Rider Q&A: A case for clipless, handling G-outs & chocolate milk

Q: James,

I rode flats for the first 7 years I rode downhill, but I decided to try clips last year and went back and forth for a summer trying both out on all types of terrain.  I decided that clips were definitely the way to go and I will never look back and have significantly progressed my riding since then.  Here’s some food for thought before you dismiss them completely. Clips aren’t about pedaling, people that say you can pedal stronger with clips are stupid as they do nothing to increase your power output, and nobody pulls up on their pedals while pedaling downhill.  Here are the reasons I like clips better:

1) Your feet stay planted on your pedals in rough technical sections and you don’t ever have to worry about your feet blowing off.  This is a huge benefit and eliminates a whole thing you have to think about in the rocks.  Tunnel trail in Santa Barbara was one of the trails that sold me on this. Also there are the rare moments when being able to quickly lift the rear of the bike up with your pedals can help when something unexpected comes at you. (on the whole safety thing i’ve had two of my buddies who race pro take themseves out this summer because their feet blew off their flat pedals in really bad places)

2) Pedaling in rough sections is much easier as your feet again aren’t going to get bounced off when un-weighting your pedal on the upstroke. Very evident in a couple places on the national champs course this year.

3) When you ride flats you are much more inclined to take your feet off the pedals in corners.  There are very few corners on downhill tracks that you actually need or want to hang a foot out.  It is comforting to take your feet off the pedals in corners because it prevents you from going down, but think about how many times you have actually had to touch your foot to the ground when you hang it out, probably not very often.  Riding clips I learned to keep my feet on the pedals in more corners which helps you keep better form and also lets you get back on the gas as soon as the corner is done which is HUGE.

4) It takes just as long to clip back in when you get good at it as it does position your foot correctly on flat pedals.

This being said, I am not totally against flats.  They are essential for people learning how to DH as if you start on clips you can develop bad habits and never learn how to really control the rear end of your bike.  Clips are also scary for a lot of people in really nasty sections if they are not confident in their skills as it is quicker to throw a foot out on flats.  If a track is super muddy flats are good as clips often clog up and you can’t clip in.  They are nice when crashing off of big jumps as it is easier to eject yourself from your bike. They are easier to at least get your foot back in a solid position on your pedals even if not the perfect spot so they can be an advantage on the track where there are lots of corners that you need to hang it out in.

The argument of flats vs clips is a better of two evils argument.  No system is perfect and you need to weigh your options and realize that there are both advantages and pentalties for either way you go.  Every rider needs to personally weigh their strengths and weaknesses to determine which system will work the best for them to get down the hill as fast as they can.  Be careful on reccomending so strongly the system that works the best for YOU as you have a lot of influence on up and coming riders and i guarantee you that it is not what will work best for everybody.

A: Thanks for the well thought out email, I appreciate it.  Just for the record, I learned how to ride in Santa Barbara. Cold Springs, Tunnels, Jesusita (forgot how to spell it) and Romero Canyon and the trails there helped shape the rider I am today.

However, I’m sure you expected that I would be able to offer some counter-points to your points. But I’m not going to do it because I feel that most of your points regarding advantages of clipless can be trained to be the same with flats (otherwise Sam Hill wouldn’t have won so many races without their aid) and boils down a difference of opinion there.

But I do have two things I would like to bring up. First, high level racing is not the same as regular ol’ trail riding so while I will admit that they may have some advantages for very specific purposes, most riders don’t need them and simply use them as a crutch. Bunny hopping, keeping your feet on the pedals and lifting the rear wheel are all done just as easily with flats when you learn the technique and most riders skip that process and just use the clipless pedals as a crutch. I still say that 99%+ of everyone who rides a mountain bike has no need for them.

Second, the fact that most riders use clipless pedals, despite the fact that they don’t offer any real advantages over flats, tells me that someone needs to be out there preaching the advantages of flats. You happened to spend 7 years on them before switching, your average rider is lucky to last 7 rides before being pressured into switching. I have also received dozens of email thanking me for giving riders “permission” to use flats – I seem to be the only one out there promoting them as being just as good if not better for the average rider. I hope that I have a strong influence on new riders and keep them from using clipless pedals too soon and/ or just because everyone else is doing it.

Thanks again for the email and hopefully we can disagree without disliking, good luck with your racing…


Q: Hello and greetings from Poland. I found your website yesterday, someone posted link to it on Polish DH forum in discussion about physical training and exercises for DH/FR riders. You are doing great job! I would love to take part in one of your camps but since it’s so far it’s beyond my reach.

After reading cornering tips I tried to use them this morning. I was surprised how small changes in body position can make a huge difference! In places where I had to use brakes before now I ride faster and with better control. I would love to see more tips like this.

I especially have problems with all kinds of step-ups or sections where terrain drops very steep and immediately rise. It creates gravity load in the lowest point and natural step-up jump just after it. Any tips for such kind of obstacles?

Thanks again for Your job and all helpful tips.

A: Thanks for the feedback and kind words, I’m glad my posts have helped you ride faster already. The trick to the problem you are talking about is to separate your body from the bike. Let the bike dive down but keep your body level by pushing your arms and legs into the dip and suck it up with them on the other side. Think about trying to hover over the top of your bike as it goes into the dip – the less your body moves with the bike the less you will notice the “G Out” (as we call it here). Hope this helps…


Q: I’m 3 workouts into your program, and I am looking at adding a recovery drink to get the most out of my workouts.  You reference Prograde Workout Shake, but I am reluctant to order $30 worth of stuff I’ve never tasted.  The “internet” seems to think that nonfat chocolate milk is a good recovery drink;  3-1 carbs to protein, low fat, etc.  Things I read on the internet are never wrong 🙂

But I thought I would get your opinion on post workout recovery drinks. Will chocolate milk get the job done, or do I need to get something fancier?  Thanks for the help.

A: ProGrade Workout has a money back guarantee so if you don’t like it you can return it for a full refund. Chocolate milk is better than nothing but not the best. Remember that “good enough” is the enemy of “the best” and personally I try not to settle for it. I buy the real deal post workout supplement – you’re not saving that much and you’d get better long term results…

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  1. Chris says:

    Interesting points. I started on clips and then went to flats.
    People often complain about loosing their pedals on flats. Often (but not always) this is traced done to poor suspension setup. There is a tendency to for rider as they start out and progress to run their suspension too fast, on most trails this is fine, in fact it probably feels more effective. However it often results in lack of stability in the rough stuff.
    Secondly, many riders complain about losing their pedals on drops especially, but again this is not down to the pedals but poor technique ie stiffening the legs rather than sucking up and absorbing.
    Each to their own. I ride regularly with a bunch of out and out XC boys. Some climbs the drop me but on balance I keep up and rip past on the descents. They are on 19-23lb rigs and my Mojo with coil shock, adjustable post and fixed 160mm forks is about 30lb.

    Reply • September 2 at 1:02 pm
  2. Ned says:

    As far as recovery drinks goes I’ve had good results with the Mix1 shakes. They’ve got a 2:1 carb to protein ratio and are pretty freaking tasty. James I know you had a review of these a while ago but my computer decided it didn’t want to load that part of the podcast. I’d like to hear your quick view on them. They’re reasonably priced for pre-mixed I think $22 for a case of 12 and City Market/ King Soopers occasionally has them on sale for like $15/ case.

    Reply • September 2 at 9:08 pm
    • bikejames says:

      Yeah, Mix 1 is the best Ready-to-Drink supplement I’ve found. It has super high quality ingredients, the right ratios and tastes great. When I first heard of them through Team Yeti I was skeptical but after looking at their products, talking to their people and trying it myself I’m all aboard. You can find our more at

      Reply • September 3 at 12:05 pm
  3. Jukka says:

    If someone is interested of more insight info of the chocolate milk as recovery drink this is a really good article:

    Reply • September 10 at 12:52 pm

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