Clive Forth's A-Z of Mountain Biking: F for Footwork - Bike Magic

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**How To

Clive Forth’s A-Z of Mountain Biking: F for Footwork

Words: Clive Forth
Photos: Frazer Waller

Welcome to the A-Z of skills and technique, a bi-weekly look into the language around skills tuition with some useful riding tips thrown in for good measure. Having had a short break I’m back at my keyboard rearing to go, it’s been a busy few weeks working on another book title and various mountain bike projects.

F is for Footwork

So it’s time to get the disco slippers on and do some fast thinking on the feet as we delve into the world of footwork. Foot position and crank position are fundamental techniques that help with all skills, get the basics of foot and pedal placement down and the rest of the body will follow the shapes in the trail as you help the bike bite in or glide over the terrain.

Rough technical descents require precision pedal and foot placement.

First things first we must get the foot planted on the platform, the pedal axle should be lined up under the soft part of your foot just behind the ball. Many people (especially when riding with clips) make the mistake of riding with the ball of the foot over the pedal, this is fine on the road bike where impact is minimum and a heel drop is not essential to stay at one with the bike but on the mountain bike it is less effective.

A ball over the axle will take a huge amount of impact, the foot is also more likely to “blow” off the pedal, ever had the pedal slap you in the shin? This may be because you had your toes perched on the pedal and the force from pressing down into the pedal post landing (or bumping through rough ground) has been enough to slip a foot off.

With you foot further forward on the pedal so the soft part behind the ball is lined up over the axle you can get a greater heel drop and stay stuck to the pins or in the clip.

Pressure in, The Heel Drop

With the foot firmly placed lets look at getting the bike biting into the trail and giving you extra grip. If the rear end starts to skip about over rough ground then the same heel drop technique will keep it planted on terra firma.

Pump tracks can help develop good footwork, combine a heel drop on the downslope for added pump.

With cranks relatively level (on close inspection you will see the lead foot/crank rides slightly higher than the non lead) let the heels sink down stretching those calfs. Just take a look at any World Cup downhill racer for proof.

With added pressure and a fulcrum created you can smash through rougher ground much faster, add the heel drop to your outer foot down in turns (covered in C for Corners) and you will increase your turning traction no end.

Pressure out, pop up

Want to float the rear wheel over the surface or get some air off a trail feature? Simply rebound up from a dipped heel position to take the weight of your body out of the bike.

Get the cranks level and heel dropped before rolling off drops.


When you look at how you would jump up from being stood static you can see how the body moves from foot upwards, dropping the hips down, bending at the knee and dipping the heel will add pressure to the bike, then if you accelerate yourself back upwards and jump off the ground you will remove pressure form the bike. Take a look at the shape the foot makes then imagine you have that pedal axle to rotate around.

Switch Stance

To help with that cornering and riding off camber I highly recommend learning to ride and do all the basics with your non-favoured foot leading, from stopping and placing a foot down to hopping and sliding. Build confidence with approaching skills and trail features with your non-favoured foot leading: by entering a right hand turn left foot lead your turn the hips into the corner and visa versa, when riding cambers you can easily drive the crank round and push your foot up off the pedal and out forwards to safety, try this on the back pedal and you simply tuck your leg up into the torso making it harder to get the foot off the pedal and out to safety.

Want to know more about my Switch Stance techniques? Then please get in touch, the benefits and confidence levels to this style of riding are huge.

I’ll be back later this week with TOP (The Opposite Pedal) so please join me for more tales from the trail then.

Clive Forth. MTBSkills, Transition Bikes.
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