Foot position on flat pedals?


I have a question about foot positioning when using flat pedals. I recently read that with flats you need to have your feet centered over the pedals for better balance and power. I converted to flats two years ago but after years of using clipless I automatically have the balls of my feet centered over the pedal axles. I tried the recommended positioning during my nightly drill session and it just didn’t feel right. Should I change my phantom clipless pedal position, or am I just going to break something that’s already been fixed?

P.S. Any chance of a clinic in Hawaii?




Hey man, thanks for the great question.

Short answer
• Run your clips and flats in the same position.

• Do whatever feels right.

Even the most hoity-toity bike fitters will admit (privately) that experienced riders eventually find the right positions for their bodies and riding styles.

Danny Macaskill sure knows how to ride — on the balls of his feet. Photo from Red Bull.

Longer answer
Ride on the balls of your feet. This is how humans are meant to move. When you jump, do you jump off the arch of your foot? When you land, do you land on the arch of your foot? No and no.

When it comes to braaap, I always defer to moto. The book Pro Motocross and Off-Road Riding Techniques by Donnie Bales and Gary Semics says: “Ride with the ball of your foot on the footpeg. … it adds another joint to your body’s suspension (your ankle joint) for better movement and feel, your feet won’t hit the ground … and you won’t hit the shifter or brake by accident.”

That makes total sense to me. You, the human machine, are meant to use your hip, knee and ankle together.

When you ride on the arch of your foot, you’re literally collapsing your foot around the pedal. You’re more likely to hurt your foot, and you’re way less fluid and powerful on the pedal.

I work with many riders of all styles and levels, and lots of them start using flat pedals in my clinics. Some ride on the arches of their feet because they feel more secure there, more locked in. It’s a lazy way of staying on the pedals when your legs are stiff and you’re out of sync with bike and terrain. Standing on the arches is a bad habit, and I correct it right away.

Yeah yeah, some riders and coaches insist flat pedals should be crammed into their arches, but it’s hard to argue with this guy:

Brian Lopes rips my old backyard pump track — on the balls of his feet.

You’ll find high-level riders who ride on the backs of the balls of their feet, but I doubt you’ll find many who ride on their arches.

Jeff Lenosky rocking the Keystone pump track on the balls of his feet. He looks like he might be on the backs of the balls of his feet, but he definitely is not on his arches.

There’s a movement among roadies to move the cleats back to the arches. Some, including Joe Friel, claim higher pedaling power this way. While I can’t argue with their results, I believe riding on the arch of the foot will harm technical riding. That ankle travel seems really important, especially with a high seat. See Should I move my cleats back?

Run your own test!
One great thing about flat pedals: Your feet are free to find their favorite spots. Ride in flats. See where your feet end up.

I’ve been clipped in since the late ’80s, and I’ve been riding flats almost exclusively for the past year. Based on feel, I’d swear I’m running my feet farther back on flats than with clips, but today I made some measurements, and …

Photo of foot on flat pedal taken at the end of a 90-minute ride. SPD cleat position has been the same since 1988. Is my foot just used to that position?

… wow, my feet are almost exactly the same place on flat and clip-in pedals. The shoes look different, but the distance from the arch of my foot to the pedal spindle is almost identical.


Back to the short answer:
• Run your clips and flats in the same position.

• Do whatever feels right.

Rip it!


PS: Clinic in Hawaii? Dude that would be rad. We just need to set up enough people/sessions to pay for the trip. The Wife would be stoked on that!

Know more. Have more fun!

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