Killing the “deadspot” in your pedal stroke with Barefoot Pedaling

I got some requests from people after my original Barefoot Pedaling post about how to pedal with the aid of the clipless interface. After thinking about it I realized it should be exactly how you run but clipless pedals allow you to change that natural rhythm. This video explains exactly how you should pedal, how clipless pedals allow you to change that and why this also means that there is no “dead spot” in a pedal stroke.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Ole says:

    tihi, footless pedals, tihi…

    Reply • May 19 at 1:17 am
  2. Chris Cowan says:

    I’ve had issues with overuse problems since August 2008. I’ve been riding clipless pedals for the last 16 years and I pedal exactly how James explains (the bad way). I’ve recently tried to switch back to platforms right after the birth of my 3rd daughter and failed (I was so exhausted with the baby that I didn’t have the patience to stick with it). After reading these articles I’m going to follow my original intuition again and make an honest effort to stick with it for the next year (my wife is going to hide my clipless pedals and shoes). Thanks for inspiring me to revisit platforms (again).

    Reply • May 19 at 9:13 am
  3. Sketch says:

    I believe the best explanation regarding the action required at the bottom of the pedal stroke was made by
    Brian Lopes (The sprint king), who said it’s like scraping dog sh*t from your shoe!

    PS. Thanks James and keep up the great work for MTB’rs

    Reply • May 19 at 9:31 pm
  4. Jeff says:

    James, After watching the video it seems like moving your seat a little forward would help with the hip drive pedal stroke, what are your thoughts?

    Reply • May 21 at 6:58 am
    • bikejames says:

      Being back a bit isn’t bad as it will let you use your quads more, what you don’t want is it being too far back and not letting you “scoop” through the bottom. I like to use standing and sitting pedaling to compliment each other – I stand most of the time and sit down to give my hips and core a rest. Hope this helps…

      Reply • May 22 at 2:40 pm
  5. electric says:

    I thought that also Jeff, common fitting approach is to have the pedal spindle directly beneath the bottom of the patella at the 3 o clock/level position… That might encourage the straight down push and not the arcing push described by James.

    Sore knees are common if the seat is too far backwards in general, which maybe because of the over-use of the quads to push straight down. Another issue wit straigh down push and crap pedal stroke is the seat being too low, with clipless you can easily drag the pedal backwards but you can’t while on platforms, maybe the seat height needs to be checked.

    Another thing, how do rocking hips come into play here… i was always told NO ROCKING! but it seems if you’re going to sweep back more then rocking might increase? Maybe more side planks are in order 😀

    Reply • May 22 at 10:04 am
    • bikejames says:

      Your hips won’t rock if they have enough anti-rotation stability. Renegade rows are one of the best exercises to work on that ability…

      Reply • May 22 at 2:38 pm
  6. Toby says:

    I went on a ride thinking about this post and noticed that since you sit behind the bottom bracket, you don’t get that full extension that James talks about. If I were a time trailist where you sit extremely forward on the bike, you might achieve that extension. Where I did find myself reaching that extension was during standup pedaling.

    Always enjoying your post James. Keep up the good work!!

    Reply • May 26 at 11:27 am
    • bikejames says:

      @ Toby – yes, you can not get the extra extension behind the body while seated but your hips can still drive through the deadspot. If your hips function this way then it will just happen but if they don’t you’ll tend to just push straight down and not “scoop” through. The exact angles are different but the overall concept can, and should, still be applied.

      Reply • May 27 at 6:58 am
  7. Joe Somontan says:

    Thanks for another great tip! My cousin told me the same thing and he’s been riding for over 10 years. I’m still learning how to ride technical and man, have I’ve had some injuries. It’s been 4 months and have noticed that climbing has been very week with flats. Found this out when I forgot my clip on shoes. Luckily, I have the dual clip/flat pedal from Shimano. Anyways, he recommended that I go back to flats completely to improve not only my pedaling technique but also my mtb technique. Going to try this for a while. Hopefully, I’ll feed back in a few months or so to let you know how I’m doing. Thanks again for the video and input.

    – Joe

    Reply • November 19 at 9:14 pm
  8. Hi James, excellent tip thanks!! Two questions:

    1. Would it be fair to say that getting the hips (gluts) dominating is more about awerness and good functional strength/recruitment patterns (as many of your other posts/programs address) as opposed to just the pedals and bike set up?

    2. I know you’ve recommended 5/10s before (which I bought recently) but apart from grip issues would it make sense to occassionally train/ride with a minimalist shoe for the benefit of the foot/ankle and whole kinetic chain?



    Reply • December 3 at 10:45 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Great questions…

      1. Awareness is a big part of it, and that is developed through awareness during strength training. It can be tough to figure it out on the bike since there is a lot of other things going on. However, flat pedals force you to develop a more hip dominant style and standing up more also forces that, so pedals and pedaling position can influence it.

      2. If you are referring to the Impact line of 5:10 shoes then yes, I do see a value in a more minimalist shoe. I actually like to pedal in the Freeriders as the soles are much thinner. They have another shoe that is a step below the Freeriders that is even more minimalist. I only wear the Impacts when riding downhill.

      Reply • December 5 at 6:18 pm
  9. Tav says:

    I am giving my clipless pedals a rest, to see if I Get rid of the cramps that I usually Get as soon as I Get to the 50km mark on my rides. The cramps start on my teardrop muscles (vastus mediales) and when I saw this vídeo started to wonder if this Same bad techniique of pedaling with a knee extension is the cause of the cramps, it makes sense now but I want to know what are your toughts on this matter James.

    Reply • May 16 at 1:00 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Very distinct possibility there. I’d also add in standing up more since that will force you to use your hips more and take some of the stress off the quads and knees. Give it a shot, you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised at the results.

      Reply • May 16 at 8:50 am
  10. RennyG says:

    Wouldn’t it be hugely helpful if the bike industry would install decent flat pedals on bikes before they went out the door and someone actually explained that a shoe with some grip or a grabby tread is an optimal setup! I have ridden clipless for years and suffered some horrific falls thanks to not being able to unclip. I love my flat pedals – thank YOU James for your article I read last fall and enjoyed several rides with flat pedals! It put the fun back in riding for me and really boosted my confidence. I intend to ride flats on the road bike as well this year. Thanks James for not being afraid to counter what has been the “norm” for so long.

    Reply • February 21 at 3:01 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Glad I could give you the info you needed to make a truly informed decision. I’m with you – the industry should spec trail bikes, especially entry level bikes aimed at beginners, with good flats so riders could get a real chance to try flats before being sold on the clipless pedal myths.

      Reply • February 22 at 10:27 am
  11. Jared says:

    Great info as always James! I just wanted to encourage everyone who is trying the switch back to flats to stick with it. It feels awkward at first and especially technical climbs. But after some conscious effort and just riding to have fun (BTW it’s way more fun!), you will improve your skills dramatically! I’ve been back on a couple good set of flats (thin and grippy are a must) and tried two different pairs of 5.10s and currently testing the Van’s gravel. I recommend both brands as they each have different strengths. Also, its hard to believe but I have not slipped a pedal in this year and a half of being back on flats. Anyway, I feel like I would have had a jump start with re-learning how to ride flats had I been practicing MTB Strength Training because it teaches you proper movement and standing pedaling becomes much more comfortable and powerful. Better late than never though! Enjoy the trails everyone!

    Reply • April 2 at 6:13 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with flats, I think that hearing from other riders who have done it before them will help some other riders see the benefits of giving them a shot.

      Reply • April 2 at 9:39 am
  12. SB66er says:

    Rotor Q-rings!!!

    Reply • May 20 at 2:11 pm
  13. Gus says:

    Great video. I am curious. I always hear you say ride standing most of the time. I understand the Attack Position, but honestly, do you guys ride for 1.5 hrs on fast XC and Singletrack standing and pedaling the majority of the ride? I don’t see any racers standing, in fact I see them all sitting. I know I cant stand and pedal for 15 minutes much les 1.5 hrs. Remember, I am talking about XC and Singletrack, not Downhill.

    Reply • May 28 at 3:38 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I guess I should clarify that a bit – I really mean to stand up for all your your hard pedaling efforts. Where exactly the tension levels go from “easy” to “hard” is subjective but in general if it is an easy spin I will sit and spin to let my core and legs rest but when I have to climb a hill or lay down some power I will stand. And I will stand for all flow or downhill sections.

      So, on a 1.5-2 hour ride I may be seated for 50% of it (give or take depending on the trail) but when I am standing is just as important as how long. Of course, even 50% is a lot more than most riders, who tend to only stand when they absolutely have to and are looking to sit back down ASAP.

      Hope this clears it up a bit, all I’m trying to say is that standing pedaling can be a strong position for you if you train it.

      Reply • May 28 at 5:28 pm
      • Gus says:

        Thanks for clearing that up, that is exactly how I try to ride, and what I was hoping you would say! Wasn’t looking forward to standing pedaling for an hour!

        Reply • May 29 at 7:41 am

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