Foot Placement on Flat Pedals

One of the best parts of my job is when I get contacted by other passionate coaches who want to share their knowledge with me. This is an email I got from just such a coach regarding foot placement on flat pedals and I wanted to share it with everyone…


There is not really an exact drill for foot placement it more ties in with the neutral position this is one of the basic biomechanical skills which are the basis of most sports.

I won’t go into all the basics of biomechanics but it is the understanding of the human body in relation to mechanical principals this better enables us to get a good perspective on the rider and bike dynamics. In Mountain biking it incorporates Centre of Mass, Base of support, Stability, Forces & torques, maximum force, impulse, motion & velocity, Momentum, Balance and Mental focus which is not part of biomechanics but is a very important part of riding. Then there is the biomechanical skills that the rider has direct influences on such as stance & balance, range of motion, pressure control, traction control and timing & coordination.

So from an instructors point of view the foot position is thought in conjunction with the neutral riding position, this is the basic standing position which places the rider centered over their bike in the best position for support allowing the greatest range of motion, this offers better stability, balance and the best place to exert pressure/forces on the bike.

The basics of the neutral riding position for the intermediate flat pedal rider should be:

1. Relaxed – supporting your body weight, knees slightly bent, pedals level and most weight on their feet 80%. Hips bent, tail bone out.

2. Only one finger on the brakes and elbows slightly bent and out. Brakes are so powerful one finger is plenty, practice this, you will need three fingers gripping the handlebars when the going gets rough!

3. Looking ahead, scanning the trail up to 10m – not blinkered into just looking straight ahead.

4. Pedals level, feet forward and centered over center of pedals. This increases traction on the pedals and helps calf muscles relax a little. Heels slightly dug in is optimum but not critical at this stage but it’s a must for later progression.

First off we want to understand why the extremes of pedal positions are wrong e.g. the ball and toes on the pedal, this upsets your stable, balanced base of support, you’ll find it hard to dig your heels in safely, your foot and calves will take most of the weight – not ideal when descending for along time. With your heel on the pedal your toes end up pointing out, your weight is too far forward and you lack control and stability, its harder to absorb the upward acting forces from the ground and bike with finesse or control your body weight acting down because of the lack of grip on the pedal.

Drills should be practiced on a flat area where it is safe to do so:

1. Place your foot centered over the center of the pedals – the axle should be roughly under the center of your foot, slightly towards the ball of your foot.

2. Bounce on your pedals; as in apply downward pressure with your legs onto the pedals this is done by using your legs and hips to press your feet onto your pedals which in turn presses the tyres onto the ground, it’s slightly easier to understand with a full suspension because the pressure acts by loading/squatting the rear suspension more which increases the traction. A good cue is if you can hear the tyre traction increase when you are applying the force/pressure to the pedals. During this drill you do not need to apply any extra pressure with your hands/arms they should move in union with your body which should give you an 80:20 split bias to the legs.

3. This ‘bounce’ will also centre your mass every time, if you ‘bounce’ too far forward and too far back you will experience a lack of control and you’re unable to apply the same pressure as when centered. Make sure more force is being applied through the pedals which if in the right position will cause the forks to load/squat and rebound.

4. It’s worth while getting off your bike and trying to balance on each extreme of foot placement, remaining on the balls of your feet with your knees bent for a while and see how tired your legs get and when on your heels try jumping up and down and absorbing the landing with your heels not only will you see the stability issues but also the lack of control you have over the landing certainly no grace or finesse to it. Now try with your foot flat on the ground, knees bent, first you notice your feet will not get as tired as you’re able to use the big muscles of the legs & hips to support yourself and using the full capabilities of your foot/ankle you see how much better you can jump and absorb the landing with great stability, control and finesse many times over and over.

From this point in regards to the neutral position it is then taught to bounce/apply pressure to pedals (80%) and bars (20%) before and after each corner, technical section, jump etc because it helps the rider to relax and get into a good position all the time. After awhile it becomes habit but can be a great tool for the more experienced rider who tenses up when faced with a challenge.

This is some insight into the basic neutral position and will encourage riders to actively think about their position helping them use it to their advantage.

The best way to improve your riding and progress your skills is with a good instructor.

All the best,

Pete O’Loclann – Whistler’s Mountain bike holiday specialists.

Social Comments:

WordPress Comments:

  1. Ned says:

    Great article!! The only thing I’d add is to drop or “dig in” the heels when braking hard. It lowers your center of gravity and keeps your weight centered. I’ve ridden both flats and clips over the years and have gone all flats because it’s just more fun for me. I also love the “hard core” guys riding their 23lb hardtail 29ers and clips swerving around every rock on flat sections of trail (I thought bigger wheels were supposed to make that easier?) while I’m on my 35lb 61/2″ travel bike with flats laughing like an idiot from start to finish because I’m actually enjoying myself. Keep up the good work James and Pete. And remember kids, if you’re offended by anything said here it just means you’re thinking.

    Reply • September 7 at 9:56 pm
  2. Dan says:

    Thanks for another great article James. I have been on flats the entire season except for once and loving it thanks to your articles. On that one clipped in ride it felt totally sketchy, I felt unbalanced on the balls of my feet. It was really weird, did not feel natural. On flats I feel much more centered and balanced. What I would like now is maybe an article on how to take small drops with flats. I stopped doing them because my bike wants to fall away from my feet when in the air creating some panic on my part. Obviously riding for years clipped in didn’t do anything for my tecnique.


    Reply • September 8 at 9:15 am
  3. Phil says:

    I’ve been on flats most of the year and love them. A couple of weeks ago I left my 5 10’s on the porch to dry and naturally forgot them when I went to ride. Had to put my candies back on and so I rode with them that day and it was a pretty flowy trail and I rode with no problem. Next ride I was back on my flats and went over a little table top and jerked my feet right off the pedals and crashed my left shin. Two big bruises with blood coming out! One ride with the clipless pedals caused me to go back to bad habits.

    Reply • September 9 at 6:32 am
  4. Malte says:

    I find it interesting that he suggests to put the middle of the foot over the pedal axle, that’s what I do.

    In the past I was riding with SPD clipless pedals, but then I got very bad pain in my right knee after increasing my riding volume. Firstly only to test I switched to flat pedals, reading an article from Joe Friel about advantages of “midsole placement of the cleats” (*) at the same time.
    So I placed my feet with the middle over the axle and then discovered that I intuitively put my right foot on the pedal with the toes pointing slightly outside – a fact that i ignored unconsciously before with the cleats aligned along the foot and likely caused the pain. After a few weeks riding with the flat pedals the knee pain disapeared and as I feeled comfortable with the flats I kept going with them (I had no big problems with riding flats as I started MTB with caged pedals).
    As I have large feet (US 12) I feel comfortable with the middle of the foot over the axle as it saves the foot and calves on long rides or at standing pedaling and the tendon/ankle at landing drops. I now even ride my road bike with flats as I see no real disadvantages.


    Reply • September 10 at 4:58 am
    • bikejames says:

      I think we’re going to find over time that clipless pedals are not only overrated from a performance standpoint but causing a lot of the overuse injuries we associate with cycling. Thanks for sharing your experiences with this.

      Reply • September 10 at 8:33 am
  5. M. Griffin says:

    “…the axle should be roughly under the center of your foot, slightly towards the ball of your foot.”. really? this seems very uncomfortable and inefficient. i run flat and like the axle just behind the ball of my foot

    Reply • September 10 at 6:29 am
  6. M. Griffin says:

    never mind… i was getting caught up on the center of the foot part. i guess i feel the same way.

    Reply • September 10 at 6:30 am

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