I went for a ride with my trusty trail mutt Aka and my riding buddy Pete. We hit Butter Knife, which is a super fun trail with some of the best single track in this area. It is technically challenging and it ends with a 45+ minute ride back up a jeep road to the car, which makes it a good test of your skills and fitness.

This doesn’t mean that standing pedaling doesn’t have the potential for great traction, simply that you have to learn how to tap into it.

Pete is a really good rider who I’ve worked with on and off for several years and shares a lot of my views on mountain biking. He rides flat pedals and stands up a lot to climb and after our ride we started talking about physics and philosophy of standing pedaling.

One of the things we talked about was the sensation of using our hands and wrist position to help us “wedge” ourselves down into our pedals. This wedging sensation is extremely important because it not only gives you the platform you need to get a strong pedal stroke but it also puts pressure down into the tire, giving you better traction as well.

Without that wedging sensation your platform for pressing down into the pedals is weak and your rear wheel doesn’t have very good traction. This doesn’t mean that standing pedaling doesn’t have the potential for great traction, simply that you have to learn how to tap into it.

In fact, I’m no longer willing to concede that you ever need to sit down for traction – you may be too tired to hold it but if you have the right body position and can wedge yourself down into your pedals you can get all the traction you need no matter how steep and loose something is.

I’ve already pointed out how sitting down when climbing doesn’t actually put weight on the rear tire so that isn’t what is giving you the extra traction anyways. I think it is actually the wedging of your prostate into the seat that gives you the extra traction you feel when seated, which isn’t the best thing to do to your prostate (or your privates either ladies).

If you can learn to effectively wedge yourself into your pedals with your hands and not your groin you can gain the traction you need without the damage to your sensitive bits.

But again we get into the fundamental issue of movement and core strength. This wedging sensation is the same thing you learn from a proper deadlift, which means that you need to be able to get into a good deadlift – a.k.a. hip hinge – position and you need the core and hip strength to lift some weight.

If you can’t get off the bike and do it I guarantee you that you will have trouble doing it on the bike. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done, simply that you may lack the fundamental movement and strength needed to do it.

The point we both arrived at was that standing pedaling is pretty much completely misunderstood and misapplied by most mountain bikers. Standing up to lay down power and sitting down to recover for your next standing effort is better for your body and opens up a new way of riding that taps into your body’s own natural movement and strengths.

On a side note, I’ve noticed a pattern when talking to riders about getting faster. They note that the faster riders tend to stand more but they haven’t made the connection yet – they aren’t faster and they stand up more, they are faster because they stand up more. Standing up is faster and if you want to get faster learn to stand up more.

So, to help you get started on applying this wedging sensation to your riding make sure you watch this video on how to deadlift and pay attention to the set up before I actually lift the bar. You’ll notice how I wedge myself under the bar right before I lift it and that is exactly the sensation you want to apply to you standing pedaling when you really need to lay down power or get extra traction on a steep climb.

Please note that you will need good hip mobility to get your hips back when you need them on steep climbs so it is a combination of mobility, specific core strength and skill that you need to develop. The trade off will be more speed, traction and fun while also sparing your privates from getting smashed.

Hope this at least gives you some food for thought. I think that there is a lot more going on with standing pedaling than most people have been told and until you know how to tap into some of these things you’ll continue to use your seatpost as a crutch.

If you have any thoughts or comments on this please leave a comment below this post, I’d love to hear them. And if you liked this post please click one of the Like or Share buttons below to help spread the word.

BTW, Besides being tough on your prostate and groin I also strongly believe that too much seated pedaling is behind the epidemic of low back pain we see in mountain biking. Riders spend more money on bikes and bike fits than ever before and yet just as many riders as ever seem to suffer from low back pain.

I released a simple 30-day program designed to target the real mobility, movement and skill issues behind low back pain from mountain biking. It is based on the same principles I have used to help both myself and hundreds of other riders overcome low back stiffness, soreness and pain caused by long hours on the trail.

If you have low back pain then you’ll want to be sure to get a copy of the MTB 30 Day Low Back Pain Program.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

7 thoughts on “How to get better traction when standing up to climb than you can get sitting down.

  1. Sterling says:

    With longer sustained climbs, what length of standing to sitting intervals would you recommend? Also with all this standing do you even wear a chamois?

    • James Wilson says:

      It is really a matter of where you are at physically. Even on longer sustained climbs, I stand as much as possible and do my best to make it to the top standing. I’ll sit down if needed to rest and as soon as I feel that I’m ready, will stand up again. And no, I don’t wear chamois.

  2. Timothy Tucker says:

    I switched to standing only on my primary bike this season and it makes me wonder more and more why we sit in the first place.

    The only downside I’ve seen so far has been that the first few weeks of adjustment felt pretty draining on my legs (almost exactly what your prior articles predicted). My overall cadence is less consisten

    A small kids saddle slammed as low as it can go covers the chance of falling down and is significantly lighter, lower, and less mental effort. The simplicity of not having to make the mental call of “should I sit vs. stand?” or “if I stand, should I lower my seat?” reminds me a little of riding single-speed.

    More importantly, having the saddle even more out of the way is leading to faster progress in figuring out good body positioning. (Contrary to popular opinion, just putting a dropper post on your bike doesn’t magically instill the knowledge of what to do on the bike once the seat is down)

    The excuse I keep hearing is that you need the saddle for longer rides (which I haven’t tried yet), but ultra marathons, long distance swimming, cross country skiing and. pretty much all other endurance sports I can think of rely on the assumption that you never sit down while participating and no one bats an eye.

  3. Timothy Tucker says:

    Started a comment on my phone and accidentally bumped the submit before I was done so here’s the rest…

    I did notice my cadence has been less consistent standing, but overall effort for more “burst” pedaling feels roughly equivalent and when I measure I’m going just as fast or slightly faster. Coasting a little here and there whirl standing also feels qualitatively more fun than just sitting and pedaling at the same pace.

    Thr other thing I’ve noticed moving to standing is just how much of a compromise my cockpit setup has been. The angles for bars and controls that make for a great feel while seated simply aren’t the same angles that work best while standing. Any rider who alternates is stuck trying to find a compromise that’s “good enough” for both.

    I’m convinced that a big part of the reason for saddles is that the UCI are a bunch of stick in the muds overly attached to tradition when it comes to bikes needing to meet specific criteria for (and even to have have) saddles & seatposts. Tioga’s new Weeny saddle seems to push the envelop about as far as I think we may see without some changes to their definition of what’s allowed for competition.

  4. Collin says:

    Hey James,
    I have no doubt that there is something useful here, but I just can’t seem to visualize what you mean when ‘wedging’ the pedals, or ‘wedging’ a deadlift. I have never heard this movement cue before. Is there another way that you can describe it?

    • James Wilson says:

      Great point. I think that it’s more important that you continue to try to understand how a wedge applies to riding, rather than trying to figure out other ways to look at it. One of the problems is that people don’t understand the mechanics of what is happening because it is difficult to understand how wedges are being used on a bike, so it’s not talked about and the industry doesn’t address it, but this is the mechanically correct way to look at what is happening. So, it’s more a matter of trying to understand how a wedge is applied to riding your bike that will help to minimize the confusion. The definition of a wedge is something that takes up space between two points. The wedge can be used to maintain distance, like a door wedge. It is there so that the door doesn’t move. However, if you expand the wedge, it will push the two points apart. You are the wedge between the handlebars and the pedals. By increasing the pressure with one foot, you are increasing that distance and effectively increasing your wedge. Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions, I’m happy to explain it further.

  5. Cameron Bond says:

    I have been working on my standing pedaling for awhile, with slow progress. Then my wife convinced me to come to a couple spin classes with her and right away I noticed a definitive improvement with my stamina when pedalling my bike. There is a lot of standing pedaling in a spin class and the first time I went my legs started to burn and I couldn’t keep up which was a little humbling I must admit. The second time I was already much stronger and was able to keep up, which really surprised me considering how lousy I was the first time. It really does make you a stronger rider very quickly. Other take aways: You are pedaling to a beat which really helps with maintaining a cadence; You are looking at a mirror which helps you maintain a stable upper body position ( most of the class was rocking back and forth so I guess its not as important to spinners) ; Because you have to keep up with the class it pushes you more than you might push yourself out on the trail or on your basement trainer; You can adjust the resistance as you get stronger.
    The downside is having to be clipped in (flat pedals are not an option, at the class I attended) and also the music is very loud and techno! I wear ear plugs.
    There you go, fellas. Give spin class a try. It’s a game changer.

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