January
14

How to get rid of pedal bob while standing up to pedal.

Last week I shared a video showing how standing pedaling can be just as efficient as seated pedaling. In the video a rider who uses the same amount of oxygen (an indicator of movement efficiency) during two 10 minute time trials, the first being done seated the whole time and the second one alternating 30 seconds of seated and standing climbing.

In my post I pointed out that while seated and standing pedaling came out the same in this test, for me it was a win for standing pedaling since that position has several benefits and advantages that seated pedaling does not. If you missed it then you can click here to learn more about the hidden benefits of standing pedaling.

In response to that post a few riders pointed out that there is a difference between standing up on a road bike – like the rider in the video I referenced in my post uses – and standing up on a full suspension mountain bike. They pointed out that the road bike is stiff while the full suspension bike suffers from the infamous “pedal bob” and this means that my points didn’t apply to riding a full suspension bike on the trail.

Just in case you don’t know, pedal bob is the motion you see in the suspension from pedaling efforts and minimizing it is the goal of every rider. It represents wasted energy and the less pedal bob you have the more efficiently you’re applying energy into the pedals.

However, while pedal bob is an efficiency robber it is also a very misunderstood subject. The truth is that your pedal stroke doesn’t cause the suspension to move, it is your body movement. When your body is bouncing up and down you see movement in the suspension so the real goal is to minimize that body movement or to minimize that input into the bike.

The two  common ways to minimize pedal bob are to use an efficient bike and to sit down to pedal. When you ride a rigid bike, use suspension lock out or a super efficient linkage system, you minimize the input from the body movement into the bike. When you sit down you help to minimize the amount of movement your get from the body.

And while both of these things work, we’re also told that we need to avoid standing pedaling. We’re told that standing up is “less efficient” and that increased pedal bob is a big reason. It is almost like standing pedaling is a hopeless cause and that a lot of pedal bob is just a given with it.

But that isn’t really true. The problem is that most riders tend to rely too much on their bodyweight to turn over their pedals when standing and this results in a lot of suspension movement when they stand up on a FS bike.

The less your center of gravity is bouncing up and down while standing up to pedal the less suspension movement you’ll see. And like anything else on the bike, you can train yourself to get better at this skill.

Not sure what I’m talking about or how it all applies to the bike? Check out the video below to see me demonstrate this concept on my bike…

I learned this myself early on in my riding career. I started with a hardtail bike and eventually upgraded to a full suspension bike. At first I thought I made a mistake buying the full suspension bike – I bounced up and down so much that I felt like I was on a pogo stick.

But after a few weeks I found that the bouncing had smoothed out and I was much more efficient. I realized that once you learn how to rely less on “bouncing” up and down on the pedals to turn them over and learn how to “hover” over the bike creating a strong platform to move your legs from you’ll see much less suspension movement.

Once you gain the strength, body awareness and specific skill to do this on the trail then “pedal bob” won’t be an issue.

I stand up and pedal a 6 inch travel bike on the trails all the time and I feel very little suspension movement at all. In fact, I’ve found standing up to climb is better since my bike can move underneath me and the suspension can actually work to help smooth out rocks and edges on technical section.

When I’m sitting down I can feel every rock or root I hit being transferred directly into my butt via the seatpost. Plus I never have to worry about my front end popping up and wandering off and I’m in a better position to get up and over ledges. In my opinion, standing pedaling is the better pedaling position and one that you can use to great advantage on the trail.

Pedal bob isn’t a matter of standing vs. seated, it is a matter of how still you can keep the body on top of the bike. I’ve seen new riders bounce along much more while sitting down to pedal than I do standing up so it obviously isn’t about the position as much as the technique.

Proper standing pedaling technique requires that you learn how to support yourself with your arms so that you can maintain a still upper body and core. It also requires that you learn the balance points needed to get your hips forward and get your center of gravity in front of the bikes center of gravity.

In fact, I wouldn’t really call what most riders do “standing pedaling” as much as getting into an unsupported seated pedaling position. Just raising your butt off the seat isn’t the same thing as knowing how to get your hips into the right spot at the right time to create the most balanced platform possible.

And once you learn how to use your upper body properly and learn the balance points and “feel” for standing pedaling it is much, much easier. Yes, it requires some upper body and core strength but just because it does, you don’t want to take your early struggles with standing pedaling as a sign to avoid it. See it as a weakness that needs to be addressed, suspension or no suspension.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

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  1. Ben says:

    Hi James,

    Before I found your site I was a sit and spin hill climber. In the last six months I have switched to stand as much as I can on the trail when climbing. It was hard at first but every time I do the same climbs I am seeing an improvement precisely because as you say it is easier to adapt to what is underneath you when stood up. I ride a hardtail so I feel the bumps more in the backside when seated!

    I still sit an spin on occasion but I’ve learned to recognise when the trail conditions afford me the opportunity to do it, using it as a recovery tool rather than the go to position.

    Thanks for a great site.

    Reply • January 14 at 10:17 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks, glad you like the site and the standing pedaling advice. It does make things easier once you know how to use it as a tool instead of avoiding it. And yes, it is even more valuable for your butt on a HT!

      Reply • January 14 at 5:49 pm
  2. Tony says:

    I think another area that feels weird and takes time and practice is standing pedaling shifting. I’ve been working on more standing pedaling and unless I start in the right gear I’m either spinning too fast or too slow and hesitant to shift with standing pressure on the pedals.

    Reply • January 14 at 11:08 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      To help with this I that you shift your weight to your arms – which requires that you are in the right position – then you can unweight your drivetrain to allow for smoother shifting.

      Reply • January 14 at 5:37 pm
  3. Julie Bertrand says:

    This was a GREAT article! I started with a HT, then through many FS bikes. For fun and extra effort I purchased a steel HT and built a single speed. The standing climbing is not ‘just standing’ you learn that quickly. Once I moved my hips up and forward those longer, steeper sustained climbs become somewhat attainable.

    Then going back to a long travel FS bike and training for SuperD and Enduro I thought I needed to sit and pedal – made no sense and was tough to do. This is EXACTLY what I needed to see!

    I can’t keep the ‘guys’ insight and I’m too busy sucking air to notice their position. I can’t wait to get out and work on this pedal position, especially on those short rocky/steep sections!

    Thank you so much for your site and training programs! The in-depth explanations are so needed!

    Reply • January 14 at 11:47 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Glad to hear this post came at a good time for you, learn how to adapt your standing pedaling to the FS and you’ll do much better than trying to sit down.

      Reply • January 14 at 5:51 pm
  4. Guthrie says:

    James,

    This is great info. Thanks. How can you maintain traction on steep loose climbs while being so far forward on your bike while standing?

    When I typically stand up on a loose climb, I end up in a unnatural, unsupported seated position to maintain traction, but is super uncomfortable.. Any ideas?

    Reply • January 14 at 12:09 pm
    • Amos says:

      I have the exact same question. I prefer to stand while climbing, but find that I get a lot of wheel spin on steep-loose climbs when standing. In the saddle, I seem to have more weight on the rear tire and thus more traction.

      Maybe better technique will help solve this problem? But, I’ve got a few months until the snow melts to find out.

      Reply • January 14 at 1:10 pm
    • Michael Stevens says:

      The traction question is my main issue as well. When you are supporting your body weight on the bars you are not centered on the bike and you do not have the same amount of traction as when seated. You also have weighted your front end significantly which greatly increases the chance of an OtB on obstacles you may not have paid much attention to. It’s nuts how small of a rock can stop you dead when your weight is on the front wheel which is what James is suggesting.

      I’ve been working on my standing pedaling and have the best results when I’m centered over the bike. I always think of my position as balancing on the pedals. If I need my arms to support my weight then I’m in the wrong position. When you are balanced like this you will have the same amount of traction as when seated and you are more able to apply a fluid motion and even force to the pedals. Yeah, it’s not as easy as supporting your weight on the front wheel but it definitely gives you more traction.

      If it’s just a long uphill grind then resting on the bars isn’t such a big deal. But, I try to avoid stuff like that focusing on more technical climbing so my style and trails dictate the need for a more balanced position.

      Reply • January 15 at 7:59 am
      • bikejames bikejames says:

        I think I need to clarify a few things. First, when you are on flat ground or a slight incline or even a steep incline that you hit with momentum and there isn’t anything to run your front wheel into then you want to be in a different standing body position than what you want to be in going up a steep, technical climb. As you can see from the video I made with the stick figures, adjusting you need to adjust your COG to the bike’s COG based on the bike’s position and the trail conditions.

        Being able to transfer your weight around the cockpit and be able to put/ take weight off your hands is part of the process. I wouldn’t charge down the trail indiscriminately in this position and I was simply using it as a demo for how you should find a position on the bike that lets you create a still platform to pedal from. It wasn’t meant as a standing climbing body position lesson and I apologize for any confusion that caused.

        And you’ll notice that I never said to support your weight on your front wheel – I said to support your weight on your arms. In that particular position I had a lot of weight on the front end but you can support your weight on your arms in any position, it is just much easier in the position I showed and if the trail allows it then I find it to be a great platform to stand up and pedal from. But you have to transfer the weight between the front and back wheel on the trail and I would never advise that you put and keep your weight on the front wheel.

        I’d also like to add that I’ve talked many times about the need to be able to manual on the trail to avoid just blasting your front wheel into stuff. I find it much easier to manual – pull my front wheel up with a lot of control – when standing up. When seated I find that I do more of a wheelie and I have much less control of my front end and that it can easily wander around.

        Sorry again for any confusion but if you take this video in context of what it was meant for and some of the other things I’ve posted then you can see that we probably agree on most of this stuff.

        Reply • January 15 at 9:02 am
  5. Fritz Kucklick says:

    Thanks for making the “standing pedaling” video. It answered a lot of questions for me! I’ve been using a “butt back” standing stance for about a year now and it has been very hard. Finally, today, it felt right when I was on the trainer.

    Reply • January 14 at 12:12 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Awesome, glad you were able to get the feeling for it so quickly on the trainer. It will take some practice to get it down on the trail but practicing it now will certainly help.

      Reply • January 14 at 5:53 pm
  6. Carl says:

    Hi James, another great video. I’m wondering how much you throw the bike side to side while standing pedalling on the trail? In the video the trainer results in the bike being totally upright, but on the trail I find shifting the handle bars side to side feels natural. But is it good technique?

    Reply • January 14 at 1:57 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Pushing and pulling on the bars to get the upper body into the movement is going to result in that side to side motion and is exactly what you want. Obviously you can overdo it but being able to get the whole body into the pedal stroke is another advantage of standing pedaling.

      Reply • January 14 at 5:31 pm
  7. Dan says:

    Hi James,

    Thanks for replying to my previous comment with this pretty cool tip, I was one of the ones that commented on your previous post saying its in-efficient to do that on a full suspension bike.

    You proved me wrong! I’m definitely going to start practicing this technique on my next ride.

    Once again, thanks for sharing your wisdom !

    Cheers dan

    Reply • January 14 at 5:40 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Right on, thanks for raising the question in the first place because it gave me a good blog post idea and was something a lot of other riders wonder as well. Good luck and let me know if you have any more questions as you get into standing pedaling technique.

      Reply • January 14 at 5:55 pm
  8. Will says:

    I like your point about body position and the links that stress the need for core strength to climb standing up. The same applies to riding motos up loose rocky hills (accept we are talking hills much, much steeper than even the world”s best mountain bikers couldn’t climb) accept everything is amplified. You will get the hell beat out of you and even bucked off the bike (and possibly even wheelie over) if you try climbing one of these hills sitting down. But without the core strength, you might says well not even bother. You will never be able to hold the right position. If you can ride a 450 up a loose, rocky 60 degree trail, climbing on a mountain bike will seem relatively easy.

    Reply • January 14 at 7:53 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Great points, thanks for sharing.

      Reply • January 15 at 9:12 am
    • Rafael says:

      That was a great comparison.

      Reply • January 16 at 3:01 am
  9. Joseph G. Neuwirth, Ph.D. says:

    James, I will have to take exception with your stick-figure that puts the rider CG over the rear wheel center-of mass when climbing in order to increase traction. Instead, the rider CG should be over the rear wheel contact patch to increase traction. That way the largest vector will be into the contact patch.

    Reply • February 7 at 9:09 am
  10. Leonard says:

    Doesn’t this contradict the concept of “heavy feet, light hands?” If one is standing, isn’t there an additional load (ie support) done by the hands, hence eliminating the concept?

    Reply • June 8 at 7:37 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Yeah, but I don’t agree with with the “heavy feet, light hands” concept when taken to an extreme. That is a good neutral position in a parking lot but you need to know how to put pressure and weight on the front end to corner properly and for standing pedaling. What you don’t want is to be leaning into your handlebars when seated to support a lazy core or poor posture, but you most certainly need some pressure and weight on the front end of a mountain bike at times. Plus, that advice comes straight from motorcycle skills courses and is one of several things that get taught verbatim to mountain bikers when it doesn’t apply the same way.

      Reply • June 9 at 9:28 am
  11. Gene says:

    Yep, totally a stand up and pedal kind of guy now thanks to you and your site! After learning more I’ve completely moved to flat pedals and love the change. These posts that you offer help me refine my skills even more and I’ve purchased your fitness programs to get me ready for the up coming season.

    Thank a ton man!!
    Gene
    RGMTB.com

    Reply • February 22 at 12:48 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Awesome, glad you are benefiting from the tips and info and thanks for sharing!

      Reply • February 22 at 4:42 pm
  12. Lon says:

    Great article, and it strikes me as both intuitively and kinematically correct.

    When I pedal up technical ascents, I always stand. The one thing that might amuse (or dismay) you is that I deliberately alternate between smooth pedal strokes and throwing my weight (hips fore/aft and side to side) around as I choose lines and hop over crap (trials riders know exactly what I mean). I consider it to be the most natural interface between bike, terrain, and me.

    I suppose the analogy would be to hiking up a rock-strewn path. Sometimes smooth and steady works best; other times it’s best to hop from rock to rock. Often the choice comes down to fun (and isn’t that at the heart of why we do this?). Maintaining a strong core and developing exceptional balance are keys to getting the most out of either technique, for sure. No argument there!

    Reply • July 25 at 12:21 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Good insights and I do the same thing with throwing my weight around to get up and over rocks.

      Reply • July 25 at 4:34 pm
  13. Mtv says:

    James, really like your blog. One thing you may want to consider with the visualization is to change the angle of the bike. Naturally if you are climbing a 10% grade, the handle bars are much closer to your chest. As you know, that makes it virtually impossible to climb while seated. You MUST stand in order to keep the bike balanced on technical terrain.
    Keep the advice coming
    Mtv.

    Reply • August 23 at 9:35 am

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