When we first learn to ride, the easiest, safest and most stable way to ride is with the arch of our foot on the footpeg. The advantages of this are:
- least energy used
- easy gear shifting
- rear brake access.
But if you stick with this, it will make things more difficult and possibly more dangerous as you get into more advanced riding and techniques. As you progress with your riding skills, it will be useful to also learn using the balls of your feet on the footpegs, and also the mid-position.
Advantages of using balls of feet:
Ankles as extra suspension
More stable body position
Extra room for tall riders
Boots less likely to snag
Reduces boot sole wear.
First, you get extra suspension and bounce when weighting and de-weighting your bike. Try jumping up and down on your heels. Now try jumping on the balls of your feet. The same principle applies on your bike - you will get less jarring from jumps and rough terrain, plus be able to jump your bike across gaps and up bigger obstacles.
Two, using the balls of your feet moves your body back further which makes you more stable on the bike. This is especially useful for taller guys.
Three, it's safer. There is a tendency to point your toes down or the side when using the arches of your feet, so your boots can get snagged and twist your ankle or leg badly.
Four, you'll get more wear out of your boot soles, a small but but handy advantage.
However, riding on the balls of your feet does require more work. You will need to shift your foot forward every time you need to use or cover the rear brake. You need to do the same thing with the gear shift lever, although once you adapt you'll find it doesn't take extra effort - when riding on your arches you usually need to lift your entire leg up to change down a gear.
The Mid Position:
As the name implies, this is halfway between the other two positions. It can be useful in situations such as a big jump where you want to absorb the impact of landing with your ankles, but avoid the stress on your ankles that would occur if riding on the balls of your feet.
When to use which foot position:
To some extent you need to experiment and develop your own style - watch the video link at the end and you will see how top riders like Graham Jarvis, Chris Birch and Ruben Chadwick use these different footpeg positions for various techniques.
In general, you will want to ride on the balls of your feet when possible so your ankles act as extra suspension, then change as needed for gear changing and using the rear brake. As some Motocross riders put it; "ride on the balls of your feet unless you are using your hand levers".
Hill climbs work well when you ride on the balls of your feet. There's usually no need to cover the rear brake and you'll get extra traction with your ankle flexing to create extra suspension.
If weighting or de-weighting the bike, using the balls of your feet is usually better as you can do this much more effectively when using your ankles as well as your legs.
At times you can see riders mixing it up... the left foot is back on the footpeg, but the right foot has moved forward to cover the rear brake. This can be handy on steep downhills where you want to get your body to the rear of the bike but still use the rear brake.
As with so many of these techniques, you'll need to experiment to see what works best for you. Learning to change your foot position constantly can be strange at first, but it's always handy to have wide range of tools in your tool bag of riding techniques.
To see examples of foot position in action, watch our video here.