Some lessons from the Team Yeti camp

The last week has been a lot of fun and very enlightening. Getting to hang out with some of the fastest riders in the world as they prepare for the upcoming season has shown me a side of racing I had not seen before. The amount of preparation and planning needed to get these guys ready to roll is impressive and Team Yeti is one of the best in the world at doing it.

The main point of the trip for these guys was to get their suspension dialed in. Fox Racing Shox sent Mike, one of their best techs, out to help them do just that. I got to do a presentation on nutrition and training on the road as well as put all of the team members through a movement screen to help them identify their weak links and any potential injuries that might be lurking under the surface.

Here are some of the lessons I learned this week:

– I asked both Scott Sharples and Jarred Graves about clipless pedals. I had done some research on them and was surprised to find that there is not a lot of research on the subject and nothing that definitively says clipless pedals help you produce significantly more power. They both told me that was because they don’t.

Jarred, who is the current 4 Cross World Champ, told me that he is only 3-4% faster on clipless pedals than flats and he admitted that if he rode flats more that difference would be even less. Here is one of the best riders in the world who relies on his power more than any other mountain bike athlete telling me that clipless pedals don’t give him much of an advantage at all…interesting.

Scott told me that for many years the record at the Australian sports institute for pedaling power was held by Nathan Rennie…on flat pedals. He could produce more power than anyone else who came through their doors, including clipped in track cyclists. Seems that the whole “clipless pedals let you produce significantly more power” argument is more of an urban myth than fact. I’ll have to write more on this later…

– Getting someone who knows that they are doing to help you tune your suspension makes a world of difference. I thought my 303 was riding great until Mike told me I was basically riding a brick. He made some adjustments and it was like riding a different bike. It went from feeling great to feeling unreal. In other words, if you can get a professional to help you set your suspension up do it. You clicking knobs and adding air pressure may make it feel good but odds are your bike is going to be held back a bit.

– Don’t wear an old Azonic jersey and sunglasses with your full face when riding with a bunch of racer boys. Apparently those things went out with 12 inch travel bikes and 20 mm through axle rear ends. No one sent me the memo…

– Bootleg Canyon is WINDY! Holy crap, it seems like it never stops. It isn’t too bad on the trail but hot sun, dirt parking lots and high winds make for long, thirsty days and long showers at night to get all the crud off that has been wind blasted on to you.

– Muscle Milk sucks guys. I don’t know why but it has gotten pretty popular and I had to tell a couple of the riders that it is just cheap protein, sugars and fillers. Don’t waste your money on it.

– The best thing you can do to help you make smart food and supplement decisions is to learn how to read  labels. For example, whey protein isolate is the best kind of whey. Whey protein concentrate is the worst. You want to avoid proteins that list Whey Protein Concentrate first and look for ones that list Whey Protein Isolate first. Or, better yet, look for a pure whey protein isolate.

That’s about it for now, I’m sure there’s more and I’ll do another blog post when I remember it. Now, off to go battle the wind and ride my bike…

-James Wilson-

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  1. josh says:

    Nice insights there James….but I don’t think we are going to solve the great ‘clipless vs flats’ debate any time soon 🙂 good luck though…ill be interested in what you come up with. For me, its not all about power, I just prefer the set and forget aspect of clipless…. don’t have to worry a about where my feet are…and on the uphills…there is no question that I’d rather be clipped in. Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. .. I love my time atac clipless!

    Reply • March 27 at 9:57 am
  2. Col B says:

    I’ve been reading your articles on flats vs clips and find this very interesting. I’ve ridden clipped all my mountain biking life but am at the stage now where I want to push my technical boundaries more and am reasoning that flats will make me learn how to use my feet and ankles properly, so I guess I should just take the plunge and do it!

    Keep up the excellent work.

    Reply • March 27 at 10:40 am
  3. Sean says:

    Great stuff James.

    On clipless vs flats — good to remember that power is only one part of the pedaling equation. For short time events like 4x and DH, power is more crucial. For distance/endurance events, efficiency becomes a bigger part of the equation. The “dead spot” between 7pm and 11pm on the clock face isn’t where power is produced, but eliminating that dead spot with clipless pedals makes a big difference in efficiency. The efficiency adds up over time. Roadies know this well, and it’s why you don’t see competitive, top-level roadies on flats. Of course anyone can ride their road bike with flats, and some people do that very thing. I know some people who do it. I’ve tried it myself.

    There’s also the question of psychological advantage. In technical disciplines like DH, feeling comfortable in tough terrain is a big factor. For many riders, having a foot they can re-arrange on the pedal interface, and put out in turns… this is a huge psychological advantage. And maybe even a technical advantage too! Trying to get the foot clipped back in after taking it off the pedal can cost seconds, and in a 2 or 3 minute race, those seconds are vital.

    Rennie is a freak of nature, so his abilities compared to track racers says more about his immense natural abilities, and not so much about track racers’ pedal choice being more or less effective. As a counterpoint I’d mention Lance Armstrong, who at one time was similarly rated or measured as being capable of great outputs as compared to other American cyclists, but as far as I can recall, Lance was clipped in at the time.

    Reply • March 27 at 10:53 am
  4. Lol at the Azonic jersey and sunglasses bit. And Mike is the man. Too bad he doesn’t accept bribes 😉

    Reply • March 27 at 1:48 pm
  5. Chris says:

    Hey James,
    gotta agree with Sean – Rennie was measured with a peak power output of 1800 watts!!! That’s massive – I’m lucky to hit 400 clipped in or not. 🙂 But, that’s a peak measurement – how much power he could push down in one split second. Perfect for a downhiller, not as useful for a XC rider where getting the best efficiency over a 5 hour or longer race is the key. I would be interested to see the results of a power output over time test with riders giving it everything for an hour or more.
    Regarding the protein concentrate vs isolate. Would be interested to know the reasoning for why you feel that isolate is so much better than concentrate. I buy a concentrate that is 83% protein. The isolate is 92%. However, that extra purity costs over 50% more, so I really don’t think it’s worthwhile. I’ve read that the isolate also removes alpha lactoglobulins and lactoferrins which are important immune factors for the body. Seems to make sense to stick to the concentrate I reckon. Unless you mean the low % concentrates (ie 30-50%) in which case I definitely agree as they are too low to be really useful.

    Reply • March 28 at 1:32 am
  6. bikejames says:

    Yeah, there is much more to the whole pedaling thing than one factor. Again, I am just trying to shed some light on the subject and let people make a truly informed decision as to what works best for them. So many new riders think that they will not be able to pedal nearly as well on flats and that is just not the case. For me, and a lot of riders I have heard from regarding my first post on this, the psychological advantage outweighs the small gains in power or efficiency.

    I’ve had several riders who switched over to flats after that first post tell me that riding has never been more fun for them. To me that is what it is all about, not trying to get everyone to go one way or the other.

    As for the protein, I’m not sure how you would tell a high concentrate from a low one as that is not listed on the label. If you have a brand that you know uses the higher quality concentrate then fine, but a lot of companies don’t. High quality protein is the most expensive ingredient and in order to pad profit margins a lot of bargain proteins suck. To my I’d rather just pay the extra and know for sure I’m getting what I paid for.

    Reply • March 28 at 9:02 am
  7. Nate says:

    James, I pride myself on my meticulous suspension setup. I know it’s not a focus of your blog, but can you pass along some of the setup tips you learned from the pros?

    Reply • March 28 at 9:14 am
    • bikejames says:

      @ Nate – The biggest tip I got was not to set your suspension up for the hardest 1 or 2 hits on the course. Yeah, you might bottom out hard on them but your dialed for the rest of the course vs. riding a brick for for the whole course. Beyond that I did not get too much inside info, Mike just did his thing.

      Reply • March 28 at 9:40 pm
  8. Jade Jenny says:

    A quick note. Jared said he is faster on clips, in a discipline where power is incredibly important, nuff said maybe? Not sure if that 3-4% is a generalization for him for both DH and 4x, but I’d say that’s a lot, not a little. 4% on a 3 minute downhill track is 7.2 seconds, that’s 10 solid places in local DH races in the Pro category, and probably 20 or more at the World Cups. I still say it’s what you are comfortable with. I’ve done both, and I just find more advantages with clips, that’s my personal experience though. Off the top of my head to I’d say in both DH and 4x there are more consistent fast guys on clips then flats. Minnarr, Peat, Leihoken, Lopes, Graves, Gwin, Leov, just a few off the top of my head. I could be wrong, but it definitely seems like more of the top fast guys are on clips.

    Reply • March 28 at 12:39 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ Jade – and yet the current World Champ, Sam Hill, rides flats. And the whole conversation started when Aaron Gwin told me that flats make you a better rider. So even there is obviously much more to it…

      Reply • March 28 at 9:37 pm
  9. Chris says:

    Hey James,
    American labelling laws must be different to Australia then. In Australia all products have to have a “Nutrition Information” label which contains the percentage (by weight) of protein, carbs, and fat. Makes it easy to check how much protein your whey concentrate contains (and also to work out how much you should take per day).

    Reply • March 28 at 3:09 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ Chris – they are similar but companies can get around that. They can pump nitrogen into the samples they send for labeling which inflates the protein content. Higher quality proteins don’t play those games so you have to be careful.

      Reply • March 28 at 9:33 pm
  10. Craig says:

    3-4% is a huge advantage so not sure how you could say that its not. Many races are won by seconds, so in an hour race 3-4% would be over 2 minutes, so you do the math.On longer endurance races it would be an even bigger advantage. That is just a time advantage there is definitely control advantages as well, but I will take the clip ins just for the 3-4% alone.

    Reply • March 28 at 8:48 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ Craig – that was for a 4X race, don’t read too much into it beyond that. The point is that even he did not seem to think that they offer the average rider much of an advantage. And if they offered a decisive control advantage then why do trials riders, dirt jumpers and slopestyle riders (the most technically skilled rides around) use flats? You’ll never know how they really are until you try them…

      Reply • March 28 at 9:26 pm
  11. […] Some lessons from the Team Yeti camp | MTB Strength Training Systems […]

    Reply • March 29 at 2:18 am
  12. Brooce says:

    “Seems that the whole “clipless pedals let you produce significantly more power” argument is more of an urban myth than fact. I’ll have to write more on this later…”
    That’s very interesting, I’m looking forward to you “writing more on this” 😉

    I believe that trial or dirt riders don ride clipless, as it take more time to un-clip and throw a bike away in case of something going wrong. For me, spd’s = much more control – at least on 4x or BMX tracks. But if the differences in power aren’t so big, maybe it all comes down to personal likes and dislikes…

    Reply • March 29 at 8:52 am
  13. Joe says:

    This has been discussed many times before but it’s always a fun topic 🙂 I’m a bit bored today so I’ll chime in. I’ve ridden road bikes with clipless pedals and it makes perfect sense there. On a roadbike, (a) the terrain is smooth, (b) doesn’t vary much and is (c) well known ahead of time (few surprises)… and (d) it’s rare you need to stop abruptly. If you are in Kansas, riding on a smooth flat single track, maybe clipless works for you. The closer you get to those four elements, the more clipless makes sense. Where I ride on a mountain bike, those four elements do not exist. The further away you get from those four elements, the more flats make sense, IMO.

    Below are my own observations regarding clipless/flats;

    (1) Don’t compare clipless pedals with running shoes and cheap pedals. Compare 5.10 impact low’s with excellent flats (like Tiago MX Pro). Your feet won’t come off these things. No comparison.

    (2) Everyone argues about this ridiculous 2 or 4% increase in pedaling power. Who cares, even if it is true. I have to crackup since most everyone are weekend warriors arguing about something that really provides them little benefit but instead adds significant risk, IMO. Spend time losing weight, working on conditioning and practicing trackstands instead. If you are doing this professionally then you aren’t on this forum discussing this topic. You have other things to be concerned about.

    (3) I believe there are inherent dangers riding clipless, specifically not being able to clip out in time. Everyone likes to pontificate about their ability to quickly unclip. For the vast majority of riders, most experience bumps and bruises when they can’t unclip. There are a small group that experience significant injury. Consider that Aaron Gwin (as James noted), broke his teeth because he was unable to unclip. There was also another rider that experienced significant injury last summer at hall ranch and is parallelized from the neck down. He was descending, went off the trail, hit a hidden log and his head and neck hit crushing his vertebrae. While I do not have specific knowledge that it was due to his inability to unclip, I know that 99.9% of the riders ride clipless there.. and the accident would fit within the realm unable to unclip (bike rotated him into the ground). I sure hope he’s doing better. The same mechanics exist, for example, with the late Christopher Reeves when he was unable to come off his horse after the jump. His head hit first.

    (4) Most people have no clue why they are riding a mountain bike in the first place. They just tend to do what everyone else does. Make sure you know why you are mountain biking and align your own goals. Forget everyone else.

    back to work…

    Reply • March 29 at 9:44 am
  14. Jade Jenny says:

    Do believe Peaty is the World Champ, not Sam, although the track in Australia which probably suited much more to Peaty. Didn’t realize Gwinn was the one recommending flat pedals, must have missed that. He is a clipless rider correct? From all footage I’ve seen of him he’s in clips. Again I think it comes down to what your comfortable. And in regards to power I just don’t buy the fact that you are just as powerful on flats pedals with a flexible shoe, i.e. 5.10 as you are on clips with a stiff soled mtb shoe. I’ve ridden both extensively, may just be a placebo type effect, but I feel like there is more power being put down on the clips, especially since you have the upstroke as well, the pulling of the pedal.

    Reply • March 31 at 8:53 pm
  15. RHS says:

    I used clips then learnt to ride flats over a long period of time. I totally agree that they make you a better rider, that is what James is saying and that is what makes you faster (Sam Hill is the best cos he his the best rider). I have now gone back to clips as an all mountain rider/DH Enduro rider and like clips as I do a lot of up. The skills I learnt using flat pedals are what make me a better rider than i used to be.
    I once had Tracey Mossely follow me down a trail and she thought I was actually riding flats.

    Reply • April 1 at 6:38 am
  16. Walt says:

    I just got back from a trip down there and rode Bootleg Canyon on my flats one day and in my clips the next. I should mention that I am not really a downhiller and ride a 6″ all mountain bike (Giant reign). It’s only 31pounds and I can keep up with most xc guys but still like to huck it. (just not crazy big … maybe an 8′ drop at the biggest) Anyway, here is what I noticed: On the down hills, there really isn’t much difference. On the up hills, there really isn’t much difference in power. I’m about the same speed. But when climbing up short, steep, rocky sections on flats, my feet tended to bounce off. (But not descending the same sections) So, for that, clipless are better. But if you ever get in a situation where you are not going to make it. Flats are better because you can just put your foot down. On jumps, my feet sometimes bounce off my flats and then I get severe bruising on my rear and crash.
    And although, that doesn’t happen with clipless, there are even worse consequences (like wrecking your knees) if you don’t land right. So, to me, it’s dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t. I would like to add that for clipless, I use Crank Bros acid pedals and for flats: some really nice Atomlabs with pins and FiveTen shoes. So it isn’t the equipment. But if anyone has any tips on how all those pros land such big jumps time after time on their flats and never come off, I sure would like to know how they do it?

    Reply • April 1 at 5:49 pm
  17. OneCog says:

    Almost every possible angle regarding clips vs. flats has been touched upon here, save for singlespeed riding. Ever try riding a singlespeed up a steep hill in flats? I’d say only the best riders in the world are capable of pulling this off, especially if it’s rocky terrain. In singlespeed riding it’s even more important to be able to pull with your feet as much as you push. Just wanted to represent.

    Reply • April 1 at 11:42 pm
  18. Lewis says:

    UK Downhiller, national rider, my view…

    I started riding DH on clips coming from an XC background it made sense to me, later I moved to flats and for the most part (still change from race to race) I am now a flats rider so I feel I have spent allot of time on both pedals. the first thing I want to say is flats (I ride 5 10s) feel and ride NOTHING like clips and do not perform in any way like them. The main reason for this is that when riding flats in order to get a good amount of grip the rider must place pressure on the pedals and in the bumpy stuff drop your heels and sit your weight back on the pedals, on clips it makes NO difference if you weight unweight or run your heels high. You’re attached to the pedal and there not coming out unless you get your twist on. This means that the clips rider had a bigger range on the bike than the flats rider (talking a linier forwards and back here) allowing the rider to sit more up front than on flats. I’m not saying that one is better only that the clip rider and be in more place while still keeping his feet planted.

    On the other side of the fence I like flats for cornering and not for your normal confidence BS that normally get chucked about. When cornering (I’m talking a proper corner where your hips get right over and your outside leg is right down) I tend to lift the inside part of my foot off the pedal and twist is outwards, this allows me to stand on the side of the bike more and push it into the ground more. Being clipped in means there is no play in your feet like this and makes for either a slower corner or a different technique.

    Finally on the pedalling side of things my view is that as long as you have a good technique for a few powerful cranks out of a turn there about level, however for longer bouts of pedalling I feel clips offer me more contestant acceleration and power but I have not noticed any efficiency benefit when on a dh track but I do on the road (yes all good downhillers own a road bike).

    Sorry for any typos.

    Oh and I’m not some weekend warrior!

    Reply • April 2 at 12:35 am
  19. Hi James, a bit of an oblique question for you;

    How much muscle mass (roughly) might a guy gain sticking rigorously to your exercise and diet advice each month?
    I am sure the results vary however I was after some indication.

    I ususally gain strength pretty easily ?

    Many thanks


    Reply • June 1 at 6:00 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ Rob – that is really tough to say because it comes down to diet. The program will stimulate some muscle growth and eating enough will fuel it – without the fuel nothing will happen. However, it is not the best mass program in the world. It is geared more towards functional strength and muscle gain where you try to maximize strength to weight ratio, if you really want to pack on some pounds check out guys like Jason Ferruggia, he’s much better at it than I am.

      Reply • June 2 at 6:41 am
  20. jack hicks says:

    all good points on clips vs. flats! I have had 30 years riding both,but have not used flats since the bmx cruiser days. Checked out all the comments wentand got some good flats and started some 30 mile road sessions on my single speed mtb since im healing a broken hand. The first ride felt akward and slow, second better and on and on, now im flyin hills and all feeling more powerful than i have felt in years! Yesterday went back to my xtrs and mavics and hated it! Im going to try a cat 1 cx race on these probably get laughed at, but its all good! thanks for the inspiration!

    Reply • August 18 at 8:49 pm
    • bikejames says:

      You have to get a picture of you rocking the flats in your race, I’ll post it on the blog for sure!

      Reply • August 19 at 6:30 am

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