Cross season is just starting to heat up, which means there are clinics, workshops, camps, and training races happening all over the US right now. People are posting on Facebook about it, the race schedule for August and September is filled with them, and Twitter is popping off with what is always the most hotly contested question every year when people are learning how to get off a cyclocross bike. “Should I be doing a step through dismount or should I do a step behind dismount?”
Quick visual reminder for those that want a little heads up. Here’s a few pictures and a quick video of each to refresh the memory banks.
Here’s a step through dismount
He’s executing perfect form. Body close to the bike, weight driving through his hand on the top tube, and he’s facing the barriers, ready to take a full stride at speed over them as soon as hit right foot hits the ground. Perfect high speed barrier dismount.
It used to be the step through was the preferred method of dismount. It keeps you facing forward towards the barriers as you dismount and allows a full stride as soon as your right foot hits the ground, meaning you could carry a bit more speed (in theory). This dismount was developed way back when people used to race cross in toe clips and straps. To do a dismount in clips and straps, before you ever swung your right leg over the rear wheel, you first unclipped your left foot, flipped the pedal over, and stood on the other side. Then and only then you continued on with the rest of the process of the step through dismount. Also, because you were wearing something closer to a soccer cleat, it was easier to step forward with your left foot than it was to slide off the outside of the pedal. That extra step of unclipping and flipping a pedal took more time to do, so cross courses reflected that in their design and execution, meaning there were going to be more high speed barriers that allowed you a longer amount of time to set up properly and safely.
And then, clipless pedals were invented. Of course, people kept on dismounting and stepping through the same way they always had. They also kept on unclipping with the left foot first before they swung their right leg over. Instead of flipping their pedal over though, they just rested on the instep of their foot. Someone realized though, that since you don’t have to flip a pedal over, you might not even to unclip with your left foot at all until the end of the dismount and that would save even more time. The problem is that clipless pedals don’t always release like you’d want them to and when you’re body weight is driving forward, in front of your bike, and your left foot is still clipped in, it’s exactly like getting tripped while sprinting. Bad things can happen. Don’t believe me? Ask Joey, he’s probably the most famous and most recent example.
So you can see what bad things can happen if the step through dismount done at speed goes pear shaped. The risk versus reward isn’t a very good ratio. Also, there just aren’t that many truly high speed barriers anymore. Most of your dismounting, especially at the beginner and intermediate levels is really all that fast, even on what would be considered a high speed barrier. Factor in the changes in most course design to have more slow speed type barriers and you’re going to want to learn the step behind.
Here’s a step behind dismount.
Sorry for the small picture, but you get the idea. Notice how his right foot is going to drop off and touch the ground behind his left foot. And this is a picture of Jeremy Powers, former national champion, so of course his form is excellent. It’s very similar to the step through body position. Close to the bike and weight going down through his right arm onto the top tube.
Here’s another picture
The step behind is safer and is actually quicker, because the amount of time you need to set up for it is much less than the step through. This is especially good if you are coming into a barrier at a very slow speed, like in the middle of a hill or right after a tight corner. Here J-Pow tells his students on why the step though is bad.
Notice he mentioned Joey. That guy got all sorts of famous for all the wrong reasons. You don’t want to be the next Joey. Just to be sure of how it’s no longer used, here’s a video of last year’s cyclocross world championships and I’d bet you don’t find one step through in the whole shebang. It’s kinda long, so if you don’t want to watch it, you can take my word for it.
In conclusion, I’m not going to tell you outright that you shouldn’t do the step through, but realize that 1. It’s an advanced technique and you should have a very good handle on how to do the step behind dismount first and 2. It’s has a very specific time and place where it’s useful and faster, but the risk of buggering it up and becoming a YouTube sensation for all the wrong reasons is very high.