Shoe, Pedal and Foot Placement Tips for Flat Pedals

I get a lot of questions from mountain bikers about how to keep their feet planted on their flat pedals and I have found that it usually boils down to 3 things – Shoes, Pedal Selection and Foot Placement. If even one of these things is wrong you will struggle to feel comfortable on your flats or really maximize their performance.

From a functional movement point of view, trying to place the ball of your foot directly on top of the pedal axle is not the best position for your foot to be whether you are on flats or clipless pedals.

1) Shoe Selection: The #1 thing to know about riding flat pedals is that a good pair of flat pedal specific shoes is a must. If you are trying to ride flat pedals with your tennis shoes then you’ll never feel confident on the trail. You need shoes that are made specifically for riding flat pedals, preferably with a sticky rubber compound like that found on the soles of 5-10 brand shoes. I wrote an article going over the different model shoes 5-10 makes and the types of riding I use them for that you can read by clicking here.

2) Pedal Selection: If you have a good pair of riding shoes then you can get a mid-level pedal and be just fine. While some pedals are definitely nicer and hold up longer than others no one has really cornered the market on the “best” pedal so I prefer to go with a couple of guidelines when recommending pedals.

Make sure it has a relatively thin profile. A thinner profile pedal lowers your center of gravity on the bike and improves your power transfer into the crank arms.

Make sure that it is wide enough to comfortably get the majority of your foot on it. If more than ½ inch of your foot is hanging over the edge of the pedal then it is not wide enough and can result in a numb pinkie toe.

3) Foot Placement: The first thing that you will notice on flat pedals is that your feet naturally go to a mid-foot position where the ball of the foot is placed in front of the pedal axle. This is much different than the foot position where most clipless pedals want to put you, which is with the ball of the foot directly over the axle. However, having the ball of the foot in front of the axle is actually a more natural and, one could argue, better position for your foot.

From a functional movement point of view, trying to place the ball of your foot directly on top of the pedal axle is not the best position for your foot to be whether you are on flats or clipless pedals. Driving through the ball of the foot is what you want to do when you are propelling your center of gravity forward – like when running or jumping – but this is not what is happening when we pedal out bikes. When pedaling you are driving the pedals away from you, much like when you squat or deadlift, and that type of leg drive is much better delivered from a more mid-foot position. This more mid-foot position also allows improved recruitment of the hips during the pedal stroke, especially when standing.

You’ll also find that this mid-foot position will also allow you to better drop your heels when standing up in your “attack position” to flow through rock gardens or other trail features. By dropping your heels you will sit back into your hips more, getting your center of gravity lower and further back, and also keep your feet pressing into your pedals when you hit rocks and bumps in the trail instead of getting pushed off the top of them.

Below you’ll find a video in which I go over each of these 3 tips. If you feel like your feet are bouncing off your pedals more than you want – especially if you’ve spent a lot of time on clipless pedals before trying flats – then this is the video you’ve been waiting for. Watch as I reveal what you need to know about shoes, pedals and foot placement to get the most out of riding flat pedals.

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  1. Tony says:

    Coach…great article…and I couldn’t agree more with your points. I know everyone will have their own take on pedals and shoes. From experience I have found that the 5/10’s that have the round disks on the soles grip better when using vpin pedals such as Wellgo B132’s. I am just a human riding a mountain bike but have found that Wellgo B132’s and 5/10 Freeriders are a good combination.

    Reply • September 26 at 5:45 am
  2. Erik says:

    I understand the debate for flat pedals and efficient downhill riding. But I am going to place a protest for xc trail riding but possibly more xc racing where the shoe with the most mud traction will win the race. Does 5/10 have a plan for that side of the market? I own a pair of 5/10’s and I wouldnt want to step off the bike into a slippery muddy section with out some sort of a spike or cleat on my foot. In my 20 years on a bike Ive gone from strapped toe clips to spd’s to caged spd’s to flats and back to spd’s please dont tell me something strapped will become the next all the rage…

    Love the content of your message I just need to voice my opinion.

    Keep it up!

    Reply • September 26 at 4:35 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      The rubber on the 5-10’s a a high friction rubber used on mountain climbing shoes and in my experience they have worked just fine in the mud. In fact, I’ve heard a lot of clipless pedal users complain about mud gunking up their cleats and pedals so I don’t think either system is perfect for mud but 5-10 shoes do pretty good. Plus, remember that fun and training don’t need to be as fast as racing and using clipless for racing isn’t a big deal, it is more a matter of using them all the time and doing it because you think flats are inferior thanks to the propaganda surrounding them.

      Hope this help, thanks for sharing your opinion…

      Reply • September 27 at 8:26 am
  3. Dave Pike says:

    SUCH a great topic right now! Was stoked to get the email explaining the work you’re doing with 5/10 and hope that it will really help to get people excited about flat pedals! I ride both clipless and flats and use them quite a bit for different situations. I’ve found beyond a doubt that flat pedals have made me a much better rider. When you learn how to ride flats correctly it really brings all of your riding to a completely different level. I’ll always keep and use my clipless pedals, but if I had to have just one option, it would be flats! Flats FTW!!!

    Reply • September 26 at 7:40 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for the input, Dave, I can tell that you really “get it” and that was one of the more intelligent comments I’ve seen on the subject.

      Reply • September 27 at 8:28 am
  4. John says:


    Thank you for the tips – based on your previous posts I am riding flats with dropped heels – I have placed the pedal axle mid-foot but I am having some trouble driving the bike through corners using my feet – I corner level pedalled and initiate the turn through my feet then followed by my hips – with the pedals in the mid-foot position I feel that I am loosing some control with my feet

    Reply • March 19 at 3:03 pm
  5. Adam says:

    Hi James,

    I read your article and couldn’t agree more, I’ve been riding for 17years raced down hill for 5 of those and always used flats. I’ve always spoke to people about using flats when they first start riding and explain to them that flats will build your skills and have better foot placement. There argument is that there foot doesn’t stay on the pedal and they can’t bunny hop or loft the back wheel without them. It’s ashame that the bike shops promote the clip less pedal so much just to sell more items, instead of selling them quality shoes, pedals and teaching them how to ride.

    Great too see that there are some flat pedal bandits out there that still exist.

    Keep up the good work mate.

    Regards Adam

    Reply • March 19 at 3:33 pm
  6. Alvin says:

    I switched to flats and 5.10s about 1 1/2 years ago. Initial plan was just to use them so I could teach myself how to manual. Needless to say they are still on my trail bike. Although I still have SPD’s on my short travel cross country rig. As you say, there’s place for both.

    Reply • March 19 at 10:30 pm
  7. Thomas Wilson says:

    I ride only mountain bikes, both on the road and off road. I use XTR Trail M985’s when riding on road, and 5-10 Freeride XVI’s with Hope F20 pedals on my mountain bike when off road.

    One thing you didn’t mention, but which is important for the natural movement of the knees, it that most people’s feet are splayed out a bit. With clipless, because there is very little angle adjustment, the feet are often unable to splay out to their natural position. I have my cleats set up with as much splay as I can add, but it is not enough. When I ride my flats, and my feet can find their most comfortable position, they are centered mid-foot as you say, but my right foot in particular is also angled about 25 degrees outward. Even when I reposition my feet straight to be able to drop my heels on a down slope, soon as I sit down, and start to pedal, my feet always return to where the knee is most comfortable.

    Reply • March 20 at 9:55 pm
    • Thomas,

      People with outwardly rotated feet have tight piriformis muscles. Google how to stretch those. They can cause some back pain too. It is a muscle sandwiched between the gluteus maximus and minimus and can push on the sciatic nerve as well. Your knee will still track poorly regardless of what pedals you use, with tight piriformis muscles. The rollers or tennis balls can help that area as well.

      I have read some flat pedal riders say that sticky shoes and pined pedals actually have less “play” or “Float” than click in pedals and say that as a positive. We do have to stop calling them clipless, most people don’t know what a toe clip is any more.

      Reply • March 22 at 12:15 am
      • bikejames bikejames says:


        While I agree with the fact that tight piriformis muscles, I do think that clipless pedal shoes put your feet in a pretty unnatural position and don’t really allow them to find the sweet spot. The other problem is that there isn’t one sweet spot either and that your feet are set up for there to be light variations in the angles of the foot.

        Locking your foot into place and using “float” to compensate for it isn’t good for the knees and while I think riders should address tight muscles they should also address the movement issues causing the tight muscles, a lot if which can be directly traced to overuse of clipless pedals.

        Thanks for the insight, though, and I encourage anyone to follow that advice.

        Reply • March 24 at 8:56 am
  8. Danny Drogula says:

    I’ve been following the flat pedal articles and have decided to give it some rides. The problem is finding my size of 5 10 shoes in stock on line. Size 47 sidi, 48 shimano. From all the looking and different sizing charts, I’m going to with size 12 in the Freeride shoe. Does anyone else out there have long narrow foot so I don’t waste my time shipping shoes back? And I believe in getting good pedals that last. Looking at the spanks. Flat pedals making riding more fun in what convinced me to try them. Thanks James.

    Reply • March 26 at 7:42 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Wish I had some advice for you on the shoe size problem, I’ve got normal feet and the 5.10s tend to fit me pretty well and are true to size. If you need to order them from since they have the best hassle free return service, you can even order a couple sizes and just keep what fits (they expect people to do that so it isn’t a problem).

      As far as pedals, the Spanks will last you forever so your good there. Keep me posted on how things go for you, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it a lot.

      Reply • March 26 at 9:39 am

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