Trackstands – The “secret” to Standing Pedaling and Switchbacks

And the secret to riding standing pedaling and switchbacks is…

100% all riders I’ve met who have trouble dealing with switchbacks also struggle with trackstands.

…that there is no secret. That’s right, there is no secret technique or trick that will help you do it. The truth is that both of them boil down to one thing and that is your ability to balance on your bike.

Now, at this point I’m sure most of you are thinking that can’t be it because you can balance on your bike and you still struggle with those things so there must be more to it.

And this is where I start to lose people because I have to point out a simple ego-crushing fact…

If you can’t trackstand you can’t really balance on your bike.

I know this can be tough to come to terms with for a lot of riders but if you have holes in your fundamental balance on the bike you’ll always struggle with slow speed skills on the trail.

As a coach who’s worked with hundreds of people over the years I’ve come to realize a simple truth – if you have a lot of trouble executing a high level skill like riding switchbacks then odds are you have a hole somewhere in your movement and balance foundation. And you can’t out-coach or “secret technique” a foundational problem away, you have to fix it.

A trackstand (where you balance on your bike without going anywhere) is the ultimate test of your ability to balance on your bike and the best way to fix this problem. When you are moving momentum is adding to the balance of the bike, which is why keeping your momentum makes things feel more stable on the trail.

Whenever you are moving momentum is helping to keep the bike balanced. This is why you can ghost ride your bike – even though no one is actively balancing the bike momentum is doing it all on its own.

So this means that the slower you go the less momentum is helping you stay balanced and the more you have to rely on your own ability to balance. And when you have no momentum at all you have…you guessed it, a trackstand.

And, like I mentioned before, this means that if you can’t trackstand then you can’t really balance on your bike. You always need momentum to help keep you up and you’ll always need a certain amount of it, otherwise you’ll fall down.

While you may not think that this is such a big deal this lack of fundamental balance on the bike shows up as some very common problems on the trail such as problems dealing with switchbacks, slow speed technical rocks gardens and standing pedaling to name a few.

For example, 100% all riders I’ve met who have trouble dealing with switchbacks also struggle with trackstands. The problem is that a switchback basically asks you to be moving very slowly  – if not pull an outright trackstand – at the crux of the switchback while you shift your weight so your bike can follow. You don’t steer your bike through a switchback, you steer your body through it and to do this you have to feel comfortable with your slow speed balance points on your bike.

The same thing happens with slow speed technical stuff. If you get hung up and lose momentum then you are left with your ability to balance and keep things going until you can regain some momentum. Without that slow speed balance you’ll always struggle with stuff like this on the trail.

And lastly, standing pedaling is a “moving trackstand” and the balance points you learn from doing them will ensure you never feel unstable when standing again.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that being able to trackstand with your prefered foot forward isn’t enough – you need to train yourself to be comfortable doing it switchfoot as well. When you can trackstand with either foot forward with ease then you’ll be able to ride switchfoot on the trail much easier as well.

So, now that I’ve hopefully convinced you of the need to practice this simple but powerful skill here are some tips to help you with it…

5 Keys to Trackstands

– Use flats pedals when learning to trackstand. You’ll not only find it easier to get your foot into a more balanced mid-foot position but having your feet free to move will also improve your balance. You’ll also be free of the mental stress factor from knowing you’ll need to unclip real fast at some point, which will hold you back from committing like you need to in order to really get good trackstands.

– Stand up and put your seat down. You can’t use your hips if they are glued to your seat or if your seat is in their way.

– Shift into a high gear so you have some tension on the pedals. This will help you balance better on your feet.

Using a combination of the tension at the pedals and lightly using your brakes you want to create a point where you are pushing forward with your lead foot like you are going to lightly pedal but you stop just short of overcoming the resistance and actually going anywhere. It is this tension point that will give you the platform to balance while not going anywhere.

– Start small. Don’t try to rock a 30 second trackstand your first time. Instead start with 5 seconds and once you can do that easily then work on 10 seconds and so on. If you allow yourself to focus too much on doing it for a long time you’ll get discouraged and quit, mumbling something about bad genes or a crappy bike set up or some other excuse that won’t help you on the trail.

Here is a video from my new 30 Day Standing Pedaling Power & Endurance Solution going over how to trackstand as well as some tips to help you get more out of this drill.

I also went out and shot some video trying to show you some good switchbacks in action and while this one isn’t exactly what I wanted you can see the difference between Seated (or at least seat up high) vs. Standing efforts on a switchback. You’ll notice how the standing efforts with the seat down where smoother and resulted in a faster exit speed thanks to the ability to use the hips to find the optimal balance point throughout the switchback.

I’ll be shooting more trail video and try to put something a bit more instructive on riding switchbacks but the truth is that if you have good balance on your bike – which all starts with the trackstand – then you don’t really need much instruction at all. So work on your trackstands and fix the holes you have in your fundamental balance on your bike and you’ll discover the only “secret” you’ll ever need.

Don’t forget that you can still get a copy of my new 30 Day Standing Pedaling Power & Endurance Solution for only $17, which is over 50% of the regular price. You’ll get a specially designed Mobility, Strength and Cardio program to help improve the hip and upper body strength you need to feel more balanced on the bike when you stand up so you can lay down more power with less effort.

Click here to learn more about what is in the new 30 Day Standing Pedaling Power & Endurance Solution and how it can help you improve your standing pedaling in all situations.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Randy says:

    Couple things:

    – In my son’s BMX training, they do a ‘foot down’ game at EVERY level, at every practice. Basically, a circle of cones that everyone in the coaching group goes into. When you touch the ground with your foot, your out. Last person ‘standing’ wins. They make a pretty big circle for the little kids – which allows them to ride slowly and not need to ‘track stand’. For the expert riders, it’s a small circle, a lot of riders, and plenty of elbows – it’s a full contact track stand game. SUPER FUN.

    – in our grown-up riding group, we will sometimes do the above game anytime a decision needs to be made – often in the trailhead parking lot when there’s some debate about which ride to do. Everyone gets on their bike – last man standing picks the ride. Want to hurry things along? Ride up and ‘park’ right in front of someone and force a track stand showdown.

    – I’d also add what might seem like an obvious tip (which as with most things, applies to riding in general and not just to track stands): Eyes where you want to go – if you want to be on the ground by your front wheel, then by all means stare right at the dirt below you you’ll be there soon enough. Stare at the big rock – you’ll hit the big rock. A track stand is just like riding somewhere – but infinitely slowly – so look toward your intended line – even if you’ll never get there at ‘trackstand’ speed.

    Reply • August 2 at 10:58 am
  2. Wade says:

    So how do you pick up your rear tire and swivel it around tight switch backs?

    Reply • August 2 at 9:02 pm
  3. viamindimo says:

    Not quite as irked as Rob but I do find 2 issues with this post:

    First, the notion that switchbacks are all about trackstanding is incorrect. Take the 1st turn on Boyscout at Bootleg Canyon, or the drop-in to the Snotch on Porcupine Rim, and you know what I’m talking about – steep, tight turns that are very tricky for most (i.e., foot goes down), but the top riders can rail at speed. The difference between them and the rest is not trackstanding. What is it? Don’t know, but was hoping to learn from this post.

    Second, this is a pretty weak how-to on trackstanding. After 4 mins of discussion we see James get on the bike with the line “stand up and… balance”. Not much instruction to work with. For a very good how-to (by a chick – go girl!) check out

    BTW I’ve done the switchbacks in the video, I can do them all up and down pretty consistently and can’t do trackstands.

    Reply • August 3 at 11:48 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Just to be clear, the “secret” to switchbacks is being able to stand up and pedal and the “secret” to standing pedaling is learning the balance points you get from trackstanding. So, working your way back up the “skill chain” you see that having the fundamental balance from the trackstand is needed to stand up and standing up allows you to consistently ride switchbacks at any speed.

      I’m also completely confused by your post – you can’t trackstand yet you wonder why other riders can rail switchbacks faster and you can’t and why you can only ride those switchbacks in the video “pretty consistently”? Try improving your basic balance on the bike (i.e. learn to trackstand) and you might find that you “know” what they know. There is no secret and going fast is built on the same basic foundation that going slow is, it is just done faster.

      No offense but this is exactly the type of response I was mentioning in the beginning – as much as you want there to be one there is no “secret”, it is just a matter of applying the basics better and better over time. And the most basic skill on the your bike is balancing on it and you can’t do that but instead of admitting that you have a huge hole in your fundamental balance that may be holding you back you instead make excuses as to why that isn’t the problem.

      Learn to trackstand and then get back to me – odds are a lot of the problems you are having on the trail will resolve themselves from simply acquiring this most basic of skills.

      BTW, that link was alright but you never even got to see her do a trackstand in action. And I did give instruction on the video and in the article, maybe you missed it. All those words that girl’s article can’t do it for you. Again, there is no secret it just takes practice, patience and a willingness to suck at something so you can get better at it.

      Reply • August 5 at 8:56 am
  4. Mike says:

    I think the general idea of encouraging people to get better trackstanding skills, in order to be able to overcome more difficult trail features, is really good. However, I’ve got a question and a couple comments on the article:

    – why is trackstanding switch important? I snowboard in the winter and know why riding switch is important in board sports. But I personally haven’t found myself in a position on the trail where I was forced to trackstand switch, or ride downhill switch.
    – I don’t really agree with what you said at the start of the video, that people should learn to trackstand before they hit the trails. I think there are a lot of skills to be learned in order to be a good mountainbiker, but that mountainbiking is also about having fun. I love seeing how, year after year, my strength and technical skills improve, which allows me to approach more difficult trails or keep riding in spots where, a year or two before, I would get off and carry my bike. But a lot of these things came naturally to me and I didn’t “train” or “practice” a lot. I think that, for a week-end warrior such as myself, it’s more important to enjoy the rides, without losing sight of progress; but progressing in skills and strength shouldn’t be the top priority.
    – as a tip: I use my bike for commuting and have to pass through a gazillion intersections with traffic lights on my way to work. I use every red light as an opportunity to practice track standing and it’s been helping a lot on the trail.

    Reply • August 5 at 4:38 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      – Being able to trackstand switchfoot will help you to be able to ride switchfoot on the trial. Even though you may not have found yourself in a situation where you ended up switchfoot on accident on the trial it does happen and it is also important for cornering since you want to enter a corner with you inside foot forward so you can drop the outside foot to weight the outside pedal properly.

      – I’ve found that people that struggle with trackstands have trouble with slow-speed areas of the trail and they have less fun as a result. Like I mentioned in the post, being able to trackstand means you have good slow speed balance which is something every rider can benefit from and not every rider develops it naturally from just riding which is why practicing it is a good idea. And if fun is the goal and stronger riders with more skill have more fun then wouldn’t increasing your strength and skills be part of the goal?

      I also used trackstanding at stoplights to practice, it is a good way to learn and dial it in.

      Reply • August 5 at 8:49 am
  5. Track standing does help low speed balance and hence sharp switchbacks.

    But as speed increases above tip over speed (typically below this speed the bike will not ghost ride) the turning dynamics change and the lean becomes more and more important as you are balancing both gravity and inertial forces pulling you outside. So unless those guys railing the tight switchbacks are coming to a near stop or at least below 4-5 MPH, Slow speed balance and bike dynamics do not come into play. The guys railing it are controlling a lot more dynamic forces. Both high and low speed balance are important for various reasons on the bike.

    I still do sharp switchbacks on the low speed end and where track stand balance is important.

    Reply • January 31 at 9:40 am
  6. Dan Thompson says:

    After 52 years of riding I made the effort to learn to track stand. What a difference it has made to my bike handling both slow and fast. Also riding no handed is another great way to improve your balance, I’m working on doing so at ever slower speeds.

    Reply • June 8 at 11:28 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Awesome to hear, thanks for the feedback on how it helped you.

      Reply • June 9 at 10:57 am

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