TCI Friday

I’ve been falling off my bike a fair bit lately, probably too much, which either means I don’t have the skills I imagine I do, or I don’t have them anymore. None of these crashes has been particularly catastrophic. Most of them have been what I’d call “managed exits,” thought the one problem that has eluded proper management has been quick unclipping from a pedal, and so there are bruises where my legs have been trapped under or catapulted into the various parts of my bicycle.

Not me.

In fact, I low-key sprained my ankle a month ago when my foot stayed attached to a bike of which I was no longer properly in control. It’s still sort of swollen and sore, mainly because I have not at any point stopped running and riding on it. As it turns out, pain alone will not deter me from blundering forward in my customary fashion.

At the weekend I had one of those embarrassing, stationary crashes where, standing over my bike in a parking lot, I got my weight caught on the wrong side of the bike and proceeded to suplex myself onto the ground in that way that only beginners ever do. Again, my foot wouldn’t clip out of the pedal. I laid there in my embarrassment for a full ten seconds, both because it hurt, but also because I wanted to properly own my idiocy.

Sometimes people need an example of what not to do.

And I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Robot, you’re bad at bikes.” Fair enough, you. Fair enough. But also, you might be thinking, “You’ve got the tension dialed up too high on those pedals,” but really I don’t. You were more right the first time than the last.

This all got me to thinking that I have become a dinosaur (more of a dinosaur than before) in my approach to cycling footwear. At some point, deep under the influence of the jump-liners and endur-bros, mountain bikers stopped clipping in. These days (a phrase only the tragically past it ever uses), everyone’s riding flat pedals. They don’t need to be clipped in to control the back end of their bicycles and not being clipped in allows them to bail when things get too spicy.

I am mindful that moving back to flats will force me to relearn a bunch of bike skills, and being a moderately old dog, these might be tricks beyond my ken. On the other hand, it’d be nice not to thrash myself into a comic pratfall every time I fail an obstacle my mind thought was fully in my bailiwick.


This week’s TCI Friday asks, what even are the right shoes/pedals to be mountain biking in anymore? I’m a cross-country guy. X/C for those of you under 40. Should I go back to flats, if only for my own safety? Or should I just not be an idiot as often as I have been lately (it’s a big ask)? What do you mountain bike in/on?

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Join the conversation
  1. TominAlbany says

    I’m still clipped in. I’m an XC guy too. I fall down too. I’ve tried the flats and I lack the skills and have been bounced off of them on my full-sus relic from 2001. I’ve tried to practice bunny hopping and manualing on flats. I’m not good at either, regardless of the equipment in play.

  2. khal spencer says

    I’m clipped in. Old Shimano SPD pedals from the last Ice Age and SPD shoes. Not too high a setting on the tension screws. I’ve gotten good at bailing out when I overcook the trail. Still have a scar on my leg from a too close encounter with a tree last December. But at least I didn’t break the leg.

    Hang in there. Sometimes we go through these periods of intense FDGB. Mine was 2016. Broken foot and torn rotator cuff from several self-induced trips to Mr. Pavement.

    Hopefully there is not something weird going south with your balance or motor skills that you need to check with the doctor. Hope not.

  3. albanybenn says

    I’ve used platforms and 5\10 Freeride Pros for about four years now. I am a multi-discipline cyclist, road, gravel, and MTB. I’m a 6,500 mile a year rider so that’s a lot of platforming. I’ve ridden Whiteface , Greylock, and D2R2 on platforms. I have yet to see a peer reviewed study that shows being clipped in is better (open for definition) that riding platforms for recreational cyclists. I’ve had an unplanned exit from my bike once in the last three years-trying a right hook nose wheelie on a steep downhill trail-oops. Go platform for a couple of months you’ll be glad you did.

  4. Austin says

    I went with flats when I started getting into mountain biking last year (coming from casual road/gravel/commuting in clipless). I told myself it was to get myself to learn techniques “the right way” but it was more for an easy bail out. Most of my falls in mtb are the slow kind where I hit a root without commitment, lose all momentum, and need to stick a foot out to stop tipping over further. My bike handling skills have definitely improved since starting to mountain bike, although I’m not sure it was entirely due to flat pedals but perhaps just trail riding in general. XC and longer distance riding appeals to me more, so perhaps I’ll switch to clipless in the future.

    I’m still very bad at lifting the back wheel with flats. I just can’t seem to get that coordination/technique down.

  5. Dad Cat says

    Take a good long hard look at your bike and make sure everything is straight and dialed in.
    Yeah, I know that’s probably not it. But just in case, mmkay? A year or two ago I was having a horrible problem with crashing. I thought I was just losing it and getting too old to ride the dirt. I took the bike in for service and to get checked over. Turns out my suspension was way out of whack. It seems okay when I bounced on it in the parking lot before riding, but it really wasn’t. Since then, every crash I’ve had has been because I screwed up and I’ve known it.
    Take a good close look to make sure you don’t have a bent fork or something. Make sure everything is straight and working. And then reset the dials on all your suspension bits. Seriously. Let all the air out. Turn all the dials full closed. Start from scratch and do a new setup. After I had my bike serviced I was golden again. I no longer felt demoralized and like I should be giving up my mountain bike.
    Then go take a good close look at your pedals to make sure they aren’t messed up. I used to use ISSI pedals on my mountain bike. They’re a good value and have longer axles available, which I really like. But they’re not very durable when you smack them with rocks and roots. Now the ISSI’s live on my gravel bike and I still love them. But I’m back to Shimano on my mountain bike, because they hold up better to the abuse. If pieces get smacked and bent around it can change how your feet release. Change the angle you’re used to just a little bit, and maybe it’s not you – it’s them.

    1. Emlyn Lewis says

      @Dad Cat – This is a good call. I’m gonna do this. I would love to find out I have a bent rotor, and not a bent inner ear.

  6. Hautacam says

    I’m late to this party but along Dad Cat’s line I’d suggest you check the wear and alignment of your cleats — if you haven’t already done so. Worn cleats are a bugger to release, and loose or misaligned ones even more so. Doesn’t take much to cause beaucoup havoc.

    As a diehard clip-in pedal user for over 30 years, i admire anyone who can ride MTBs gracefully in the dirt on platforms. They are artists where i am a mechanic.

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