First things, first!
It doesn’t matter whether you use clipped or flat pedals but if you’re learning a core skill, using flat pedals are best. So, swap out those clips and get your flats on.
Why does foot position on your pedals matter?
Getting this right can be the difference between riding through a feature successfully versus being tipped off the bike. So, this is one of my core skills – simple enough to do but with, potentially, huge ramifications!
I bet you’re thinking that’s all a bit dramatic and anybody can get their feet on the pedals OK and you’re right to an extent but if you get foot perfectly located on the pedal, it can open a whole new world of flow.
Ok, this is what most people are told
The pedal spindle needs to be under the ball of your foot.
You’re told this because it is the most efficient location for creating power through the pedal stroke. Great for riding a road bike on the road but maybe not the best advice for riding off-road.
What you’re not told …
Riding off-road requires a greater emphasis on your balance in more than one plane.
When you’re riding seated on the saddle, balance when riding is achieved through a number of factors including subtle hip movement from side-to-side counteracting the effect of your steering.
Riding off-road brings further challenges by adding longitudinal balance which you have to achieve by riding out of the saddle and allowing the bike to move.
In other words, your body position (more on this in another article) has to change with the terrain gradient.
Getting foot position right!
Ideally, you do need to be able to move your foot on the pedal depending upon the features and terrain you’re tackling.
The neutral position
Place the ball of your foot just forward of the spindle. You’ll need to find that ‘sweet spot’ where you can stand (off the saddle) and feel your whole body in balance both side-to-side and backwards-forwards without feeling pressure on your calves like you would feel if you stood on the ball of your foot.
This is a neutral position from which you can move the foot forwards, backwards or from side-to-side.
Your drill to practice
Find a slightly sloping surface where you can roll down at walking pace without pedalling. This is your practice area.
At the top of the slope stand on your pedals (no sitting on the saddle), shift your feet until you find your own ‘sweet spot’. When you’ve found it, relax and absorb how it feels. This is you neutral pedal position.
Practice so that finding that ‘sweet spot’ is second nature.
When you’re really comfortable, practice dropping your heels slightly whilst in your neutral position – notice how that effects your backward-forward balance and adjust your foot position to help compensate.
This will become your new neutral position but don’t rush to get to this point and this will require more practice and familiarity.