Why do we recommend flat pedals for learning?

Andy uses DMR vaults on his Broson day in day out for coaching. But he gets clipped in with SPD’s for racing — Image courtesy of Pink Bike from the DMR Vault pedal review — http://www.pinkbike.com/news/DMR-Vault-Pedals-review-2011.html

We recently read a few posts on Facebook regarding mountain bike coaching companies and why we recommend that riders learn on flat pedals. One of the users was under the impression that we were against SPD’s and getting ‘clipped in’. Another suggested that we recommend flat pedals from a liability point of view, as if a rider were to fall off learning something new then they were less likely to hurt themselves with flat pedals. It is true that we recommend using flat pedals on our day courses, however those aren’t the reasons.

First of all we’d like to dispel the rumour that we are against being ‘clipped in’. SPD pedals have been one of the key innovations for mountain biking and first came to be 25 years ago. By providing a solid engagement between foot and pedal, pedalling efficiency and security was maximised and maintained. The most notable benefit of being clipped in is pedalling efficiency. This is why they are commonplace in cross country racing, cyclocross and road cycling. All of our coaches ride and race clipped in as well as riding on flat pedals.

“I was riding clipped in after about two or three weeks of ‘becoming’ a mountain biker. I started racing cross country and everyone in my club at the time rode clipped in. There was a strong racing scene and clipping in was just what you did if you raced. It was faster. However no one could bunny hop, jump or flow on the trail well” Image of Rab racing the Fort William XC World Cup in 2004

Being clipped in for mountain biking can be beneficial. Clipless pedals are a piece of equipment, or a bike upgrade, that gives you an advantage. However, we often see that recreational mountain bikers and racers use SPD’s to make up for areas in their technique which are lacking. It’s very common to hear a rider say that they can’t bunny hop or rear wheel lift without being clipped in.

Riding on flat pedals will expose those areas of your technique that being clipped in often hides. When you know the areas of technique that could be better then you can begin to work on finding improvements. It’s a classic case of identifying your weaknesses and addressing them. Without good technique, for example how to weight and unweight the bike by using dynamic body movement or ‘pushing’, you’ll never learn the best ways to rear wheel lift, bunny hop, jump, pump, find grip on corners or flow on the trails. If you can learn how to perform these skills with flat pedals then when you put the SPD’s back on you’ll be using them for an advantage, not as a crutch.

Tom had been mountain biking on SPD’s for 12 years. 18 months ago he sought coaching advice and it was suggested he go back to basics on flat pedals. “I learnt very quickly was that areas of my technique were completely wrong, I was compensating for bad technique by using the SPDs for all the wrong reasons. I had reached a plateau beyond which I was not going to progress without drastic change” Tom is now a valuable member of our coaching team and specialises in coaching newcomers and riders whose riding progression has stalled

Over the winter Andy asked the Borders College BASE students to lose the SPD’s and go back to basics riding on flats. A number of riders were against this at first, but after a few weeks they were at home riding flat pedals and having fun. In the lead up to the season starting, Andy let the guys and girls put their SPD pedals back on to familiarise themselves with their race bike set up. They’re now riding faster than ever and with better technique. It’s seems silly at first however it should all make sense in the end… Just think of Andy as Mr Miyagi

Ok maybe The Karate Kid isn’t the best example, but hopefully you get the idea.

We can understand it might be off putting to take the SPD’s off and replace them with flat pedals. At first going back to flats won’t be fun. You run the risk of scraping your shins and feeling like a beginner all over again. You won’t be able to do a lot of the things you are used to and pedalling will be hard work and not quite as quick. In short it could be quite frustrating.

Sometime you have to take a step backwards before moving forwards. If you have reached a plateau in your riding, are struggling with steep and technical trails, jumps and big drops, then maybe putting on some flats and seeking some advice could be the answer? Ultimately we are happy to work with you if you ride SPD’s. We aren’t against it at all. Just consider if riding on flat pedals could help you enjoy your bike more and allow you to make the most of your time on the trails.