Contributed by Bonnie Larsen, Fundamentals Lead for the MHSCL Demo Team

Spring is on its way, which means that most of us are itching to get out on the bike and experience the thrill of riding a sweet ribbon of dirt. As you climb on your bike and hit the trails, how do you shake out the rust and refine your skills for yet another season of shredding? Does your preparation for another riding season mean automatically clipping into your pedals to ride, or do you include a few weeks (or months) of riding in flats?

In the past, we assumed that REAL mountain bike riders wore clipless. Granted, most Minnesota trails are not technically difficult and most riders are fine going clipless. However, spending time riding with flat pedals will expose inefficiencies in your riding and force riders of all levels to develop better skills. As coaches, we should be constantly striving to improve our skills (and to keep up with the skills of our student riders!) Flat pedal training is one way to get it done. Here are three good reasons to include flat pedal training in your riding repertoire.

1) Riding in flats requires better balance on your bike. Feet not attached to pedals tend to come off when not weighted properly, so riders must learn to weight and unweight their bikes by feel instead of relying on clips to keep them attached to their bikes. As riders, one of our goals is to improve our body position so bike and body act as one cohesive unit. In flats, the soles of shoes are softer, so it is easier to feel the terrain beneath the bike and develop a flow with the trail. Heels naturally drop to shift weight, eliminating the need to lean back on the rear tire, getting out of optimum position. 

2) The solid midfoot position used in riding in flats can increase confidence. Feet are free to dab when necessary and obstacles on the trail such as roots, drops, and logs seem less menacing when the rider is not attached to the bike. Movements such as track stands, manuals, and front wheel lifts are also less scary when putting a foot down is an option. Riding in flats forces riders to concentrate on technique instead of power, which can translate into fewer accidents. Additionally, many clipless riders learn how to bunny hop by lifting rather than scooping their feet. Pulling up the rear of the bike and getting heavy on the front can potentially end (“endo”) in disaster.

3) Riding in flats is just plain fun! It transports me back to summers spent riding with friends on empty farm roads with bikes decked out with banana seats and ape hanger handlebars. While I enjoy the speed and efficiency that clipless pedals offer on the trail, riding in flats makes me feel invincible on the downhills, berms and drops. Rollers are more fun and technical sections are conquerable. When not focusing on going fast, I can slow down enough to enjoy the experience of being out in the woods and remember why it is I ride.

Convinced yet? Here are some great resources to get you started on your flat pedal adventure:

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