By Sal Ruibal
James Wilson wants you to get off your butt when you ride a bike.
“It drives me crazy to see mountain bikers in what I call the ‘adult fetal position,'” he says. “When I ask them why they ride with their butt planted on the saddle, crouched over the bike while their legs spin like crazy, they usually say, ‘That’s the way I learned to ride,’ or “That’s the way the pros ride.'”
Wilson, who has a great online coaching site (bikejames.com), is an iconoclast when it comes to training and position on the bike.
“I’m not trying to be controversial,” he says. “There really is something to standing up and pedaling your bike. There are different ways to look at riding and I happen to believe that the standing position really works. Maybe not for everyone, but riders should keep an open mind and try it before they dismiss it.”
James also promotes weight training with kettle bells to strengthen the core muscles that make stand-up riding easier. His focus on standing comes from his early career as a BMX racer, where he rode standing with flat pedals. When he moved on to mountain bikes in 2000, he kept riding with flats.
“I really didn’t hang out with the cross-country mountain bike guys,” he says. “I found my own way. Staying seated on the bike really hurt both my knees and lower back.”
James says the ‘adult fetal position’ is not a natural way to ride a bike because it goes against the way humans have evolved into standing and walking mammals. Standing on flat pedals over the bottom bracket is more like walking and running, with rocking weight shifts to power up climbs.
On technical downhill sections, it makes sense to sink your weight behind the BB to get ‘manual’ leverage over obstacles instead of just jerking the bar back or banging into rocks and roots.
I’ve learned to love flat pedals because you can swath your foot in something comfortable and practical, as opposed to the “normal” cycling shoe that eerily resembles the old Chinese custom of bound feet. Plus, with flats, there are no pedal cleats to snag and force you into an “Artie Johnson” fall. There is nothing more embarrassing on the trail than falling over and being unable to disengage your shoe cleat from the clipless pedal/bear trap attached to your crank arm, especially in a XC race when everyone behind you is cursing at you while they are forced to dismount.
Enduro riders, downhillers and freeriders use flats and stand up because that’s logical for their sport. But you can make a few adjustments on your bike for just riding around with your friends that will amaze them when that dreaded steep climb appears.
Instead of sitting down and going to your granny, stand up and look up to victory. Rock your bike like Mario Cippolini sprinting to a stage win in the Giro. Bar-ends are a big help. And, yes, I realize I just advocated for the lowly, oft-derided and dismissed bar-end, but they get you up the climb in style and that’s all that matters. Just don’t run bar-ends on riser bars–it crosses an invisible but very real line into the land of the uncool.
Check out James Wilson’s training site and consider going to flat pedals for stand-up riding. I changed and feel liberated from the saddle and clip-in pedals. My old, rigid 29er singlespeed bike has been rejuvenated into a feisty steed that loves to climb.
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