I am a beginner mountain biker. I am aware that many people ride with one specific foot forward. Are there advantages to learning to ride with either foot forward? Are there any moves which are easier to perform with one specific foot forward (e.g. is turning right easier with the right foot forward)? Do people truly have a dominant foot (comparable to a dominant hand, the result of a presumably hard-wired brain asymmetry), or is it down to which habit they develop?

Originally, I tried to alternate between feet, mostly because I got tired quickly. Now I find myself using the same foot forward more and more often, and I am having trouble with some moves (such as the track stand) when not using the preferred foot. It is still not too late to try to train my legs in a more balanced way, hence the question. Or I could just be lazy let the same-foot-forward habit develop ...

Naively, balanced and symmetric physical training should always provide advantages. I believe most people have a preferred foot on the skateboard, yet some moves are only possible with a specific foot forward, so pros can skate with either foot. The same goes for archery: in basic archery people usually use the same hand, yet if you want to learn to shoot from horseback in either direction, you need to learn to use either hand.

On the other hand, most people do truly have a hard-wired dominant hand. Trying to use the non-dominant one (such as lefties being forced to write with the right) will leave them disadvantaged. Thus it may be pointless, or even counter-productive to skill development, to force alternating between feet.

I worry that some answers will be too subjective or speculative, so let me put a couple of objectively answerable questions as well:

Are there any moves (presumably turning) which are clearly easier to do in a specific direction relative to the forward foot?

Do pro riders typically alternate between feet?

  • 1
    Depending on the clearance between the toe of your forward foot and the front tyre you may need to switch which foot is forward if you're turning hard.
    – DavidW
    Jun 25 '21 at 14:55
  • 1
    @DavidW In a MTB context here, toe overlap is not a problem.
    – MaplePanda
    Jun 25 '21 at 18:21
  • @MaplePanda Thanks, I wasn't sure, which is why I just posted a comment. I know it was possible on my old touring bike (mostly 'cause I have big feet), which had a lot longer wheelbase than a modern road bike.
    – DavidW
    Jun 25 '21 at 18:32
  • @DavidW Ah yea. Shorter MTB riders are on 27.5" for the most part which helps too.
    – MaplePanda
    Jun 25 '21 at 22:47

I can’t comment on specific moves - frankly, my skill level isn’t high enough for me to know about it either. When turning on flat ground, outside foot should go down, but that isn’t with cranks level as you specify here.

It’s definitely good to learn with both feet though.

  • It helps equalize your muscle strength between legs. Rear leg takes most of the load.

  • You may not have the luxury of being able to choose which foot is forwards, especially in a slow-speed technical section.

  • When you’re really aiming for speed, you can throw pedal strokes or half-pedal strokes in between features, which may require you to switch feet.

  • “Rear leg takes most of the load.” — I can actually confirm from experience that the rear foot tends to fatigue first – but this seems physically impossible since the level pedals would always equalise the force, wouldn't they? (In other words, if there really was more load on the rear pedal, the cranks would just spin backwards.) Can you explain? Jun 27 '21 at 17:48
  • @leftaroundabout It should be be because of biomechanical factors - the front foot is held very stably, while the rear is held by the back of your calf. I’m very poorly versed in medical terminology so it’s a very vague description, sorry. Your leg is more stable in the forwards position than the aft position.
    – MaplePanda
    Jun 27 '21 at 22:48
  • Ah, that makes sense. Jun 27 '21 at 22:58

There is one difference, only applicable to Octalink bottom brackets.

Octalink has a flaw that it lacks press fit. Thus, it allows small rotational motion at the crank to bottom bracket spindle interface.

If you ride left foot forward, the spindle transmits forwards torque like it does with pedaling. Thus, for a rider who rides every time left foot forward, the spindle never sees reverse torque, and thus the crank bolts do not self-loosen.

A rider who uses right foot forward position causes reverse torque on the spindle repeatedly. This alternating forwards-reverse-forwards-reverse-... torque causes small motions at the crank to spindle interface, which tend to loosen the crank bolts (only the left bolt is affected if always consistently using the right foot forward position, if alternating between left/right foot forwards positions then probably both crank bolts will loosen although the left is probably the first to get completely loose).

Octalink was a major failure due to mis-design. Fortunately, we don't see it anymore. Not only did the large hollow spindle leave practically no space for bearings (which the Hollowtech II outboard bearings solved allowing both durable large hollow spindle and large bearings at the same time), but the crank bolts also could self loosen.

With a well-designed crank to spindle interface such as Hollowtech II, square taper or ISIS, the crank bolts don't self-loosen (although square taper has other problems of its own such as too small spindle which is prone to failure).

When riding on bumpy ground, I don't think either position is preferable. Use whatever feels most comfortable.

However, when riding on non-bumpy ground, if I want to rest a large fraction on my weight on pedals so that the saddle doesn't carry all of my weight, I find that left foot down, right foot up position makes it less likely to stain my clothes with chain oil and is more comfortable than trying to balance weight 50%/50% between front and rear pedals in horizontal arrangement. However that ends up tiring my left foot more rapidly than my right foot, so sometimes on long distance riding I take the risk of staining my right trouser leg with chain oil and alternate the feet down that bear the load. Also using narrow leg trousers and putting the right trouser leg inside your sock helps to avoid chain oil in clothes, but doesn't completely eliminate the risk.

  • 2
    Riding one foot down, one foot up is not an option for MTB.
    – MaplePanda
    Jun 25 '21 at 18:22

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