Why keeping your feet level often generates more grip, speed and stability
Take a look at these images, you can see that with your feet level you’re creating a wider stance, which is much less likely to become imbalanced.
When coaching The Trail Academy school clubs one of the first things I get the kids to do is to ride with their feet level. It may seem like the main reason for this is to increase pedal clearance and, while that’s partially true — if your foot is down you can catch the pedal on a rock or root — the reason I advocate a feet-up approach is your weight is more evenly distributed between both feet, so you’re more stable. It is safer.
With one foot down, your feet are actually closer together, so the base of your pyramid is narrower and you’re also effectively balancing on one foot. To experience the difference yourself just adopt these two positions without being on the bike and you’ll see how unstable riding with one foot can be. So forget the old mantra that you always want one foot down in corners; usually you don’t.
There are many other advantages to riding with your feet level. It encourages you to ride with your knees slightly bent, which is good for absorbing bumps. It’s also easier to lift yourself out of the saddle and change position on the bike — you’ll then find it easier to push back on a steep descent for example, or drop your heels, which makes braking way more effective.
Riding with both feet level when cornering lets you lean forward and transfer more weight onto the front tyre’s contact patch, so there’s more grip. You can also drop one shoulder and tilt the handlebars, which brings the front tyre’s edge knobs into play. If you have one foot down you tend to be locked into one position, so you can’t lean the bars like this — instead you have to turn the bars and all those dynamic movements are less pronounced and less effective.
When to drop your foot
In some corners you can ride all the way round with your feet level, but if the corner tightens there will be a point where you will need to drop the outside foot. You’ll start to get a feel for when to transfer onto one foot and it’s generally at the point you’re leaning the bike the most. Dropping the outside foot, or rather lifting the inside one, lets the bike pivot underneath you. It exaggerates the turn and means you can turn tighter if you need to. And it changes your centre of mass, bringing it back in line with your tyres’ contact patches.
Right now, you might be thinking ‘I already ride with my feet level’ but you may not be doing do it enough. My advice is to start every corner, every descent, every stretch of technical singletrack with your feet level. Some people call this the attack position, but at The Trail Academy we like to call it the neutral position. Drop your outside foot in corners if you need to, but always reset to this neutral position with your feet level. At first it might feel fake or weird, but riding with level feet is safer, more stable and you become less of a passenger on the bike and more in control. It also lets you develop other more advanced skills, which I’m going to get stuck into next month.