RideKore | Stop Riding With Crutches
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Stop Riding With Crutches

Forlife

09 Jun Stop Riding With Crutches

We’re sure this article is going to get a few people riled up. I mean, who likes being told that the one accessory they’ve purchased to “improve” their riding is probably making it worse. You know, the one accessory you bought so you could immediately be part of the tribe. You know, the one accessory that, for all intents and purposes, was your right of passage into “real” mountain bike riding.

It’s the accessory that most every new mountain biker goes to purchase first, when in reality it should be the one they purchase last. Way last.

Clipless pedals. That’s right…clipless pedals!

The one component that contributes to a community of riders destined to ingrain poor technique and progress at the slowest possible rate. Never mind the inherent safety issues…

Before we go any further in dispelling the lore surrounding the benefits of Clipless pedals, we want to provide an upfront disclaimer. So you die hard “experts” don’t get your bibs in a bunch.

 

Disclaimer: This article is directed towards beginner to intermediate riders (and probably a whole bunch of experts whom are in denial) and intended to dispel the myth that Clipless pedals make you a better rider and/or improve your control over the bike. We wholeheartedly agree that, for the experienced pro rider or racer, Clipless pedals can be utilized to give you a competitive advantage and aid in pedal efficiency over long distances. However, for beginner to intermediate riders who are still trying to master the fundamentals, Clipless pedals only help to stunt the rider’s growth, safety and control.

 

The Crutch of the Matter

Now let’s touch on a few definitions to be mindful of as you read through the rest of this article:

 

Crutch [n. kruhch] – anything that serves as a temporary and often inappropriate support, supplement, or substitute; prop

 

Complement [ n. kom-pluh-muh nt ] – something that completes or makes perfect

 

“I have been clipped in since I started mountain biking. Without them I feel insecure if not unsafe on my bike…Heck, I think the clips probably kept me on the bike more times than not!!!”

When we hear this from riders it screams red flags. More often than not, a comment like this points to the fact that the rider has been using their Clipless pedal system as a crutch to help prop up their poor riding technique. In no way should a rider feel more secure on the bike because they’re mechanically “locked” to their bike. For most riders, being locked to your bike is significantly more unsafe than being able to freely remove yourself, or your feet, from the bike and/or pedals in order to maintain stability.

A large portion of our instruction (beginner – advanced) focuses on the fundamentals of maintaining balance. Great balance is the what separates poor riders from great riders. Your pedals represent the primary platform from which your body’s weight/balance should rest. Therefore a combination of anticipation through proper vision, your hip position, muscles and gravity should be what keep you connected to this platform, not the mechanical engagement of clipped pedals. If you can’t keep your feet on your pedals while riding over technical terrain, than we can almost guarantee your current riding position and technique is compromised. But as long as your dependent on your crutches, you’ll never have the chance to recognize your deficiencies and correct them.

 

The Promoter of poor balance

In case you didn’t already know, balance is everything on a mountain bike. This brings us to another point which we commonly have to address when instructing new and “experienced” riders. For the older riders it’s even worse.

Unfortunately Clipless pedal set ups are typically the first accessory most riders purchase for their mountain bike. This often times includes new riders who are still learning the fundamentals. It’s unfortunate because in doing so they’ve already set themselves up for failure. They don’t realize it, but they’re new pedals are forcing them to ingrain an unbalanced riding position.

Why? Well, most Clipped pedal systems utilize a connection that’s placed on or forward of the ball of your foot. The inexperienced rider is now inclined to ride with his or her toes pointing in a more downward direction with the heal of their forward foot pointing in the same direction. This position promotes too “forward” a riding position. As a result, the rider ends up putting too much weight on the handlebars and front tire. This is why a lot of new riders feel they’re going to topple over the bars on any given technical descent. The best balance position is equal weight on both the front and rear tire.

When these riders switch to flat pedals they find it hard to maintain control of the bike and experience constant pedal slips because they’re not weighting the bike through their pedals correctly for proper balance. Because their toes are pointed forward, gravity wants to keep pushing their feet away from their pedals. If the rider’s feet were sitting properly on the pedal, with the pedal axle sitting just aft of the ball of the foot. The rider would now have a nice “dip” in their heal and maintain a strong, flat and level pedal position. In this position, gravity is now forcing your foot down on the pedal and your body weight sits in a more neutral position on the bike providing more equal weight on both the front and rear tire.

Pedal

Something so little as the basic foot position has helped unlocked a whole other level of control and balance for 90% of the riders we’ve worked with. And it all started because they learned the wrong way to ride a bike using Clipped pedal systems.

 

But I can’t bunny hop or do wheel lifts without being clipped in…

Wrong. The key to rear wheel lifts and bunny hopping is the utilization of a technique called “clawing”. This technique is the crux to ultimate bike control. Without it one can not properly bunny hop or perform other techniques where the rear wheel may need to be lifted from the ground. Clipped pedals prevent the rider from properly learning this technique, instead it allows the rider to “cheat” by simply lifting up the rear through the mechanical connection on their pedals. Thus the rider never learns how to properly execute advanced rear wheel lifts by “clawing”. It’s always fun watching formerly clipped riders try to execute rear wheel lifts on flat pedals. Doing so fully exposes the “crutch” factor. Most riders are blown away by the level of control that can be gained by learning to execute rear wheel lifts with clawing on flat pedals.

So the real question is not; “are flats better than clips”. It’s “are my pedals being used as a crutch for my riding technique, or a complement”? Be honest with yourself. We’ve worked with enough riders from beginner to “advanced”, to say chances are you’ve been riding with crutches.

 

But I can’t get over those tricky climbs without being clipped in…

Wrong. Once again, when we hear this comment from our students it’s another clear indicator that they’ve been using Clipped pedal systems as a crutch, masking poor technique. In this case technical climbing technique. Here in Richmond, we have some of the most technical climbs found in an urban trail system, or even in the highest mountains for that matter. In fact, the majority of our students typically request sessions that help them tackle technical climbs rather than technical descents. Our students are astounded when we tell them, and later show them, that every technical climb within our trail system can be conquered on flat pedals.

Why? Because with flats we’re relying on proper technique, using our vision and being mindful of our cadence and body position through each climbing section. More importantly, we’ve developed confidence on those steep climbs that typically carry massive consequences if one were to fall to the side of the trail. This confidence has come from the fact that we know at any time we can simply put our foot down and “bail out”. This allows us to stay committed to the technique, and the climb, for those extra few feet. Whereas the unassuming clipped in rider has already bailed out for fear of toppling over the edge while still mechanically attached to their bike. In some instances we’ve even seen riders simply resolve to falling over while clipped in, using this as their standard “bail out” procedure. Now tell me, how does one ever expect to progress with this sort of mental and mechanical block? Not gonna happen.

 

So you’re saying flat pedals are better than Clipless pedal systems?

Wrong. What we’re saying is that 90% of the riders we see on our local trails could benefit from re-evaluating their technique by using flat pedals for a legitimate period of time. At least until they’ve developed the right technique to conquer the trickiest technical climbs, corners and descents. Only then should they consider putting their Clipped pedals back on.

burl

You see, Clipless pedals were originally adopted for the racing environment. Not because they provide more control in technical sections, but because they provided greater pedaling efficiency by allowing the rider to pull up on the pedal when it reached its down stroke. Unfortunately, the system was then adopted by the entire general mountain bike community, when they’re really best served for the racing or endurance environment where tenths of a second matter.

So the real question is not; “are flats better than clips”. It’s “are my pedals being used as a crutch for my riding technique, or a complement”? Be honest with yourself. We’ve worked with enough riders from beginner to “advanced”, to say chances are you’ve been riding with crutches.

We’ll leave you with a closing suggestion. Rather than dropping $300+ on a set of Clipless shoes and pedals as your first “real” mountain bike accessory, instead buy a cheap set of flats (we recommend these) and put the rest of that money towards a dropper post. This is one accessory that can immediately improve your riding and bike control. And it’s one accessory that promotes proper technique right out of the box.

 

 

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