January
9

Is “pedal float” really screwing up your knees and low back?

One of the biggest obstacles I face when trying to discuss clipless vs. flat pedals with riders is that there are a lot of pseudo-technique that has been developed by the clipless pedal industry and sold to the cycling world. For example, one of the common things I hear as an argument against flats is that they don’t allow for “float” since the rubber of the shoe sticks to the pins of the pedal and does not allow for lateral rotation of the shoe. This is said as if that is a bad thing since the shoe and pedal makers all promote “float” as an essential element of a pedal.

However, what gets lost is that float is not a natural thing – the two dimensional activity allowed by float in no way resembles the three dimensional action the foot takes when walking or running. Float was created because it was better than the simply locking the foot into place and allowing for no movement at the foot, which wreaks havoc on the knees.

If you look at how your foot works off the bike then you see that the contact patch with the ground at the point of pushing off does not move laterally and instead stays planted. Your foot, on the other hand, went through a whole series of movements in all three dimensions as it struck the ground mid-foot, bent and rolled through the arch to the forefoot and then pushed off from there. Your foot needs this specific movement sequence, not some man made mish-mash of crap created by “optimal float”.

You can not just look at the end of a movement and disregard how your body got to that point in the first place. The clipless pedal and shoe does just that – the attachment point is placed based on maximizing the push off point of the foot and severely restricts the action the foot normally takes to get there. Float is simply an attempt to minimize the damage from such a disregard for natural foot movement.

So yes, flat pedals don’t have float which is actually another reason that I ride them. Float is a sad trade off for the natural foot movement my body needs to stay healthy as I rack up the miles/ hours on the trail. Again, use clipless pedals for what they were intended to be – a performance enhancer on race day, not as a fall back crutch for a lazy pedal stroke and riding technique. And don’t let industry created hype terms scare you from trying flat pedals and seeing how much better your joints feel and your riding improves.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Blue Camp says:

    Interesting. Thanks! I started riding a bike for fun and fitness back in May of 2011 and use flat pedals, mostly because I didn’t realize there were other kinds. I have been reading about clipless pedals and pondering whether I should try some, but your article makes me wonder why I would want to change from the pedals I am already happily enjoying. I think I will stick with my flats since I am not feeling any pain or soreness and enjoying my rides. Your article is a refreshing take on this topic and I appreciate it.

    Reply • January 9 at 6:28 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Glad you liked it, knowing that I saved a fellow rider some pain and a massive loss of fun makes it worth it. Keep riding hard on your flats and keep having fun.

      Reply • January 9 at 10:52 am
  2. John (aka Wish I Were Riding) says:

    The only reason I haven’t tried flats is I’m worried I’ll come off the pedals on a jump or bumpy downhill (I ride rigid), and I have very sensitive shins (and don’t want to wear pads). Is my worry unfounded?

    P.S. I use Speedplay Frog pedals, and I believe their main selling point was float. 😉

    Reply • January 9 at 9:01 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Yeah, you’ll be surprised how quickly you adapt. Get some 5-10 sticky rubber shoes and your feet will not slip off, they make a huge difference while you are learning. Just ground your feet into the pedals like when you do a kettlebell swing and you will be fine. Invest in some cheap shin pads, though, they will help you have more confidence to go for things. Once you have it down you won’t need them.

      Reply • January 9 at 10:56 am
  3. John K. says:

    @ John, there is a learning curve with flats. I would highly recommend you get some light cheap BMX pads for your first few rides. Once you make the adjustment to flats (and it doesn’t take long) then you can leave the pads at home.

    BTW, I used to ride clipless. I had some really scary ejects in the air when riding clipless, and float directly contributed to those ejects. In my unscientific opinion, 99% of riders will have much more control on flat pedals.

    James, I’m sort of surprised to see these posts on your website. Is this still an issue where you live? Up here in northern BC, I’d say 99% of aggressive trail riders are on flats and nobody even talks about clipless anymore. Up here at least, the debate has moved on. The diehard x-c crowd still uses them, but they usually stick to fireroads so I don’t run into them.

    Reply • January 9 at 9:31 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      99% of riders at every trailhead I go to are still on clipless, glad to hear you live in a more progressive area but they are still pushed on new riders as being better.

      Reply • January 9 at 10:51 am
  4. Rich says:

    Just wondering what your thoughts are regarding SPD’s on road bikes? would you recommend flats for road riding too?

    I know you’ve mentioned in previous articles you dont recommend road riding as a good training method for MTB but as a bike commuter it’s a must!

    Reply • January 9 at 1:02 pm
  5. Tim says:

    I started out using SPD and after many unfortunate mishaps, switched to flats, and I for one will never go back. My legs were not designed to pull up on a bike stroke and I never slip off or have grip problems once I learned how to ride my pedals. And by the way it was after reading Bike James I switched, Thanks

    Reply • January 9 at 1:18 pm
  6. Geoffrey says:

    James, are you on a diet? Not getting enough sleep? I ask, because it seems that your posts are getting grouchier and grouchier, and I’m starting to picture you shaking your cane at riders, yelling, “Drop yer saddle and do some standing climbing, you hooligans, and stay off my lawn!”

    I ride flats. I climb standing. I recognize the physiological imbalances, but, jeepers, if you explain the errors without hurling grumpitosity everywhere, are you concerned that us simple-minded folks won’t understand?

    I was at my doctor today, and he was impressed with my range of motion, and my speed of healing, and he thought TGUs were very cool. I’m also convinced my crash would have been uglier had I been in clipless pedals. And I do all my weight lifting in bare feet. All this to say, I have no disagreements with your positions, I simply think you needn’t take the grouchy tone.

    Just my thoughts. I’d write more, but I have some 1/4 TGUs to do, among other things.

    If you want to see silly, go to the BMX track, where you can see five year olds in clipless pedals. I believe it allows someone to pump while manualing by pulling the feet up going into a lip, but I don’t think the five year olds are doing that.

    Reply • January 9 at 1:18 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      One man’s “grumpy” is another man’s “passionate”. I am very passionate/ grumpy about riders being lied to and getting hurt in the process.

      Reply • January 10 at 10:50 am
  7. Ash says:

    Hi James,

    You have me convinced to go back to flats to develop my technique and I’m saving up for a set of 5-tens and some flats. I do however think clipless has some merits that haven’t been part of the discussion. Clipping in when you are starting out can teach you to keep pedalling through things rather than opt out and put your foot down. That’s how it was delivered to me anyway. I’ve seen people who haven’t ridden MTB much but have done a lot of road riding change to flats not because of pedal technique but because they wanna be able to put their foot down easily. We all know the best way through/over/across something is to look ahead and keep pedalling.

    I’m suggesting that maybe it is just a natural progression from flats to clipless and back to flats again. What do you thinks.

    Reply • January 9 at 5:21 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I have actually found the opposite to be true – most riders report having more confidence to try pedaling through things on flats since they know they can bail any time they need to. I am shocked at how many riders spend a significant amount of time pedaling unclipped or not even trying things because they are afraid of not being able to get unclipped. It may have worked for you but I don’t think that is the case for most riders. Thanks for the input, though, and let me know how the flat pedals work for you…

      Reply • January 10 at 10:29 am
  8. Sc00ter says:

    Sometimes you have to get “grumpitostic” in order for folks to open up their ears and close their mouths!

    I started out on BMX and then mtb. I bought into the whole “clipless is the next best ‘upgrade’ to suspension” which at the time only front suspension was available. (I am dating myself here). Now, close to 20 years later, I went back to FLATS because I quite frankly was not enjoying my riding and my lower back ALWAYS hurt. I wish I would have never spent the $100’s of dollars I did on clipless pedals and SPD style shoes. Now, I just rock some flats and some Chuck Taylor’s and man do I have fun!

    Yes, it took a while to loose the BAD HABITS I had developed by using clipless but every time I ride I feel stronger and LESS lower back pain. Thank you James for leading down the path of harder, faster, and stronger.

    Reply • January 10 at 12:05 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thank for sharing, glad the fun is coming back…

      Reply • January 10 at 10:43 am
  9. todd says:

    hi james,
    Only recently started to read ur threads and i agree with 90% of ur mindset. Weight training awsome, standing pedelling great, but using flats, not for the riding i do. I ride and race ss xc and use 32×16 gear and can climb 97% of the steepest climbs using this gear, all out the saddle. Its amazing how ur body adapts with the right weight training, cycling and ss mtb riding. I have never used flats on the ss but i would imagine they would fail on a ss. Mostly on the ss ur are grinding at 20-30 rpm out the saddle really using the upstroke to the max. Almost breaking ur cleats style! Also using alot of hip and hamstring when climbing. Flats would not fullfil this type of riding??
    Awsome work and really enjoy reading ur website james
    Todd

    Reply • January 10 at 1:29 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Completely disagree – you shouldn’t be pulling up with the trail leg as that pedal technique has been shown to be less effective than simply driving as hard as possible with the lead leg. I appreciate your input but your understanding of pedal technique is way off (pulling up doesn’t activate the hips more, driving hard with the lead leg does). You’d find your pedal technique would improve if you spent some time on flats but I understand. Read some of the articles in this category to learn the truth about pedal stoke:

      http://www.bikejames.com/category/barefoot-pedaling-flat-pedals/

      Reply • January 10 at 10:57 am
  10. Dan says:

    @Blue Camp Stick to flats! My brother and I have been riding mtb since the mid 80’s starting on flats. I had about a 5 year period of riding clipless somewhere about 2005-2010 then switched to flats (thanks James) and am loving it. I am still trying to get my powering up and jumping technique back after lazy riding for those 5 years. In the meantime my bro jumps and climbs everything on his flats that all the other clipless guys do. He used to ask me about maybe trying this clipless thing and I just said, “you’ve got it dialed man don’t change.”

    Reply • January 10 at 9:30 am
  11. byron says:

    Hi James – Interesting really. I have been toying with the idea of clips again and ditching the clipless. I feel this will give me the best of both worlds and I used to be able to all the technical stuff I can now. What do you think? I have got knee pain but its more due to riding a single speed in the wrong gear than using cleats.

    Reply • January 10 at 1:28 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Toe clips are not disrespectful to natural foot movement as clipless pedals but with a good pair of flats and 5-10 sticky rubber shoes your feet won’t come off the pedals. Sticky rubber changed the game – you don’t need something holding your foot on the pedals but either choice is better than clipless if you are worried about retaining natural foot movement.

      Reply • January 10 at 3:25 pm
  12. Jethro says:

    James! Great articles! I started riding a few years back with a “bike fit” on a tri bike with clipless pedals. After creating more imbalances, i started riding in the dirt. Came across your site as I have been using the KB to help get rid of the inefficiencies and imbalances created by riding a tri bike. I no longer ride my tri bike and mainly ride on the dirt. My “fat tire” road bike is set up similar to my MTB with flats. No more back pain, much stronger on the road and on the dirt, and even a few weeks back on clipless, i feel as though i am much more efficient. I am no longer getting unclipped while on steep climbs. Just did San Francisco to San Diego on a road bike with flats. All the others were in pain and didnt stand up to climb once. They dont know what they are missing!

    Instead of single leg pedaling like i used to do, now its pistols and hill sprints. What do you think?

    Reply • January 10 at 2:32 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Sounds like a much better approach, I like it…

      Reply • January 10 at 3:22 pm
  13. Tubby says:

    In relation to Geoffrey’s post, too much fasting I think 🙂

    Perhaps retailers are using float as an argument to not go with flats at this point but I don’t think float was developed to market against flats. The way I look at it is, to borrow your analogy, when you run you don’t always plant your foot in the exact same ploace on each stride. So while running is a repetitive movement over an over again there is some slight variation in each repetition. Float just lets you vary the movement slightly with each pedal stoke. There is also certainly not enough resistance between a flat pedal and shoe to be considered locked into one position. One can certaily get 6 degrees of side to side heel movement without lifting a foot of the pedal even with the best flats and shoes. Anyone selling clipless vs flats based on float is out to lunch.

    While I may not always agree with your approach or opinions you are always thought provoking which keeps me coming back.

    P.S. I am finishing up the KB program this week with a 35lb. Plan on running through again with a 45lb now that I have the hang of it. Although I am very scared to do the intervals with the heavier weight, those things are brutal.

    Reply • January 10 at 3:03 pm
  14. ED BIRCH says:

    FLATS WITH A STICKY SHOE [ 5.10] GIVE ME ALL THE ‘LIFT’ I NEED………POWER DOWN WITH LEADING LEG, AND PEDAL THROUGH ‘DEAD’ SPOT BY LIFTING THROUGH THE BOTTOM OF STROKE USING HAMMIES
    WOULD NEVER THINK OF TRYING CLIPLESS AGAIN; UNDER ANY CONDITION.
    JUST ONE QUESTION…….I HAVE RECENTLY STARTED TRAINING ON A S.S. AND LOVING EVERY MINUTE. WOULD LIKE SOME THOUGHTS THOUGH ON GEAR SELECTION. I USE A 34:18 COMBO, AND WORKS WELL, THOUGH I MUST ADMIT I AM AM USING MUSCLES I NEVER KNEW I HAD TO GET UP THE STEEP STUFF!
    KEEP UP THE GRUMPY……………..MAYBE UNCLE SAM WILL GIVE U A CONTRACT!!
    REGARDS…………………………..ED

    Reply • January 10 at 10:53 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Have to plead ignorance on gear ratios for SS bikes – I just ride what I have under me and don’t really pay a lot of attention to it. I don’t have a SS so that might change if I do, wish I could be of more help…

      Reply • January 11 at 12:02 pm
  15. electric says:

    The concept of float was an invention of the clipless pedal community to enable people to use their product. Where it came from probably had a lot todo with their customers poorly aligned cleats and desire to increase market share by making clipless pedals “friendly” to noobs who setup the cleats improperly and hurt their knees. To reverse process that brought about float and conclude any pedal without float is now dangerous is obviously not a valid line of argument.

    There are lots of clipless pedals out there without float yet you don’t see the anti-flat brigade harping about them do ya? Nuff said.

    Reply • January 11 at 1:14 am
  16. electric says:

    I’ll also add that float now enables you to swing your heels without clipping out. Swing your heels with flats and you put unlimited body English into the bike, with clips you’re risking sudden clipping out. Sticky rubber really was a game changer.

    Reply • January 11 at 1:18 am
  17. Jim says:

    James,

    I was always under the impression that float was needed in clipless pedals because the cleat and shoe did not allow you foot to move naturally and caused knee problems. With flats there is nothing to prevent your foot from moving in a natural way.

    Reply • January 11 at 6:46 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Float still isn’t natural foot movement…

      Reply • January 12 at 7:37 am
  18. electric says:

    Looking at track sprinters they’re putting SPIKES in their shoes to get that power down the ground while preventing slipping or rotation.

    Reply • January 11 at 9:47 pm
  19. Nathan says:

    I have been riding clipless for years but my wife made the switch to flats almost a year ago and she has been trying to get me to change ever since. I kept telling her that she was wrong and clipless was the best thing since full suspension. It seems I had the same mind set as alot of people, if the pro’s are using them we must use them. Well after reading all of this it looks like my wife might be right. I guess I will dig out the flats and the 5.10’s she got me for Christmas and give them a try this weekend.

    Reply • January 11 at 11:09 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Don’t you hate it when your wife is right? I try not to let mine know how much she is 😉

      Reply • January 12 at 7:44 am
  20. Nathan says:

    I have spent the past 3 days on the flats with the 5.10’s and it has been great!! I feel like a kid again on my bmx bike raising hell!!! It’s actually more fun it’s almost like you have more freedom…im not sure if that is the right example but the feeling is somewhat hard to explain. Neverless I am so glad I made the switch!!!!

    Reply • January 16 at 3:48 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Having fun is what it is all about, glad you have rediscovered the freedom that made riding fun in the first place.

      Reply • January 17 at 8:18 am
  21. Charles says:

    Flats vr clips I use both, flats on my Dh and fr bikes clips on my xc, am bikes. I think flats give you max float because your not clipped in you can shift your foot around as need be. I use 5/10 on fire eye grill pedals, so its all most like being clipped in but still free to shift my foot as I English down the trail. Clips I use crank bros because of the high degree of lateral float, most natural feeling clip going. PEACE

    Reply • January 17 at 8:36 am
  22. Tom P. says:

    James…. I finally tried your advice after many years on a few rides recently. I must say that I have not converted completely to flats yet as clipless is pretty well ingrained for me, HOWEVER, I offer this. Immediately, I was able to find any weakness in my technical riding ability. Also, I have no doubt that I experienced the following – no knee pain, improved power transfer to the pedals, better balance, better cornering, and a better feel for the bike overall. I noticed immediately that I had a more “duck footed” position on the pedals which is my natural stance to begin with…No knee pain! Also, warmer feet was a huge plus as the cleat did not tranfsfer cold into my shoe and my feet had more room be comfortatble. I have not converted back…yet….but can defintiely see this as an option again…I do not however like the fact that the pedals are much larger, but do think I can get used to that….thanks for the advice and go Five Ten!

    Reply • January 17 at 4:16 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for the sharing your experience, all I ask is that riders give it an honest try to see for themselves. Not hurting after a ride is a pretty big deal in my book, saying nothing of the extra fun you have knowing you won’t fall over if you can not get unclipped.

      Reply • January 18 at 8:43 am
  23. Jeff says:

    James,
    Nothing brings more comments on your blog, mtbr, or any forum than the subject of flats vs clipless pedals. I’ve driven my bike with both and will never switch back to clipless. I think most clipless advocates have never used a good pair of flat pedals and 5-10 shoes.

    Reply • January 21 at 10:18 am
  24. Cadge says:

    Ive rode flats for several years now and i ride 9 miles to and from work 5 days a week. After Acl surgery on both knees a year ago and 14 months of physio, ive opted to run clipless road shoes and the difference is night and day. Constantly having downwards force applied to your knees is possibly one of the worse things you can do, to ALL the ligaments involved. Float is merely a safety measurement that lets you keep the natural placement of your foot on the pedals while also leaving room for error or adjustment if you have had previous knee problems, or have odd shape soles. Yes you can simply lift and adjust your foot when using flats, but running spd’s half’s the downwards force applied to the knee joint as your also pulling up with your back foot at the same time. This works the calf and produces more core strength in the knee and surrounding muscles. It also allows for movement whilst cycling, which sometimes is difficult to do if you run sticky sole 5-ten shoes with big pin flats, dmr’s for instance. To say float is bad for you is abit silly considering its recommended for beginners and people like myself who have had knee issues. At the end of the day too much cycling is bad for joints regardless of what kind of pedals you use.

    Reply • June 2 at 3:23 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      First, thanks for you input and sorry to hear about your injury. However, I do have to disagree with your points about downward force on the knees being bad for them and the need to pull up with the back foot. I am sure that whoever told you that had the best of intentions but that train of thought is not the only one nor the one with the best science behind it.

      Here is an article I wrote on the new views on pedals stroke and how to apply a better understanding of functional movement to the pedal stroke:

      http://www.bikejames.com/strength/which-muscles-are-used-during-the-pedal-stroke/

      I would also have to say that without knowing a lot more about your training, injury and general history it is hard to say that the flat pedals had anything to do with your ACL injury (not sure if you were saying it had a role) and I do know that one of the best things you can do for the ACL is to teach the hamstring to resist movement and help stabilize the knee joint, not drive force and movement through and unstable knee joint. To do this on the bike you should stand up more – this forces your body into a better posture and allows for full knee extension and more hip extension, which takes the pressure off the knees and low back.

      Riding your bike is not bad for you, sitting and spinning for hours on end is bad for you – those are two different things. Ride clipless if you want to but don’t worry about pulling up, simply drive hard with the lead leg. And stand up to pedal on all you hard efforts – yes it will be hard at first but you’ll improve your efficient and endurance in that position and get better at it fast. This will take a lot of the stress off you knees and focus it on the hips, which is where it should be.

      And I stick by my assertions in this article – pedal float is not the same as the interaction of you foot with a flat pedal and from a movement standpoint changes things. It is a made up term and is not something that your foot needs or even wants to have.

      Good luck with everything, either way you go the fact that you are being proactive and trying to figure out something to help your situation is great.

      Reply • June 3 at 8:24 am
  25. Cadge says:

    The Acl and Pcl are the 2 most commonly affected ligaments when it comes to cycling (And no, my injury was due to a crash not the fact i ran flats) I have no problems with riding either pedal but i prefer the feeling of riding clipless. My physio advised NOT to apply to much down-force as this would most certainly result in more injury and would only help build thigh muscle strength instead of core strength. When you tighten up (Or build up strength) in the front of your leg, the rear muscles (calf’s etc) suffer. Its like if you were to do 100 sit ups a day and not do any exercise on your back, your lower back would suffer because of your abb muscles being so strong. It must be balanced. And this is coming from a top physio/surgeon who them self has had previous knee issues. I dont NOT like flats, i run nukeproof pedals on my bmx and they are a treat. But having 6/7 or 9 degrees of lateral movement whilst pedaling is no bad thing, your heels are always twisting using flats no matter what. Ive rode bikes for nearly a decade now and and all my previous bikes have had flats, and my foot has been able to move on every single pair. Having some freedom and more movement is always a good thing

    Reply • June 3 at 4:32 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I didn’t think that you were anti-flats, thanks for clarifying. With a handle on your email that has bmx in it I figured you appreciated what they could do for you. It is more about the picture you are painting about the pedal stroke and how you want to apply clipless pedals to it. I understand that you have this description from a trusted source but based on what I presented in that article I linked to and in researching this subject I have to say that it is wrong.

      You absolutely do not want to be “pulling up” on he upstroke and trying to apply power to the pedals in an attempt to “even out” strength in the leg muscles. This is false logic and not how the human body operates. Take a look at that article and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have on it but I think it does a pretty good job of explaining why that is not how you want to pedal a bike.

      Again, I know that you are doing the best you can based on the info you have, I just have to respectfully point out that whoever gave it to you is not up on the latest info regarding the subject and if you look into it a bit further you might change your view as well.

      Reply • June 4 at 8:35 am
  26. the Bevinator says:

    James,I am a endurance mtbiker that just turned 51. have been diagnosed with possible PES ANSERINE bursitis/tendonitis…pain starts about 30min into a ride…find that I habitually “clip out” at the “top” of stroke..this is putting ALOT of torque on my lower leg…and REALLY aggravates the knee..I am contemplating trying out FLATS to see if I can continue to ride while doing physical therapy!! do you have any experience with PES ANSERINE?? I live in Phx AZ and the terrain here is quite rocky/rough…that is a concern of mine going to FLAT pedals?? If that will help with knee issue…I’ll be a “convert” for sure!!
    thanks for any input!! 🙂

    Reply • June 11 at 10:33 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      While I don’t have experience with that particular type of knee pain it sounds like it would help, especially if you are pulling out at the top from pulling up so hard. Worst case scenario is that you refine your pedal stroke and technical skills, best case scenario you get that and your knee pain goes away. I’d say give it a shot.

      Reply • June 11 at 1:49 pm
  27. the Bevinator says:

    Ps….I do some “technical” riding also!

    Reply • June 11 at 11:22 am
  28. Vic says:

    While there’s merit to your argument the logic used isn’t very strong. Much of what occurs in the foot strike while running or walking is the biomechanics involved in absorbing the shock of the individuals’ gait. You can be putting 3x your bodyweight each foot strike and your body’s natural mechanics help absorb this shock and help transfer that to forward locomotion. Be it loading up the calf, foot arch or whatever. This situation never happens cycling be it the very stiff shoes or the low support requirements. The power application cycle is also distinctly different in cycling than walking or running. Cycling you push primarily down while running you support your weight but the power generation is as your legs cycle toward the rear. Thus the entire foot location pattern, viewed from the side, is vastly different in each discipline. In addition the majority of the time in cycling you’re not supporting your bodyweight thus the feet/heels/knees/hips do not need to be in the most stable position to be in a strong enough position to easily accommodate the movement.

    In reality cycling power application looks more like a squat just with the legs working independently. If you actually do some squat tests, most people don’t have the hip and ankle flexibility NOT to rotate their feet outward during this movement. But fortunately the cycling movement doesn’t go toward a full squat so the need to rotate the feet outward is minimized as the leg reaches full extension.

    So while I partially agree with your conclusion that the foot does move on a different axis than what is allowed by most clipless systems, how much that makes a difference it makes depends on the individual. But definitely using the running comparison is flawed as the demands asked of the body are vastly different and the power application pattern is also different. There’s good reason why you can’t run as effectively in cycling shoes vs running shoes. It’s a not the same motion.

    Reply • June 10 at 8:58 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I agree that the pedal stroke is not like the running stride and that is something I have come to appreciate more over the years. In fact, I have an aritcle I wrote on why you don’t want to push through the ball of your foot on the pedals that explains why this is and how this affects our approach to the pedal stroke. While this does make my exact comparison not as relevant (this article is several years old), I still stand behind the assertion that pedal float is unnatural and that it causes problems. Whether you are running or just pressing your foot down into something like when pedaling or doing a squat/ deadlift in the gym the foot acts very differently than what pedal float allows them to do and this does have consequences.

      I also disagree with the assumption that that you don’t need your feet in a stable position because you aren’t supporting your weight, i.e. standing up. One of my biggest issues with clipless pedal float is that it makes it harder to stand up and pedal since your feet are less stable than they would be with a solid platform. If you look at how your foot acts in nature the only time your foot doesn’t have lateral friction is when you are standing on ice…and we all know how stable that makes you feel. I think that most riders sit down way too much and need to stand more, which requires a stable foot position. Sure, once you get good at standing pedaling you can do it on clipless pedals with float but the truth is that it is a hard skill to learn on clipless pedals.

      At the end of the day we both agree that clipless pedals don’t allow your foot to move in the same way it normally does and in my experience this always causes problems.

      Reply • June 11 at 10:23 am
      • Vic says:

        You try and make it sound like an individual can’t do squats while on their tiptoes. It’s biomechanically possible and unless you’re very flexible in your calves you do it EVERY time you go into a catcher’s squat. The only reason that proper squatting form is defined with feet flat on the ground is because the arch in your foot isn’t designed to take much more than your body weight and can lead to foot injuries on heavy lifts like the squat! The foot arch is designed to act like a spring to return some energy back into your walking form and provide additional forward propulsion. You can load the foot arch up with sub 30% body weight loads (cycling) all day long as you do more than that everyday walking.

        The logic that clipless is like standing on ice is fine if that’s the summation you want to try and make. However, most people DON’T struggle standing on ice. It’s when they try to create forward momentum is where people struggle. Add in some hand grips and a seat for the hip range of motion through the pedal stroke and any kind of person who has decent balance and doesn’t need help standing up normally won’t have issues here. Spend some time on the ice with street shoes and you’ll find it’s only generating momentum is where the problems arise.

        Honestly, you’re just here making summations that support your theory. You just don’t know enough about physiology to make the claims you’re making on the basis you’re trying to use. So while I agree that many use clipless as a crutch for their skills and for some people it can be a limiter to their natural movement… it doesn’t apply to everybody. But definitely it’s not for the reasons you cite.

        Reply • June 11 at 2:31 pm
        • bikejames bikejames says:

          You don’t have to be “very flexible” to squat properly, you just need adequate mobility. Just because someone lacks the ankle mobility to do a proper squat doesn’t mean that the definition of a proper squat changes, it means that their training program is lacking. The reason that you need your foot flat on the ground is so that both ends of the arch are supported so that the arch itself is supported. When you are on your toes then only one end of the arch is supported, which leads to an unstable arch. It also shifts stress away from the hips and places more of it on the knees, which isn’t great for them. So sure, you can do it but it isn’t the most efficient way to transfer force through the legs.

          And I would like to see you try and squat up and down while standing on your toes on ice and then tell me that creating forward momentum is the only issues you have on ice. Standing still on ice isn’t a problem but creating any kind of movement starts to be affected by the lack of stability.

          And yes, having a handlebar helps (not sure how a seat helps with standing pedaling, which is what I was specifically referring to in my previous reply) but your body isn’t fooled – it can recognize the instability in the foot and it will change how you move based on whether you “feel” it or not. Either way, I still say that it is easier to learn how to stand up and pedal on flats because of the more stable and natural platform it provides your foot and that this more natural platform is better for your foot in the long run.

          And if you can point out where I am mistaken in my understanding of physiology then please let me know, just saying that I don’t know enough without backing it up doesn’t really prove anything. So far I’ve had an answer for everything you’ve asked so I’m not sure where my understanding is lacking…

          Reply • June 15 at 11:04 am
          • Vic says:

            Sadly, you truly haven’t had much of, “an answer for everything,” as now you’re trying to misconceive total body balance with foot instability. They’re VERY different things. As per the squat, you’re pretty much elaborating on what I said, with your foot flat on the ground your arch isn’t loaded and thus is safer for heavy lifts. If you want to go further on this arch criticism proper form sprinting doesn’t even have your heels touch the ground, it’s all about the amount of load and not about the instability of the foot.

            It’s interesting how you discount the benefits of having the majority of a rider’s weight on a saddle and having another contact point to the bike… but I digress, you’ve yet to indicate, using physiology not some personal theory, how a foot needs stability of the ground (2D flat plane as once you start applying force the pedal is flat) but is somehow screwed up by having 2-6 degrees of 2D lateral float. If your best argument is your “it can recognize the instability in the foot and it will change how you move based on whether you “feel” it or not.” This would seem to indicate that walking on sand and softpack dirt would exacerbate the same problems with the addition of 80% more weight on the ground. As the majority of the time on the bike the pedals see only a small portion of the rider’s body weight as that’s more distributed between the saddle and handlebars (unless this is for downhill only). Honestly, the majority of the issues you’ve highlighted can be attributed toward poor body angles/flexibility. Fixing the position and being able to apply force from a mostly stable position that’s less than 1/3 of the rider’s weight (think bosu ball exercises which is MUCH more unstable and MUCH more weight) is what should be worked on instead of automatically jumping at criticisms of industry and equipment.

            • June 20 at 3:13 pm
          • bikejames bikejames says:

            You don’t understand how the foot acts differently when breaking contact with the ground like running or walking and when it stays in contact with the ground like when squatting/ deadlifting or pedaling your bike (your foot doesn’t come off the pedal stroke as you pedal). Both examples you gave – sprinting form and walking on sand – are different than squatting or deadlifting. This is the “physiology” you are asking for, you just don’t know enough about the words you use to recognize that.

            Given that you don’t understand this simple bit of physiology it makes it tough to respond to your other points as they are based on a faulty logic from this misunderstanding.

            • September 24 at 4:48 pm
  29. RooBah says:

    Been riding flats since the 1960’s and I just love my new Magnesium/Ti’s on the Jackal.

    Reply • September 22 at 4:04 pm
  30. lelen says:

    This may work for some or most, but I have tried flats and they kill my knees in as little as 10 miles of easy riding and I feel pain for days. Standard Shimano SPD’s with 5 degrees of float again kills my knees, though less than flat peddles. I can ride my Speedplays on my road bike and Bebops on my mountain bikes all day with minimum or no pain. I’m 45 and have motorcycle crash damaged knees, so my problem may differ than knee wear pain.

    Reply • September 15 at 11:12 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Sorry to hear that, it sounds like you may have some unique knee issues that are going to bother you no matter what. I still contend that pedal float is unnatural and not how you foot works and that with some time and practice you would be better with flats but as long as you are getting out and enjoying the trail then rock what works for you.

      Reply • September 16 at 9:32 am

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