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What techniques do experienced commuter cyclists use to avoid scraping the shins and legs on pedals?

On almost every ride I'm reminded that I should be careful not to strike my legs on the pedals, starting from my ankles upwards.

Other than wearing some kind of shin and ankle protection how do experienced riders remind themselves about this problem?

Are there some special pedals which will fold automatically if you release take your feet of them for a while?

Are there some pedals which are special designed to minimize such injuries?

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    I don't want to sound too glib, but keep your feet on the pedals? My ankles generally do not get anywhere near the actual pedals. There must be something about the problem you're experiencing that I don't understand. Oct 3, 2023 at 21:50
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    I get more of that when I'm getting on and off the bike and when I'm wheeling it.
    – vfclists
    Oct 3, 2023 at 22:02
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    How long have you been riding? I wonder if technique of mount/dismount is a skill you have yet to master. While I have had injuries from pedals, they have always involved an unscheduled highspeed dismount (aka crash).
    – mattnz
    Oct 4, 2023 at 2:45
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    Could this be a bike without a freehub? Probably rare these days, but then this would make a lot more sense to me...
    – Reznik
    Oct 4, 2023 at 11:26
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    I think a lot of answers are needlessly glib. This happens to me a lot a well. It's not due to riding skill, but when moving in cities. Happens at red lights, pushing the bike in confined spaces, sitting sideways on the downtube, or when the pedals are at an unexpected position in a cyclo-cross mount. I just accept my lower legs are scratched most of the year.
    – gschenk
    Oct 6, 2023 at 11:51

8 Answers 8

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Stopping

You never have to do a rolling dismount, and you don't need to drag (or hover) your foot along the ground as you slow down.

You can always come to a stop, then put your foot - or both feet - down and step off.

If you're using your feet as brakes, stop riding until you've fixed the real brakes.

Starting

When you push off, you may have your 2nd foot too close to the bike. So if, like me, you press down on the right pedal to start, with your left foot on the ground, you may need to position your left foot further out to the side. This should mean the bike has a slight lean, which is counteracted by your pushing off.

If you need to, you can hop a couple of times with your 2nd (left in the example above) foot, but this is only really necessary if you're starting out in the wrong gear. It still shouldn't lead to you banging your leg, but it does increase the chances. Remembering to change down a few gears when you stop can avoid that, so you should only really need to push several times on the ground if you've emergency stopped in a high gear, or starting uphill on a singlespeed.

Just riding

You can really reduce the chance of your foot slipping off the pedal to where you can get hit. Keep your feet in a good position with the pedal axle under the ball of your foot, and go over bumps with your weight on your feet rather than your seat to keep them firmly on the pedals. This is easier if you pause pedalling. You can also attach your feet to the pedals in various ways, but at this stage I don't recommend it for you. A good combination of shoes and pedals helps a lot, even without foot retention.

Other occasions

If you have to push the bike, do so with it on your right (to avoid contact with the greasy lumpy drivetrain), and the left pedal at the back.

If you have to carry it, a conventional diamond frame is best carried with your right shoulder under the toptube just forward of the seat tube, and your right hand holding the toptube, just forwards of that. Alternatively you can fold your arm right up and take the weight in your hand, in a very similar position. This allows you to pick the bike up and put it down without stopping walking, if you can lift it one-handed. Your left hand can steady the handlebars, and tilt the bike to avoid low ceilings on stairs.

The only times I've hurt my legs on my pedals enough to remember have been

  • Pushing off and dropping off a kerb simultaneously (do one then the other and it's fine).
  • Riding over a speed bump no hands in the wet (I think you can see the problem with that idea).
  • Learning to ride a unicycle.
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  • To add to the list of strange situations where one can get hurt with own pedals: My foot once slipped from the pedal to the ground. Then the pedal crashed into my leg at at least some km/h. Nothing serious (I managed not fell off the bike) but it hurt.
    – Pere
    Oct 5, 2023 at 20:48
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    @Pere that's similar to my wet, no hands situation - my foot slipped off forwards before the pedal hit my leg from behind. You've prompted me to add a tip on avoiding such a situation
    – Chris H
    Oct 6, 2023 at 5:46
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I don't think there has to be a technical solution (such as folding pedals) to a problem that can resolved by awareness that will soon become (riding) routine.

I'm pretty sure I never thought about it but I have a few automatisms that help me develop a safe routine going on/off the bike and to avoid "unusual situations" leading to a scratch on my legs.

  • When setting off, I put one pedal (always the same side of my preferred foot) somewhere between in the top/front quarter position (9-12 o'clock looking at the bike from the left side) - it is just the position where you can apply force for the first stroke in the most efficient way, let's call it the dominant side/pedal. To get to the "takeoff position", you just need to lock your foot in and turn it backwards against the usual motion, depending on the initial position, you have to lock in under the pedal and move it up or push it for down and forward, then up a bit. Finally, I put my foot on the pedal while still standing on the ground with the other. With a light press, it won't move against the tension on the chain and you are ready for takeoff.
  • Next step is pushing down the dominant pedal and lift the other foot off the ground in the upward motion that the initial "push" gives you. I think you can do this already being seated or standing/out of the saddle initially, then sitting down.
  • Then, I catch the other pedal somewhere in the top/rear quarter (or 9-12 o'clock as seen from the right side, basically on top of the circle) and set into a pedaling rhythm. It is a bit of left-right coordination but just don't pedal until both feet are on the pedals, you can stop at any point unless your riding a fixed-gear bike which isn't for beginners.

To me, this has become second nature, your foot approaches from behind and above the pedal it is easy to catch it and not very likely to slip off and scratch your shin, effectively following the motion of the pedal stroke.

I guess there are other ways but that is also how I set off with my road bike where clipless pedals (as confusing the name might be) require clipping into both pedals while setting off.

When stopping and dismounting, I have the same routine, so I have one side that I get off the pedal and the ground first, I also keep the pedal on this side low to the ground which minimizes the chance of hitting it - and unless I'm moving the pedals, I'm ready to take off as described above in stop-and-go traffic.

If you accidentally hit the pedal when pushing the bike (walking next to it), keep the bike at an angle (leaning towards you) and the if pedal is closer to the ground, it'll have more distance to your shins and ankles, basic trigonometry, I suppose.

In my case, I only hurt myself on the pedals on crashes or when I had to dismount in a sudden and uncoordinated manner like emergency stops in traffic, etc. These can't always be avoided but the risk can be minimized with routine and cautious riding, checking your surroundings, especially in crowded areas and get ready to stop early, i.e. stop pedaling. Not so much of an issue with flat pedals, but on my road bike I often unclip the "nondominant" side and slowly approach the obstacle.

For more detailed advice, you have to tell what your exact problem is.

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I simply use "rubber block pedals" similar to these. They even advertise with "prevents shin injuries" ;-).

Of course whether that's an option depends a bit on how your commute looks. An additional advantage is that they work with any type of shoe.

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    But the quality of the rubber is important. Some cheap plastic is really slippery. The steel plate screwed to my wrist can tell you why that is not good at all. Oct 6, 2023 at 6:45
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If you are walking with the bicycle on your side, make sure that the pedal on your side is at the back of it's cycle, that way it's out of your way.

If your shins or ankles are being hit when you start/stop or stop then maybe this video can help

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Safely starting and stopping is a learned skill. Unlike balancing and a bit like using the brakes correctly, it’s also not an inherently intuitive one for most people.

Barring the case of a fixie (or somehow moving backwards with a freewheel), dismounting is relatively safe as long as you are moving slowly and level the pedals first (if the pedals are level you can ensure both that they’re not moving, and that they’ll be as far out of the way as possible when you go to put your feet down). If you still have issues even while doing this (or are riding a fixie), you can swing your legs out wide as you dismount to avoid the pedals entirely.

Starting is a bit trickier. The typical approach I take is to have the pedal on one side (the left in my case) forwards and about 30 degrees above parallel to the road. I then hop up in the saddle, put my foot on that side on the pedal while (gently) holding the brakes, then push off with the other foot and catch the back pedal near the top of the upswing. Because I keep the leg I’m pushing off with out to the side it has little to no risk of being hit by the pedal or crank.

The big thing here though is being consistent once you find a way that works. That ensures it eventually becomes instinctual, so you don’t have to think about it.

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    When it actually comes time to put a foot down, I'm not sure that having level pedals is best. Take your front foot off, and the rear foot quickly freewheels to 12 o'clock (except for a fixie or coaster brake). Take the rear foot off, and your weight on the front pedal is driving the bike forward.
    – Paul H
    Oct 4, 2023 at 18:01
  • @PaulH If you’re only taking one foot off then it can be less than ideal, though you can take the rear off while holding the brakes to keep things in place until you take the front off. That said, if you’re hopping out of the saddle and taking both feet off the pedals at the same time, it’s better than just about any other position you can choose. Oct 5, 2023 at 13:07
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Place pedals into appropriate convenient position before start of the ride. They freely rotate backwards.

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Some suggestions.

  1. Q-Factor. It may be that your crankarms and pedals are far apart and your hips are narrow. A bike shop will be able to tell you. This can be fixed by replacing your bottom bracket. There is a limit to how much replacing the bottom bracket can help.

  2. Incorrect foot position on the pedals. Consider clipless pedals (an odd name). If you are a commuter you should consider SPD pedals with mountain bike shoes because the cleats are recessed and you can walk normally when off the bike. Or carry your work shoes with you. Clipless pedals will enforce correct foot placement. Practice until you are comfortable clipping in and out.

  3. If you don't want to go with clipless pedals, you can still buy toeclips which will also enforce correct foot position, but not as well.

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  • I suggest not caring about clipless pedals until later after getting certain riding experience. I am not convinced clipless is such a good choice for commuting at all even though I have it on all my bikes. Be aware that SPD is not the only type of MTB pedals and other types use the same kinds of shoes. Toeclips are an even worse idea. Oct 6, 2023 at 6:49
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    Someone who can't yet seem to coordinate feet and pedals without lacerations is probably not ready to start having to clip - and more importantly, unclip - their feet on and off said pedals. Oct 6, 2023 at 10:36
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Injuring my legs happens very often to me when using my single speed* in a city. I found it nearly unavoidable and resorted to mitigating the damage by washing out the wound with my water bottle.

Typical occasions where I got scratched by pedals where: standing at red lights and shuffling out of the way, pushing the bike in confined spaces, sitting across the down tube, taking the bike off my shoulder while running, missing pedals on cyclo-cross mount.

I've learned from most of those mistakes and can avoid some and reduce how often it happens with others. But it still happens to me about once a month.

  • One of the reasons is that the pedal turns when the bike is pushed. (Note this doesn't happen when pushing bikes with derailleur forward due to drive train friction.)

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