Beginner Basics: Victory Via the Feet
Your feet are without a doubt the most important point of contact you have with your bike. If they aren’t connected properly, you’re going to have a bad time. And yet, somehow, one of the most common mistakes you can see both on and off the trails is improper foot placement. Now, granted, some of this is personal preference. However, there are some guidelines that you’re going to want to follow, especially as a beginner, that will allow you to get the most out of your ride.
The first thing to do is find the basic, effective position. This will be the go-to setup your feet will use, but once you get a better idea of what feels good you can tweak it to suit your personal preferences. There are two aspects of foot placement you want to pay attention to. The first is *rotation*, and for the basic setup you want a foot pointed directly forward, completely parallel to the frame of the bike. This will allow your whole leg to work properly though the pedal stroke, and will make you much less likely to hurt your knees. If you find yourself splaying your knees out sideways, and rotating your foot so the heel is closer to the bike than the toes, then your bike is too small.Caught in the act! Notice how his arch is over the centre of the pedal, and that his foot is turned outwards.
The second thing to look at is the actual contact point – that is, where your foot meets the pedal. If you’ve spent any time at a college campus, you’ve probably seen quite a few people pedalling with the centre of their arch over the centre of their pedal. Don’t do that! It’s (probably) bad for your feet, and will be significantly less comfortable and less powerful. Instead, you should be trying to put the balls of your feet on the centre of the pedal.
If you ride on flat pedals, it is particularly important to keep your foot positioning in mind. Not only will proper positioning give you more power, but you will also find it to be much more comfortable as you begin to extend the length of your rides, and give you a much better base to stand on while descending. One of the most-oft repeated pieces of advice given to new riders is “heavy feet, light hands” – if your feet are in the right spot, you’ll be able to keep your weight farther back for a longer time.
If you take a look at more complex pedal systems, such as toe clips or clipless pedals and cleats, you can see that there is a “sweet spot” of foot placement. Some people find that they perform better with their foot a bit farther forward or backward, and some people find that a small amount of rotation makes sustained periods of pedaling easier on their knees. Also, as the terrain becomes more complex, the need for a more fluid base will become apparent. So, just like practically everything else in biking, foot placement will be unique for every rider. For example, I like to have my foot relatively far back on the pedal, with my heels out about 2 degrees – notice how my cleat in the above picture is all the way forward, with the outside screw set just a touch behind the inside screw. My dad, on the other hand, is the complete opposite: his cleats are slid back and turned in, giving him a foot position relatively farther forward over the pedals, with his toes turned slightly out. If you follow the above guidelines, and get yourself comfortable on your bike, you will have a much easier time achieving the experience needed to figure out when, and in what way, to adjust your foot position.