Striking pedals

Hi Lee,

Do you have any tips on how to ride trails that go though areas with rocks, roots, walls, or really deep ruts that can hit your pedal and effectively stop you in your tracks, due to loss of balance and needing to ride a fairly precise line?

My bike has a fairly low BB (12.5″ for 110mm travel) and I ride platform pedals, but continuously riding this particular part of the trail has helped, simply by finding areas to build speed so I wouldn’t have to pedal through these areas. Any area I have to pedal through tends to get me though. There’s one area where I must weave through big boulders right and left and also make it up steps and have a gear to make it up a steep climb. Shifting doesn’t seem possible. Normally it’s not pedal strikes that get me, but simply me avoiding pedal strikes and tipping over too much and losing balance. I assume that’s the problem. I tried the look ahead and plow through approach, but pedal strikes really do throw you off to be a problem that can’t be ignored.

I read the 2nd edition of your MTB skills book cover to cover, but can’t find a section that particular covers this type of riding. Any advice would be appreciated. I think my bike would appreciate it too. I think the side to side play at the BB has become worse from all the pedal strikes.


Hey Dan,

Thanks for writing. You’re right, MMBSii doesn’t address this topic. It’s amazing how quickly (but not easily) a 250-page book gets filled up.

I hope these thoughts are helpful:

Be balanced. This is the A-1 tip for everything. If you stop dead when you strike a pedal, you’re probably too far forward. Light hands, heavy feet.

Go over, not around. Seriously. It’s easier to go straight over big rocks than to wind around them.

Pump it. The more you pump, the less you have to pedal. When terrain gets really rough — down or up — pumping is the key to smoothness.

Keep pedaling. I strike pedals all the time. Low BB, big flat pedals, rocky trails. It’s not the end of the world. Keep riding. When I work with clients, I point out that by the time your pedal hits the thing you’re riding over, you’re already halfway over. Pedal! Or scoot!

Get really good at pedaling. Build torque and speed. That way those single cranks will mean a lot.

Time your pedals. This is a highly advanced skill, especially on crazy terrain. As you approach the thing, pause your pedaling so you arrive with your feet in just the right place. Practice this on a curb or something innocuous.

Learn to ratchet. The pedals don’t have to go all the way around. Sometimes a quarter crank is all you need (and have room for).

Plant your foot. There’s nothing wrong with taking a foot off the pedal, especially with flat pedals. Do whatever it takes to maintain forward motion.

Anecdote alert: In 1993 I was the fastest rider I knew (I was conveniently forgetting about Brian Lopes). One day I was riding with some BMXer from Florida named Jim Norman, and we were hauling mail on a singletrack in Santa Cruz. Ahead of us, a redwood tree had fallen across a corner. As I braked and unclipped, Jim maintained speed. He planted one foot on the tree, swung his bike over it, clipped in as he arced down the other side and just kept going. On that day, I realized I didn’t know squat about riding. I still learn every time I ride with Jim, now an OEM genius at Fox Racing Shox.

Pick a side. If one side of a crazy downhill section is grabby and the other side is a cliff, take your foot off the inside pedal and stand on the outside pedal. Lean your bike slightly into the hill and dab your inside foot as you go. This is not sexy, but it gets the job done.

Don’t avoid pedal strikes, but don’t strike your pedals. This might sound silly, but if you’re focused on avoiding some kind of calamity, you’ll be tight and self-limiting and you’ll probably do what you’re trying not to do. Rather than trying not to ride poorly, focus on riding well. That means smart lines, clean pump and powerful, well placed pedal strokes.

Lines don’t have to be as precise as you think. I know this is crazy for me — the anal retentive line picker — to say, but it’s true. Try to pick good lines, but attack whichever line you end up on. When in doubt, yell



Know more. Have more fun!

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