The Faulty Logic of Crossfit, Clipless Pedals and 29ers…

I recently read the book Thinking: Fast and Slow and it had some pretty fascinating insights into how we think and process information. While there was a lot of info covered for me the biggest revelation came from how the book explained our two systems for thinking, which it called System 1 and System 2, and the tendency for us to fall for faulty logic.

Knowing that humans tend to be lazy thinkers should get you into the habit of routinely questioning a lot of stuff that makes sense on the surface

System 1 is our unconscious thoughts, the stuff that goes on below the surface that we don’t really know is even happening. It is quick and often right and is sometimes thought of as our instincts. It is the first filter that info passes through and it is responsible for a lot of the faulty logic that we fall victim to.

System 2 is our conscious thoughts and requires us to slow down and think about the info we have been presented with. Since it is slower and requires more energy than System 1 to use it only comes online if we consciously engage it or if something about System 1’s conclusion regarding new information throws up a red flag, alerting us to a potential mistake that we need to investigate further.

Problems arise, though, because System 1 is fooled more easily than we like to admit. For example, try this simple problem:

If a bat and a ball cost $1.10 together and the bat costs $1.00 more than the ball, how much does the ball cost?

The answer is not 10 cents, although that is probably what popped into your head and you are still trying to figure out why it is wrong. 10 cents makes sense (no pun intended) on the surface and when that happens we are loathe to bring System 2 online to check our logic. Just to clear it up, the ball costs 5 cents – the bat costs $1.00 more than the ball so if the ball costs 5 cents then the bat costs $1.05. If you went with 10 cents then the bat would cost $1.10, making the total $1.20.

Some very smart people at the best colleges in the country fell for that false logic so this problem is apparent in all of us, although some people tend to be much more “lazy” thinkers than others and just accept whatever System 1 throws out there. So, what on earth does this have to do with strength training for mountain biking?

For starters it explains some of the faulty logic I see riders falling for everyday…

– If I am exhausted after a trail ride then I must exhaust myself in training or I am not improving my endurance for trail riding. This faulty logic is one of the main reasons that things like Crossfit and other bootcamp type programs are so popular with well meaning mountain bikers since the intensity of the workouts leaves you feeling tired, much like a hard ride. However, the truth is that you need to address things in training that you need on the trail but don’t use enough on the trail to significantly improve.

Strength, power and mobility should be the priority and everything should not be turned into a cardio effort. We get plenty of cardio and endurance training when we ride, we don’t need to focus on it in the gym. You also need to leave some energy for your rides and if you are constantly draining your tank in training you won’t have the fuel for actually getting out on the trail. Sometimes the best thing to do in training is the opposite of what you do in your sport.

– Clipless pedals are “faster” so that makes them “better”. This one needs to be an article in itself but the mistaking of “faster” with “better” is the number one reason that riders fall for the faulty logic of using clipless pedals as soon as they start riding and using them all the time for every ride. At the highest levels of competition clipless pedals can be slightly “faster”, but when you step back and look at the big picture you see that flat pedals have a very important place in a rider’s development and in the prevention of long term overuse injuries, meaning that they can be seen as “better” under a lot of circumstances. However, the faulty logic of “faster = better”, which is reinforced by the advertising hype behind them, creates a picture in most rider’s minds that even if they are not at the highest levels of competition they must use clipless pedals or suffer being a mediocre rider.

– Anything that makes riding “easier” is “better”. While clipless pedals fall into this faulty logic category (it is much easier for a new rider to attach their feet to the pedals than it is to figure out how to smooth out their pedal stroke and maneuver their bike without them), lighter weight bikes, bigger wheels, sitting down all the time to pedal and full suspension bikes are also part of it as well. In my humble opinion every rider should start out on a 30+ pound hardtail with flats, 26 inch wheels and standing up to pedal on all hard efforts – that combination certainly isn’t “easy” but it will force you to be a very smooth, efficient and powerful rider. Challenging yourself and forcing yourself to overcome those challenges will make you a better rider in the long run and if all you seek is “easy” then don’t be surprised when your riding doesn’t improve much year to year.

There are other things I could point out but I hope you get my point – sometimes we need to step back and engage System 2 instead of listening to the first thing System 1 tells us. I am certainly not saying that intense cardio workouts, clipless pedals and things that make riding easier should be avoided – everything I listed above has a valuable place in a rider’s development but only if it is used at the right time for the right reasons.

So yes, Crossfit, Clipless Pedals and 29ers can be valuable (well, maybe not Crossfit) but just make sure that you check your logic when using them and don’t just fall for what makes sense on the surface.Knowing that humans tend to be lazy thinkers should get you into the habit of routinely questioning a lot of stuff that makes sense on the surface and when you do that you start to see that a lot of what we took for granted is, in fact, faulty logic biting us in the butt.

-James Wilson-


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  1. ED BIRCH says:

    i have been doing no gym, bodyweight excercises [ with a few dumbbells] for many years, but only after a quick review and session with your new programme does one begin to grasp what you are saying:- about doing excercises to help ther biking; and boy, was i caught by how much i dont know, or cant do! i can see how it is imprtant to train your body with excercises relevent to your sport; and you seem to have tied that up prtty good; unfortunately there is no way i can see myself doing handstand push-ups; and bridging is obviously going to take me some time; but will persevere and would like to thank you for your programme and insight……

    Reply • May 1 at 1:03 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Glad you’ve found my info helpful, Ed. Keep at the bridges, I promise that they will get easier.

      Reply • May 1 at 6:49 am
    • Mike Tuttle says:

      James recommended a book called “Convict Conditioning” so I bought it. It teaches you how to perfect the six core bodyweight exercises in an easy, progressive pattern. For example, when you begin to learn bridging you don’t want to just start by trying to do a full bridge. This puts way too much stress on your body without any type of build-up to that exercise. It’s important to build strength slowly which is permanent without any injury setbacks. Each exercise has ten steps to build upon. Even though I could have skipped the first 3 in each category I decided to start from the beginning as the author suggested. I am very impressed with how much better my joints feel in just a few weeks – amazing. I’ve noticed a difference in my riding especially my climbing and upper body power. Mixed with Jim’s new bodyweight program it really includes everything you need to know about bodyweight training. Ride strong – live long!!!

      Reply • May 1 at 8:59 pm
  2. Joe says:

    hey James… want to send a thank you for all the excellent tips, advice and suggestions. I have become a better mountain biker since finding this website a couple of years ago. Wish you the best of luck on your new book.

    Reply • May 1 at 10:39 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Joe, glad to know that my info is helping you enjoy riding more.

      Reply • May 2 at 9:04 am
  3. Mike K says:

    Can you elaborate on your critique of crossfit, or better yet provide some sources that provide some rigorous data? When I did some crossfitting awhile ago, the results were mind boggling for me in terms of general fitness, and it’s been amazing for friends who have taken it farther. I am curious to hear the counterpoint. Is it just that crossfit is not optimal mtb-specific training, or are you saying that crossfit itself is flawed? Would love to hear more about your research there.

    Reply • May 1 at 12:29 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:


      I have written at length on this blog about some of my problems with Crossfit on this blog, do a search for Crossfit and you’ll find plenty of article explaining my position. You can also do a search on Youtube for Crossfit Fails to see some of the horrendous things being done in the name of Crossfit out there.

      Here is my take on your situation – first, you were probably following a more traditional bodybuilding inspired workout program. If that is the case then doing a program that uses more Olympic lifting, kettlebell and other movement based methods will produce better results but that doesn’t mean that Crossfit is the best way to employ those methods, it simply means that you were doing something better than what you were doing.

      Second, you may have come across a good coach who actually knows what he is doing but flies the Crossfit flag for marketing purposes (I know several trainers I respect who do that for some reason). That is another issue with Crossfit – it doesn’t really mean anything anymore since there is no quality control as to who can use the term Crossfit. As long as you pay your yearly fee you can use the term no matter what you actually do with your programs.

      And perhaps you have some research that shows that Crossfit is superior to another training method? Asking for research is a bit of a cop out since you know that it doesn’t exist on either side of this argument. However, when you do look at what science has told us about creating an effective, long term training program and compare it to what Crossfit does, not says, with their workouts you’ll see that there are some big differences.

      I am glad that you had some success with Crossfit but there are some fundamental flaws with it both as a mountain bike specific program and a general fitness program. As a competition and way to train for that competition it is pretty cool but for the vast majority of people it leaves a lot to be desired.

      Reply • May 2 at 9:20 am
  4. Guthrie says:


    That post was an interesting read. I agree people tend to just believe what they hear.

    I decided to buy flats again after a long time on clips and I am really enjoying them. I also noticed I got lazy with clips. Now, my cornering has improved and I have felt my legs are stronger with flats. People ask me how I like flats and they tell me they have never been “un-clipped” Crazy.. Now I know why you tell people to learn to ride flats.

    Anyway, for the real reason I am posting… I have been trying to decide which of your workouts I should get.. I don’t have much equipment, just push up bars, curl bar and plates. I have been trying to get into shape and did the insanity workout, which kicks your butt, but I lost SO much upper body. So, I started doing push-ups, curls, tricep curls, and a few other things.

    I want to be functionally fit and improve my riding, but also look decently in shape and build my shoulders, core, chest, arms, back, legs etc. I don’t want to get big, but want to look good for the ladies;) (i.e my wife). What program would you recommend? I am really interested in your No gym no problems system. Would that be a good fit for me?

    Reply • May 1 at 1:04 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Yeah, the No Gym No Problem Workout would be a great place to start, plus it is only $10 until May 4th. Glad you’re enjoying the flats, I’m sure the No Gym, No Problem Workout will help you have even more fun on the trail.

      Reply • May 2 at 9:21 am
  5. Rich says:

    Wouldn’t making an assumption about a type of training that is not necessarily true lead to false logic?

    Crossfit doesn’t exhaust me. Quite the contrary. The short, intense, workouts offer a great variety of movement and often demand skill, agility, and range of motion. Plus, they leave me with more than enough in the tank to ride either before or after. Did I mention it’s really fun? I usually do four to five classes a week, ride, do yoga, and climb. It’s all good.

    Reply • May 1 at 2:22 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Wouldn’t making an assumption about my assumptions about Crossfit lead to faulty logic 🙂

      I know a lot more about Crossfit and their system than people think, I have done Crossfit in the past and have been following them since they first started and way before they became so mainstream.

      You may have found a good trainer who knows how to create good programs but flies the Crossfit flag for marketing purposes – another problem with Crossfit since they don’t have any quality control in place and let coaches do anything they want in their name as long as they pay their yearly fee. The exception does not disprove the more common examples of Crossfit in action. One of my pro clients, Jeff Lenosky, used to do Crossfit but told me it left him too tired and sore to actually ride. I hear that feedback a lot and based on my experience with Crossfit they value “work capacity” above anything else and most workouts are pretty taxing.

      I am glad that you were able to see some good results with the workouts you were doing and hopefully if that changes this article will pop back into your head and give you permission to question what they do, which is something too few Crossfitters do.

      Reply • May 2 at 9:28 am
  6. Greg says:

    So I guess I’ve got a lazy mind to go with my lazy 49 yr old body. I’m guilty of everything from speed over technique, clipless pedals, and wanting to replace my trusty 36lb 26″ to a lighter weight 29er…. In Jan 2011 I began my cannibalized 20 minute BikeJames inspired “workout”: 2-3 days/wk of KB swings, squats and TGUs then crunches and push-ups on alternate days. I only ride about 3 or 4 times/month but since 1/11 I’ve managed to lose 15 lbs, almost double my riding time/outing, improve my riding style from uncontrolled suicidal maniac to controlled recklessness and reduce my advil consumption. I realize there is a great deal of room for improvement, but the fact is I’ve stuck with the routine and continue to notice results on the trail, where it counts. For that,I thank you.

    P.S. Love the ‘Pretzel Stretch’- and won’t/can’t start the day w/o it!

    Reply • May 1 at 2:43 pm
  7. Darius says:

    I have few questions for those emotionally invested in Crossfit….What is the methodology behind Crossfit? What are the principles/considerations behind program design? Who are the “programs” designed for – office employee? Construction worker? Marathon runner? Powerlifter? What are the considerations for recovery – both intra-workout and inter-programs?
    Would love to hear your thoughts?

    Reply • May 3 at 11:08 am
  8. “In my humble opinion every rider should start out on a 30+ pound hardtail with flats, 26 inch wheels and standing up to pedal … that combination certainly isn’t “easy” … Challenging yourself … to overcome those challenges will make you a better rider…”

    This is precisely why I’m not a weight weenie. So what if my bike is ~36 lbs.? The only thing that’s gonna do is force me to be a stronger rider.

    I’m enjoying the Kettlebell workout so far. Well, I guess enjoy ain’t the right word since I HATE working out. Maybe I’m just enjoying the new challenge 🙂

    Reply • May 4 at 7:31 pm
  9. Paul says:

    Just found this site and I love the articles and comments.
    At 46, I have starting mountain bike racing in the Clydes class and some Cat 3 Vet II classes as well. I weigh 5′ 11 – 215lbs. at this weight, I am not fat but dropping 5 more lbs would be good.

    I really want to focus on my the hill climbs and the standing posture. I feel this area will improve my times as long as I do not burn out trying.

    Any suggestions?

    Reply • May 11 at 8:11 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Do a search on this site for standing pedaling and you’ll find a lot of info and videos on that subject. I have a couple of videos that go over the best application of standing pedaling and also some exercise suggestions. My new No Gym, No Problem Bodyweight Workout Program is a great place to start with doing some simple exercises that will help as well.

      Glad you like the site so far, hope this helps…

      Reply • May 14 at 7:38 am
  10. Juan says:


    I have been following you for over a 1 1/2 year. Your workout are really good and had help me with my riding. But I have to disagree with you. Maybe for downhill MTB you dont need clipless or a 29er but if you are doing XC those two things may be a good idea. Just like long rides, same for downhill you may not need them but again for XC you do. Keep up the great work.

    Reply • May 17 at 11:25 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Just wanted to make sure you caught this part in the last paragraph…

      “So yes, Crossfit, Clipless Pedals and 29ers can be valuable (well, maybe not Crossfit) but just make sure that you check your logic when using them and don’t just fall for what makes sense on the surface.”

      Reply • May 18 at 9:02 am

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