I normally ride flat pedals and being a mountain biker with a little bit of training behind me, I pedal with the balls of my feet in front of the spindle. I had a pretty good trainer and once I started using this position I felt not only more planted on the bike but my calf muscles didn't need to work even half as hard for a normal pedal stroke.

My question really is, why use the position that SPDs and clips enforce? Is there a greater power transfer for sprinting or something? Having to counteract the pedal stroke force with the calf muscle surely is tiring out more of the body than is needed and there's surely more chance of over exerting the muscle.

I'm just asking out of curiosity as I'm unlikely to alter the pedal position I ride in.

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    Where do your SPDs position your foot? They should place the ball of the foot over the pedal spindle, or just a hair forward. Jun 11, 2017 at 11:52
  • I don't have SPDs but I put my foot significantly further forward. I have the spindle under my arch. I can drop my heels and secure myself on the bike that way.
    – Chris
    Jun 11, 2017 at 11:54
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    Examine some of the "related" questions on the right of this screen. Jun 11, 2017 at 11:57
  • Using the app on the phone so there's no sidebar. I've read some threads already where people have had positioning problems etc on flat pedals. None of the ones I've read says whether there's a particular advantage of pedalling with the ball of the foot over the spindle.
    – Chris
    Jun 11, 2017 at 14:08
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    Having the arch of the foot over the pedal spindle is definitely not a good thing. You will put more load on the muscles of the thighs and almost none on the calves.
    – Carel
    Jun 11, 2017 at 19:44

1 Answer 1


Clip-less (and before them, clips) came out of the road riding community where the emphasis is on power transfer and efficiency. The most efficient position is the ball of the foot on the spindle (+/-1 a few mm). if you look at all early, and most modern, road shoes and cleats, its clear they are not suited to mountain biking and are designed for one task - the no compromise transfer of as much power from the rider to the bike as possible.

When MTB'ers started to use clipless, the advice remained "ball of foot" position, however by the late 1990's it was shown for MTB riders this is flawed - that the stability and control offered with the foot further forward (In the extreme, spindle under the arch) provides a far better outcome when riding. How far forward/back is always a trade off between efficiency and control/balance. With flats, its not an issue - move your foot forward fro the gnarly downhill, back for an uphill grunt.

It took a long time for the ideas of those pioneers to been widely acknowledged. Its only in the last few years (its taken this long) MTB shoes are being manufactured with the slots for cleats further back than previous models - I knew elite riders in the late 1990's who drilled holes and mounted their cleats behind the slots of shoes available at the time.

You will still hear a lot of people repeating the dogma that the ball should be over the spindle, they are very wrong, and the more extreme and technical the Mountain biking, the more wrong they are.

Another question that needs to be asked by every Mountain Biker who rides clip-less is 'Why, what advantage do they give over flats'? - the reason I mention this is if the roadies use clip less for one thing, improve power transfer, and the cleats back position we use on MTB is a compromise, whats the gain we are getting.

  • This is the kind of thing I'm meaning with this question. Is there a significant benefit for power transfer despite the extra strain on the calves. Being a creature of habit, I keep my foot in the same place for commuting and off-road mostly but my knee is playing up recently so I might change things a little and see if it relieves some strain. I'll accept this answer unless someone else answers with some credible science/citations.
    – Chris
    Jun 11, 2017 at 22:20
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    But this has nothing to do with muscle discomfort. The MTB positioning is, as you said, for balance and control. The ball-of-the-foot positioning should not result in significant discomfort. Jun 11, 2017 at 22:21
  • @Chris - If your knee is acting up it probably means that your seat is too low and/or your cadence is too low. Jun 11, 2017 at 22:22
  • My thoughts too. I've recently raised the seat but probably not by enough. The height it was at was a compromise for climbing and downhill as it's a carbon bike which shouldn't have quick release on so doesn't and I've not invested in a dropper post. Fingers crossed I can nurse it back to health but I still need to get to work.
    – Chris
    Jun 11, 2017 at 22:27
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    Mountain biking has a far greater spectrum than road riding. Ask any guys that are riding 24+ hour endurance races, or guys that don't ride as technical any longer because crashing gets harder as you get older and you'll have an answer. If I ride for two hours and spend ten minutes of that in technical sections and the rest just spinning, more efficient is more better. While what you are suggesting is probably better for people riding downhill and slopestyle ad other technical disciplines, I would guess the majority of "mountain biking" is less technical and benefits more from efficiency. Jun 13, 2017 at 0:44

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