My first bike with two wheels, a BSA, had flat pedals and my second, a Triumph, had toe clips, but time waits for no man so I eventually went through different versions of ‘clipless’ before settling on one or other of the Crank Brothers with a platform. All fine but I still cheated on the jumps. After a play day with Rich who jumps relaxed I decided to learn he old fashioned way. Back to flats on the Wheel of Time.

I was unconvinced of the wisdom of this so I persuaded myself with the argument of cheap pedals and shoes and if it did not suit then the cost would be small. A quick visit to the discount end at Chain Reaction found shoes with an ideal tartan interior and I nearly found orange pedals. Out of stock – damn.

I did not choose the best pedals as they have inferior bearings and the pins are reluctant to gouge shin flesh. The shoes have a herringbone pattern like the Dunlop Greenflash of old; good for badminton but not great for sticking to pedals. Cheap and cheerful perhaps.

You have to jump flats or you land on your front wheel and crumple on to the handlebars – hardly hurts. You have to balance your weight on the centre of the pedal or your foot slips off unerringly towards the stump – hardly hurts. You have to keep your toes parallel or you catch the liana which wrenches your whole leg sideways – hardly hurts. You have to land balanced or your foot slips off forwards and you thump the pedal into your leg – hardly hurts. You have to remember to move your foot sideways when you stop or you rotate the pedal around to your shin -really hurts.

You learn quick.

Pedalling is different. No spinning in even circles the bike lifting easily under continuous power up the roughest incline instead push, push, push. It feels at least two gears harder. Every hill is about 100 metres further. Every hill. Even 50 metres ones. Singletrack is harder as you steer more on the bars and less with your feet. I found myself holding the saddle tighter to compensate but lines around corners are wider in and wider out. Obstacles are a mixed bag as you feel free to bail out but holding a line is trickier. Some riders prefer the safety of clipped shoes so flats are not for everyone. Static things are easier, balancing over a lip or trying to lift up steps for example but pulling up on the bars is more difficult as your feet could slip but that just forces you to move your weight back more deliberately so that may be a benefit.

The main thing is jumping and it has helped. I feel that I know when I get it right or wrong as the emphasis is more on the approach rather than the take-off. Moving your weight less dramatically but seemingly more controlled seems to be the difference between  the good and the bad riders. Most of us are the ugly, effective riders but lacking grace a little.

It does make you learn to jump again and it makes you jump better, if not that well. It makes it easier to spot errors in others and demonstrating in flats forces you to jump better in order to jump slow. You do not become a teenager in jeans who balances on the back wheel while rolling insolently over the hardest obstacles with a nonchalant air or a gravity defying loon who feels no pain upon impact. You do gain confidence and you realise that you are a little more skilled than your confidence betrays so why not try some flats on a Saturday play day and learn to fly.


4 thoughts on “Unhinged

  1. Interesting read. I’ve never ridden anything but flats, I can’t see the attraction unless you’re riding a lot of XC. The thought of being fixed to my pedals whilst hammering down a trail doesn’t sit well with me. If something goes wrong I don’t want to be focussing on unclipping my feet, I want to be focussed on not planting my face in the dirt.

    I would imagine, too, that you’d get a false sense of stability whilst clipped in, you’ll probably get away with a lot more mistakes than on flats.

    A good set of shin shredding flats and some fivetens and you can’t go wrong for trail riding. My feet are stuck to those pedals, I don’t need to be clipped on as well.

  2. Honestly they’re not that hard to handle, they just take some getting used to! The key thing is having your lower leg relaxed so your heel stays down when it needs to thus keeping your foot ‘stuck’ to the pedal. The only thing you can’t do with flats is faux bunny hops.

    Obviously if your feet feel like they’re going to slip then it’ll mess with your mind until you learn to believe in the force.

    I wish flats really did cost you that much efficiency up hills, then I’d have an excuse for getting left behind… 😉

  3. I’m currently on antibiotics thanks to some Stanmer ‘goodness’ infiltrating my shin, via my flat whilst landing a jump. Doc said I should rest my leg, but some ‘gentle’ bike riding should be ok…..hmmm

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