Let's talk FOOT CONTROLS!
Bikes are not like cars, so adjusting the controls to be able to ride safely has its own process. Today, we are diving into foot controls!
The first thing we are taught when we start taking our driver's license is to sit in the car and make adjustments.
Adjust the seat, the mirrors, and the steering wheel if possible, as all of those adjustments will play a massive role in making sure you can drive the car and do it safely.
With bikes, we don't have that luxury, so a tall rider and a small rider are forced to use whatever settings their motorcycle has, and when it comes to boot size and foot controls, that is a clear no go.
WHY FOOT CONTROLS MATTER
We all know that we need foot controls to brake in the rear and shift; however, brands tend to forget that a shoe size 12 and 8 are massively different.
I say want to forget because unlike handlebars, seats, or even risers, adjustable foot controls would be an easy part to offer from stock, and yet, as far as I know, no brand has gone to the trouble of making their clients lives more comfortable in that sense.
This means it's up to us, once again, to make sure we can ride our bikes safely.
As an instructor, I've had the opportunity of seeing riders of all sizes, with different kinds of bikes, and the story is always the same.
When riding with street shoes or soft boots, even if the foot control adjustment isn't perfect, they manage to get by, as soft shoes have high foot sensitivity. However, when that sensitivity is removed by introducing an off-road boot, things drastically change.
Inadvertent gear changes and continuous braking are the two most common issues, and if the first can cause a crash, the second can destroy the rear brake if you are lucky enough for it not to catch fire.
I can speak to the last scenario with knowledge.
I once got my rear caliper destroyed, my braking oil boiling, and my brake disk close to ignition temperature after lending my bike to a much larger rider that didn't realize he was continuously braking.
So trust me, things can get ugly, and since brands don't care, you should.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
There are two main issues with foot controls, and none should be overlooked; they are space and alignment.
Space is easy to understand, as a smaller and a larger boot size will physically occupy a different real estate around the footpeg and the foot control.
Some may argue that it is possible to move our feet around to compensate for that, and they wouldn't be totally wrong, but close enough is still a miss.
You may have to move so much to operate your controls that you may be forced to leave the footpegs. I know, I've been there.
To add insult to injury, we can't forget that, especially when standing, continuously moving your feet may throw you off balance, so although moving may solve your problem, it is not a good fix, nor one that should be permanent.
Regarding alignment, the problems caused are similar, as you may be forced into awkward positions that may throw you off balance, even when having a correctly spaced setup.
This being, knowing how to properly align your foot controls will play a vital role in your safety and riding comfort.
MAKING SURE YOUR FEET FIT
I mentioned that brands could quickly fix foot control issues from stock because adjustable foot levers are simple to produce and easy to find from pretty much any aftermarket brands.
That is because they work over a simple principle; they are adjustable in length.
Some vary the length of the shaft, and I would say those are more suited for when your OEM lever is very far from where it needs to be for your foot size.
Reference: Image from amazon.com
Some only vary the length of the top, allowing for minor adjustments.
Reference: Image from zeta-racing.com
By using one of these options, or a combination of both, you will be able to adjust your levers to the size of your foot. That will get you to a comfortable position where you are not inadvertently stumbling on your controls, nor too far to reach them.
FOOT CONTROL ADJUSTMENTS
Once you guarantee that your controls are sized for your boot, its time to fine-tune them for optimal performance.
Most factory settings are usually ok for road riders unless you plan on doing some aggressive riding or track days, and for those adjustments, I would refer to road and racing instructors.
For off-road, it is too common to find OEM setups that are not worthy of the name.
Starting on the rear brake, there are two things you need to keep in mind, freeplay, and height.
Freeplay, just like the one on your front brake lever, is something that shouldn't be left to chance.
Although personal, as we all have our quirks, it is essential to know that the hand freeplay measurements tend to be cut in half for the feet.
That happens because the sensitivity between a foot inside a boot, and a hand, even inside a glove, is wildly different.
However, as some riders prefer to always ride with the boot touching the rear brake pedal, and others prefer to push back from it, freeplay can be adjusted to compensate those personal choices.
As for height, that one tends to be a bit more consensual, as most riders set up their brake control in line with their footpeg.
Reference: Image from brake-magazine.com
If you aim for a more 50-50 use, you can always choose to upgrade for a control with a stackable tip, which will allow you to switch between a more off-road and more road-oriented setup at will.
This is because a road control setup for the brake tends to be lower than an off-road one.
Reference: Image from revzilla.com
When it comes to the shifter, things are not as cut and dry.
I personally like to ride with my shifter just slightly above the footpeg line; however, I tend to shift up with the boot's seam with the sole, instead of with the top of the boot.
To me, this choice means that I tend to not hit the lever inadvertently, as my foot tends to ride more on the outside of the peg than on the inside.
If you are riding very tightly against the frame, and you like to shift by pushing up with the top of the boot, you may need to adjust the lever position to accommodate for that.
In the same token, riders with pivot pegs or very aggressive stances may also feel the need to adjust the shifter, making it, as pointed out before, a very personal adjustment.
However, if you need a benchmark to start with, there is nothing wrong with setting the shifter in line with the peg, as we did with the brake.
INDESTRUCTIBLE FOOT CONTROLS
Over my years riding off-road, I can't say I've seen any broken foot controls other than on massive crashes, so I would say that on a general basis, these tend to bend, but not necessarily break.
Don't take me wrong, they do break. So if you aim to be riding very aggressively or in very remote locations, I would definitely advise a backup plan; however, that doesn't necessarily need to be an unbreakable control.
Brands may be stepping on the ball when it comes to adjustability, but on their large majority, foot controls tend to be made out of materials that don't mind being bent back into place.
A tube, a wrench, and even the odd log or rock can usually leverage the control back into a usable position. It will not be perfect, but it will be enough to get you out of where you are.
This being, and as I did before when talking about levers, if you are aiming for a safety plan, take an extra control in your tool kit or strapped onto your frame, and save the money of the unbreakable controls.
In summary, don't fall for marketing stunts and catchy slogans branding their controls as indestructible, aim before anything else for usability, as being able to operate your bike correctly will decrease the number of times you will fall in the first place.