Mountain Bike Fit with Julie Young and Travis Brown

We unpack the minutiae of mountain bike fit with coach Julie Young and Travis Brown. Steeper seat tube angles on many modern mountain bikes can present challenges and sometimes make it impossible to get a rider's saddle offset far enough back behind the bottom bracket on a mountain bike to match their road position.

mountain bike Colorado
Photo: Chris Case

My friend and colleague, Julie Young, sent me an email asking some deep, thoughtful questions about fitting riders properly on their mountain bikes. The central theme was around steeper seat tube angles on many modern mountain bikes and how that it is challenging and sometimes impossible to get a rider’s saddle offset far enough back behind the bottom bracket on a mountain bike to match their road position.

This question has a lot of nuance and detail. I asked Julie if she would come back onto the pod to do a sort of Q&A style episode, inspired by her thoughtful question. Then, after laboring over these questions even further, I realized that I needed to bring in mountain bike geek-extraordinaire, Travis Brown, also a previous podcast guest (Travis Brown: Mountain Biking Olympian and Hall of Famer.) It is time to unpack bike geometry and rider weight distribution in great detail.

Episode Transcript

Julie Young 0:12
Welcome to the Cycling in Alignment podcast, an examination of cycling as a practice and dialogue about the integration of sport and right relationship to your life.

Colby Pearce 0:25
Welcome listeners. You have returned to Cycling in Alignment, and I am grateful. That means you’re finding all the things that come out of my mind in these helpful, ostensibly.

Colby Pearce 0:37
Today’s episode is about mountain biking and mountain bike geometry, and fitting and how those things go together.

Colby Pearce 0:46
I had an email question from my colleague, Julie Young and she was asking about how in the world we get riders to be fit properly on a mountain bike? She had many specific questions. The central theme was around steeper seat tube angles on many modern mountain bikes and how it’s challenging or sometimes impossible to get a rider’s saddle offset far enough back behind the bottom bracket on a mountain bike to match their road position. This question has a lot of nuance and detail – well, at least that’s the way I see it, because it tends to be how I see most things. You probably know that by now. So I brought Julie on the pod to do a sort of q&a style episode where Julie asked all the questions.

Colby Pearce 1:32
I also realized that I need to consult Travis Brown, a previous podcast guest. So, I brought him aboard to discuss mountain bike geometry and weight distribution and all the nuance there as well.

Colby Pearce 1:45
So I’m grateful to both of these amazing people for making time to come and discuss with my listeners. Without further prognostication onward.

Colby Pearce 2:00
Welcome, space monkeys. You are back for another episode of Cycling in Alignment. And today, I have a repeat guest, a special guest, Julie Young. Julie’s a coach based in Truckee, California and she’s here today to discuss with me some questions on fitting mountain bikes. We’ll address this conversation from the overall perspective of rode bike fit, and how mountain bike fit can be based off of road bike fit as a reference point, as a baseline. And in some ways it is and in many ways it’s not. And there are a lot of confounding variables or different ways to get a little lost when working on mountain bike fit, setting up your mountain bike. I get questions like this all the time. And Julie wrote me some great questions the other day in an email and after discussing it with her we agreed to just come on the pod and share it with everyone. Julie, welcome.

Julie Young 2:53
Thank you. It’s great to be back.

Colby Pearce 2:55
Yeah, it’s great to have you back.

The inspiration for this episode

Julie Young 2:56
So, I run a lab and do fits there. Primarily, it’s probably a mix of road and mountain. But I had the opportunity to work with the Bear National Team, and I do fits for the team and just coming up against a few things that I wasn’t sure about; was it just particular to me, or is this something where trends change? But one thing I recognized in these fits, and we’re working with Trek, the Bear team is on Trek equipment, and it seemed to me, it’s really hard to get the riders to a position that we would consider kind of a more neutral position, what we would consider a neutral position on a road bike. And what I found in doing these fits is that the geometry of the Treks are more upright, the seat tube angle is more upright, and as a consequence, I haven’t been able to get the riders really back to that neutral position. They’re much more forward and on the saddle even when we’re as far back as possible on the railings of the saddle. So that was my initial question to you.

Is there a different trend for bike fitting a mountain bike?

Julie Young 4:14
Is there a different trend in mountain biking? I mean, I would assume the mechanics of pedaling are the same, but I don’t know maybe I’ve missed something in terms of kind of reconciling that with the handling part.

Seat tube angle

Colby Pearce 4:26
Right. Yep, that’s a great question. So just to to frame the discussion again: What we’re talking about is the number of millimeters the saddle is offset behind the bottom bracket. So when the bike is level, and the way I referenced that in mountain bikes (note we used to be able to put a level on the top tube back in the day, but no talk to user level anymore), you put a four foot level on either the axles or next to the wheels and get the bike level and then you can measure how far the tip of the saddle is behind the bottom bracket. This has an impact on several parameters of fit.

Colby Pearce 5:01
On a road bike, we would normally look at things like how effective the rider can hinge at the hip. The length of their femur. Whether they’re sort of anterior chain dominant or posterior chain dominant, which is extremely rare to have a posterior chain dominant athlete, it does happen. People who have an alpine skiing background can be very posterior chain dominant, for example, which means they’re gonna use a lot of glute and hamstring naturally, and they’re gonna feel best when their saddle is kind of slammed back. Right?

Colby Pearce 5:32
So, in a road bike, we kind of I kind of evaluate these types of parameters and make a decision about how far we can push the saddle behind the bottom bracket. Generally speaking, the further we push it back, a lot of things tend to get better. Of course, you can go too far just like anything there’s balance.

Colby Pearce 5:51
And you’re right, you’re dead on Julie as far as getting someone’s saddle offset behind the BB can be challenging on a mountain bike because mountian bike seat tubes are trending towards a steeper angle. So rode bikes seat tube might be in the range of we’ll say 71 to 74 degrees would be pretty common. And mountian bike see two bangles are much deeper than that. I’m actually on the Trek website right now looking at the slash, which is considered kind of an enduro bike, right? Not a cross country bike, but an enduro – and we’ll break down a little bit about mountian bike disciplines – so this would sort of be in the middle. And we look at their geometry chart effective seat tube angle is around 76, 75 degrees for most frame sizes. So that’s quite a bit steeper.

Colby Pearce 6:42
So if a rider is on a road bike, and they’ve got a 73, or 73.5 degree seat tube angle and their saddle is clamped somewhere near the middle of the rails for a given seat height that might put their saddle offset behind the bottom bracket anywhere between 40 and 80 millimeters would be kind of a bell curve for most riders of somewhat average height and somewhat average leg proportions. You may have a hard time getting your saddle far enough back on a mountain bike in this category. And this includes a lot of cross country, like a top fuel type, bike as well.

h3>Wheel biases on a road bike verse a mountain bike

Colby Pearce 7:18
The reason for this is because there is a trend towards front wheel bias in mountain bike setup. So that means that on a road bike we have a much closer to, not exactly, but a much closer to even weight bias over the front and rear axle; meaning closer to 50/50. Fifty-percent of the weight of the rider goes in the front axle and 50 on the rear. It’s not exact, but plus or minus. And for this for conceptual discussion, that’s where we’re at.

Colby Pearce 7:48
On a mountain bike, it’s much more front wheel biased. Why? Because ultimately fitting is a blend or balance of the physiology of the rider with the demands of their event. What are the demands of road riding? A road bike has to handle over a variety of terrain, mostly at medium or high speeds. Yeah, you’re climbing at low speeds, but anytime you’re handling the bike, the majority of the time it’s at medium or high speeds. What do I mean by that? If you go down a twisty serpentine descent, you’re going around the corners at 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 kilometers an hour depending on how narrow the road is and how sharp the corners are. But you can easily hit speeds of 60, 80, 100 kilometers an hour, sometimes 110K an hour on fast road descent. So this is more towards the Moto GP style racing like a long low bike. Meaning if you’re on a very fast descent at 100 kilometers an hour, that’s the speed you travel on a car on a highway, and your front wheel breaks loose or your rear wheel breaks loose and loses traction it doesn’t really matter which one of those wheels breaks loose, you’re in trouble. You’re going down most likely. And so we want the rider to be longer and lower across that wheelbase to deal with that higher speed. The higher speed requires more stability.

Colby Pearce 9:10
On a mountain bike we have more corners of medium and low speed because you’re on a mountain bike. You’re on uneven loose terrain. You’re going around switchback corner. So on a switchback descent on single track, you’re going seven kilometers an hour around a corner, or 12K an hour – depending again on the trail conditions and how narrow the trail is and how steep it is and all those variables. Now of course, there are higher speed applications for mountain biking as well but the bike has to be able to handle all those things. Also, most mountain bike trails on average we’ve got steeper downhills and steeper uphills than we do on the road, generally speaking. So the bike has to be able to handle those steeper grades and when you’re going down a really steep descent if the head tube angle is too steep, then the bike becomes too twitchy. So that’s why mountain bike head angles have gotten slacker and slacker. The bike becomes more stable as we tackle steeper and more technical terrain. The more we front wheel bias the handling in medium terrain conditions, the faster the rider can go.

Colby Pearce 10:15
So a really long way to come around the circle and answer your question is, there’s a trend towards front weight bias on most off road bikes and that means a steeper seat tube angle. There’s a point when those two things start to intersect into an asymptote of negative crappiness where we have a situation where you start to push the riders weight forward and forward over the front wheel to give them better handling and that comes at the expense of the ability to generate power.

Colby Pearce 10:50
So the reason we front wheel bias mountain bike handling, or any off road handling this includes gravel and cyclocross as well, is because back to my illustration about the road bike when you’re going 100 k an hour, if you lose your front wheel or your rear wheel, there’s a good chance you’re going down either way. On a mountain bike, if you lose your rear wheel, and you’re a good handler, you’re an experienced mountain biker with some experience, most the time you’re okay with that little bit of a rear wheel slide on dirt. Especially if your front wheel is biased, meaning you’ve got more weight on the front wheel than the rear. But if the front wheel goes down, usually you have to be significantly better handler to not dump it. So that’s handling 105: I can break the front wheel free and be okay. Handling 101 on a mountain bike or a gravel bike: the rear wheel is fishtailing a little bit gently in corners, and I’m doing okay, I’m pushing the limit.

Colby Pearce 11:46
They are two big reasons why we always put suspension on the front wheel first on a mountain bike, not the rear wheel. The first is that if you run into a log or a curb or whatever, and you’ve got no front suspension and you don’t respond appropriately, you’ll go over the bars. Or the technical term for that is ass-over-teakettle. So, we like to bias the front wheel with suspension and weight. That enables us to dramatically increase the amount of speed we can have on our off road bikes because – a lot of people think of suspension as only shock absorbing meaning when you hit that log or that curb or that rock, the fork retracts and takes the hit so that your forward momentum can go over that object without disrupting or without pushing you backwards. And that’s true, but the other reason is when you’re going through a corner, if your fork extends and pushes down during, let’s say, you hit a little bump in the corner that compresses the fork, and then you go down the backside of that tiny bump while you’re still cornering, the fork extends and keeps the tread in contact with the ground. So think about it: if you’re cornering and your front wheel loses contact patch with the ground, there’s really good chance you’re gonna fall over because that traction is what’s anchoring you to the surface of the trail. So the fork extending down is what gives us such an increased ability to maintain traction while we’re cornering at speed. Where the art of cyclocross and gravel riding and racing comes in is learning to use your body, your arms, and the feel of the bike to extend and maintain that contact patch on your own without the assistance of hydraulic suspension fork. Or in more developed cases, and we’ll get to this is a mount bike with dual suspension.

Colby Pearce 13:45
So yes, that’s the short answer. There’s definitely a bias to having front wheel waiting, which means that mountian bike seats are getting steeper.

The evolution of mountain bike geometry with Travis Brown

Colby Pearce 13:59
I decided to tap the infinite resources of Travis Brown, previous guests on my podcast episode number 14, to discuss the evolution of mountain geometry and the compromises made when bikes are trying to solve two different equations at once.

Travis Brown 14:19
It ends up being a conundrum when you’re searching for really clear answers to either independent geometry figures on a bike or the biomechanics. And you mentioned a lot of the reasons for that is that it’s so dynamic based on maybe you’re climbing 30%, maybe you’re riding flat, and maybe you’re descending 30% grade. So optimal geometry and fit you could tune to be perfect for any of the those cases or somewhere in the middle and there’s so much rider preference. We also have like a huge In nature predisposition for reductionism when it comes to fit and geometry, and we fixate on individual figures. It’s really easy for a lot of us to forget that those are all dynamic; chainstay length and reach, they’re relative to each other. So for a given rider at a given torso position and comfort level, the optimal front center is not an independent variable. The optimal front center is relative to the stack height and the chainstay length and how that informs front rear wheel bias. So it’s definitely every case is special, I think, when you’re trying to get the best fit on a mountain bike, what the application is, depending on those categories that you outlined, and where the riders comfort is either based on what they want to do and the bikes not doing and also based on just what they’ve adapted to already.

Travis Brown 16:17
In the geometry part of it, you’re really accurate as far as that enduro longer/lower slacker is informing all categories of mountain bikes. And there are some things that are compromising performance in production bikes and speculation from editors and riders, when we spend too much time looking independently at any of those geometry figures. Whether that’s head angle or bottom bracket to front axle, you know, that front center number, or the reach number, or the chainstay number, or the seat tube angle and position to the bottom bracket of the saddle.

Travis Brown 17:06
One thing that’s happening, you’ve probably seen what’s happening, in that enduro category with seat tube angles, they’re getting steeper and steeper and steeper. So that has to do with a handful of different things. I think the biggest is that when you have that much travel on a bike, and you go from your suspension setting position, where you’ve set the front and rear sag, whatever that is, usually between 20 and 30% with the fork and the shock, and then you start to climb a hill, and you go to 30%, well, you actually have a 30% change in that relationship between the back, the front and the rear. You have the same thing when you’re descending. So that slackens effectively in a seat tube angle when you’re climbing on a long travel bike a ton. So, that’s one of the things that’s driving the steep seat tube angle.

Travis Brown 18:03
Another couple of things that are driving steep seat do angles is the philosophy that chainstays should be as short as possible and you can’t make a bike too long – we’re starting to get to the point where realize that’s not the case. That longer and slacker that moves the front out so much, the steep seat tube angle is not just a reaction to more travel and sagging into the rear more than the front, but also that long front center and maybe it’s too long, and you’re accommodating a bike that’s too long by just pushing your seat forward. So effective top tube lengths, reach numbers, front centers, have grown so much over the last 10 years and there still seems to be a pretty consistent value in the marketplace, whether that’s magazines or editors or consumers, that longer is just better. And of course, philosophically, that’s obviously not true. You know, it can get so long that there’s all kinds of compromises. Now, it might do that inflation of long fronts of bikes ends up being if it’s too long for an overall rideable bike, a trail bike that you want to climb and you want to descend and you want to be able to do everything. But it is usually pretty good on really, really steep terrain. And what I find is that riders generally evaluate the capability of a bike on the scariest part of their favorite loop, on the extremes.

Colby Pearce 19:57
That’s a really good point. I think you’re right. People immediately go to like the “oh shit moment” of either going up or down and how will the bike perform there. You’re right, you’re absolutely right.

Travis Brown 20:08
So that’s 1% of their ride, but because it’s the 1% of their ride that they fixate on, or they’re white knuckled on, or they’re not cleaning on the climb, they kind of evaluate 100% of the bike based on 1% of the terrain. So there’s so many human factors in geometry design in bikes, and it’s really complex. And so when you get into the minutiae of debating like what’s the best head tube angle, or what’s the best chainstay length…it’s kind of completely irrelevant when you talk about those factors independently. People’s bodies adapt to making power in really bizarre ways too. I mean, you look way back in our history, and when we started riding, and you think about like road position differences between Alexi, who had back problems and had these really weird steep seat tube bangle bikes custom made for him and made pretty good power. The contrary to that would be like Phil Anderson’s experimental bikes.

Colby Pearce 21:24
Or Steve Bauer.

Travis Brown 21:26
Steve Bauer, that’s what I’m thinking. And the spectrum of stuff that you can make work is super broad, but then tuning it really well to an individual, then that’s a lot of art with the science.

Colby Pearce 21:45
That’s a great point, the paradox or the extremes between Alexi who I think had an 86 degree seat tube angle or something along those lines…Alexi Grewal he was the ’84 Olympic gold medalist in the road race in LA. And then Steve Bauer’s bikes I think his seat angles were, if I remember right there were like basically modern mountain bike head angles. They were like the mid 60s to high 60s.

Travis Brown 22:15
It was basically a recumbent.

Colby Pearce 22:17
Yeah, it was. It was crazy how far back he was behind the bottom bracket. Like he talked about in the interviews about people laughing at him on the start line and stuff. And this is at the start line of Paris–Roubaix, you know. So we’re debating whether a bike has a chainstay that’s five or 10 or 15 millimeters longer or shorter than one another and it’s like – I think you’re you’re absolutely right. I mean, it also reminds me of your first interview we did where you described working with the guy who I believe founded Yeti, and you went to him after riding his bike for a season or two and said, ‘I want a top tube that’s I think you said 50 millimeters longer.’ Right?

Travis Brown 22:52
Yeah. Doug Bradbury who founded Manitou

Colby Pearce 22:56
Okay, thank you. Because bikes were just basically rode bikes back then and people were starting to figure out what worked and what didn’t. So, you were like, ‘We need a much longer front center. I want this thing to be way more stable. And a shorter stem.’

Travis Brown 23:11
At that point, a short stem was a 120.

Colby Pearce 23:13
Right, right. Exactly. And I’m sure you would agree that bikes are more stable and safer now, but also a good pilot can make a lot of different things work, right. That’s one of the takeaways.

Travis Brown 23:26
Yeah, and understanding like what the geometry is doing and what you can do to balance that out with your body position and things like that.

Finding the right body position for mountain bikers

Travis Brown 23:36
So for mountain bikes, I think you start with an upper body position that’s comfortable, where riders are like ‘I want to ride here.’ And so that might be a 45 degree back angle, or it might be a lot more or a lot less than that, based on what they’re comfortable with or biomechanical issues with their back or whatever. And then you start looking at geometry around that. Obviously, if you ride a more upright torso position, a shorter bike is going to accommodate an ideal front and rear tire weight bias. If you ride a really low position like you [Colby] do, then a longer bike is going to accommodate the ideal front, rear tire weight bias. And that’s another thing that you can’t say ‘Oh it’s exactly 50/50 or 45/55 percent distribution,’ because it’s a little different for everybody.

Travis Brown 24:34
But right now, with modern trail bikes and enduro bikes, we’re moving that more towards the rear wheel with the long front centers, and an allergy to longer chainstays. And as travel continues to go up too, so that stack height and your hand position over the front, reduces the amount that you can wait the front wheel too. So some people are super good at accommodating that by just really riding like a moto when you have to corner on a flat corner instead of a steep downhill corner, and they transfer that weight on to it. Some people who can’t make that, you know, biomechanical adjustment, the bike just steers really good in one condition and terrible in another condition.

Colby Pearce 25:26
Yeah, that’s a great point. I’m sure that I see my mountain biking personally through a kind of road bias, in the sense that I’m used to being in a pretty arrow road position with a closer to a horizontal torso, that’s the way I’ve always ridden. So when I get on a mountain bike that is so upright, I really am challenged to weight the front wheel enough, it just doesn’t feel natural to me. Maybe if I grew up racing motos or BMX, I’d be more adapted to that sensation, but I think I translate that to most of my roadies, when I’m fitting them on a mountain bike. I kind of make a basic assumption that they’re not going to weight the bar well enough, or heavy enough if their bars are too high. And I also think that a lot of people end up with a bar that’s, like you said, people think about the 1% of the ride, the part where they were white knuckled, and they remember that time they went over the front end because they felt like the bars were too low. In reality, probably their weight distribution wasn’t right when they went over that drop. They weren’t far enough back or they weren’t using their dropper.

Travis Brown 26:30
Maybe a completely independent technique issue. There’s a little quealy drop and you just didn’t get the front end up enough. But then because of that traumatic experience, then they’re like, well, I want my bars higher so I can avoid that same crash again. Or I want the front end way further out so I can avoid that crash again. And they end up unconsciously compromising the performance or the other 99% of the ride. It’s probably, in most cases, better for the rider to figure out the technique for the 1% of the ride so that your bike performs optimally on the 99% of the ride.

Colby Pearce 27:16
Well, it’s just like anything, right? When you dig deeper, you find out how much you don’t know, and how every case is individual. I mean, you can say the same thing…. We have guiding principles or theories or philosophies about road bike fit, time trial bike fit, mountain bike fit, but the bottom line is – I mean, this is the fundamental challenge with a “system” of fitting. You know, that system can put you on the right path and give you momentum to help you figure out what a rider needs, but if you rely on the system to make all the decisions, inevitably you’re evaluating an individual against a bell curve and that’s, I think, where it falls apart. So there’s this fine balance between using data to help inform you and guide you, but not to necessarily put the individual into the middle of a bell curve, or the end of a bell curve. It’s like, we have to treat everyone as a fingerprint and say, ‘Oh, this doesn’t work for this person.’ So how do we solve the problem? You have got to think critically.

Travis Brown 28:09
In the case of being a coach and a fitter, if you’re familiar with your athletes because you’re riding with them a lot, then you already have in your mind a profile like ‘This individual is uncomfortable in cornering and has this counterproductive tendency to like get way back when they feel uncomfortable,’ which is almost opposite of what you want to do. So, there’s a recipe for improving the handling for that person that’s different than a person who’s aggressive and rides the front heavy and is having a different issue. When you spend a lot of time trying to figure things out like this and you know different riding styles, you can just watch somebody ride up a hill, down a hill, and corner and that immediately builds a framework for like, ‘Alright, we need to look at this. We need to look at this. We need to look at this.’ Start there, is that an improvement? Is the rider noticing really clear improvements? And we adjust those three things and then go to another trial, and smaller improvements afterwards.

Colby Pearce 29:18
Yeah. That’s interesting. That just made me think of something: we’re looking at, okay, think about road bike fit. You take someone’s road bike, put it in a trainer, have them ride. I film them from all sides, I look at him from all angles, I make measurements of the bike, etc. Ostensibly, riding on a road bike outdoors and putting it on a trainer, there’s probably a delta of a given distance between what they’re doing indoors on a trainer when they’re being watched and what they’re actually doing outdoors.

Challenges with mountain bike fitting

Colby Pearce 29:48
The challenge with mountain bike fitting, I would say, another one, is that the delta between how a rider rides a mountain bike on a trainer and on an actual trail, a single track, is going to be a much bigger delta, obviously, because the bike is completely fixed on a trainer. Even in my fit studio I use a platform that moves, it’s a Saris platform, that moves fore and aft and wobbles side to side, so I’ve got a tiny bit of movement there, but obviously, it’s still not going down. A bunch of giant jebra with a bunch of baby heads all over it and routes and stuff. So how does that rider change their weight distribution on a mountain bike? The delta is going to be much bigger real world to a fit lab on a mountain bike and probably like most things, gravel cross or somewhere in the middle. So that’s a challenge for a fitter is kind of seeing through those lenses and seeing through those layers of detail to understand what kind of rider you have.

Colby Pearce 30:40
And then also what kind of trails they’re riding. ‘What kind of terrain are you riding? Are you comfortable on really steep stuff? Are you super aggressive rider?’ Limits of fitting I suppose.

Compensating for sag

Travis Brown 30:50
Definitely catalyze a couple thoughts on my own when you said you’re having a challenge with the coach and fitter on coming up with a science for a mountain bike fit. And you know, you and I have talked about this over and over how complex it is and how many unknowns are still out there. In particular, with the way the fashion of geometry is evolving so quickly, really over the last 10 years.

Colby Pearce 31:23
One of the challenges being that if you want to get a rider further back over the bottom bracket to have better power production, and they have a dropper, your choices to get a dropper with an offset head are pretty slim, right? Vast majority of droppers are zero offset posts.

Travis Brown 31:39
Yeah. And that’s something that’s kind of a solution to have more adjustment in the head or reversable head without looking odd…You know, just the seat tube angle, like I said, a lot of the problems that we’re having with seat tube angles now could be addressed with either different front centers or different chainstay lengths or different, shock technologies. We developed, as part of our dual chamber rear shocks, a release for the secondary chamber for climbing, which we called active climb, which we never put into production. Basically, there was a lever where you could release that charge into the mainspring, and it would reduce sag by about 10%. When you climb you just flip that lever and it didn’t stiffen the suspension, it did increase the spring rate, but it wasn’t like adding a compression threshold with the hydraulic system it was all with the spring.

Colby Pearce 32:54
Right. So okay, I just want to unpack that so people are clear what we’re talking about; So, if you visualize almost all rear suspension bikes in the modern world, when you sit on it, when you sit on the bike when it’s static and level, both front and rear suspension will sag about 30%, like you were saying. But if we put you on a big steep uphill like a 40% grade, now all the sag happens in the rear suspension.

Travis Brown 33:21
Yeah. So, if you had set it up at 30/30, on the flat young, when you go to a 20% hill, it’s going to go to like 20/40. So you set it up 20/40 on this on the level, that person’s going to feel super awkward and be like I need to move my seat forward.

Colby Pearce 33:38
So well that’s the issue is when the sag is 30/30 the saddle offset will change a little bit from a static measurement. So if your saddle offset, that’s the tip of the saddle behind the bottom bracket, is we’ll say 50 millimeters just to take a simple number and then you sag the bike, when the suspension sags the rear saddle offset changes, it increases. So if we have maybe five or 10 millimeters of saddle offset increase, when the bike is level, that might be acceptable, and that might be a good target. So let’s say we’re targeting 60 millimetres, but the problem is when someone goes up a really steep grade, and the relationship between the front rear sag changes, then they’re offset and the saddle can go to 80-90 millimeters. So we’ve got all these conditions that lead to – really for a lot of riders that manifests lower back pain, because we’ve got a wider q-factor a lot of the times, sometimes we’ve got a longer crank length when they don’t really need it, or it really isn’t optimal. Then we’ve got this high torque situation where they’re going up the steep hill, and they’ve got too much saddle offset, their saddle is too far behind the bottom bracket. And then they go, ‘Why does my lower back hurt all the time when I ride my mountain bike?’ And that’s the formula, right there, it’s kind of all those things combined. And so that’s what we’re trying to address is that relationship of change, and that’s where you have to use a little bit of fitting crystal ball and say okay, ‘Does this rider have a history of back pain? How much are we going to put the saddle forward on the flats to compensate for those steep climbs?’

Travis Brown 35:06
And so, you know, there’s compromise inherent in that best case solution based on you’re riding a bike that you’re going to climb stuff steep, and you’re going to descend stuff this deep, and you’re gonna also going to ride it on the flat.

How to fit someone on a mountain bike

Colby Pearce 35:21
So I think the takeaway here is maybe is that for fitters, and coaches, it can be seemingly an overwhelming problem where you go, I don’t know what to do, because the riders moving all the time. Well, that’s true, the rider is moving, they’re moving around on the saddle, the saddle is being dropped down for descent, etc. and the relationship between front rear sag is changing. But that doesn’t mean we don’t actually target some sort of baseline for their offset to be in one place most of the time.

Colby Pearce 35:46
And then, the other thing I’ll say is, there are many aspects of fitting that are pretty fixed, especially road bike. For example, I’ll have a given height that I pretty much recommend a rider goes out the door with. There are other aspects of fit that are contingent upon trial and error, feedback. So mountain bike handlebar height is a great example for that. So I’ll kind of coach a rider, I’ll say, ‘Okay, if you’re using the right technique on a descent, you’ve got your weight in the right place, this bar height I expect will work for you. But I want you to go try some trials and ride it a few times and see what happens.’ And it’s really easy for you to take an allen key and put a 10 mil spacer under that stem, or take a 10 mil spacer out and do the same descent that’s maybe five, eight minutes long and it’s got a good mixture of terrain, it’s got some kitty litter and some baby heads and a few drops and a few logs, you know, you want something ideally, it’s got a little bit of everything, and you coach the rider through. Try this. See how the bike responds. Make sure you’re in the right place. Make sure their techniques down, and then ask them to come back with the feedback and say, ‘Okay, I decided that the drop bar was better. And here’s why.’ Or ‘I tried to drop a couple times, I really didn’t like it over this log, even though I was in the right place, and I was using the dropper, I was down and back, and my weight was on my feet, and my elbows were wide, and I was anticipating things, I still felt like I was going to go over the bars.’ We say ‘Okay, that’s fine. For you, in that case, maybe the bar needs to be a touch higher.’ Does that make sense?

Travis Brown 37:11
Yeah. But then another solution to get back to that optimal cornering traction with the front wheel, if that’s where they want their bars for comfort would be a smaller frame because then you would you would transfer a little bit more weight onto the front wheel.

Colby Pearce 37:30
Right. Hope everybody’s crystal clear haha.

Travis Brown 37:38
I mean, probably in most cases, initially, it brings up more questions than it answers. But otherwise, you’re kind of throwing darts. It’s an unproductive process to insulate and look at different factors separately.

Colby Pearce 37:58
Yep. As you said at the beginning, we tend to focus on one single geometry number, seat tube angle, but they’re all related.

Travis Brown 38:06

Saddle position for mountain bikers

Colby Pearce 38:10
I’m a rider who really struggles to make power on my mountain bike if I don’t have enough saddle offset, so I’m frequently pushing the saddle back to the limits on the rails. This is another tidy reason why I like to recommend SMP saddles in particular because they have really long rails. Some saddle manufacturers use shorter rails, like WTB is a saddle manufacturer that makes some reasonable shape saddles but the rails are super short, so you don’t have a big range of foraft adjustment. And another complication to that is if you want to use a dropper post, the majority of all dropper posts do not have an offset head. So you’re kind of stuck a little bit. Sometimes riders come in for a fit, I want to push their saddle back, I can see they’re just way forward over the bottom bracket to the point where they’re sacrificing the the lever of the femur, right? There’s this point in the pedal stroke when your foot is at three o’clock, meaning the crank arm is pointed straight forward towards the front hub, you want that moment of leverage. To do that, we need to take advantage of that femur and if that femur is too far forward, then your knees way out over the foot, you just don’t have the leverage to use the glute at that moment of peak force. And we can just see that clearly.

Colby Pearce 39:23
Women on average that physically have longer femurs relative to men when we’re talking about the comparison of the femur tibia ratio. And so women a lot of women really need that saddle to be pushed back and so they can be struggling to get their saddle in the right position. Does that make sense?

What is an acceptable amount of offset from the neutral position while avoiding injury?

Julie Young 39:41
It does and came to mind as you were talking, but just in terms of the inability to get the rider really where what you would consider that “neutral” fit over the bottom bracket for aft. I mean, what is reasonable? What’s the concession you make? Like, what is an okay forward? Like what would be acceptable I guess?

Julie Young 40:13
I guess I think too about, you brought this up like, mountain bikers are under so much more torque when they ride and maintaining, and I know people don’t like talking so much about injury prevention because it’s not as like exciting and sexy is like power production, but like keeping the knee safe and healthy and if you know you’re too far forward and you’re pushing these big gears at slow cadence…. So what’s acceptable for you like in terms of these geometries, and not really being able to get the rider back to that more ideal position? Like what’s acceptable with me over like the end of the crank arm or however you measure that?

Colby Pearce 40:57
So some of that discussion depends a little bit on which type of mountain bike we’re talking about and what the riders goals are, right? Or back to physiology of the rider versus demands of their event.

Colby Pearce 41:07
So in the physiology side, we have to look at does the rider have a history of knee injuries? Do they have a history of particularly knee injuries around the patella or the front side, the anterior capsule of the knee. When you push the saddle forward, you tend to push the rider into quad dominance, or encourage quad dominance during their pedaling style. So that puts more shearing force on the patella. And then just as you said, during a mountain bike ride or race, we tend to have a lower cadence. And we tend to be in a more torque intensive type of riding style because you’re going up steep climbs. And, a mountain bike is heavier and everything’s happening at lower speed. So all that encourages higher moments of torque, even if it’s just accelerating at the bottom of steep climb. And then to confound that variable, we have an increased q factor on most mount bikes, so we’ve got a wider stance between your feet. And most mountain bikes by defaul are set up – for some reason manufacturers are not as good about putting different length cranks or even size appropriate crank lengths per frame size on mountain bikes – they tend to err on the longer side. So for someone who’s on say medium sized mountain bike, on a road bike we would commonly see 172.5, on a mount bike, we would commonly expect 175, so you gain this two and a half millimeters of crank. And that’s sort of been an industry standard for a while. I think the logic is ‘Oh, you’re pedaling with a lower cadence and higher torque, so that extra crank will only help you.’ But if someone’s got a history of knee injury, especially if you’ve got patellar stuff going on, if you’ve had patellar bursitis, or if you’ve had chronic patellar tracking issues, or if you’ve had any kind of arthroscopic surgery around that area, or you’ve just got a history of ‘whenever I push it, my patella tends to hurt a little bit’, Going to a longer crank is probably going to make those issues worse. As we increase crank length we increase patellar shear, which is the amount of force the patella has, the strain on the patella. As the knee is flexing and extending that patella, which is your kneecap and the patellar tendons, there’s a lot more force. How do I describe this? It’s like if you took your hand and pushed hard on your patella and then did a bunch of squats while pushin hard on. Just smashing down on your patella. I guess that would be the way I would describe it. You can maybe get an instinct for how over time that would start to irritate that joint. We want the patella to glide smoothly through this track, and not have a lot of tension one side or the other. So the longer the crank is, the more we’re going to increase the possibility of that happening.

Offset from road bike to mountain bike

Colby Pearce 43:49
So what is an acceptable amount of increase in saddle offset or decrease I’ll say; increase meaning more saddle offset. What is an acceptable amount of decrease in saddle offset going from road to mountain?

Compressing the cockpit

Colby Pearce 44:06
In general, we want to compress the cockpit of the mountain bike a bit. What do I mean by that? I mean that we want, when, again, using rode as a reference, if we have a given distance from the tip of the saddle to the center of the handlebars, and that distance will not just include horizontal distance, but, in my example, also the vertical drop of the handlebars. So if you have somebody in an aggressive road position, their saddle is slammed back behind the bottom bracket a certain amount and their bars are also a certain amount far away from that tip of that saddle, and the bars are dropped down because part of the demands of road cycling are of course to be aerodynamic. When we do those higher speed descents, you want to be long and low over that wheelbase like we talked about.

Colby Pearce 44:54
On a mountain bike we have to compress that cockpit a bit. Why? Because if your bars are too far away from you, when you’re in the saddle, it becomes far more difficult to engage the body in the way we want to use when we are negotiating steep uphills and downhills on a mountain bike, steeper grades over loose terrain. It also becomes more difficult to use the body English we need during even flowy medium speed trails.

Colby Pearce 45:23
So imagine if you’ve got a local Toronto, you’ve got a ton of this stuff in Taho, Julie, I’ve, had the opportunity to race there when I was coaching CU collegiately and I took my own bike and did some riding around there and you guys have amazing single track trails that just go forever. And so we’re talking about trails where you’re going 30-40K an hour over single track that’s relatively smooth and flowy as an example. And you could go really fast over this stuff, but the key is to lean the bike with a greater lean angle than your body. And in order to do that you have to “detach” your center of gravity, which is just behind your belly button, just below that, we have to detach that center of gravity from the bottom bracket.

Colby Pearce 46:06
When we’re cornering in a road criterium or on a road bike, even a rode descent, when we leave the body, we lean the bicycle and everything stays in a tidy line. There are two lines: One is from the bottom bracket through the seat tube and up through the seatpost. The second is from your pelvic floor up through your sternum.

Colby Pearce 46:34
When we’re on a mountain bike, we want to detach those two lines. We want the bottom bracket c tube line to lean further inside than the line between your pelvic floor and your sternum. In order to do that, we can’t have the bars be too far away in too low because this requires a lot of I’ll say “body English”. You have to push down hard on the inside handlebar and let the bike carve through the corner. So it’s a different technique on a mountain bike. Our center of gravity becomes a little bit disconnected from the angle of the seat tube. That’s how I think about it. That can be very challenging skill for a rider to master when they’re used to cornering on a road bike, it can be very unnatural at first, but once you get it you realize that really opens up a universe of handling that is far more secure, and far safer. So more fun and more safety, win, win.

Colby Pearce 47:30
When we compress the cockpit, what we’re doing is we’re making the distance from that saddle to the handlebar a little bit less. And how much a little bit less well, I can’t give hard rules? But I can say a little bit. So if your distance from the tip of the saddle to the center of your handlebars on a road bike is… I’ll just throw out some numbers to give people some ideas; If it’s 58 centimeters, which would be kind of around a medium or large size frame for most riders, we’re talking two to three centimeters less distance, approximately. If you’re more on – your size by Julie, I’m imagining you ride a small in most mountain bikes, maybe an XS depending?

Julie Young 48:17
Oooo I think an XS

Colby Pearce 48:20
So your tip of saddle to center of handlebars on your road bike, I would guess would be around 50 to 53 centimeters, somewhere in that range, we would take off about again, probably two or three centimeters, and we would have your bars be about two or three centimeters higher.

Colby Pearce 48:39
Now, when we get into suspension, though, that gets really confusing really quickly, or it’s actually not confusing, we just have to account for the suspension and the sag. So if your saddle offset on your road bike is we’ll say, I’ll take a guess and say, yours is around 50-55 millimetres. Then on your mountain bike, ideally for you because you’ve got a history as a world level rider, I know that you generate power from sitting back in the saddle, and your climber, then we’re not going to want to push you too far over the bottom bracket, you’re probably going to feel like you just can’t make power. Also, you’re participating in other sports like skiing and running. So you’ve got good capacity to engage the posterior chain while making power. And you’re going to feel that lack of power. If we push you too far forward, you’re going to feel that quad dominance most likely. So in your case, we would try to maintain that same saddle offset, but on an extra small mountain bike, I’d be a little surprised if we could get you there. I would guess that we might be able to get you to 35 mils roughly on a hardtail.

Colby Pearce 49:48
Sometimes we have to accept that there are limitations to what we can do in bike fitting, there might be an ideal position for a rider but if we can only get them on a certain type of seatpost and this is the saddle that they’re absolutely in love with and works best for them, but the rails aren’t that long and we’ve got them slammed all the way back, we just have to say, we got you as close as we can get you and we have to work around it as best we can.

Colby Pearce 50:14
In other cases, when the person is really far off, or if you try that, and they say, ‘Man, I just feel a total lack of power, I can tell that I want to be in the back seat more, I’m always trying to slide back more in my saddle. When I get in my road bike, I make great seated power. When I get on my mountain bike, I feel like I just all that goes out the window.’ Then we got to push the envelope and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to consider finding you a saddle with a little bit longer rails so that we can push you back and see if we can find a model that works for you.’ Or we’re going to find you a dropper post with a little bit of an offset head, there are a couple manufacturers that do make offset, dropper posts. KS is one I know of. So we’ll drop a couple of examples in the show notes. But basically, you’re doing what I’m doing, which is consulting the search engines of the world and seeing what comes up.

Colby Pearce 51:03
So we accept that there are some limitations to a conventional frame design if we’re going to go with a manufacturer like Trek, or whomever who makes these mountian bikes and the trend is towards deeper seat tube bangles. And most the time we can make it work close enough.

Rear suspension

Colby Pearce 51:22
I think another confounding variable clearly is rear suspension. So when we’re fitting someone to a hardtail, this is pretty cut and dried. But when we get into rear suspension, rear suspension changes, as the suspension sags and depending on what setting you’re using. How do I solve this problem as a fitter? I take multiple measurements under different conditions, and I see what changes. So first, I measure the bike statically with no weight on it. And it doesn’t really matter if the suspension is locked or unlocked at that point, you’re just getting a baseline. And then we can see so if somebody road bike saddle offset is 70 millimeters, and statically, their dual suspension mountian bike is set at 70 millimeters the same, then we know that when they sit on it and they sag the suspension in most suspension designs, as you sit on the saddle, saddle offset increases. And we want to be wary of this because I don’t want someone, ostensibly, someone set pretty far back at 70 millimetres on the road bike, I don’t want them riding around at 95 when their suspension is sagging or 85 on their mountain bike.

Colby Pearce 52:33
How do you know how much it sags? Well, you put the bike in the trainer, make it level and have them sit on it and have them sag the suspension. And then you measure the offset while they’re seated in the saddle. This is a little bit delicate. First of all, because you’re putting a ruler at the nose of the saddle, which is basically don’t hit your client in the crotch. But secondly, you have to have them sag the suspension kind of neutral sag, get on it and make sure it’s active but not compress too much one or the other, you don’t want them unweighting the bars too much and then increasing the sag on the rear suspension too much, or vice versa. You also want to see them sag both front and rear kind of an appropriate amount trying to get some sort of baseline. And then you have to use your crystal balls a fitter a little bit and imagine how much this is going to change when they are using, if they’re using the bike in a – it’s common for most suspension systems to have a locked, a trail, and a downhill setting, or a locked out and a medium and a high suspension setting you could call it. So I use the medium as a baseline. Because most of the time when they’re unlocked, and they’re using downhill, they’re not in a saddle. But there are multiple times when someone might use the trail setting and be therefor quite a while on some really technical rides. And on those occasions, we don’t want them sagging way behind the bottom bracket, especially on a technical climb where they’re trying to maintain traction and keep that suspension in a medium position, then, so if they’re on a steep grade, then they’re going to be weight bias towards the rear wheel. And the suspension is going to, sag is going to increase. So now now we’ve gone from 70 mils in our example to maybe 105. And then they’re wondering why their back hurts all the time on a mountain bike. Well, we’ve got all these things that point them towards potentially having their back hurt, we’ve got longer cranks, sometimes a wider q factor which they could not be adapted to. And now their saddle. Normally on the road bike is at 70 miles behind the BB and now it’s 105 and that’s not uncommon.

Colby Pearce 54:33
So how’s that? Does that all make sense?

Julie Young 54:41
It does make sense. And you know, as you’re talking so many things come to mind. And I feel like in some ways we’ve kind of thrown the baby out with the bathwater with like the mountain bikes and you know, you had said this that it gets kind of all biasing towards handling and I feel like for the cross country rider, they’re not gravity athletes and so they need to obviously, you know, be able to still produce good power and safely produce that power. Just watching like the World Cup, you see the trend like to your point the cockpits become really tight and short. And I just wonder sometimes, even seeing these men and women when they’re climbing, really upright torsos. And what I’ve learned is you need that torso tilt in order to better activate the glutes. And I know they can do that and I understand that that’s a reason why we found with the wider bars, so you can basically get in that low position. But it still seems like many are just pedaling in this upright position.

Droppers and handling mountain bikes

Julie Young 55:46
But I do think also, it’s super interesting what you pointed out when you need to think of the like the spectrum that a mountain bike needs to cover in terms of its requirements, all those things you pointed out, it’s amazing, like the big spectrum that it needs to fulfill. And I do, I guess think also that, you know, we do have the ability to get out of the saddle, and like most of the time descending, so that kind of creates some versatility to the position that you know, you can get out of the saddle and really get that weight center through the through the feet and to have the bike handle the way you want to. So it to me it almost creates like two different scenarios, one, in the saddle and pedaling and then one out of the saddle for more of the handling part.

Colby Pearce 56:35
Yes. Agreed. That said there are times when you have to handle the bike where you’re in the saddle or we’ll say floating over the saddle. And you know, that also comes back to whether a rider has a dropper. Dropper post is obviously a huge step forward in handling on mountain bikes. People tend to think of droppers as being only applicable to really steep rocky descents or descents with big drops – and those are definitely places for droppers. Droppers make you primarily safer on those descents, especially for someone who’s just learning how to use one. Over time you can you learn you can go a lot faster with a dropper because the saddle, in case people don’t know, when you put a dropper seatpost on a mountain bike when you’re on a steep descent, you want to assume what we could commonly call the attack position, this is borrowing terminology from Lee McCormick’s book which I believe is called “Mastering mountain bike skills”.

Attack position

Colby Pearce 57:27
Lee’s a local coach here in Colorado, he coaches a lot of clinics and things at the Belmont bike park and other places, and he talks about this “attack position”. What does that mean? It means when you’re descending, you’ve got your butt as far back and down as you can get it. Elbows are wide to give a stable base to control the bars. And you’re looking ahead. That’s a really important point because it’s easy for us to have our gaze be just a little ways in front of the front axle when you’re climbing on an uphill trail because you’re going so slowly. And you have to sometimes even consciously make yourself look further down the trail to anticipate things coming at you much more quickly when your speed changes a lot when you’re going downhill. So he talks about all these things.

Colby Pearce 58:12
Well, the number one thing is weight on the feet and getting your weight, your butt, down and back. So that your weight is stable so that your center of gravity is further back and down behind the bottom bracket so that when you’re on steep terrain, it avoids the possibility of you going over the bars or minimizes the possibility of going over the front of the bike. When you have a dropper post, that greatly increases the ability to assume that attack position because when you try to put your butt down and back without a dropper post, there’s a saddle in your way. It’s hitting you in the belly button. So when you can drop that post out of the way, it makes a massive difference.

Colby Pearce 58:47
But it also can be quite useful on flowy medium speed trails, when you drop that post, then you can go back to that body English where you are increasing the lean angle of the bike relative to the angle of your torso. You’re pushing the bike down and farther away from you.

The spectrum of mountain bikes and what they’re used for

Colby Pearce 59:02
So thinking to your comment just a moment ago, Julia, about the spectrum of mountain bikes and what they’re used for. Let’s define that.

Short track

Colby Pearce 59:10
So on the top end of the spectrum, the most road like aspect of mountain bike demands/events that we can think of is probably a short track. It’s about 20 to 30, maybe 35 minutes, in some cases, and it’s basically a dirt criterium. The courses are short, they’re usually lots of laps, they typically aren’t that steep, uphill or downhill because the courses are so short we’re talking minute to Two Minute laps. You know, in a bike park situation or a town loop situation, that’s a common short track scenario. And this is the discipline that would require the most road like mountain bike setup. You’re having short, explosive power scenarios out of the saddle and in the saddle. We don’t need a dropper post probably because there aren’t steep downhills and it’s like a disintegrating peloton type of criterium sort of situation with lots of short anaerobic work explosive type efforts.

Cross-country race

Colby Pearce 1:00:09
Next, we would have a typical cross country race. This could be anywhere from 60 minutes to 120 minutes in length, depending.

Endurance cross-country

Colby Pearce 1:00:17
After that would be endurance cross country; we’re talking three to maybe 10 hours. Or mountain bike stagraces, right? This is 100K mountain bike events, 100 mile mountain bike events, things like that.


Colby Pearce 1:00:30
And then we get further down the spectrum more towards the other end of mountain biking. The next phase would be enduro-racing, which is a staged event that can happen with time sections. So it might be four hours of riding, for example, on a single enduro stage, but you’re only timed over different segments of that four hour route. And the segments might range in length from 10 minutes to half an hour, would be typical. And those segments will include some climbing and almost always descending. So you’re racing up and down. So you are required to make power on the climbing segments, but really, depending on the terrain and the philosophy of the race, many enduro races really emphasize handling skills and the descents can be quite technical.

Colby Pearce 1:01:17
So there you’re looking at more of an all mountain type of bike, something that can handle real descending. To transition to enduro-racing from a cross country racer, somebody who’s more road-oriented and also races cross country, it’s a big jump to go to enduro.

Downhill and it’s sub-disciplines

Colby Pearce 1:01:33
And then from there, we have downhill and it’s very subdisciplines. Proper downhill mountain biking is very far removed from the physiology of setting up a bike to make power. That’s the point where you pretty much set up the bike to be safe and go fast downhill, and you almost ignore power output.

Colby Pearce 1:01:54
Dnduro is the cross section where you still have to account for some power output. And this is I think, exactly the cross section of where we’re at is many cross country bikes are bordering on becoming enduro bikes. The geometry is trending towards that area. And I agree with you, Julie, that’s problematic for us as fitters and as coaches because we want to set up a bike so that someone makes good power. And some of these bikes that are being purchased and used for cross country are really more suited to enduro, or even light downhill use and that’s a challenge for us as a fitter and as a coach because we want to see riders making good power.

Colby Pearce 1:02:35
So there are perspectives where we have to accept that there are limitations to what we can do in the world of mechanical bike fit. Sometimes you want to put your athletes cleats in a certain place, and the shoes and pedals don’t go there and your choices, either break out the drill and go to town and sometimes that’s not even an option. So it is what it is.

Adjusting saddle height from road racing to mountain biking

Julie Young 1:02:56
How about saddle height from road to mountain bike and talk to you more if we just talked about cross country riders.

Colby Pearce 1:03:02
In general, I would shoot for the same leg extension at the bottom of the stroke. If your rider is on a longer crank on the mountain bike, that means we have to lower the saddle by the same amount. So if they’re on 170, on the road bike, and they’re on 175 on their mountain bike, we would lower the saddle five millimeters. There are a lot of little confounding variables that can get in the way there. One is, are they on the same saddle on both bikes? You’re talking about millimeters and if you’ve got two different saddles, that’s gets challenging quickly, because when you’re talking about different patterns and base shapes, and possibly widths, then you know, measuring saddle height to the millimeter is going to be a starting point you’re gonna have to adjust based on feel from there. Perfect world is to have the same saddle on all your bikes, that takes care of that. And if one saddle is ideal for the road bike, then it should be ideal for all their bikes in theory.

Q factor

Colby Pearce 1:03:54
The other confounding variables are Q factor. A Q factor on a mountain bike can be, typically, about 30 millimeters wider than a road bike Q factor.

Colby Pearce 1:04:04
Just to define it in case people don’t know Q factor is, it’s the distance between your feet. So if you imagine doing a squat with your feet at hips width, that would be a given Q factor. Now, put another 12 inches sorry, 20 centimeters on either side. So 40 centimeters wider. That’s more of a sumo squat. That would be increasing your Q factor dramatically. That’s what happens when you go from a road bike to a mountain bike. It’s about 25 to 40 millimeters is kind of the range depending on what road cranks you have and what mount bike cranks you have.

Colby Pearce 1:04:35
So typical road Q is around 150 millimeters wheras typical mountain bike q factor 175, 180, 185 millimeters, somewhere in there. So that impacts saddle height.

Colby Pearce 1:04:49
How much it impacts saddle height? There’s no real good way to know that because it doesn’t just make your foot wider. You could do a simple trigonometry equation and try to figure it out. But doesn’t quite work that way. Because human bodies are so complicated as you push your feet wider because the foot is still on a horizontal surface, you’re effectively increasing the various wedging of the foot. So it’s not one to one. So without going down a rabbit hole on foot correction and wedging, basically the answer is you start with about the same amount, and then you’re going to have to lower your saddle on your mountain bike a couple of millimeters to account for that wider q factor for most riders. That’s kind of the short answer.

Colby Pearce 1:05:30
Some riders will do better with a wider q factor. Some will find they prefer a narrower q factor. If you put a rider on a mountain bike, and they’ve got immediate problems, especially medial knee issues, that’s a big warning that that rider needs some mobility work probably on both medial and lateral aspects of the lower extremity. So foam rolling, stretching, eldoa, global postural stretching… Those are some of the powerful tools we have in our network. The simple actionable way I email my riders a link to the Gator roller, which can be found on road fitness. It’s my single most favorite mobility tool – I’ll put a link to that in the show notes. If I can have all my riders have one of those I would. I recommend that people check it out. It’s just one of the best.

Colby Pearce 1:06:21
So basically, we want to shoot for the same saddle height, but we want to correct for those parameters.

Stack height of pedals and shoes

Colby Pearce 1:06:27
The other confounding variables are the stack height of pedals from road to mountain is different depending on what road pedals you’re talking about and what mountain pedals you’re talking about. I have a pretty exhaustive list of stack heights that are researched as best I can find them, not all of them are published.

Colby Pearce 1:06:42
The other variable that’s even harder to know is the stack height of your shoes. If you’ve got a really low stack height road shoe, like a bond, which is four millimeters and one of the few road shoes that publishes their stack height, and you’ve got a clunkier mountain bike shoe, and we’re not talking about the lugs, we’re talking about the distance from the cleat through the carbon sole to the bottom of your foot, that’s the stack height of the shoe, then you’re going to have to raise your saddle to account for that higher stack height on the mountain bike shoe.

Colby Pearce 1:07:10
Most shoe manufacturers do not publish their stack heights, you’re kind of guessing a little bit. Most of them are probably around the same height. Bonds among the lower ones around four mills, specialized and Shimano are probably around four mills or very close, but most mountain bike shoes are probably a little thicker, on average.

Colby Pearce 1:07:28
Also, don’t forget that all specialized shoes are body geometry shoes, which means they include one and a half degrees of medial wedging built into the entire shoe on all their shoes. So that basically assumes that everyone is a pronator, which I know when your questions was about supination Julie, not everyone is a pronator. But that’s what specialize shoes assume. So if you’re a supinator, and you buy specialized shoes, reasonable chance you end up with knee pain right out of the blocks. So if you’re riding specialized shoes, you wonder why your knees hurt all the time, that’s a good place to start. A good stone to unturn.

Colby Pearce 1:08:01
So what I’m getting at is, there’s a lot of confounding variables. When you look at the difference in Q factor, the difference in stack height of the pedal, the difference in the stack height of your shoes, and if you have a different saddle, by the time you do all that you’re left with a lot of ‘Hmm, what should my road bike and mountain bike saddle heights be relative to each other?’ You’re definitely plus or minus a few mils on either end.

Actionable: How to dial in your mountain bike saddle height

Colby Pearce 1:08:25
So here’s a quick tip to make that actionable. Back to back comparison is always my way to figure things out whenever you have to rule of thumb it or feel it. So go for a road ride, do your thing. Maybe you go for a road ride for two hours. Come home, immediately put on your mountain bike shoes, and jump on your mountain bike and just ride for 10 minutes. And listen. What does your body tell you? Do you feel more extended at the knee? Do you feel more extended? At the bottom of the stroke? Do you feel like you can’t drive through the bottom of the stroke at bottom dead center with hamstring? That can help you dial in your saddle height on the mountain bike a little bit. Try that drill a couple times. Also do it in reverse where you ride your mountain bike for a couple hours and then come home and jump on your road bike, change your shoes and go around the block. And that’s a good way, once you’ve started with a baseline of equating the saddle height and measuring it that’s a good way to get things further dialed if you want to make sure that you’re in the right ballpark.

How to narrow your Q factor on a mountain bike?

Julie Young 1:09:25
I love that. That’s a great idea. So with the Q factor are their options, it seems to me pretty limited in terms of trying to narrow that q factor… seems like most mountain bike shoe cleat systems don’t allow for much medial, lateral movement of that cleat. So are there some options? And I would say mostly like, obviously more in terms of like narrowing that q factor.

Colby Pearce 1:09:58
Yeah, great question. So there are a couple ways we can narrow the Q factor if we wanted to do that. One is we can use a shorter pedal axle. We can use the lateral adjustment on mountain bike cleats to get the cleat side to side. Crank Brothers have no lateral adjustment. Speedplay have no lateral adjustment. Speedplay they make a scissor mountian bike pedal, which some people don’t know about. I think it’s a really good pedal. Not everyone likes it, it does have some quirks. If you want to check it out, look at James Wong’s review on cycling tips about this scissor. He didn’t really like it too much. I love it. So there you go. But the scissor has different length axles, they have a 50 and a 55.

Colby Pearce 1:10:38
Confounding variable again, and this universe is that Speedplay got bought by Wahoo last year. I’ve been in touch with them quite a bit, currently not making the scissor, you can’t get them at the moment. But I have been told that they will be making those in the future.

Colby Pearce 1:10:49
They’re one of the best offroad pedals on the market, or really excellent gravel pedal, in my opinion. The reason is they’ve got a very stable platform, and they’re the only off-road pedal that you can shim easily. So I’ll get into why that is. But before I get there, let’s stay on track. Stay out of the weeds Pearce.

Colby Pearce 1:11:06
So we can shorten the axle of some mountain bike pedals to get the foot closer to the crank arm. And you’re right, a typical axle length for a mount bike pedal is about 55 millimeters in length, and that puts people’s feet pretty far out there- and then you’re already adding the wider q factor of a mountain bike crank on top of that. Of course, we have to have a wider Q on a mountain bike crank because we’ve got clearance problems. We’ve got a big fat tire in the back and we want more mud clearance on a mountain bike so that bumps everything out. So the crank arm has to be spaced wider apart to get the cranks to not hit the chainstays. That’s why we’re at where we’re at.

Colby Pearce 1:11:43
There are a few options. Years ago actually, when SRAM first introduce the XX group, they had three different q factor cranks, which was pretty cool, and they were labeled on the side of the crank. If I remember correctly, they had a 164, 176, and like a 180… I’m butchering this a little bit. Anyway, I don’t know that they have all those options still in this modern incarnations of 1 by 12. I think they’ve pared down their crank q factor offerings. That was pretty neat when they did it.

Colby Pearce 1:12:18
Most the time we’re sort of stuck with what we’ve got. Meaning if you want to go Shimano xDr, you get one crank length Q and that’s it. And the Shimano pedals do have a little bit of lateral adjustment to the cleats. However, it can actually be problematic to use that adjustment. Why? So let’s say you’re on Shimano cleats, which does have lateral adjustment, and you want to move your foot close to the crank arm. This gets into the pedal stability, which is why I think the scissor is a good choice.

Colby Pearce 1:12:48
Road pedals have a contact area that enables lateral stability to the foot. So imagine you clip into your road shoes, and you try to rock your foot side to side by dropping your big toe down and then dropping your pinky toe down. Everyone follow me? So you’re rocking your foot side aside. That is different from the ability to move or adjust your foot angle relative to the top two, which would mean moving your heel in towards the crank and toe out or vice versa, moving your toe in and your heel out. For most riders being able to adjust foot angle relative to the top tube, heel in, toe out or toe in heel out is desirable. For most riders we want their foot angle to be adjustable on the bike. That’s why we have pedals with float in the cleats. We’re talking about the blue Shimano cleats the yellow Shimano cleats, we’re talking about Speedplay pedals etc. We do not want play in the pronation or supination category of movment. Meaning if you were to try to push your big toe down towards the pedal axle or push your pinky toe down towards the pedal axle. If you clip into your shoes and you can move your foot excessively, really noticeably at all, in this plane of motion that tells you that you’re cleats need to be replaced or your pedals need to be replaced or both. Or your shoes are totally smoked.

Colby Pearce 1:14:12
So when we use a Shimano mountain bike pedal and we push your foot towards the crank, what we’re doing is pushing the cleat outboard all the way towards your pinky toe. The stability of that pedal system in an off road pedal system is dependent upon the lug contact with the pedal body. So when you look at your mount bike shoe on the bottom, it’s got these lugs and those lugs are given height and when you clip into the pedal, those lugs have to engage with the pedal body on either side and that prevents that pronation or supination. That ability to rotate the foot in that plane that we don’t want it to rotate in. So the downside, you can see quickly is, as the pedals get worn out, or as you go walking around on your mountain bike shoes all the time you wear those lugs down and you introduce more and more play.

Colby Pearce 1:14:58
If someone’s a pronator, they’re going to push that first metatarsal or that big toe down towards the pedal axle. That’s what their tendency is to do. Pronation is collapsed toward the midline of the body. And in the foot that manifests as the first metatarsal or big toe, or great toes as it’s known, pushing down towards the axle. Isn’t it a great toe? So when that pronation happens, if the lug isn’t there to prevent that foot from dropping in, then the foot rolls in, the ankle collapses, the navicular smashes down, the arch flattens, and then the knee tends to follow. And we get internal rotation of the femur, which pulls on your IT band or TfL, or causes lower back pain or all sorts of other problems, pelvic dumping, loss of core control etc. goes all the way up the chain.

Colby Pearce 1:15:44
So when someone’s has a tendency towards pronation, we don’t really want the pedal to enable that pronation. And when we push the cleat further outboard, we’re taking away a little bit of that stability and moving it towards the lateral side. So what I’m saying is, when someone’s a pronator, if we push their cleat all the way to the outside of their foot, we’re kind of we’re potentially making things worse. So there’s a little bit of a negative spiral we can go down in terms of how we adjust that.

Colby Pearce 1:16:11
So how do we get the Q factor narrower? We use shorter axles is the best single way to do it – assuming you can find them. There are a few aftermarket axles for different pedals you can find some for Crank Brothers. You can research the Q factors of different cranks, and assuming you get clearance and assuming you can get the right chain ring for your one by 12 or one by 11 or whatever you use in order two by…. and you can make all the front derailleur mechanics work and the crank will clear your rear suspension arms, you can sometimes select a crank with narrow Q. But to be honest, unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of great options.

How to cope with a wider Q factor

Julie Young 1:16:48
I would love to see the mobility work or exercises that you advocate for folks to improve the ability to cope with a wider q factor.

Colby Pearce 1:17:02
Yes, you bet. Yeah, that could be a good video episode.

Colby Pearce 1:17:06
I can just briefly unpack one of those. If someone’s having a big problem with pronation or with the wider q factor of a mountain bike – and this used to be me, I was totally this guy especially as a junior, I had a tendency towards pronation, a tendency towards internal rotation the femurs – How do you know if you’re a pronator? When you walk around, does your arch smash the ground? Does the orientation of your navicular or your we’ll say the medial malleolus move inwards? That’s your inside ankle bone. When you walk does your inside ankle bone smash towards the midline of your body or towards your gait? Does your patella point straight ahead? Or if there were lightsabers coming out of your patella, here’s a good example, would they cross in front of your bellybutton, or would they be parallel? Or, if your supinator, would those lightsabers point off into infinity and make a y shape?

Colby Pearce 1:18:06
If you’re pronator your lightsabers are crossing because your patellas are kind of pointing facing inwards towards each other. So if you’re a pronator and you have this tendency and you want to be better at being able to make power on your mountain bike or your fat bike, which has an even wider q factor – fat bike, what q factors can be 190 millimeters, or 200 depending on the crank set – My single best tip for that is a deep squat in a, what I’ll call, a sumo position.

Colby Pearce 1:18:33
So a deep squat is something you can do on your own. And if you’re good at it, when you start with your feet roughly parallel and about shoulders width the part, drop your butt to the ground. Can you touch your butt to the ground with a relatively straight spine and without your heels coming off the ground? This is your natural chair. Can you hang out there and drink a coffee? Can you do five minutes in that position and have a conversation? Can you 10 minutes? Kelly Starrett did a 10 minute deep squat challenge. He’s done that several times. And he talks about people maintaining that deep squat for 10 minutes a day. This is basic human function. I would argue that it’s good essential, you should be able to do a couple push ups should be able to run about three miles without breaking down, should be able to hang on a deep squat for at least five minutes minimum.

Julie Young 1:19:28
It called for hip width wider toes out?

Colby Pearce 1:19:34
Yeah, so let’s say shoulders width to start and roughly parallel or maybe inside edges parallel. Which means the outside edges the feet will be slightly pointed out – that probably works better for most people. And the key is when people get down to the bottom, a lot of times their heels want to come up off the ground. So they’re on the balls of their feet. We want you to be able to be completely flat footed with your we’ll call this “ass to the grass” your butt should almost be touching the ground or even in some cases touching the ground. And maybe I’ll have Jana shoot a photo, I’ll be doing this and we can just put in the shownotes. Why not?

Julie Young 1:20:11
And drinking coffee while you’re doing it!

Colby Pearce 1:20:15
I’ve already had my coffee for the day, so I’m on water now.

Colby Pearce 1:20:20
So this is your deep squat. Now, this is a good basic functional exercise. If you want to expand this to help you with your Q factor, push your feet out another 20 centimeters on the right and 20 centimeters on the left. That’s a big gap. In nonrelevant units, that’s about a foot on each side. So now we’re definitely way past shoulder width, right? That’s a sumo style. And that’s a much more challenging exercise that involves opening of the hips and the medial fascia of the knee.

Colby Pearce 1:21:00
Warning, push through discomfort, do not push through pain on this exercise. Don’t hurt yourself. Some people this will be really challenging. But if you can hang out here for a while, and ground in the heels and have a relatively extended spine, and not holding yourself up with your hands, then you’re in good shape. And that will help you loosen up your hips and loosen up your knees so that you can handle a little bit wider q factor in that knee flexion and hip flexion.

Julie Young 1:21:28
This may be a totally different episode, but I would be interested to understand saddle shape and how you… I think we know the width is a pretty obvious, but then the shape becomes much more individual in terms of the individual’s normal posture and any pelvic design is a tough one to figure out just like externally, but I’d be interested to understand like how you prescribe different saddle shapes.

Choosing a saddle shape for you off-road bike

Colby Pearce 1:22:04
I have spoken quite a bit about saddle design and some of my philosophies on choosing a saddle. But I do frequently get questions of how does that change when we’re talking about off road bikes: mountain bikes, gravel bikes, cross bikes. And the big concern people have is, knowing that I recommend a saddle with a fair amount of curve to match the curve shape of the ischium. Remember the ischium are like rocking chair feet, broadly speaking, they’re wide in the back and they’re curved, and then they get narrower as you go towards the front. And so when you put a rocking chair on a hardwood floor, you get one point of contact, that’s what allows that curved, rocking chair foot to arc back and forth and rock. That’s not necessarily desirable on a mountain bike, or on any bike.

Colby Pearce 1:22:46
So what we’re doing when we choose a curved saddle is we’re curving the floor up to meet the chair so to speak. That distributes the stress or the weight of the torso, I’ll say over a much greater area and it also allows for greater stability, and a cradled up feel to the pelvis. It also allows us to rotate the pelvis forward into anterior rotation without the sensation of sliding down off the nose of the saddle all the time, you’re still supported by that curve.

Colby Pearce 1:23:15
Remember, anterior rotation is when you dump your soup on your feet. Meaning the pelvis is like a bowl of soup. Think about it like a bowl of soup. And when you rotate the pelvis forward or anteriorly rotate the pelvis that activates glute, enables better diaphragmatic breathing, stabilizes the spine, and protects the spine. And so when you tip that pelvis forward, you’re pouring the soup out the front and you would pour soup on your feet. That’s anterior rotation.

Colby Pearce 1:23:42
Posterior would be the opposite if you were to rotate your pelvis backwards and pour soup out the back and hit yourself in the heels.

Curved saddles

Colby Pearce 1:23:50
So I’m generally speaking a fan of curved saddles road, off road, gravel, mountain, cross, track, because it the bones don’t change just because you got an your mountain bike, you still have curved ischium. For most riders, the method is to support the weight on the ischium.

Colby Pearce 1:24:07
The question I get all the time is well how does that work because people visualize moving all over their mountain bike saddle more than they do on a road bike? And this is, to be frank, one of the things people get lost about with mountain bike fit. They think about mountain bike positions as much more dynamic. Well they are, but that doesn’t mean you don’t make power the same way and it doesn’t mean when you’re going up a 20 minute fire road or even a single track climb, you still want a baseline position to make power. People get really concerned about coming up on the nose of a curve saddle in particular when they visualize going up a steep climb where you have to bend your elbows and put your nose to your stem in order to keep the front wheel from coming up off the ground and for you to fall over backwards. In order to really have the front wheel come off the ground and for you to flip backwards over the bike you have to be on a very steep grade. Usually not that steep of grade you’re on the verge of losing traction, so it’s pretty unlikely. But you still have to, of course, change your weight distribution to enable maintenance of traction on that steep loose terrain. And that does involve sliding forward on the saddle.

Colby Pearce 1:25:15
The answer is a curve saddle works perfectly well on a mountain bike just takes about one ride to get used to it. And the advantage of a curved saddle actually is when you slide forward on that nose and the nose rises away from the bottom bracket, what you’re doing is you’re keeping your center of gravity vertical over the bottom bracket of the bike. So imagine now the bike has gone from horizontal to a 45 degree angle. And if you stay where you are, your center of gravity, which is right around that belly button, ends up further back behind the bottom bracket. And that’s what causes the front wheel to come up. So we want to move forward on the saddle to keep that center gravity vertical over the bottom bracket of the bike. And when you do that on a curve saddle with a nose that goes up, instead of moving into under extension at the knee, which you would do on a flat saddle, now we’ve come closer to maintaining the radius of that circle that is made in selecting saddle height because we’ve increased the height because of that nose ramp. And so what you’ll find is, you think it’s going to be this uncomfortable moment of getting jabbed in the posterior region, the nether regions we’ll say, but in reality, it’s not uncomfortable at all and you find that you’ve got better power because you’re no longer going into under extension of the knee, which is what you’re used to.

Colby Pearce 1:26:36
So basically, the short answer is, if you found a great curve saddle that works on a road bike, try that on your mountain bike first. It should be at roughly the same angle, if not a slightly higher nose angle because you’ve got less saddle to bar drop because of your compressed cockpit. And then try that for a couple rides. And that’s your baseline. And for most riders I find that works really well. It’s just getting their head wrapped around it.

Julie Young 1:27:00
That makes a ton of sense like the idea of bringing the floor up to the curve. It is interesting to me that flat snub nose saddles have become so popular, and it kind of goes against everything that you’re describing here.

Flat snub nose saddles

Colby Pearce 1:27:18
Yeah, it does. For me, flat snub nose saddles are kind of a train wreck. For most riders, I find they really don’t work very well. If a rider comes from a truly traditional old school saddle, like a Flight or Rolls or a Concor or a Physique Aireon, for example, to use some common examples, and they go to a snub nose saddle, they can have a step forward in comfort and they think they’re on the right path, but in my opinion, they’ve taken one of maybe eight steps. To go to a curve saddle with a cutout is just a massive increase in comfort and performance for most riders. It’s not the solution for every rider, but for my men in particular, it’s overwhelmingly successful to go to that model of a saddle. For women, not as high of numbers, but still we’re talking 80 to 90% of women end up on that saddle and love it.

Colby Pearce 1:28:13
And that saddle is in particular an SMP, I’ll say that. I’m a dealer for them, I’m really not trying to make it an SMP commercial, it’s a product that I find is works consistently for most of my riders. Not for all my riders, ultimately, my goal is not to sell a rider certain saddle, it’s to get them on the best saddle for them. And sometimes that saddle can be something quite out of the blue or random. The only rule about saddles is there’s no rule about saddles. Everyone is unique. God is a novelty generator. Everyone has a fingerprint, one person’s lazy boy is another person’s screwdriver, in terms of saddle shape. So just because your buddy rides this out or whatever, there’s really no bearing that it’s gonna work for you.

Julie Young 1:28:56
What is the philosophy behind this snub nose flat saddle? Like what’s the objective?

Colby Pearce 1:29:02
Well, a flat saddle, fundamentally, is a remnant from an old school line of thought, which is that you want to move forward and aft on a saddle. You want to push back on the climbs and move forward on the rivet on the flats. Or, occasionally, I find riders who have that backwards; they push forward on climbs, which means they’re just going to under extension and quad dominance and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say they push backwards on the flats other than someone who generally makes power in the back seat. But that’s a relic. There are 100 Italian wives tales about bike fitting and 94 of them are complete garbage. And this is in the complete garbage bin. So a flat saddle doesn’t do anyone any favors.

Colby Pearce 1:29:48
Imagine going to the gym and you’re going to give your athlete a 12 week strength and conditioning program. And during the first four weeks, during adaptation – you know conventional program whatever, adaptation, hypertrophy, and then strength and power – the first four to six weeks of adaptation and then another four weeks of hypertrophy, we’re going to hold them to a really strict standard on their squat form. Every time they squat, we’re going to make sure those knees don’t come out over the toes, we’re going to make sure they’re not having a tendency towards pronation. We’re not going to let their knees track medial or inside the foot. We’re going to make sure their spines nice and straight. We’re going to make sure they don’t go down too low so they’re going past the point of the decoupling of the sacrum and the lumbar spine, otherwise known colloquially in the gym as the butt wink. We’re going to ensure all these things, we’re going to be a really good coach and make sure they’ve got great form. But then as soon as they get to power, the last phase where they’ve already gained strength, they’ve already gained muscle size, we’re going to not care about form anymore. We’re going to let their knees come forward, we’re going to let them pronate like crazy, we’re going to let them start postier rotating the pelvis and decoupling the lumbar musculature because what’s most important at that point during the power phase is that they’re doing really quick, strong reps. But who cares about the range of motion? Who cares about their form? This is exactly what you’re doing. When you allow a rider to come forward to the nose of their saddle during a hard interval. Their butt is coming forward to the bottom bracket, that downregulates recruitment of a glute, it increases or up regulates recruitment, of anterior chain, read quads. So you become quad dominant, but you’re also not going through the full range of motion. If one of the rate limiting factors, Julie you know this, you’re a physiologist, one of the rate limiting factors in athletic performance during maximal efforts is the number of muscle fibers you can recruit. Why would I have an athlete go into a position that by definition allows them to recruit less fibers? Does that make sense?

In spite of, not because of: Pros and bike fitting

Julie Young 1:31:49
Total sense. And I always wonder about it Colby like just watching the World Tours, like, gosh, every one of those guys – I mean, that’s maybe an exaggeration – but they’re all forward on their saddles.

Colby Pearce 1:32:01
It is a huge trend right now and not all of them, but there are riders who are riding old school and still have what I consider to be proper form. But there’s a big trend towards that right now. And this is a confounding variables of fitter because people look towards pros, right? They assume that that pro is perfectly dialed and that they are the epitome of sports performance, and that they’re executing things in the most ideal position. And you and I both know from being paid to ride our bikes, that that actually isn’t the case. Often, most of the time, it’s in spite of not because of. Someone just has a massive engine and they sail their way to the top of the sport and they get a contract and then they’re riding and before you know it, they’re winning races. But it’s not because things have been optimized. It’s not because at the age of 14, someone taught them proper pedaling technique. It’s not because they had a really good bike fit their whole career, and that they understand these concepts, it’s more that they just ended up there. And they’re amazing athletes. And this is just a testament to how remarkable the human body is at solving equations, sometimes really poorly written equations. Right? But there they are smashing stuff and winning stages, and they look like garbage on the bike and you’re going wow, okay.

Julie Young 1:33:20
It’s so wild to me, though, like watching the World Tour and how many of those guys – I’m thinking to myself, ‘My gosh, why didn’t you get fitted on that bike to a position where you normally sit on that saddle?’ They’re all pushed forward.

Colby Pearce 1:33:37
Yeah, that’s a great question. The answer is complex. Sometimes riders go to a team camp and the fitter – every team has a fitter they work with or a fit system they work with and sometimes the rider and that fit system don’t gel. The personalities don’t add up. Sometimes I think fitters make the mistake of going to a camp with a bit of an agenda, or perhaps a bit of a complex about working at the world level. And they’re tentative to give that rider honest advice. Because this person is a superstar. You’re going to go tell Tom Boonen or Peter Sagan that their position is wrong? Or that it needs to be refined? Well, that requires a lot of confidence in your own business. You’re putting your reputation on the line. If you make some fit recommendations to one of the best athletes in the world, to Lizzie Armitstead or whoever, and she goes and tries it or Marian Voss, pick your pick your world class rider, and they take that positional change, and they try it for a month and then they tell you it sucked or it didn’t work or they get injured. That’s a big risk. So there’s a lot at stake there. And some riders are just so old school, they don’t want to change. They’ve written that way since they were 14 and now they’re winning races and they have a very ain’t broke, don’t fix it perspective. One of the most famous examples of this in pro sports is Tiger Woods – not for the example you’re thinking of. So Tiger was known for changing his golf swing technique on the spot, even if it was a week before a major tournament. If he thought he could make long term gains, frequently, he would make changes to his technique at any point in the season. And he was wildly criticized for this. But he always had his eye on the long game. Meaning if I’m going to be better in a year, I’m going to even further the gap to my competition in a year because I start working on this change now, as soon as he knew that he could make a change that he thought would benefit his game, he made it immediately. And that’s a very rare perspective. Most athletes don’t have that, would you agree?

Julie Young 1:35:47
I would agree. And I think your point is interesting about the pros, that they have, in many cases, succeeded despite themselves. I think they do, and you do, adapt and you do learn to become efficient in a position and make those compensations.

Colby Pearce 1:36:14
Agreed, and what we see is, you know, riders winning stages or riders in the elite group at the tour or vaults or winning classics or being top 10 at classics. What we don’t see is every time they get on the massage table, the soigneur says, ‘Wow, you’re psoas is a steel cable. Wow, your lower rack is smoked.’ And they go, ‘Yeah, it’s been bothering me for months. But I’ve just been barely hanging on.’ And then they go to the race and they perform somehow. That doesn’t mean things are optimized. I mean, I’m sure you would agree, most often most athletes, you go on the start line, and you took a survey of all the crap they’re dealing with the list would be probably shockingly long. It’s not like all these athletes are perfectly tuned machines every time they show up to start a race. In fact, it’s more likely the opposite.

Bar width and handling for mountain bikes

Julie Young 1:37:05
Just interested to understand your thoughts on the optimal bar width. And I would imagine that goes in line with the discipline as well. And then also the handling skills of the athlete.

Colby Pearce 1:37:19
Yeah, good. So how I think about stem length and bar width is the relationship of those levers and the impact they have on the steering of the bike. So when we look at how a road bike steers, most steering, most cornering on a road bike happens via leaning. You don’t actually turn the bars that much, right? Turning the bars meaning actually twisting the bars and using the bearings of the headset. When you initiate a corner, a lean on a road bike using leaning technique on a road bike, your steering angle actually changes a very, very small amount. We’re talking less than a degree.

Colby Pearce 1:37:59
But on a mountain bike because of the changes in terrain you have and also, because of the types of terrain, the switch backs, both up and down in particular, but also the lower speeds we do more turning of the bike by turning the handlebars. We also lean the bike at times as well. So it’s a combination of both. But when we turn the bars, the steering characteristics of the cockpit, meaning the stem length and the bar width have a big impact on how that bike steers.

Colby Pearce 1:38:29
The other consideration in mountain biking is how do you crash? Most of the time in mountain biking, you crash when the bar flicks out of your hands or flicks to the side. So you’re going over a rock garden or down a drop, or you catch some error off a jump or off a ledge, you’re going straight and the bar turns to one side or the other. And when the bar is going not the same direction you are the result is frequently ass over teakettle, right? So we like to keep our tea kettles vertical.

Colby Pearce 1:39:02
So when we’re trying to prevent that bar from flicking or turning out of your hands the wider the bar is, the more leverage you have on it. And the shorter the stem is, the more leverage you have. A long stem makes that lever a big giant rudder. And it gives the wheel a lot of leverage that you have to stabilize with your arms and shoulders. A short stem takes that rudder down, and the wider bar gives you more stability. So we’re talking about base of support.

Colby Pearce 1:39:32
The way to think about this in terms of strength and conditioning as an analogy is how do we progress or regress any given exercise? Well, if someone goes to do a squat and they’re horrible at it, then you might give them a supported squat would be a big regression, right? You might help them lower themselves down onto a chair or a box squat and give them a support to hold on to if they really needed a lot of regression. How would you progress squat? You would narrow the base of support or put them on an unstable surface. So you put them on a Bosu ball and it’s wobbly, the squat becomes harder. If you give them a little bit wider stance most the time that makes them more stable, narrow their stance, the squat becomes more challenging. So when we’re widening the base of support with your hands on the mountain bike that just makes that activity more stable. Same idea if you do a push up with a narrow stance, a very narrow stance where you’re touching your index finger and thumb and making like a diamond shape, do a push up there, and then do a wider stance push up where your hands are slightly wider than shoulder width. The stable is going to be more shoulder with your hands wider. So this is why we have a wide bar on a mountain bike.

Colby Pearce 1:40:44
How wide do we want to go? Well, a good baseline is start with your road bar width. Let’s pretend that you’re 42 as many people are. Stand over your bike with the bike in the trainer and put your hands outside of that 42. Now measure to the end of your hands. That’s from the fifth knuckle on the left hand to the fifth knock on the right hand. That’s your minimum mountain bike width as a starting point. It’s always easier to cut bar off rather than go longer. So I recommend you add two or three centimeters onto that width as a starting point. Try it with your grips out there, put the brakes in the right place, try a few descents, try moving your hands in on the trail side. So if you do laps on a trail, you can move your hands in and out on the bar and find out fundamentally what feels most natural to you in that attack position. What you’re considering is the stability of the bike descending. That’s the important part in bar width. The compromises are, if the bar gets too wide, sometimes it can interfere with shoulder mechanics and feel awkward. And also, of course, you have clearance issues between narrow trees and bridges and things like that. So there’s a balance there.

Colby Pearce 1:41:54
There’s a really big trend towards really wide bars right now. I think bar width can definitely become excessive, but it can become a little addictive just like pushing the front wheel bias forward and having this super upright position can seemingly be advantageous for certain performance aspects of mountain biking, but at the cost of your ability to generate force and recruit glutes and hinge that torso like you were talking about having that slight angle to the torso.

Colby Pearce 1:42:22
So basically speaking, the wider the bars are and the shorter the stem is the more stable the front end is. So that’s why we do that. But a lot of mountain bikes will come stock with zero offset post and a very, very short stem. We’re talking 40, 50m, 60, 70, 80 millimeters, depending again on whether you’re looking at an enduro bike or a cross country bike. And for someone who’s adapted to road riding and they’re used to sitting with a long, extended spine and they’re good at rotating the pelvis to the anterior or dumping that soup on your feet. The chances of them finding a mountain bike, I’ll say, off the shelf with that short stem that’s got enough reach for them. It’s probably not that common.

Colby Pearce 1:43:08
Also, one other point I’ll say is for anyone under the height of about the average American male or 5’10’. The majority of the time, we want your bars slammed on a 29er. Almost no one needs a riser stem or spacers on a bike with a 29 inch front wheel. Why? Because hip angles are not a limiting factor on a mountain bike. On a road bike demands of the event we’ve got drops, hoods and tops. So when you’re in the drops, you’ve got that compressed hip angle. When you’re on the hoods, which is where you do most you’re riding, you’re somewhere between a really compressed hip angle and the tops, which is where we’ve got the most relief angle.

Colby Pearce 1:43:51
You’re riding on the mountain on the mountain bike pretty much all the time on the tops in terms of bar drop. But when we have the bars too high on a mountain bike, people tend to select high barson a mountian bike because they’re worried about going over the bars during big drops on descent, steep descents, that comes back to 1) using proper technique in that attack position and 2) using a dropper post. When your butt is down and back and your weights where it should be the chance of going over the bar almost none. But when your bars are too high, when you’ve got that 20 or 30 mils of spacers under the bar or the stem is flipped, which it commonly is when I see people on 29ers, you’re completely annihilating the ability to push down on an inside bar and be low enough on the medium flowy speed terrain. You’re really sacrificing front end stability on a mountain bike when you have the bars high.

Colby Pearce 1:44:42
Now, back to your earlier comment about pushing the saddle forward and sitting with a more upright torso. When the bars are too high, when you raise the bars, you’re taking weight off the front end. So instead of lowering the bars a lot of times what they do is they push the saddle forward. That’s what I’m saying. And so then they end up way off the mark. And this is one of those negative spirals of bike fit where you can kind of end up making little adjustments thinking you’re gaining things towards the goal of making a bike more stable. When thinking about the rider from the side view, on a road bike we’ve got that long, low, isosceles triangle. We’ve got that big distance between the hands and their butt. We do want a rough proportional, angular relationship between the arms and the torso there. We’re going to compress the cockpit, which means bring those two points closer together, those two points being the butt and the hands. So the triangle now becomes taller. But if it gets too tall, then it’s not a stable structure, it’s going to tip over. Does that make sense?

Julie Young 1:45:54
It does. And I guess what I think is the combination of the short stem with the wider bars also kind of helps facilitate the reach.

Colby Pearce 1:46:05
You’re correct.

Julie Young 1:46:06
People have some room to get low and to extend.

Colby Pearce 1:46:11
Yes, you’re absolutely correct. So to unpack that a little bit: we have a really short stem and a wide bar. If we go to a wider bar that effectively is the same thing reach wise as adding a longer stem. And the reason for that is because most mountain bike bars don’t have, in my opinion, enough sweep. So if we had a zero degree bar with no back sweep, and you put your stem… let’s imagine that you put your hands together fist to fist, as though they were right next to the stem and you’re holding on to that bar. Now make your hands wider, wider, wider, wider, wider. You can see that when they get really wide, your reach has increased. Because the bar is straight it has no back sweep. If the bar was curved like a circle, and you kept your radius, the same from your belly button, as you made your hands wider, wider, wider, wider, wider, the reach would not increase. You follow me? Because you wouldn’t be extending the distance from bellybutton to hand any farther. But because bars have little to no backs, we’ve got 7-9 degrees, which is typical for most cross country bars. So even at a seven degree backswing, as we make your hands really wide, you have increased your reach.

Colby Pearce 1:47:28
So you’re absolutely correct. There’s a ratio of STEM length and bar width that impact reach, unless you’re using a bar with enough sweep.

Colby Pearce 1:47:37
I prefer the SQ Labs bars which have a 16 degree back sweep. That bar is amazing. I had a Thai bar custom made for me that Travis Brown loaned me Well, it’s custom made for Travis and he loaned it to me to test out and now I’m in love with it. It’s got a 25 degree back sweep and that thing’s amazing. Then when you do that, even though the bar is pretty wide, I have to install a little bit longer stem on there, because I’m not gaining the width. Excuse me, I’m not getting the the reach that I want. Compared to a standard seven degree back sweep bar. But most cross country bars around seven to nine degrees back sweep. That’s typical. Yeah, you’re definitely correct on that.

How bar width and stem height trends have developed

Julie Young 1:48:18
I mean, I guess it just seems generally like for the front end, we are following trends that have been developed by the downhill disciplines. Would you say that’s true or not?

Colby Pearce 1:48:32
Yeah, it’s trickling down because riders realize how much faster they can go downhill with a really wide bar and a very short stem. But there’s going to be a trade off for that. So when you’re considering your mountian bike fit, and when you’re considering what mountain bike to buy, you have to be really realistic about what kind of riding am I going to do? Am I really a true kind of cross country rider? Am I a roadie who wants to do some fun mountain biking and maybe I’ll do some races? Well, that doesn’t mean I need a 40 millimeter stem, you know, and a 800 millimeter, 820 bar. That’s downhill territory. That’s not going to serve me because I’m not going to be pushing my bike to those extremes of terrain, where I need that type of technical assistance, mechanical assistance from those lever points. I’m going to split the difference between some handling considerations, of course, but also, I’m going to set up the bike so that I can make good power. Depending on what shop you’re getting a mountain bike from and how the fitter operates things you might have to push back a little bit and say, ‘No, I need this 90 stem on here.’ It’s okay, a 90 stem, you can still do quite a bit of high performance mountain bike handling and go quite fast. It’s really fundamentally about the technique the rider has and knowing their limits. So I guess what I’m saying is don’t let anyone convince you that you’re going to die on a regular single track trail if you’ve got an 80 millimeter or 90 millimeter stem. That’s perfectly within the range of what most riders can handle if they’ve got the adequate width bar over technical terrain. Also keep in mind like yeah, John Tomek and Ned Overman and Travis Brown used to ride around on 120s and 130s and 140s. Travis talks about that in one of my interviews that I did on on my pod early, he talks about bike design, and how he used to have to ride ridiculously long stems before mountain bikes were long enough. Now they’ve gotten longer, tops have gotten longer and head tubes have gotten slacker so people can use shorter stems.

Does skill determine stem length?

Julie Young 1:50:36
Would you say that someone’s skill level would determine, like stem length. And so, like to your point, maybe someone that doesn’t quite have the skills, they go a little bit longer, as opposed to someone maybe that has the skills goes shorter.

Colby Pearce 1:50:53
Actually, I would say, it depends on kind of what you’re trying to accomplish and how you’re trying to coach them into riding, but a shorter stem and a wider bar is going to give someone more leverage on that front wheel to make it more stable. So generally speaking, you put someone on a shorter stem that’s going to make their transition to learning how to ride a mountain bike in technical terrain easier. But again, it depends a little bit on, you know, how you want to coach them and what their end goal is. But generally speaking, it’s easier to ride them out bike over technical terrain with a shorter stem and wider bars. So I would kind of say the opposite actually.

Pronation and supination of the foot in bike fits

Julie Young 1:51:30
Okay. Yeah. Interesting. All right, Colby. So, in a bike fit, if you have the client sitting on a bench, the feet and legs hanging off in a nonweight bearing position, and you bring that person’s feet to more that pedal position, and they indicate supination. Do you address that in your bike fits?

Colby Pearce 1:51:55
Yeah, I would definitely take that into consideration in their fit. That kind of implications for the wedging you may or may not use in their shoe and pedal system. It can also have an implication in the amount of arch support you give them both medial and lateral, and the type of footbed they use. I also consider their general muscular structure and nervous system type, I’ll say in how to recommend a foot bed. Some people just need a more stable platform, some people, we don’t want to make things too stiff into unforgiving under the foot. So we might recommend a less supported footbed.

Colby Pearce 1:52:34
And then also supination can play a role in foot separation distance or q factor and stance width. So if there’s a tendency towards supination in their riding posture, you can sometimes find good results if you push their feet a little wider, sometimes not. It can be a little bit of a trial and error situation. For me, the magic is about aligning kind of the head of the femur with the tracking of the patella, and second and third metatarsal. So drawing a straight line through the middle of the hip, the middle of the knee, and the middle of the foot. And we want that relationship underpowered to be relatively in line and a vertical line, ideally. That won’t always be possible with some athletes. But the end goal is to facilitate that clean tracking.

Colby Pearce 1:53:24
But yeah, just as you would consider pronation to be something to address in bike fitting, you would consider supination. For me, I strike a balance between thinking about foot support and arch support for either pronation or supination. We have to consider that everyone has a tendency towards one or the other. The problem is only when it’s excessive, or when it causes dysfunction further up the chain. Or maybe in the foot and ankle itself. That’s when we have to address it. And that dysfunction can come in the form of pain or obvious leakage of torque or excessive motion of the knees, for example. And maybe there’s no pain now. But if we make the rider stronger, and they train over time, then that develops into pain. So we have to use our crystal ball a little bit and say, ‘Okay, I can’t see how this isn’t going to cause problems down the road. I’ve got to address it. I’ve got to educate the client.’ So thinking about the foot, and specifically about arch support, this is the way I I’ve been thinking about it recently, any – what is arch support? It’s a prosthetic device. And what do all prosthetic devices do? They weaken musculature. They induce hypertrophy. Example: let’s say the client who got in a car accident and they got whiplash. You give them a neck brace for eight weeks. When you take the neck brace off, are the neck muscles going to be weaker or stronger?

Julie Young 1:54:43

Colby Pearce 1:54:45
Right, because the the device supported the head it did the work of the muscles, right? Well, an arch support on the medial arch or bracing the heel is doing the same thing. It’s supporting the foot. So every time we ride or race in a shoe with an orthotic support, every time we use a footbed that supports the medial arch or lateral arch, we are enabling hypertrophy of the ankle and foot because we’re supporting those muscles. So I like to coach my athletes to counterbalance the use of their carbon fiber flippers I call them or their cycling shoes with all their arch supports, which I think can be essential and can definitely increase performance on the bike. We need to counter oppose this with conditioning and strengthening of the foot and muscles of the ankle with things like barefoot walking, yoga, walking on the beach, that’s a great one. Barefoot walking on the beach is one of the best exercises for the foot. But also running or trail, hiking, walking in minimal shoes.

Correcting for supination

Julie Young 1:55:51
I guess for me, I’ve always thought that the arch support in cycling is a good way to reduce like energy leak, I guess I would say. That the foot mechanism is different on the on the bike as opposed to walking or running and trying to basically bring everything up to the foot as opposed to have the foot drop down every time. Kind of to your point about the saddles like trying to match. So that’s one thing I was thinking about. But with the supination if this person, this client, who demonstrates the supination in nonweight bearing, and they are feeling like when they’re compressing on the pedal, they’re feeling more pressure on their pinky or like that fifth kind of tarsal? How do you correct for that?

Colby Pearce 1:56:43
Yeah, good question. So another common sensation I find for sopinears, they just find a lot of pressure on the lateral side of the foot. Right? They just feel like their foots being smashed into that shoe.

Julie Young 1:56:55
Mm hmm.

Colby Pearce 1:56:55
This is a weird little wormhole of bike fitting. The answer for someone who has excessive pronation or excessive supination on the bike is the same answer. It’s medial arch support. And here’s why. When you’re a supinator, and you’re pushing that fifth metatarsal, or that pinky toe into the shoe, or the lateral aspect of the foot is just getting smashed into that shoe, by adding medial arch support, it gives them something to counterbalance that weight. It gives them something to push into on the medial side of the foot or under the major arch, the medial arch. That’s the arch next to the ball of the foot. So it balances out that pressure. If there’s nothing under that medial arch, and they’re just jamming that outside aspect of the foot in there, by bringing the surface of the shoe effectively up to meet the foot, we distribute that pressure over a larger surface area.

Correcting for pronation

Colby Pearce 1:57:50
If someone’s a pronator, and they’re smashing the medial aspect of the foot or the first metatarsal or the ball the foot into that pedal, which is more common, and they’re just getting a lot of pressure under the big toe or under the ball the foot then we also add arch support behind the ball of that foot to bring more pressure to the fifth metatarsal or the pinky.

Colby Pearce 1:58:14
So, like I said, it doesn’t make a lot of sense logically, but the solution is the same either way, it’s to add arch support on the medial side of the foot, whether some of the pronator or supinator. That may also end up being in conjunction with wedging. So you may add a cleat wedge, or possibly an in the shoe wedge which only goes onto the metatarsal heads, or a heel wedge which only goes under the heel. And any combination of those can sometimes alleviate that pressure and give the rider a more clear, perceptive response to feel what’s happening to engage the foot in that pedal. And that’s fundamentally what I find with cycling is that the danger is that the foot and ankle get really weak, the medial arch musculature gets really weak, and the foot just starts to collapse – and also the feet turn off ,they get dead because you’re always in this carbon fiber flipper. And there’s not a lot of proprioceptive response. Their feet fall asleep. I also see when I do my Greg Cook functional movement screen that most cyclists have crap for ankle stability. You put them on one leg and ask them to lunge over a dowel and their ankles just going crazy trying to stabilize. now.

Primal movement patterns and weak ankles

Colby Pearce 1:59:24
If we break down cycling into primal movement patterns, they’re six primal movement patterns. Bending, squatting, pushing, pulling, twisting, and lunging. Of those six, seven if you count gait, gait is kind of the end result of all those primal movement patterns. So a primal movement pattern is something that Paul Czech teaches and it is a way to reduce all athletic sports, all athletic movement into these primal, six fundamental patterns. All of them can be broken down into this. When we look at what cycling is, statically, it is a hip hinge. Right, it’s a forward bend. And then it is a series of lunges from that static forward hip hinge. And then it is a series of pulls, when you pull on the bar, or sometimes a push, like in a mountain bike when you pump and you push the bike down to go down the trail and gain free speed, you are pushing on the bars, that’s a push. So we have those four movement patterns are basically fundamentally, what cycling is. We don’t have a lot of twisting, maybe a little bit of twisting when you pull on the bars really hard. And we don’t have any squatting because how much cycling is bilateral? None. It is always unilateral. So the most active single most important primal movement pattern in cycling is a lunge. And if you don’t have a stable foot and ankle, and you can’t make a good lunch in a great cook FMS functional movement screen, but you’re a cyclist, that tells me a lot. It tells me that that you’re missing some of the basic core neurological ability to make good force by pushing one foot down and away from you. That is, what cycling is fundamentally; over a good range with a lot of stability and control.

Colby Pearce 2:01:16
So when we peddle around in our carbon fiber footbeds, or our carbon fiber flippers, I should say, and in some cases with our carbon fiber footbeds – I’ve ridden in those four years, actually, I’m as guilty of this as anyone – and we turn that foot into that lever that makes us a really good cyclist in the moment, but man, we got to offset that just like we have to offset kyphosis and forward head posture and rounded shoulders from all our cycling, we’ve got to offset feet and ankles have to be conditioned to be strong and stable basis of support. Because you’re pushing really hard at the hip and the knee, you’re using your quads to extend the knee you’re using your glutes to deliver all that force to the hip. And then it goes all the way down through the chain and your foot can’t transmit that force or it’s completely 100% reliant on that foot and shoe, over time I can’t see how that wouldn’t result in some sort of dysfunction. That’s just me looking at the body as a cybernetic organism which is simply a system of systems.

How to strengthen your feet and ankles

Julie Young 2:02:17
So besides like the barefoot walking on a beach, if you don’t have a beach handy-

Colby Pearce 2:02:25
We don’t have a lot of those here so

Julie Young 2:02:29
How about like some barefoot like bosu ball work or any sort of like balance board work like barefoot? Can that serve a purpose?

Colby Pearce 2:02:40
Yes, that can serve a purpose. Walking barefoot or in very minimal shoes we’ll say any minimal shoue – you know I did my episode with Jessi Stensland and she’s got our website FEET FREEX. We’ll put a link to that in the show notes. She’s got a huge resource of different minimal shoes on there, some of them are really cool and amazing, but the simple ones are Vibram Five Fingers, which are the weird frog looking five finger shoes. Vivo Barefoot are some good examples. There’s another company in Germany called Wilding that makes amazing shoes. So she’s got a whole list of resources on there or just walk barefoot.

Colby Pearce 2:03:13
You don’t have to buy a minimalist shoe The rules are don’t puncture, don’t burn and don’t freeze your feet. Those are the rules. So I walk my dog around the neighborhood sometimes barefoot. I walk in the yard, I do Tai Chi barefoot in the yard, that’s super important for grounding and connection with the earth. You know, touch the earth, help your biome, all those things. I also walk and run in my Vibram Five Fingers.

Colby Pearce 2:03:36
That said, the downside to this whole equation is potentially injury or plantar fasciitis. You want to be very careful when you recommend that your clients transition or start to work with barefoot or minimal shoes, especially if they have a history of plantar fasciitis. I’ll tell you a plantar fasciitis is miserable. It’s the same exact thing as, remember that time Julie, we’ve all done this, where we crashed, and we weren’t wearing gloves and we skinned both our palms. And then the next week you’re going ‘I’m such an idiot. I’m never riding my bike without gloves again.’ I can’t do anything, I can’t make coffee, I can’t make food, I can’t wash my hands. I can’t go to the bathroom. You know, I can’t do anything because my hands are skinned. Well, having plantar fasciitis is like that, but worse. Let me tell you, we all take walking for granted until we can’t do it. And when you have severe pain in both your feet and you can’t walk, you are screwed. So we want to avoid that if possible. So if somebody has a history of plantar fasciitis, you want to be very cautious about recommending the transition to strengthen their feet and arches. The other thing I’ll say is, you can be a bit clever about this. Take a backpack with you and put your old shoes in your backpack and walk for 10 minutes in your Vibrams and then switch when your feet start to feel it. Then next week you make it 15 minutes or 20 minutes, right? We don’t have to go out for two hour hikes and then come home and be shattered.

Julie Young 2:04:58
Right. So what you’re saying is use the foot beds but but also keep your feet conditioned.

Colby Pearce 2:05:03
Yes, exactly. Off the bike, keep your feet conditioned. Walk barefoot in your living room. It doesn’t have to be crazy. The best single actionable daily activity to build foot and strength stability is walking the dog. If you got a dog you walk, start using less and less shoe for that dog walk. Then in the summer, eventually try to get barefoot. That’s a great way to do it.

Colby Pearce 2:05:26
And the other point I’ll mention is the beautiful thing about walking barefoot and even running barefoot even if it’s only for 60 seconds, especially on concrete, which is brutal, is it’s self corrective. If you have crappy running form, and you’re slapping that rear foot down on the ground, and a huge heel striker, and you’ve got bad posture in your foot, man, go run down the concrete in bare feet and your posture and your running technique will be perfect because they have to. So it’s self corrective. It’s a beautiful exercise in that respect. That said, don’t overdo it. It’s really easy to injure yourself doing that. You have to be very careful about your transition, especially as an athlete, a cyclist who’s used to doing things like four hour bike rides, right? A 12 minute barefoot run is the equivalent of like 100 mile bike ride. So proceed with caution.

Colby Pearce 2:06:15
The last point I’ll make is, we don’t just want to be barefoot. We want to do – what’s our rule? How you do anything is how you do everything. So we want to walk through the world with consciousness, postural consciousness. Again, one of the reasons that barefoot walking is so beautifully self corrective, is because suddenly, you’re very engaged with your environment. If you step on a tiny stone, it hurts. Some of that is okay, because you want to develop a callus on your feet. You want to toughen the skin of your feet and toughen those muscles and those fat pads on the bottom of your feet. But as you do this, you are going to learn to engage with your environment in a new way. Because suddenly stepping on a sharp pine needle even can have a big consequence. So you learn to engage and become proprioceptively aware and active with your environment and part of that really important process is stepping with awareness.

Colby Pearce 2:07:08
Think about the foot as a tripod. This means first metatarsal, or the area right under the center of the big toe, the ball of the foot, meaning the ball of the big toe, specifically, the fifth metatarsal, which is the ball under the pinky toe in the center of the calcaneus. When I say the foot is a tripod, what we want is even pressure on those three points while you’re walking, or anytime you’re standing. So if you’re a pronator you’re going to smash that first metatarsal, you’re gonna have to learn to put more weight on the fifth metatarsal. If you are supinator, you’re going to put more weight on the pinky toe or the fifth metatarsal, you’re going to learn to put more weight on the first metatarsal. Condition your foot and arch to handle this. That’s part of what barfoot and minimal shoe walking does.

Colby Pearce 2:07:58
If you are like most western people, here’s a broad brush, and you’re in a hurry to go do everything and do all the things and be so yang and check off the list, tick tick tick, get it done, you are leaning forward and weighting the balls of your feet more than you are the heels. And if you’re a cyclist you’re used to pushing down on a pedal or the axles near the ball of the foot, you are used to waiting the balls of the feet. So in standing posture, you might find someone has a sway back posture, where when you look at them from a postural line from the side, their butt is sticking out forward ahead of their knees or their hips or forward to their knees and their knees or forward to their toes or maybe forward to the centerline of the foot. And that indicates that they’re used to carrying their weight on the balls of their feet. So if you feel the first metatarsal on the fifth metatarsal, but not the heel, you might focus on grounding and pulling your weight back so it’s centered over the foot.

Colby Pearce 2:08:55
So when we train the foot musculature, we’re not just only walking barefoot or in minimal shoes. We’re also doing it in a way that has postural consciousness, presence and awareness of how you engage the ground. Just like Jess Elliott said in my pod with her, I asked her what do you find is most common when your cyclists come in the gym? And she said, it was the perfect sense, she said very eloquently, she said, I’m paraphrasing now, ‘Cyclists aren’t really good at interacting with the ground or the earth.’ And, man, I’ll tell you what’s fundamental to be any human, it’s interacting with the earth. Right?

Julie Young 2:09:31
I loved that from that podcast. I think about that so often.

Colby Pearce 2:09:35
Yeah, was a great nugget.

Julie Young 2:09:36
Yeah. And I love this Colby about this idea of this tripod and being mindful just when you’re walking. I love just being able to learn in everything you’re doing. I like that so much. When you were talking about kind of that anterior tilt and where you feel the pressure on the feet, we think a lot about that during cross country skiing and just how people’s pelvic position, the pressure on the foot is so different. And it’s really iincredible feedback for your postural control.

Colby Pearce 2:10:10
Yes. Agreed. I know exactly what you mean. w=When I get on the on the skis every winter, I go for my first ski and I’m all fore foot. It’s taken me a few years to remember now. Now we’re having this conversation, I haven’t gone skiing yet this year. We don’t have enough snow here yet quite. But it’s like I have to focus on consciously driving with the heel and weighting back and then my ski my all my ski posture and my strength and my stability on the skis just transforms instantly. I remember trying to learn how to cross country ski, skate skit, for the first time with Jonathan Vaughters when we were like 18, and I was just a complete train wreck; falling over left, right and center and at least most of that was due to the fact that I was just on the balls of my feet. And you can’t ski at all like that. Right?

Julie Young 2:10:54
So true. And I think that’s just a symptom of cycling, right? That’s what we’re used to doing.

Colby Pearce 2:11:01
Yeah, it’s how we engage with the pedal. So one of the little things that we can learn is how to offset all these habits that we get from the bike that maybe take us away from being able to engage with our physical surroundings in an optimal way.

Colby Pearce 2:11:18
Did I answer all your questions?

Colby Pearce 2:11:21
I believe you did.

Colby Pearce 2:11:22
Rambled on too much?

Julie Young 2:11:24
You should see my notepad of notes. It’s horrifying. I’ll send it to you. I tried to take notes as we went. But no, I think those are all the questions I had, and more.

Colby Pearce 2:11:37

Julie Young 2:11:38
Yeah, this is great.

Colby Pearce 2:11:40
Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the episode and asking questions.

Julie Young 2:11:45
Oh, my gosh, thank you

Colby Pearce 2:11:45
I hope my listeners find all my ramblings useful.

Julie Young 2:11:49
I’m sure there’s tons of nuggets in there for everyone. So good.

Colby Pearce 2:11:59
Attention, space monkeys public service announcement. Really, technically, it’s a disclaimer. You already know this, but I’m going to remind you that I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not a doctor. So don’t take anything on this podcast to constitute lawerly or doctorly advice. I don’t play either of those characters on the internet.

Colby Pearce 2:12:21
Also, we talk about lots of things. And that means we have opinions. I guess opinions are not necessarily reflective of the opinions of anyone who is employed by or works at Fast Talek Labs. That includes in Chris Case, Trevor Connor, or Jana Martin. What I’m saying is, when we say things, we’re speaking for ourselves, not for other people, which should be self evident. That kind of thing, disclaimers, basically say things that are self evident. Makes you wonder why we have disclaimers. Anyway…

Colby Pearce 2:12:54
Also, if you want to reach out and talk to me about things, feedback on the podcast, good, bad or otherwise, you may do so at the following email address That’s all spelled just like it sounds.

Colby Pearce 2:13:13