2 Things You Can Buy and Instantly Improve Your Bike Handling!

2 Things You Can Buy and Instantly Improve Your Bike Handling! By BetterRide founder Gene Hamilton

That’s right, your bike set-up can improve your riding!

I have spent the last 15 years studying bike handling and how bike setup effects bike handling. In that time I have kept and open mind and experimented with bars as narrow as 22″ and as wide as 32″ and stems from 150mm to 30mm. I didn’t invent a single skill or bike set-up theory myself I tired what other, “better riders” suggested. Everything I teach I have learned through others (world champions like Marla Streb and Greg Minnaar, motorcycle coaches, ski coaches, gymnastic coaches) and then personally tested out their ideas and had many of my top students (Pro racers like Ross Schnell, Chris Van Dine, Lynda Wallenfells, Mitch Ropelato, Sue Haywood, etc.) test these theories.

Wider handlebars and a shorter stem give you more control. 27-32 inch handlebars depending on your height and a 50-80 mm stem provides the best handling.  Handlebar height is important too, your bars should be 1”-3” lower than your seat when it is raised to optimum climbing height.

Your handlebars are one of the main inputs of control and wider bars give you much more control (because they are more stable (think of doing a push up with your hands 21″ apart and then 29″ apart. If I were trying to knock you over would I have more luck with your hands 21″ apart or 29″?). We have all hit a rock that wanted to violently twist our front wheel to the side. Can you see how a wider bar would give you more leverage to fight this?  I understand many of you have fear issues related to going through narrow trees and riding scared is a recipe for disaster but narrow handlebars create a twitchy, unstable ride.  Do you want to set you bike up to function well on the 3 or 4 narrow tree gaps or the rest of the trail.

Wider bars also allow you to keep your arms bent and chest down allowing you to ride in a more athletic, neutral position.  Perfect for riding smoothly and adjusting to anything and everything the trail throws at you.

Your stem is a not a bike fit device, it greatly effects the control of your bike.  Motorcycles don’t have stems for a reason, a long stem puts you out of balance (too much weight forward) straightens your arms (taking you out of a neutral position) and the long lever of a stem more than 90 millimeters long makes your steering “flop” to the side instead of being precise.

So for a more controlled ride go with a 50 to 80mm stem and 27″-32″ wide bars.  I know this goes against tradition so please try this set up for a week before commenting.  If you understand correct body position, how bikes turn and how to manual or wheelie correctly (using no upper body strength) you will love the control this gives you.

The coolest thing you will notice is how much this helps with technical climbing, no more wheel swerving all over the place. Your bike will track nice and straight.  The best technical climber I know runs a 30mm stem. I run a 60mm stem on all of my xc bikes and a 40-50 mm stem on my downhill bikes.

Interesting info on pedal stroke Efficiency

Just found an article that may help explain a little of the difference in using flat pedals vs. clipped (I say a little as this test didn’t test flat pedals and does not take into all the goals of pedaling a mountain bike which include confidence and control).

The article is worth reading but here is what I found interesting:

“In a 2007 study, Korff et al, looked at the effectiveness/efficiency relationship of four different pedaling techniques: pedaling circles, “stomping,” the riders own self-selected style and the classic “pull up” through the bottom of the pedal stroke approach.

Their study established that mechanical effectiveness is greatly enhanced by using the “pull up” technique; it ranked higher on an effectiveness index than pedaling circles, self selected or ‘stomping’ the pedals. Gross efficiency, on the other hand, was significantly lower using this technique. It took more energy to use the ‘pull up’ technique than to simply pedal in circles or stomp. Unfortunately, Korff et al, didn’t delve into the efficacy of the trade off. Is it worth the decreased efficiency to get the greater effectiveness?”

Which to me means clipless pedals might be a huge advantage in loose and or steep climbing sections as you can produce more power.  The reason I mention loose conditions is often a hard downward pedal can cause you to spin out.  I tested this yesterday on some steep and loose sections of trail at Bootleg Canyon and realized that I use a completely different pedal stroke in those conditions than any where else.  When it is steep and loose (or just really steep) I use a lot of upward pulling that I don’t use any where else.

The article, which also backs up my theory that just because a high cadence works for Lance it might not be best for you can be found here: http://www.pezcyclingnews.com/?pg=fullstory&id=8076

Again, don’t just agree or disagree with the article, experiment, find out what works for you.

Clipped In vs. Flat Pedals

Flat pedals vs. clipped in

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.  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

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.

Pros of being 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 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.

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.

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”.

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 starting to really enjoy being unclipped!