power)!

Flat or clipless pedals are simply a different way of doing things neither is better than the other and clipless pedals are certainly not an upgrade!

This is proper body position (centered and neutral) for riding and braking.

Can Mountain Bike Handlebars Be Too Wide?

Can Mountain Bike Handlebars Be Too Wide? As someone who preaches that a short stem and wide bars will give you much better handling on a mountain bike (both climbing and descending) I get asked that question a lot. The short answer is, of course your mountain bike handlebars can be too wide, but most likely your’s aren’t wide enough!

The reasons we have been preaching about wide bars since 1999 are that they simply give you more stability, more leverage to fight sudden jerks to the side and more leverage for cornering. A quick baseline to start from is to do a push up and experiment with hand width and find out where you feel most stable and powerful. From this starting point go out a bit wider and start working your way in. What we are looking for is for your forearms to slope outward slightly from your hands to your elbows when you have lowered your chest in a “half push-up” position (see photo below). At the widest your forearms should go straight up to your elbows when in this position.

Can Handlebars be too wide?

Handlebars Correct Width

This width will give you the optimum amount of control. From this position you can absorb shock, keep the wheels on the ground over a small drop, resist twisting/jerking forces and power you way trough a corner by getting enough counter pressure leverage to give you the right lean angle.

Unfortunately as this trend has caught on I have seen a few riders who are too short (or narrow shouldered, short armed) for the widest bars made and they look like this photo below:

Can Handlebars be too wide?

Handlebars Too Wide!

I saw a lot of young riders at Whistler last summer with a setup that looked like that. Really hard to control the bike when you are stretched out like that! Those riders need to cut their bars down a bit!

Most riders, especially cross country/endurance oriented riders run bars on the narrow side (perhaps because of tradition?) and they look like this:

Can Handlebars be too wide?

Handlebars Too Narrow

This also severely hampers control (really twitchy with no leverage to fight sudden bar jerks, and no leverage for cornering pressure) and collapses the lungs a bit making it hard to breathe! It is more aerodynamic though, which unfortunately doesn’t help much at the speeds you travel at on your mountain bike and aerodynamics are not worth sacrificing control over.

The widest bars I have found are the SMAC innovations SW820 Moto Bars ( http://smacinnovations.com/bars.php , 820mm wide) and at 6’3″ I run these uncut on both my xc and dh bikes. BetterRide coach and one the best technical riders I know, Andy Winohradsky is 5’6″ and runs 30.5″ wide bars on both of his bikes. We put on camps all over the country and have not yet found a trail with trees too narrow for these bars. The tightest trees I have found are on the East Coast, in Texas and in the Mid West. In some of these places there were two to four spots an hour where I had to slow down and wiggle through some tight trees. Four, even six times an hour is no reason to compromise your handling though, I would rather you have the most control 99% of your ride and have to slow down a bit a few times an hour than be out of control for 99% of your ride and be able to go faster over about 20 feet every hour! If you honestly live in an area with more than six tree gaps less than 32″ wide in an hour ride, cut your bars!

There is not yet a scientifically proven perfect mountain bike handlebar width as there are so many variables; height, shoulder width, arm length, stem length, top tube length, reach measurement, etc. The easiest way to find out what is right for you is to start at the widest width available to you (or that you feel is appropriate, if you are 5’1″ no need to start at 820mm!) and ride at that width (on a trail without narrow tree gaps at first!) and then keep moving the grips in a bit until your arms look close the “correct” photo above and you feel like you have the most control (not necessarily what feels best as what often feels best is what you are used to which may not be correct).