Hardtail or suspension for a (re)learner?


Throughout 2011, I’ve been trying to get to grips with flat pedals on my Enduro SL. After a couple of decades riding clips and straps then clipless, this past year has been about the worst I can remember. Admittedly, I haven’t managed to ride as much as I’d have liked, but when I do get out, I don’t feel secure on the bike and live in mortal dread of becoming detached from the bike should the rear wheel ever leave the ground… I’d really like 2012 to be different. So, would I be better served by a hardtail for re-learning some basic skills or am I kidding myself that switching to a hardtail will make any difference? Should I just knuckle down with MMBS and the Enduro?



Hey Don,

If you can’t stay on your pedals on natural terrain on an Enduro, it ain’t happening on a hardtail.

Your options, cheapest first:

• Learn to ride the bike you have. Balance on your feet. Move your hands and feet with the terrain.

• Get a hardtail or BMX bike and spend time on a pump track and just riding around. This will help you learn balance and suppleness. After you gain those skills in a sterile environment, it’ll be easier to execute them on natural terrain.

I learned to ride flats on dirt jumps and pump tracks. I now ride flats on trail too, but I couldn’t do that pre-pump.

Tip: When you can bunny hop with flats, you are ready for the big show.



Know more. Have more fun!

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15 replies
  1. Don says:

    Thanks Lee – awesomely fast response! So, I guess I stick with the Enduro and get good at swapping pedals around. And if that means I can get clipped in again for trail riding, then 2012 is already shaping up to be a happier year on the bike!

  2. Scott says:

    All flats are not created equal…
    There is a big difference between bad shoes with smooth plastic pedals, and 5-10’s with decent pedals.
    I run smooth plastic pedals on my commute bike so that I don’t accidentally hurt someone getting on and off the crowded train. I notice a BIG difference in how attached I feel vs. my normal pedals. Riding down stairs or over rough terrain, I can feel my feet shifting back and forth over the smooth pedals. Good shoes also help. I always ride in 5-10’s if I have the option.
    I recommend wearing shin guards until you get your confidence up. They are protection, and give me the peace of mind to forget about my pedals and just ride.

  3. Mike says:

    Don – What Scott says is absolutely true.
    A good friend of mine (serious road rider) got into MTB just over a year ago. After a few sketchy rides (read slow and nervous) he switched to 5.10 shoes for riding off road.
    He immediately improved his riding and his confidence increased. (He was still horribly stiff and unbalanced though)
    However, as Lee preaches, you can’t go past a pump track to really instill the confidence, skills and fu into your riding.
    This was proved when Trent built his own pump track at his new house.
    Within a year, he has gone from slow and nervous to absolutely slaying it. I can only shake him now on the off camber and more technical stuff. And I am no slouch (I rode Trials at the 2006 Worlds and can claim that I’ve beaten my mate Cam Cole in a race)
    Now he is comfortable on flats and pinning it, he is moving back to clipless. He will only get faster.

    Keep going with the flats and have fun with it. When you get nervous, slow down and focus on those heavy feet, light hands.

  4. Sergey says:

    When I first started to try tiniest jumps – simultaneously with switching to flat pedals – it was all about mortal dread. After few deep gauges on my shin guards I figured out that whatever I was _consciously_ doing with my legs would not help. Pulling feet up was obviously bad and pushing them down just pushed the bike away. So I started to pull the bike up with my arms – and it worked! I now understand that it was not technically proper way to jump but it distracted my attention from legs and let them work by themselves – and they naturally knew what to do much better 🙂
    After that Lee showed me that bike is supposed to be ridden like you mean it – thank you Lee:)
    And yes, DJ hardtail and pump track help tremendously. Melt snow melt!

  5. Don says:

    I’m riding with Easton FlatBoys and Shimano AM40s, so my flat-pedal-o-phobia shouldn’t be a issue with the hardware. I’m totally comfortable with my Time ATACs on the trail, but am aware that every time the wheels come off the ground, I’m using my cleats to lift the bike… On flats, I can stay with the bike through most of the rough stuff but only as long as the wheels stay very firmly planted on terra firma. Two areas freak me out and a third is merely frustrating by comparison:
    – jumps
    – drops
    – technical climbs
    In all three cases, being on flats just serves to highlight how dependent I’ve been on the clipless pedals.

    If Mike’s friend is moving back to clipless and getting faster, should I even care about the whole flats v. clipless debate? After last year a large part of me wants to chuck the flatties, rejoice in my “incorrect” technique and just have some fun.

  6. chance says:

    yes, don you should, what you discrib, sketch on jumps drops and tech that means holes in your game. I would do as lee said get your flats on and go ride around in the parking lot, do some drills there, cornering, riding curbs wheelies, manuals and practice your bunny hop. Like lee said when you get that down you will have pretty solid control over your unattached pedals
    the shimano AM40’s are good but near as sticky as 5.10’s the first ride with 5.10’s my pedals actually stuck to my sole! i had to twist my foot to break them loose, the sticky goes away a bit after a while and they get dirt but they are the best shoe out there and will change your game.
    I’m also not sure I agree with mikes statement about going back to clips and getting faster. That depends on the rider and the type of riding he will be doing. XC maybe, your on an enduro and that would lead me to believe that you are pointed down mor then up and I don’t see or feel a big advantage pointed down with clips. But in the end what makes you feel comfy will make you ride faster! good luck

  7. Vapor says:

    Decades on a bike and trying to break some old habits? Try something totally different where you need to use your feet/legs/hips properly and bring it back to bike riding. Skateboard, snowboard, surfboard, downhill skiing?

    If you can learn to Ollie and pump on a skateboard you are all set to stick to flat pedals. Might take a year to learn the Ollie, but minimal investment for a skateboard and some shoes.

    There are awesome instructors at almost any ski resort. If you can get to snow, take some lessons to learn how to use your feet and pump (a.k.a. turn) on skis or a snowboard. Transfers really well because it’s a powerfull pump and your feet need to be on their game.

    Maybe you live near or vacation to the beach. Go surfing. Might take a while to transfer to biking, but the shoulder and core workout is worth it on it’s own.

  8. Flatlander says:

    My observations after simar transition 3 yrs ago- 5.10 helps bridge the feel between snaps & flats.

    The biggest item that helped me advance was a dropper post. You can’t hope to mimic trail contour unless you have range of motion between your hips & feet. You have no hope if your saddle is too up…

  9. Mike says:

    Chance – My statement about Trent going back to clips and getting faster is due to the fact that he has become comfortable with flats to the point where he now knows how to ride with a capital R as Lee puts it.
    When you can ride comfortably like that, adding clips means you can put power/effort into the bike in a new dimension, making you even faster.
    For example, take any of the following, Danny Hart, Steve Peat, Brian Lopes, Greg Minaar and of course Aaron Gwin. All mad riders on flats, next level on clips.

  10. chance says:

    mike-valid point they all can rip both as most pros but you don’t have to rock clips to be a top pro look at sam hill or curtis keene, that’s all I’m saying- clips don’t automatically equal faster, IMO

  11. steve-o says:

    “When you can bunny hop with flats, you are ready for the big show.”

    Ha, great quote. Nothing worse than seeing someone showing off at the trailhead pogo sticking around in clipless pedals. Makes me cringe every time.

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