The age ol’ debate that dates back centuries or perhaps even millennia. haha
Should I run flat pedals or clipped pedals?
If you’ve searched on the internet, you will be sure to find reasons to support using one or the other and if you’re a curious mountain biker like me, you’ve probably asked yourself or someone else the following questions:
What are better, flats or clipped pedals?
Should I switch to clipless or flats?
Do clipless pedals make you faster?
Why are clipless pedals called clipless when you are “clipped” in?
Now, let’s answer these questions in the blog post below but first a little background info.
I think for the majority of us, we start with flat pedals because that’s what came on our bike when we purchased our bike. These are typically plastic and cheap but as you go up the price, the design and materials change dramatically. Flat pedals are highly effective and still widely used. Look at the difference between the following two flat pedals.
Now, this flat pedal is an aftermarket pedal that is used by many people. Riders, especially mountain bikers are looking for a wider platform and more grip for rough and rocky descents. I would venture to say that there are more flat pedal mountain bikers than riders that are clipped in.
Pedals with toe clips
These types of pedals are almost extinct. I still see them out there from time to time but they are getting hard to find on bikes. The toe clips and straps secure your foot to the pedal. Why? Riders were looking to get more power transfer onto their drive train. More power transfer equals more speed. The only problem people found with toe clip pedals was that to get your foot out of the toe clips you would have to loosen the straps. This made them inconvenient and are very rarely seen on bikes.
These are the newest pedals around town where both power transfer and foot removal was improved. These pedals are coined clipless. Now, you can visually difference between clipless and clipped shoes. No toe clips and straps.
Now that we can visually see the differences between all three pedals we will try to answer some of the more common questions people have.
Which are better? Flats or clips?
The right answer is that there really isn’t a better pedal. They are both proven designs that work. With that said, they each have their pros and cons. Let’s look at a few:
Pros to flat pedals
Wide platform for comfortable shoe position.
Large real estate where your foot can rest.
Easy to take your foot off and easy to put on.
Shoes made for flat pedals are usually more comfortable than clipless.
Cons to flat pedals
Typically heavier than clipless.
If your foot slips, high change of shin or calf injuries due to pins.
Higher chance of pedal strikes due to large platform.
Feet may become airborne if rider has bad technique.
Foot position may be different every time you ride.
Pros to clipless
Same foot position at all times.
Efficient power transfer.
Can pull up on the crank which increases power transfer.
Foot is always attached to bike. Can help you commit to lines
Cons to clipless
Can be more expensive than flat pedals.
Can reinforce bad technique since foot is attached to the bike.
There is a learning curve to slipping in and out of the pedal. Will need to buy clipless shoes.
Should I ride clipless?
This is an interesting question because no one needs to make the switch. Ride whatever you feel comfortable with but as long as you’re interested in trying something new, then do it! Learning new things and experimenting is what life is all about. For me, I rode flat pedals for four years before I made the switch to clipless pedals. Now, I’m exclusively clipless except for a few rides out of the year.
Do clipless pedals make you faster?
Yes and no. Look at Sam hill. To my knowledge he’s the only professional Enduro rider still riding flat pedals. If he fast? He was Enduro World Champion in 2017 and 2018. So he’s pretty fast. That said, there’s no doubt that clipless pedals improve power transfer. This couldn’t be more true for road riders and cross country riders where efficiency is everything. You won’t see any road or cross country riders on flats.
Some important things to know
Clipless pedals have been associated with knee pain and certain discomforts. Positioning the clip to get the correct spot will be a trial and error type of thing. After all, you do want to be pedaling with the ball of your foot for maximum comfort and efficiency. Also, if it’s your first time on clipless pedals, practice clipping in and out of your pedals on a flat grassy surface. Most clipless pedals will also have a tension screw. This screw dictates how much force you need to apply to the pedal to unclip or clip in. I suggest putting a low tension first.
Riding flat pedals will help vastly with bicycle handling techniques and skills building. That is why, I always recommend using flats for the first year or two. Skills like the bunny hop are essential to learn and master for your mountain biking tool set. Also, making sure your feet are planted on the pedals and heavy footed will improve your bike handling and more specifically traction.
I use both flats and clipless but the last few years I have exclusively been riding clipless. The one thing I love about clipless is that my foot is in the same position every time and the power transfer to the crank. I may not be more efficient as pedaling but mentally, I definitely feel that way.
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