Almost everyone has advice to share with novice mountain bikers. Much of this advice is wrong. In fact, some tips can actually hold riders back or even ruin their long term development.
I know this because I’ve seen and experienced it many times. As a mountain biker since 2000 and a mountain bike coach since 2005, I’ve read a few of these bad tips in magazines and on websites, heard them over the bike shop counter, and been told them at trailheads. Once upon a time, I even believed them.
Over the years, I came to realize that many of the things I’d been told by “experts” weren’t true, and that some of them were actually holding me back on the trail. I’ve since seen the negative impact these tips can have on riders through my work as a mountain bike coach, and helping riders correct these mistakes is now one of my top priorities.
With that in mind, here are the three bad tips I’ve found to be most common (and the most harmful).
#1 – Sitting down is more efficient and gives riders better traction.
This makes sense in theory, but it just isn’t true. There’s no evidence that seated pedaling is more efficient or that it provides better traction than standing.
In this video, a rider alternates between seated and standing pedaling during a 10-minute test. The test finds no difference in efficiency between the two. While standing pedaling may feel harder at first, strong riders can use it without blowing through their energy reserves.
Traction is produced not just by weight on the back tire but pressure. We don’t have room for the finer physics here, but it’s very possible to keep pressure on the back tire of the bike without weighting the seat.
Even when riders are seated, the weight applied to the seatpost doesn’t go into the rear wheel except on flat ground; riders must use pressure to keep that wheel on the ground instead. The process is described in better detail in the video below, with the aid of bad stick figure drawings.
This means riders can be just as efficient while standing and can learn how to apply pressure into the rear wheel when standing as well. Seated pedaling isn’t better, it’s just different—and while riders can get away with sitting down all the time, there are actually several good reasons to stand.
For starters, seated pedaling reduces core strength and function. Sitting down disengages the core and leaning forward puts more pressure on the low back. Standing up, on the other hand, forces the core to engage and allows the spine to get into a better position.