Why Aren’t Mountain Bikers Ambiturners?

Words Dave Tolnai
Date Feb 15, 2016

The best surfers and other board-sportspersons are all capable of riding switch to a degree close to their natural stance. Some baseballers are capable of switch hitting, and any semi-competent skier can turn both ways. What do these all have in common? They can perform their task equally well with either foot forward.

So how come bicyclists all seem to favour one foot in front over the other? I’ve put some serious thought and experimentation into this, and I’ve determined that I corner better with the inside foot forward than the outside. It’s tough to have real scientifically valid study on this, but I’ve noted that with my left foot forward (my preferred stance), I corner way more confidently going left than right. With my right foot forward, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m almost as strong cornering right as I am with my left foot forward, which I take to confirm my theory, given that I should be stronger in my strong stance, so the relatively equal confidence must be due to the superiority of cornering with the inside foot forward making up for the unnatural stance. Turning left in a “switch” stance with my right foot forward is a fucken disaster waiting to happen, which I feel further strengthens my theory.

I figure this has something to do with being able to put more weight on the front wheel by having the strong foot further forward. More weight on the front wheel = more traction. More traction = better tracking of line. So long as the front wheel tracks proper, the rear wheel will follow. If it doesn’t them you have more serious problems to worry about (A preposition isn’t something you can end a sentence with!).

Anyway, even if I’m wrong about which foot forward is better and it is actually better to corner with rear foot on the inside, the point is the same – they aren’t 100% equal; even if I am not perceptive enough to tease them out, there are advantages and disadvantages to each.

I also find that in particularly tight sections I’m able to get more pedal strokes in between leaning for corners, given that I can now pedal in multiples of .5 full rotations, rather than having to pedal in full rotations if I’m coming out of a corner with the strong foot forward and want to enter the next corner the same way.

Which brings me to my point: I’ve taken my experiment to the next step and started watching bike vids with an eye to seeing if the top pros are doing the same thing. Gwin in his chainless run didn’t. Minaar’s record setting run last weekend (email originally sent on July 7, but some daemon denied delivery) didn’t, nor has anyone that I’ve noticed yet.

You can see how far behind we are on answering these e-mails – Ed.

Am I on to some secret here? Or have the top pros all looked into and figured that they can never get their weak side up to the same level as their strong and so it’s not worth it?

Why the hell aren’t more people doing this?

Yours truly,
Switching it Up

Dear Switch:

I love it. Your question is over 500 words, which means I hardly have to put in any sort of effort this week.

I’ve always thought the point was to have your outside foot down when cornering…Such as viewed on this photo of Sam Hill I stole off the Internet.

Maybe he's pedalling?

Maybe he’s pedalling?

Here’s Fairclough…

Pretty clear...

Pretty clear…



This has to be right.





Bruni seems to be more of a 45 degree man…


Frenchmen do it on an angle.

That seems pretty scientific to me. Pros corner with their outside foot down and don’t seem to worry about which foot is forward. Except when they’re cornering with one of their feet forward. Here’s Sam Hill again, left foot forward no matter which way he’s turning.


If Sam does it you should too.


Still doing it.

But then again, maybe they just caught him pedalling, mid corner? It’s Sam Hill though, right? So probably not.

I know what you’re talking about though, and I think you might be on to something. When not cornering, I’m definitely a left foot forward kind of guy. When I have to take a half stroke to pedal through something it feels pretty weird to hit a section with my right foot forward. If I were you, I’d treat it like it is masturbation. Whatever feels right is probably the correct way to be doing things. Being able to switch it up is only going to help you in the long run.

Before we finish, I think we need to talk a little bit about terminology, and dive in to the world of appropriating ‘switch’ and ‘fakie’ and making a hash out of it. I feel like a bit of a Dad here, but I’m going to reference a Yahoo answers post for information on skateboarding:

Switch = Riding with the board pointed in the normal direction, except with your opposite foot forward. A regular footed skateboarder riding goofy, for example. Wouldn’t it be awesome if claiming something as ‘switch’ on a snowboard or skis was unbolting your bindings and turning them around to face the other way?  Every terrain park would have to come complete with a full workshop at the top.

Fakie = Riding with your normal stance, but backwards. It would almost be worse to hear all the little park rats on skis running around talking about “fakie” this and that though, wouldn’t it?

So congratulations. You just invented switch-foot bicycling and even got the terminology correctly sorted out. You’re a visionary.

Uncle Dave

Based on the response last week, Uncle Dave has come to the conclusion that you people are far more interested in Instagram (@davetolnai) than Twitter (@ReallyUncleDave). I think some of his new Instagram followers have already quit though. He wasn’t joking when he said it was mostly photos of his dog.

Switch – congrats! You win a OneUp Components Chainguide. If you’d like to win a prize send a question to Uncle Dave!

At only 35g the OneUp chainguide weighs less than a sip of water, and can save you money in less than a season because OneUp claims their guide will double the life of your chainring!

At only 35g the OneUp chainguide weighs less than a sip of water, and can save you money in less than a season because OneUp claims their guide will double the life of your chainring!

Do you turn both ways?

Trending on NSMB


Morgan Taylor  - Feb. 17, 2016, 12:43 p.m.

A couple years ago I did some volunteering with Endless Biking's spring break kids camps, Darren told me that he practices switch footed riding when riding with kids because the pace is slower. I was already practicing riding technical sections switch-footed, but I started riding entire sections like that. Now I do the same when I ride with my wife. Good to stay on top of it!


MeVP  - Feb. 17, 2016, 1:46 p.m.

Yeah, fun thing to do when you're a bit faster than your riding mates. Keeps it interesting. Another thing I do when I'm behind someone just a wee smidge slower than me is try to keep up by pedaling a lot less than they do, especially on rolling trails or not-steep descents. Fun, and makes you ride smooth and pumpy. Amazing how much energy you can save and still go as fast when trying this.


Morgan Taylor  - Feb. 17, 2016, 2:58 p.m.

Switch-footed pumping, now that's challenging!


jon bond  - Feb. 16, 2016, 11:17 p.m.

A lot of this has to do with your hip angles. The rearward foot, with an extended leg (as you're angling the bike more than your body, that top leg gets longer - also, the pedal drops a bit). To compensate for this as you fold into the turn, you tend to hinge at the hips a bit - which leads to a sitting motion. Stand up and try it out - put one foot forward, then supporting yourself on a wall or your desk, move your hips and arms like you're leaning the bike over and cornering.

You'll find that as your hips hinge, you tend to "sit" more with the forward leg as you bend your knees. This rotates the hips into the turn, which tends to give you a nice, powerful, weight-on-the-outside-foot turn. You can exaggerate this by getting into a riding stance (standing on the ground) then trying to rotate your hips and torso. You'll find it's much easier to corkscrew towards that forward foot (assuming your feet stay pointed forward - no cheating!).


ashroadadam1 .  - Feb. 16, 2016, 9:36 p.m.

What about internal organ considerations for picking a forward foot? If you pile into the back of your seat, ribs first, you are more likely to injure your liver if you're a rightie, and your spleen if you're a leftie.
You liver can pretty much regenerate from a scrap if you smash it to bits, whereas a badly lacerated spleen generally needs to be removed, and can require some additional drug therapies throughout life. That being said, a spleen can be more problematic for rapid bleed-out. I really cherish my liver (it has such an important job), but I think if I had to obliterate one of them, I'd probably prefer to protect my precious spleen. Right foot forward all the way! Goofy foot power!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Nat Brown  - Feb. 17, 2016, 9:19 a.m.

Spleens are really soft too, more so than anything else in the abdomen.


Luix  - Feb. 16, 2016, 1:48 p.m.

Traction (and physics) dictates which foot goes down while taking a turn. It's pretty simple if you look at it from a physics perspective: the vertical of your COM (center of mass) needs to hit the ground inside the area defined by the contact parches if both wheels. This leads to applying pressure to the outside pedal, and since that pressure (and by definition, the force applied) depends on a bearing and an axis, the outside pedal needs to be at it's lower position.

The best cornering advice was given to me by a close friend and former Elite BMXer: pretend you have a laser pointer attached to your bellybutton and point it to wherever you want the bike to go. Keep the pressure on the outside pedal, and let the rest of your body follow.

About the regular vs goofy thing, I'm a righty-fronty guy, and that dictates I have less right-turning skills than Fidel Castro. I've grown accustomed to it, but this particular letter (and the comments derived from it) got me thinking about forcing me to ride in my unnatural stance to improve my skills.


Mammal  - Feb. 16, 2016, 5:51 p.m.

Yep. Inside foot forward, and drop your outside foot through the turn. The "weak side turn" feels much more natural, right off the bat.


kain0m  - Feb. 16, 2016, 11:06 a.m.

I guess it has to with being able to get your inside pedal up in case you have to lean over. Also, should you have get a foot out it's going to be the inside foot. In which case you're going be happy if the outer foot can freewheel to the bottom as Mammal already wrote.

Probably going into turns with the inside foot forward instead of the usual one (e.g. right foot for me) is going to make you a more confident rider round 'dem turns…


reformed roadie  - Feb. 16, 2016, 10:09 a.m.

I think it was Minaar who suggested consciously riding with the opposite foot forward that you normally have to improve your riding.
Foot work is unappreciated part of riding skills.


Nat Brown  - Feb. 16, 2016, 9:49 a.m.

While it depends on how you define 'close', no surfer can really ride that close to how well they do with their preferred stance. If you're old enough, Simon Law was probably the best at switch relative to his preferred stance (natural), and while he could get by in challenging waves, and maybe score points in a con'est for the novelty and difficulty, the pure quality of his switch surfing was not really that close. Of course there are others, Slater in particular, who aren't slouches at switch too, but I still think switch ≠ preferred stance.

Also, my intuition and relatively limited understanding tell me that due to nature of the cranks being attached via bearings to the BB, there's no bias in mass applied front-to-back through the pedals, all mass just goes through the BB. Side-to-side through the pedals, yes, but front-to-back just results in turning the cranks. Perhaps others will chime in with some insight.


sleep  - Feb. 16, 2016, 9 a.m.

If you are turning right the right pedal is up because you dont want to scrath it every time. If you turning to left then left pedal is up. Whats the case?


Mammal  - Feb. 16, 2016, 8:30 a.m.

Okay, so my buddy Dave (Thumber, not Tolnai), had this one dialed after pump- tracking a bunch.

Entering a corner with your rear foot to the outside allows the rider to drop the outside foot as they progress through the turn. It lets you freewheel the crank into position, and smoothly apply pressure with that dropped outside foot. Of course, you can still keep both feet at 50/50 if you choose, but entering with the outside foot back sets you up perfectly for both moves.

Since he told me that, I try to do this every ride. I wish it was ingrained into my riding though, because I usually have to think about it as I'm doing it.


whatyouthink  - Feb. 16, 2016, 6:16 a.m.

I think the only way for you to catch up on these is to write one ever what? 6 hours? More prizes!


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