We were waiting for a long traffic light to change yesterday, when one of our group asked me a question; why do you unclip your left foot? I always unclip my right... personal preference, or is one way better/more correct?
The women who asked this question is a relatively new rider. This is her second year road riding with our outdoor group. Like many who've become passionate cyclists, she has become a student of all the little details involved in cycling. So she's often curious, questioning us about things we do on the road. I remember her asking last year why I would always stop in the center of the righthand lane, rather than staying on the shoulder. She quickly understood when I explained that by claiming the lane, it would hopefully prevent a car from squeezing us into the right hand curb, as we cross the intersection 🙂
Seeing that there are a bunch of Instructors riding outdoors, I thought I would share this with you. For your benefit, and possibly some new rider you have the opportunity to mentor someday.
My view is that unclipping should always be done with your left foot, regardless of which footed you are, because it's safer.
Regular or Goofy Foot?
Lead foot choice on board sports like; Slalom Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Skateboarding and Snowboarding are designated as;
- Left foot forward = Regular Footed
- Right foot forward = Goofy Footed
I have no idea when I first heard the term Goofy Foot, but I do know it was waterskiing. I always had my right (Goofy) foot in the forward binding of the ski. I just felt more natural for me, even though all my friends did the opposite. With these sports it's a matter of personal preference.
Why does it matter which foot on a bicycle?
Here are a few reasons I feel it's safer unclipping your left foot during a controlled stop. NOTE: road cyclists should be comfortable unclipping either foot in case of emergency.
#1 That front chain ring is really sharp!
I didn't want to post the actual picture, but this link shows what can happen when your foot slips off the pedal when you aren't successful clipping in and you're in your small chainring. Ride long enough with slippery road pedals and there'll be a time when you put pressure on an unclipped pedal. Your body weight quickly carries your sliding foot across, and then off, the front of the pedal. Do it with your left foot and you'll just be embarrassed. With your right and there's a chance you'll need stitches from your right calf scraping across those sharp teeth and a tetanus shot - those teeth are not only like little razor blades, they're also really dirty.
This actually happened to my buddy Randy Erwin a few years ago. He had been following Amy and me on our tandem. Amy looked back and saw him stopped, hunched over his bike. Once we rode back we saw all the blood - he did too and nearly passed out from it.
#2 Your right leg is probably stronger
Watch a child or new rider leave from a stop and you'll normally see them repeatedly pushing/pawing off with the unclipped foot - often with the clipped-in pedal in it's lowest position.
Experienced riders start with the clipped in pedal positioned around 2 o'clock. This allows you to power away by driving the clipped foot down, using a normal pedaling motion. The unclipped foot can help push off a little, but it's mainly for balance. This first pedal stroke needs to be powerful - so use your strongest leg! With 90%+ people being righthand dominate, your right leg is typically stronger.
You might need to complete multiple rotations with just one leg, before pausing long enough to get the second foot secured. Another reason you need as much strength as possible.
NOTE: for you "lefties" I still feel the potential danger listed in #1 should have you unclipping your left foot.
#3 Keep your down foot on the high side
This might not apply where you live - and it will be contraindicated (a new use for that term) for our friends in the UK, Oz and other British territories. Roads are often constructed with a "crown" = the center of the road is higher than the shoulders. They do this to speed rainwater runoff and it will naturally cause an initiative/sleeping driver to steer away from oncoming traffic. So for us who drive on the right/correct side, your left foot will be on the "high side" = you may have better balance than reaching down to the low side.
NOTE: for you who drive on the left/wrong side, I still feel the potential danger listed in #1 should have you unclipping your left foot.
#4 Don't get confused
After leading group rides for 20 years, it's not uncommon to see a rider who appears confused at a stop - they aren't sure which foot to unclip. As you know, confusion can lead to indecision and indecision on a stopped bicycle frequently leads to someone tipping over. Embarrassing and often painful 🙁 Not to mention any names, but I have a guy... Lee, in the "C" group I lead (my community service) with this problem. More than once a ride I'm seeing him jump out of both pedals and then slide on both feet until he stops!
Decide what you're going to do in advance. Make a conscience decision; "I'm going to go Goofy and unclip my left foot!" as you roll to the stop with your right foot at the bottom.
Let me know if this helps!
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