Best foot forward

Stand up on the pedals and which foot do you lead with? Switch up your stance to go faster, ride safer and feel better.

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1. More control

Sometimes you get into trouble on a trail because you’ve hit a techie section and your feet are the wrong way round. Instead of just holding on until you can get your feet sorted again, imaging being able to ride it out confidently and with just as much fun and control as you usually would. You’d be safer, too. It’s the same for riding techie sections uphill, trials riders get good at riding switch because they need to put in little pedal strokes from time to time.

2. Body health

If you’ve been riding for any length of time you’re already have all sorts of imbalances from riding in your fixed stance. One leg will have a stronger quad, the other a stronger hamstrings and glutes. It doesn’t stop there though, your whole body up to your neck will be canted in one direction.

3. Old trails like new

Switching from your preferred stance is always going to remove some of your control and confidence. Try it on a trail you find easy though, and it’ll become challenging again. Of course if you run into trouble you can always switch back to take the heat off.

4. Long descents

With your trailing leg taking most of the load as you descend, it’s naturally going to become more fatigued. That’s fine on your normal trails you’ve trained your body for, but head to the Alps or somewhere bigger and your leg will quickly tire. Unless that is you switch up your feet. Even a few minutes riding switch can be enough to provide enough relief.

5. Corner speed and off-camber sections

Changing direction and finding grip on your bike is all about loading the pedals, putting pressure through them to increase traction where you need to. This is much easier to do evenly through both feet if your hips are facing the way the corner goes. Similarly, by pointing your hips into the hill on off-camber sections you’ll naturally generate more grip, and your body will be in a better position to anticipate a slide.

Best foot forward

Stand up on the pedals and which foot do you lead with? Chances are it’s your right, according to our latest social media research, which shows 46% of you do compared with just 40% who lead with the left. That’s all very interesting, you’re thinking, but why the hell should I care? Well, it could have huge implications for the speed we ride at and our overall health.

Let’s say you’re in the majority and it’s the right leg that points to the fun stuff. That means when you descend your hips are clocked to the left, your quads are working harder on your right than the left, and your hamstrings are being pulled more on the left leg than the right. Confused? Try it now, get into your preferred stance and feel the angle of your hips, and the different loads through you feet. And if you’re still trying to figure out which leg you lead with, don’t worry we did that too and had to go for a ride to check.

Hips don’t lie

The upshot is you ride in a twisted position, putting uneven load through your body. Try that fork 40 years and you’re an osteopath’s worst nightmare (or maybe, dream, money-spinning patient). There’s also the little matter of cornering. Yes, we promised your foot stance would have big implications for your riding speed, and it’s no lie — right footers tend to favour left-hand corners, and left footers enjoy railing right handers best. That’s because your stance is already doing the work for you on your best cornering direction.

As long as they’re turning in their favoured direction as the difficulty or steepness of a turn increases, their hips will always feel like they’re facing the right way. This also works for wall-rides in BMX. Typically a lefty/regular/clockwise rider will prefer the wall to be on their left because they will feel more comfortable exiting the commintment of a wall-ride out into the space to the right.

Switch it up

It’s not all doom and gloom though, folding in half in old age is avoidable. There’s a solution, and I think you already know what it is: Switch it up and try riding with your wrong foot forward. The 14% of respondents to our poll who said they swing both ways (feet wise) are already doing the right thing. OK, to start with you’ll feel less balanced, less confident and less able to control the bike, and you’ll have to slow down a bit to deal with your self-imposed skill limiter. Over time though, you’ll feel more comfortable as your body and mind learns the skills you already know from your dominant leg position.

Start small, try riding one trail per ride switch, perhaps the easiest one you know. If you ride with friends then drop yourself down the pecking order and follow someone usually slower than you, that way you’ll still enjoy the now-challenging ride. If you’re the slowest then keep in mind you probably won’t be for long.