The science behind Barefoot Pedaling.

Well, it seems as if the clipless pedal advocates have decided to call it a draw – no one seems to be able to present me with any info that proves me wrong. However, since I also lacked some “science” then we could just chalk it up to preference – despite my assertion that they contribute to overuse injuries you could just say that since there is no evidence that one is better than the other we’ll call it even. Not so fast, my friend!

I got finally an email on Friday from a USA Cycling Expert Level Coach…telling me I’m not crazy! He forwarded me the slides from a presentation that highlighted a lot of research that has been done in the last few years calling the whole clipless pedal efficiency idea into question and showing that what we thought was good pedaling technique is actually less powerful and efficient than just letting people “mash” away. And this is coming from a road coach so this isn’t another dirty mountain biker who just has it in for the roadies.

I need to get permission to post the slides however the specific studies referenced on the slides or listed below. I’ve highlighted a couple slides in the presentation and explain what they’re saying.

Slide #19 (Mornieux et al. Int J Sports Med 2008; 29:817-822)

– Note how both untrained and trained cyclists pattern of force application are practically the same.

– Note how the level of force being applied and the pattern of force application stays the exact same for flats and clipless pedals.

– Note what happened when people where given feedback on how to use clipless pedals (I’m assuming the usual pedal in a circle instructions) their force application pattern changed and their peak force dropped off.

To me this study strongly suggests that not only do clipless pedals literally offer no help in pedaling but that giving them to a new rider and trying to tell them how to pedal “correctly” will decrease pedaling force and screw up their pedaling patterns. This tells me that we already know how to pedal correctly and we confuse ourselves with clipless pedals and “pedal technique”.

Slide #23 (Korff et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2007; 39:991-995)

– Note how the preferred pedaling technique (letting people pedal how they wanted) and the pushing technique (telling someone to purposefully push down harder) look very similar.

– Note how pedaling in a circle decreased torque.

– Note how pulling through the top resulted in a large decrease in peak torque.

Slide #24 (Korff et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2007; 39:991-995)

– Note how the preferred and pushing pedaling technique are the most efficient.

These 2 slides suggest to me that we naturally want to pedal in the strongest, most efficient way which is to push hard into the down stroke with no consideration as to what the trail leg is doing. When we start trying to outsmart instinct (you want to spin in circles and/ or pull through the top) we literally decrease pedaling power and efficiency.

Taken together this is scientific evidence of what I have been saying – clipless pedals offer no advantage and in fact allow you to get away with a less powerful, less efficient pedaling technique. This ultimately holds you back from being as fast as you could be. So when you were told not to mash the pedals but to “spin circles” you got the wrong advice.

This is why I’m so zealous about this matter – clipless pedals have gained their prominence through the false assumption that they helped you pedal with more power and efficiency. If you were never told that they would make you better would you really have gone through the learning curve and the anxiety that comes with trail riding on those things? If you knew that they would actually allow you to use a less powerful, less efficient pedaling technique (which you literally can not get away with on flats) would you have bought into them?

I just want to give people to info that will give them confidence to opt out. For years we’ve been told that riding flats will make it impossible to climb steep hills or to pedal with as much power and efficiency and that is simply not the case. Opting out of the clipless mindset is not a trade-off, it is a move up. As more studies are done that take both quality and quantity into account we’ll learn more about how we’ve screwed up yet again by trying to improve on Mother Nature.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Chris Cowan says:

    On today’s ride I realized that I no longer use my granny gear. Damn you James and your barefoot pedaling, you’ve made my granny gear obsolete!

    Reply • August 2 at 1:39 pm
  2. Sketch says:

    Note that I ride both flats & clipless but do not change my preferred/pushing style of pedalling.
    Clipless just forces me to keep my feet on the pedals at all times which develops my balance, skills and allows me to bunny-hop the rear wheel on the trail using less effort.

    Reply • August 2 at 3:31 pm
  3. Chris Q says:

    Nice one James!

    Reply • August 2 at 4:33 pm
  4. electric says:

    A bunny hop is something quite different from a movement perspective than a straight hop. One gets you a few inches off the ground while the other can get you two feet. Pulling up with your feet while hopping with your clip-less will a) lead eventually lead to a sudden ejection of your shoes from the bindings with the painful scrotum landing and b) will limit your total vertical jump since the bunny-hop motion isn’t about pulling up the bicycle with your feet. Of course you may scoff at those dirty BMX tricks, but one has to earn their bunny-hops to claim them.

    Yes, platform pedals are magic – at least to the mis trained eye!

    Interesting article James, thank you for posting it…

    Reply • August 3 at 12:01 am
  5. The Real Rob says:

    Thanks for adding some real data to the debate James.

    Check out this video on technique, and post what you think about the techniques shown. Maybe post your own ‘how to pedal a mountain bike’ technique video if you don’t think this is right. Obviously, this video is focused on racing endurance and efficiency since they mention it a dozen times.

    Anyway, this is EXACTLY how I pedal when seated and it illuminates (to me at least) why I prefer clips for XC — I wasn’t trained to do it this way… I just do… because it feels right to me… it feels ‘natural’. With platforms (which I used on my XC bike for over a month to give them a fair shake), I kept rolling the pedal over at the top of the stoke (the push forward part of the technique video). With clips, I can push forward ‘against’ the pedal at the start of the stroke while keeping my heel above my toes… without them, the pedal flops over resulting is a missed stroke while I ‘re-set’ my foot. On the XC terrain I ride here on the island, one missed stroke means BOTH feet are coming off and you’re hiking to the top of the hill and letting the rest of the group (who didn’t dab) go past you.

    Here’s the video:

    Reply • August 3 at 12:13 am
  6. Sketch says:

    Electric, maybe bunny-hop was the wrong wording.
    What I meant is that whilst in the air clipless allows you to tuck the rear wheel up higher (watch 4X/BMX riders) which enables you to minimise casing rocks, roots and other obstacles on the trail.

    Reply • August 3 at 3:56 am
  7. Brant says:

    James – I had actually been doing some research on this topic and came across the paper referenced in slide 19, (G. Mornieux et al., “Effects of pedal type and pull-up action during cycling”). In the paper’s abstract, “feedback” is described as “where subjects were asked to pull up on the pedal during the upstroke”. Hope that helps clarify your thoughts on that slide.

    It’s worth mentioning that the study found a significant reduction in net mechanical efficiency when using clipless pedals with “feedback”.

    Great job taking on the status quo and backing it up with facts and reseach!

    Reply • August 3 at 11:18 am
  8. The Real Rob says:

    Thank God for Science.

    For Robert, this debate is over. You can ignore my earlier question about technique.

    In slides 23 and 24, It’s clear the ‘pulling’ and ‘circling’ technique — even if anatomically incorrect — allow the rider to have much more even torque distribution and force effectiveness (yes, this comes at the expense of maximum force). Smooth, even torque output is required for climbing very steep, loose, or rough hills. This mirrors Robert’s experience climbing in flats vs. clips.

    Does Robert pedal in a ‘circle’ all the time? No. Does Robert pull up sometimes? Sure. Does Robert stand up and mash to pull away from other riders or ‘charge a section’? Absolutely.

    For Robert, clipless pedals create the *opportunity* to vary his pedaling technique based on what the trail throws at him.

    Does Robert care what other riders use? No. He doesn’t.

    Robert will now go away.

    Reply • August 3 at 11:32 am
    • bikejames says:

      Interesting points. However, what I’m hearing is that when you are giving your hardest effort (climbing) that somehow switching to a less efficient pedaling technique is beneficial?

      And I do disagree with the video, the pedaling over the top method is extremely quad dominant and super stressful on the knees. I prefer to pedal more midfoot and with my foot level or heel slightly dropped. This position allows me to push with my hips, not pull with my quads. That is, functionally speaking, all wrong and I predict that one day soon that pedaling technique will be phased out.

      It is exactly what I’m talking about – because of the tight hip flexors and weak glutes you can not use, functionally speaking, use your hips properly. The clipless interface allows you to bypass the hips and use your quads and hip flexors more. This is thousands upon thousands of reps that stress the hips and knees in an unnatural way.

      If you fixed your movement you would find standing pedaling to be much easier (in fact I find standing pedaling very easy and use it to scale all sorts of technical, loose terrain) and you would not need to rely on dysfunctional movement as much. I think that movement quality should be addressed first and then look for ways to enhance performance. You strengthen a dysfunction for performance gains at your own risk.

      If people want to use clipless pedals I really don’t care, I just don’t want new riders being sold that they will increase performance and efficiency better than flats. I’d also like for people to know that, for several reasons, they can increase your risk of overuse injury. Knowing what we do about the effects of dysfunctional movement brings a new point to the table for discussion.

      Reply • August 4 at 7:17 am
  9. Michael says:


    This debate is very interesting.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think slide #19 is misinterpreted. To visualize the real pedaling force on these charts, we have to add the “Effective Force” from the other crank arm. This effective force would be the same curve, but with a 180 degree phase. (the “high” force would be at 270degrees and the low at 90 degrees)

    If you add these two curves together, you get the total force that is transfered to the bike. Then you could see that the 3 curves (pedal, clipless and clipless feedback) would be around the same. The “High” force is higher for the “pedal” curve, but if you substract the negative force of the same curve, then the resulting force should be almost the same as “clipless feedback”.

    The “clipless feedback” shows that by pulling up on the pedals, you can have around the same power output, but with lower peaks from the “pushing down” movement.

    I don’t know if you will understand my point correctly


    Reply • August 3 at 3:55 pm
  10. Ivan says:

    I was thinking about this debate a lot on my ride yesterday and also some of the technique for flats. I found it quite helpful to be thinking about it while riding, trying to be more efficient in general. I noticed how much torque/flex I was putting on these new ODI bars standing and climbing hard, and how it felt like they might snap in half. : 0 I crossed paths with a carbon crew in the hills and I was on a pretty heavy Banshee Rune bike. We were pretty much on polar opposite bikes and it seemed like different sports, but it was cool to study them climbing. I was with them for a bit then one of them broke a chain and I went on.

    I was on flats and climbed tons of super steep and rocky, rooty short 1track hills no problem. I also lost the front tire in a rut around a boulder that was way steeper than I thought, went over the bars and scorpioned as if I was clipped in. I was like 100 yards from the parking lot on my way out. It was one of those super fast moments when you just slam. The bike came cartwheeling down on me as if I was clipped in, but I made it out fine, just barely a scratch.

    Either way I can’t wait to ride tomorrow and this post’s info and the debate is very interesting.

    Reply • August 4 at 12:55 am
  11. Ivan says:

    I should also mention that the flats I’m using have really sharp pins that make the pedal grip the sole of the vans like super glue. It almost feels like clipless.

    Reply • August 4 at 1:01 am
  12. The Real Rob says:

    I’m only referring to traction (which I equate with ‘even torque distribution’) with regards to climbing and not ‘hardness’. A lack of horsepower is never what kills a climb for me — it’s only a lack of traction. Think of driving your car on the sand, or on ice. To maintain traction you don’t gun it, you give it just enough fuel to turn the tires as slowly as you can. That’s kind of what I’m talking about.

    Here’s a good photo of Shannon churning up a very steep loose climb:

    As for new MTB riders using clipless pedals, I’m in 100% agreement — they shouldn’t (and bike shops are the worst offenders in pushing new riders into bad decisions). I rode for over a decade before I started clipping in.

    As for them being bad for your anatomy, I think you’re probably right, but I’ll take sore knees over a bruised ego, because my knees will eventually heal.

    Either way, we can both agree that cold beer is awesome. So get those beers on ice and I’ll see you in two weeks.


    Reply • August 4 at 12:19 pm
    • bikejames says:

      Yeah, I hear what your saying. In the end you know we’re on the same page and we both like cold beer so that’s what really matters.

      Reply • August 4 at 1:20 pm
  13. Walt says:

    What about pedals with clips? It seems like for trail riders where I live the majority are clipless like everywhere else. But there are still quite a few who still ride the old school “flat” pedals with toe cages which they tell me that they always keep their straps really loose and they always come right out when needed. They hate cliipless pedals too and to my surprise, theses people generally are not riding relics, but brand new, high end bikes with their trusty, old pedals. There are a lot more of them than people who ride just flats. (seems like I’m the oddball) Are these clipped riders misguided or are they brothers of flat pedal riders without clips?

    Reply • August 6 at 6:27 am
    • bikejames says:

      @ Walt – old school answer to the same problems and dysfunctions. Anything that lets you get away with a pulling movement needs to be avoided in my opinion.

      Reply • August 6 at 12:27 pm
  14. Chris says:

    About overuse injuries:
    To make a long story short: I’m 11 weeks out from ACL recon with some cartilage repair in the trochlea (skiing thing).
    Have been riding flats for years because of being able to get my feet on the ground whenever I want.
    Now the healthy knee is acting up and shows the first signs of overuse (patellofemoral), because I favor that leg when riding.
    I always thought/heard I was supposed to sit down while climbing for better traction etc. and that it’s actually better for the knees _not_ standing up. Listening to your podcast makes me rethink that whole idea of always sitting down.
    Could you talk a bit more about the advantages – especially for the knees – of pedalling in a standing position? I’d really like to apply that now during recovery…

    Thanks alot


    Reply • August 6 at 9:45 am
    • bikejames says:

      @ Chris – video is scheduled to shoot Monday but in the meantime here are some thoughts. Even though your getting close to full extension when seated you’re getting getting full extension. Your also not getting equal contributions from the hips and quads when seated so your getting close to full extension with uneven forces being placed on the knee. When you stand you get true full extension and your hips are much more involved. I have no clue where the “sit and spin is better for your knees” but, like a lot surrounding clipless pedals the technique they encourage, there is really little to back that claim.

      Reply • August 6 at 12:25 pm
  15. Joel says:

    Just started using the flats from my commuter on my trail bike and I noticed a few things with the switch.

    1) I realized that I never did the spin pedal motion unless someone told me about it, or I thought that I should

    2) With the flats I’m more in tune with the trail beneath me and how I’m moving my bike

    3) It seems like I’m able to better work on my handling techniques with flats. While its easier to balance, I can start doing obstacles that I wouldn’t have done clipped in, and I’m being forced to learn techniques (like hopping) that I’ve been cheating for years.

    4) Pedal smack is much worse with flats, they’ve caused me to wreck a few times from grabbing a rut, rock, or other small obstacle. Never had this problem with clips due to the smaller size.

    All in all interesting read, maybe getting another set of flats.

    Reply • August 6 at 10:41 am
    • bikejames says:

      @ Joel – You’ll lean how to figure out where you can pedal and can’t, just like you did with clipless pedals. It takes a different “style” but it is very natural and will pay off in the end. Thanks for the feedback.

      Reply • August 6 at 12:22 pm
  16. Walt says:

    Most of the clip pedal riders I see have the strap so loose that they getmuch (in any) pulling action. And they have plenty of side to side float. Theywould fall right out of the clip in a crash. I think the clip is for forward slipping prevention if anything. I don’t know. I’m not going to use them. They are huge pain to get into. But I’ve seen some surprising good riders still using them.

    Reply • August 6 at 10:27 pm
  17. Chris says:

    standing vs. sitting. you might find this study interesting:

    Joint moments are compared for knee, hip and ankle between uphill sitting, level sitting and standing pedaling (page 3).
    The interesting part is, that the peak joint moment for the knees is a lot less while standing while the ankle peak joint moment is a lot higher when standing.
    For me this would mean focusing on more strength training for my calves and to start standing up more 🙂

    Reply • August 7 at 8:33 am
    • bikejames says:

      Thanks a lot for this, it goes right along with my message. Save those knees, folks, you only get two of them!

      Reply • August 9 at 11:23 am
  18. Banner says:

    I ride with folks with flat pedals and some (most) with clipless. On any long uphill it is always the ones with flat pedals who are slowest and we wait the longes for. On tough, highly technical downills, flat pedal folks are in the lead.

    Reply • August 11 at 4:13 pm
  19. Jason says:

    What about road biking? I ride flats on my MTB and I am going to but a road bike. Should I stick with flats?

    Reply • August 14 at 2:47 pm
    • bikejames says:

      I’d say yes, if for no other reason that to freak people out when you passing them on your flats…

      Reply • August 14 at 2:56 pm
  20. Daniel C says:

    Hi James,

    Very interesting your articles about the pedalling techniques and why flat pedals are more efficient compared to the clippless.

    I am from Colombia but for the last 3 years I have been living in Australia and raced Worlds, the national and local series here of 4X. As you will know the level here is damn high but I am happy to say that I have enough skills to be at their level. Not as good as Jared though.

    I ride with both types of pedals. And its hardly to admit that I hate to ride with clips even tough thats what I use for racing and most of the time during training. The reason is simple. I have tried with both and checking my performance against other competitors, my gates and first straits are noticeable better with clipless pedals.

    I am very new in your website and I don’t know if you have touch this topic before. I want to know your opinion and your knowledge about flat pedals and clippless on gate starts.

    I understand that torque can be increased on a road bike with the use of flat pedals. but in a bmx/4X course the rough surface can decrease that performance making the clipless something that can be beneficial

    Reply • August 20 at 3:41 am
    • bikejames says:

      Gated racing is not “mountain biking” and in that situation any slipping of the foot is the difference between 1st and 4th. For trail riding, though, they are not needed and often just provide a crutch for riders to use bad pedaling technique and also using them to lift the rear end of the bike. For gated racing, while I still think you should be almost as good with flats, using clipless pedals makes sense.

      Welcome to the site, hope this helps…

      Reply • August 27 at 6:24 am
  21. Dan says:

    I ride both flats and SPDs on my singlespeed. At first, I wanted flats to be able to wear regular shoes on simple rides out in town, but I’ve left them in for quite a while since became skeptical of SPDs. I started with practicing techniques again with flats, bunny hops, rear wheel flicks, high speed cornering, etc. I noticed that I took advantage of the fact that my feet were clipped in to do many of my maneuvers. After a few days of practice bunny hopping over random things placed on the ground on flat ground, I still can’t match the height of stuff I can clear with clipless.

    I started taking it up hills I started riding as a beginner mtber… on a hill I rode daily with SPDs, I noticed that I had a tendency to turn with the platforms (remember, this is a singlespeed). I would always clear it with SPDs, though sometimes tired, but with platforms, I found myself cheesing it by opting to zig zag up, but I wasn’t exhausted at all. I think I prefer the SPDs in this situation… I think the myth pertains to maximum power output. Maybe it has something to do with stiffer soled shoes too.

    On the way down, my foot kept getting bounced and rattled out of place on the pedal. The Sunline V-One platform pedals stick rather well to my skate shoes (not FiveTen), so I’d be forced to lift my foot to reposition it. This happened more with my reward foot than my forward foot. I’d much prefer SPDs in this case too. Having your foot off your pedal and/or planting it for a moment on the ground at high speed is a recipe for disaster.

    That’s my science… real life tests, same rider, same hill and trails, same bike, just different pedals and shoes with the platform pedals being tested at the latest/highest peak of my performance for the year/season. I have no fear of clipless besides accidentally coming unclipped in a situation in which I can’t lock my foot back in and the bike needs the weight to remain stable or when I need a platform to maintain my balance.

    If clipless is called a crutch since it enables you to stick to your pedals like no other to provide an unbeatable platform for pedaling, weight transfer, and balance, then suspension and properly inflated knobby tires are also a crutch for riding terrain that would otherwise throw your bike around. My logic might sound silly to you, but your logic sounds silly to me as well.

    Reply • August 30 at 7:52 pm
    • bikejames says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, however I do have a different perspective on your experience. I hear that the same rider with the same dysfunctions tried clipless and flats and found that clipless pedals worked better for them. That is my point – if you have common movement dysfunctions then clipless pedals will help you get around those dysfunctions.

      And it may take more than a few days of practice to get good at bunny hopping with flats. Plus, feet coming off the pedals is not because of the flats, it is because of not being able to ground your feet into the pedals, which is a core strength issue. 5-10’s are also a different world than skate shoes so you can’t really write it off until you try them.

      Lastly, anything can, and is, used as a crutch. A lot of riders use their suspension to make up for their lack of “flow” and their big tires to make up for lack of good cornering technique so they can be used as a crutch. Using technology to overcome dysfunctions and lack of strength and technique is a crutch, using them to accelerate your progress from a good training program and quality bike time is not.

      Reply • August 31 at 6:00 am
  22. samuel says:

    fifty years ago a lot more people did a lot more cycling than happens now. no one gave a fig about torque or pedalling technique, they just rode their bikes a lot and enjoyed it. clipless pedals are a classic example of shimano’s clever marketing strategies – they invent a problem that doesn’t really exist and then create an endlessly changing range of products to make consumers feel inferior and buy the latest version. having your feet bound to the pedals is useful for eyeballs out sprinting if you’re a professional racer (to prevent your feet slipping off at key moments in a race) but of limited value for anything else. 99% of cycling worldwide is still done on flat pedals with no attachment mechanism whatsoever.

    Reply • October 13 at 4:55 am
  23. Luke says:

    The Serotta cycling institute has the Korff study available.

    Type “serotta korff pedal study” into google and it should be the first link.

    Reply • November 4 at 9:23 am
  24. ted says:

    i have been mnt. bike riding for 7 years,6 with flats,the last year i did get into clippless, i do like them and for 1 main reason the lack of bashed and cut up shins, and knowing that certain climbs with alot of obsticales i have a real good chance of making because my feet will not come off the pedals.i have a foes fly that i take up to whistler and mnt. washington that will always have platforms, that type of speed, air and danger, i like to “bail” when needed!!. thanks for all the insight

    Reply • December 3 at 1:25 pm
  25. Connor Griffin says:

    Not trying to prove or anyhing but if you could just get lance armstrong to go back to the tour de france and win it with flats

    Reply • December 20 at 4:02 pm
    • bikejames says:

      Don’t know that he would win. Better is a subjective term. If you are talking about “performance at all costs” then clipless can be better, but they’re still not world’s better.

      If you’re talking about durability with little drop off in actual performance then flats are better. Overuse of anything can result in bad things and riding clipless pedals all the time is overuse of that tool.

      Reply • December 21 at 7:07 am
  26. blackhillschick says:

    I found this when I was looking for justification to leave flats on my road bike (they are already on my 29er and my commuter). I’ve never had my feet fly off the pedals, no matter how fast I go. I can drop guys on hills, and I can jump off my bike quickly to avoid errant squirrels, pedestrians, dogs on “retractable leads,” etc. I ride with a nice pair of Keen or Columbia trail hikers, or Tevas in the summer. I can’t see any reason to be afraid of falling and injuring myself, damaging my bike, and taking the joy out of the ride. I’m willing to leave others to their SPDs, I just wish they would leave me to my flats. I’ve been more aware of my pedaling (taking the weight off my trailing leg), which has increased my speed and endurance. Thanks for being a voice of reason in the face of what is popular.

    Reply • December 23 at 10:27 pm
  27. Terry says:

    Although I advocate for riding flats (even though I rode clipless for 11 years), I think Rob has a good point when he says clipless can be used to put out consistent, smooth torque. Sometimes, like when a climb is slippery or loose, maximum power isn’t what gets you up–it’s smooth consistent torque. In this respect, clipless pedals beat flats. However, I think this is the only respect in which they are superior and wouldn’t go back to clipless for this reason alone. I think we have to remeber that even though we all prefer one or the other, it doesn’t mean the other is totally without merit. They both have aspects some people like or don’t like (though I would argue, like James does, that many of the so called advantages of clipless pedals are simple myths that don’t stand up to scrutiny).

    Reply • May 27 at 2:39 pm
  28. Andy says:

    I teach people how to pedal in circles but preface it with when to and when not to use it. Use it for mtb climbing sketchy traction areas, climbing when u need loads of power and acclerating. Never for just riding along as it is hard and uses a lot of energy. I wonder if this study is using riders that actually do pedal in circles or just think that they do. i ride Power Cranks and from them know that most people do not. Maybe they do if they really try, but doing it all the time is difficult without use of something like Power Cranks or a lot of ilt’s.
    My speeds with the power cranks are always higher, so likely the power is higher.
    Pedaling in circles does require backing off the downstroke to allow the weaker muscles to balance with the powerful one.
    I’ve seen roadies with the locomotive mashing technique and mtb pros with super smooth supple circles.
    I would love to see the study done with the best pedal’ers instead of just those trying to pedal in circles and see what the results are.

    Reply • June 24 at 9:35 am
    • bikejames says:

      My info came from a presentation done by Andrew Coggan, Ph. D., who is recognized as one of the leaders in power based training programs. His conclusion was that spinning circles and using tools like the Power Cranks results in a less powerful and efficient pedal stroke. The studies were done using elite level and recreational cyclists. This is not only my opinion nor were the studies inherently flawed. You also don’t have to back off the downstroke and call into action less powerful muscles to balance things out, just don’t press down as hard. It is like throwing a punch – speed and effort are two different things and you can maintain pedal stroke speed while decreasing the effort to avoid spinning out.

      The studies were very clear – spinning circles and/ or pulling through the top resulted in less power and gross efficiency. You can rationalize the results away all you like but they are still there. Thanks for the input, though.

      Reply • June 24 at 1:22 pm
  29. Hamish Ferguson says:

    Great stuff

    My n=1 was performing a MAP test (start at 180 watts and increase 10watts every 30sec to fail) in both cleats and flats. No difference in power.

    Not sure if I would use flats on the track, a crit or very undulating road race but this whole notion of circular pedalling has no physiological or biomechanical basis.

    Keep up the fight.


    Reply • June 28 at 4:08 pm
  30. […] the upstroke sees very little activity by comparison. This also underscores the findings in the Mornieux and Korff studies, which was that a powerful downstroke with the lead leg and a more passive return of the trail leg […]

    Reply • May 25 at 10:44 pm
  31. Al Painter says:


    I think this is a pretty interesting topic, and I completely agree with eliminating any/all movement dysfunctions as well as moving in neutral spine at all times. The question I have is there an assumption that most riders are moving in the presence of dysfunction/imbalances from repetitive stress in the saddle? If someone has proper posterior chain firing (and they score 16-21 in an FMS eval), how does this affect clipped in vs flats?

    I’m going to put some flats on one of my MTB’s and do an interval loop that I use as a field test so I can compare apples and oranges on Strava clipped in vs flats.

    I’m actually looking forward to it because it reminds of me when I first started riding!

    Reply • August 9 at 9:59 pm
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    Reply • August 9 at 10:03 pm
  33. Vaun says:

    There are certainly many riders happy to put up with a bit of discomfort in riding how they like to ride. The idea the sore knees will heal sends shivers up my spine. In my work as a trainer a lot of my new clients are referrals from Physiotherapists who have completed the clinic phase of knee injury rehab and/or knee replacement surgery. A few clients come from the Sports Med Dr. with the mandate of avoiding surgery at all cost because the issue should be corrected without the knife, at least in the near term. Knees don’t always heel. The soreness can be micro-traumas that will add up to a significant injury at any point in the future. Pain is going to act as an inhibitor in movement patterns on and off the bike affecting both muscle activation and neural patterns. Knee injuries can be brutal to rehab and a surgical knee is seldom as good as a healthy one. And a replaced knee won’t last a lifetime if one chooses to remain active; same for hip replacements. A lifetime of surgeries or replacements each decade over a lifetime is a big task with all the pre-hab, acute recovery and rehab for each instance, not to mention the associated risk that accompanies any surgery such as clots and infections. All riders should take whatever steps possible to avoid knee trauma (proper warm up, regular knee stability work, muscle imbalance/movement pattern assessment & correction and if necessary moving to flat pedals). If I’ve incorrectly interpreted the knee healing comment than I sincerely apologize here and now.

    For anyone crushing it on the FMS in the 16-21 range keep on keeping on. As long as someone is pedaling clips and can maintain that FMS score over lifespan then let it rock. The secret sauce (DB Combo program?) integrated into the training plan is paying huge dividends. It would be the greatest thing in the mtb industry to have the greatest majority of the riding population scoring that well. However, I have no issues with James operating under the assumption that most riders are not going to score that high and will have asymmetries affecting their movements. If the first three rounds of the NFL draft saw an average FMS of 13/21 then I’d highly expect the majority of less trained individuals who (again assuming) spend too much time sitting in a day are going to have issues. Maybe James has a record of FMS scores collected at riding clinics or in his gym that could be posted to show us what the average rider is scoring on their initial FMS?

    Debates, discussion, anecdotal evidence, scientific evidence… it all makes this site so awesome and this community is really keen on learning which is tremendous to see. Not just from a performance perspective but from a lifetime/longevity of riding aspect. Everyone pat yourselves on the back for getting in here and lending a voice to the cause regardless of what pedals you ride.

    Reply • August 18 at 12:54 pm

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