I get a lot of questions from mountain bikers about how to keep their feet planted on their flat pedals and I have found that it usually boils down to 3 things – Shoes, Pedal Selection and Foot Placement. If even one of these things is wrong you will struggle to feel comfortable on your flats or really maximize their performance.
From a functional movement point of view, trying to place the ball of your foot directly on top of the pedal axle is not the best position for your foot to be whether you are on flats or clipless pedals.
1) Shoe Selection: The #1 thing to know about riding flat pedals is that a good pair of flat pedal specific shoes is a must. If you are trying to ride flat pedals with your tennis shoes then you’ll never feel confident on the trail. You need shoes that are made specifically for riding flat pedals, preferably with a sticky rubber compound like that found on the soles of 5-10 brand shoes. I wrote an article going over the different model shoes 5-10 makes and the types of riding I use them for that you can read by clicking here.
2) Pedal Selection: If you have a good pair of riding shoes then you can get a mid-level pedal and be just fine. While some pedals are definitely nicer and hold up longer than others no one has really cornered the market on the “best” pedal so I prefer to go with a couple of guidelines when recommending pedals.
– Make sure it has a relatively thin profile. A thinner profile pedal lowers your center of gravity on the bike and improves your power transfer into the crank arms.
– Make sure that it is wide enough to comfortably get the majority of your foot on it. If more than ½ inch of your foot is hanging over the edge of the pedal then it is not wide enough and can result in a numb pinkie toe.
3) Foot Placement: The first thing that you will notice on flat pedals is that your feet naturally go to a mid-foot position where the ball of the foot is placed in front of the pedal axle. This is much different than the foot position where most clipless pedals want to put you, which is with the ball of the foot directly over the axle. However, having the ball of the foot in front of the axle is actually a more natural and, one could argue, better position for your foot.
From a functional movement point of view, trying to place the ball of your foot directly on top of the pedal axle is not the best position for your foot to be whether you are on flats or clipless pedals. Driving through the ball of the foot is what you want to do when you are propelling your center of gravity forward – like when running or jumping – but this is not what is happening when we pedal out bikes. When pedaling you are driving the pedals away from you, much like when you squat or deadlift, and that type of leg drive is much better delivered from a more mid-foot position. This more mid-foot position also allows improved recruitment of the hips during the pedal stroke, especially when standing.
You’ll also find that this mid-foot position will also allow you to better drop your heels when standing up in your “attack position” to flow through rock gardens or other trail features. By dropping your heels you will sit back into your hips more, getting your center of gravity lower and further back, and also keep your feet pressing into your pedals when you hit rocks and bumps in the trail instead of getting pushed off the top of them.
Below you’ll find a video in which I go over each of these 3 tips. If you feel like your feet are bouncing off your pedals more than you want – especially if you’ve spent a lot of time on clipless pedals before trying flats – then this is the video you’ve been waiting for. Watch as I reveal what you need to know about shoes, pedals and foot placement to get the most out of riding flat pedals.