MTB Strength Coach Podcast: Barefoot Pedaling & Clipless Pedaling Myths

Here is a complete look at what exactly is Barefoot Pedaling, why experiencing a performance dip is common and why most of the advantages attributed to clipless pedals simply are not true. Enjoy!

You can download the MP3 file and subscribe to this podcast by clicking here.
-James Wilson-

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  1. Rick Beauchamp says:

    Hi James, love your podcast. I have shared some of your other articles on clipless vs flats on my facebook and have received several comments about how much better clipless is. At the last race I looked around and from the intro class to cat 3 class, I don’t think I saw anyone with flats except me. I just upgraded my flats to Wah-Wah’s (that is what Kona calls there premium flats) and love them. Thanks for the great information and keep it coming.


    Reply • July 16 at 6:48 pm
  2. Janet says:

    Hi James,
    I enjoyed your podcast. Do you have any specific recommendations for road cyclists?

    Reply • July 18 at 2:00 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ Janet – same thing, stand more and ditch the clipless pedals except for truly long rides (5+ hours) and racing. Barefoot Pedaling is applicable to all type of cycling, I’m just trying to save the mountain bikers. Hopefully someone can pick this up and bring it to the roadies, their just not my crew and I have zero credibility with them.

      Reply • July 19 at 10:19 am
  3. Walt says:

    I took your advise and am going to give it a month and see. It’s only been a week and already I notice that the persistant, nagging lower back/ hip pain (right side) was not as bad yeaterday. I’ve had it for years. Sometimes I even have to stop. But not yesterday. I barely noticed it. And this is only after a week! Plus, I have to admit… I had more fun standing up on the climbs even though it was more work. But I’ll get use to it again. Actually, standing up is really nothing new. Pro xc racers do it all the time. I have a friend who is one and asked him what would happen if you didn’t stand on the climbs? His response was: “You lose.” You see, if I hadn’t had this back trouble, I never would have done it and just been content sitting and spinning like every other misguided dweeb out there. The pros know standing is betterbecause you can’t turn a big gear sitting down and you get way more power. Even Lance is standing on those big alpine climbs. But you are so right about the bike dweeb mentality where they tell you that you are supposed to sit and spin to save energy. They have it all wrong. Way to shake up their reality, James. I have a quick story…. Once I went on a mtb ride with a bike dweeb on a $7000 mountain bike and a kid on a hard tail who had never been on a mountain bike before. But he was an experienced bmxer. The dweeb kept giving the kid all this advise telling to raise up his seatpost and how ride, etc. I just said let him ride because he was doing good. That was an understatement. The kid sprinted up all the hills standing, hopped logs, and shredded the downhills. He left the dweeb in the dust and just about kept up with me. You could tell the dweeb was crushed because he rode all the time and lived and breathed biking. Maybe , he should have listened to you and changed his riding style and training methods, huh?
    Anyway, I’ll report back in a month.

    Reply • July 19 at 8:36 am
  4. Dylan says:


    Could you post a video of proper barefoot pedaling technique? I have been working on standing up a lot on my climbs, but with a pack, helmet and pads strapped to my back, the stacking the shoulders over the hips has been hard to figure out. I would like to watch something to get my technique right before I create some bad habits, or possible overuse injuries.


    Reply • July 21 at 8:44 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ Dylan – check out my videos on the deadlift to see how to move from the hips and keep things stacked. To be honest this is a perfect example of why you have to get off the bike to train movements you need on the bike. I’ve tried to teach riders on the bike to straighten up but it isn’t until I get them off the bike and show them how to do exercises like the deadlift that they start to get it.

      Reply • July 26 at 3:45 pm
  5. Forrest says:

    Thanks James, I tried it.On my last ride I rode the entire trail standing up.Everything you said in your podcast was true.What a difference!A few things that stood out to me was how much more speed I got with the same effort, I guess do to I had the weight of my body helping power every stroke instead of relying on my just my quads.Also I noticed I saw the trail a lot better do to a higher perspective and can ride a lot more aggressively by weighting corners and pumping everything because I was already standing up.

    Reply • July 23 at 11:15 am
    • bikejames says:

      @ Forrest – You went faster and had more fun? Don’t tell the sit and spin crew…

      Reply • July 26 at 3:46 pm
  6. J.R. says:

    After listening, and reading what you had to say about platforms I decided to give them a try. It was time for a new set of shoes anyways so I just ordered a set of Atomlab Pimplite pedals, and a set of Five Ten Desert Enforcer shoes. All the trails down here in South Florida are flooded this time of year, but I will post again once I get some real trial time on this set up and let everyone know how it works out.

    Reply • July 24 at 10:02 am
  7. Brant says:

    James – Your website is a wonderful resource. The topic of clipless vs. flats is one that I have been considering for some time. In this and other posts, you have stated that studies have shown that a trained rider can generate up to 10% more power with clipless pedals. Maybe I missed it, but this doesn’t seem to address the issue of efficiency, i.e. how much energy does a rider’s body utilize to generate the same amount of power on flats vs. clipless? Also, could you direct me to some of the studies you’re referring to?

    Thanks and keep up the great work.

    Reply • July 26 at 11:45 am
    • bikejames says:

      @ Brant – I made that 10% number up because I was sure there had to be an advantage but the more I look into it the less I think there is one. The more I get into it the more I realize that all clipless pedals do is allow you to gain a mechanical advantage in a dysfunctional position (seated). As soon as you stand the advantages are gone and since I think you should stand as much as possible it is kind of a moot point (comparing apples to oranges). If you find something let me know, my research has turned up little, which was my first clue that the advantages of clipless were more in the realm of myth than reality…

      Reply • July 26 at 3:50 pm
  8. Wayne says:

    I’m glad you say “I think” because clearly this is an opinion based article.

    Why don’t we say “As soon you start pedaling the advantages of flat pedals are gone”

    I’ve said this numerous times before, and James, listen up you might learn something. You can ride clipless pedals EXACTLY the same as you can while riding flats – when you are coasting or standing. The only difference being that you can pull up when you need extra pedaling force. That means basically there are no disadvantages (to a downhill racer) in using clipless but a whole lot more disadvantages to using flats.

    Everyone, including those WC racers on flats, would be faster on clipless pedals if they used that technique. All things being equal though, like using clipless pedals is second nature.

    I’ve caught guys in corners because I don’t unclip while they throw a leg out. Because I’m on spd’s and I’ve learned how to ride them – I don’t have a choice but to stay clipped in the corners. They are on flats and don’t feel the need to keep they’re inside foot on the pedal. Unless the turn is super slick or sketchy, you will be faster staying on the pedals. Cornering, I might add, is my weakest riding trait.

    Reply • October 9 at 12:19 pm
    • bikejames says:

      Sorry but this is far more than just my opinion. The “spin circles” and “pull through the top” advice has been proven to be wrong so can we please stop repeating that old wives tale? I did a blog post on the scientific evidence behind these concepts (I got forwarded the studies confirming my assertions on the podcast after I had put it out which is why i did not mention it on it).

      In one of the studies it clearly showed that spinning circles and pulling through top is less powerful and efficient than letting people pedal naturally or telling them to press down hard i.e. “mash”. So, clipless pedals actually allow you to get away with an inferior pedal stroke that you literally can not get away with on flats. And you don’t have to take a foot off in a corner becuase you are on flats, that is simply their bad cornering technique.

      Thanks for taking the time to respond but I think you’ll find that there is a lot more to the story than what the clipless pedal mafia has lead you to believe and if you poke around here a bit more you might learn something that can liberate you from their lies about how to pedal.

      Reply • October 11 at 10:53 am
  9. Wayne says:

    Bullshit. If what you say was true then roadies and xc racers everywhere would be using flat pedals. Anyone using improper pedaling technique is simply a hack. You should go tell Andy Schleck that he should have used flat pedals and maybe he would have won the Tour.

    There is no “clipless pedal mafia” as you like to suggest. You are just pumping up that hype to sell your product. If you actually had any riding time on clipless pedals you would see how much more power you can gain if you use proper pedaling technique. I’ve spent years testing both methods. Like I already said, and read it slowly so you can understand, YOU CAN HAVE THE SAME TECHNIQUE RIDING CLIPLESS PEDALS AS YOU DO RIDING FLATS. Plus, the added benefit of the extra power of the upstroke. That’s not hype, that’s real. If you would like someone to teach you how to set up your cleats the gain these advantages, I’ll help you out.

    Sorry man, but you’ve lost all credibility on this one. This has to be without a doubt the dumbest crap I’ve read about cycling in a long time.

    Reply • October 12 at 7:04 am
    • bikejames says:

      So the research that I referred to is b.s.? Why don’t you address the fact that scientific studies back up what I said?Are you going to tell Andrew Coggan, Ph. D. (the man who literally wrote the book on power training for cycling) that he’s full of crap? I got my info from a presentation he did on the subject and he will tell you the same thing that I am – pulling up and “spinning in circles” is less powerful and less efficient. Please stop repeating myths unless you can disprove the science that I’ve presented.

      Also, I’ve addressed a lot of your points if you would do a bit more reading on the subject on this site. You are very under-informed on this subject and are instead simply repeating the clipless pedal mafia talking points.

      Lastly, this isn’t MTBR.com and you need to tone it down a bit. This is a place for civil discussion on the subject and not where you can come and be a smart ass. If you have something intelligent to say then please find a way to do it without being a troll about it.

      Reply • October 12 at 7:40 am
  10. Wayne says:

    I would tell anyone who says you can not get as much power out of a pedal stroke on clipless compared to flats that they are full of crap.

    Thanks for listening and good luck.

    Reply • October 12 at 9:38 am
    • bikejames says:

      Those are two different statements. You said that you can produce more power by pulling up which is not true. I never said that you can’t produce as much power with clipless, if I did show me where. Please try to keep your arguements straight, it is tough to have a discussion when you are not even sure what it is you’re saying.

      Reply • October 12 at 10:22 am
  11. Wayne says:

    No…. I never implied or said that anywhere, but nice attempt at back pedaling (pun intended). I am saying combining the downward force and upward force together to give you more power. I’m making the assumption that you are understanding this basic pedaling principle right? You are never just pedaling ‘up’, you are pushing downwards too. Therefore you are making way more power which can not be emulated with only flat pedals. That’s what was implied from my first reply.

    I have also never mentioned anywhere about ‘pulling through the top’ as you have. I only talk about matching the flat pedal masking technique with an upward stroke.

    Reply • October 12 at 12:00 pm
    • bikejames says:

      Listen, you’ve wasted enough of my time. Spinning circles is the same thing as what your talking about so you did say it. Pushing down and pulling up, spinning circles or pulling through the top or whatever you want to call it is not more powerful or efficient.

      You’ve shown that you don’t know the terminology or science behind this so please educate yourself a bit more before trying to tell me I’m wrong.

      Reply • October 12 at 12:57 pm
  12. Before Single speeding I don’t think I had pulled up forcefully, only lightened the drag foot. But there are times on a steep hill, that gets long enough that I have to drive my knee towards by handlebars forcefully with one flexor while mashing with the other glute and quad, while standing, then repeat with the other side. I know it makes a difference, cause I would stall otherwise. But it is for short term use only, as the hip flexor is such a small muscle. While seated I will use the hamstring to flex the knee to give the quads a break or help modulate the power spikes on a climb. I can get away with mashing more on the road than the dirt.

    Reply • March 1 at 12:50 am

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