Which Puts the Pedal to the Metal? Flats or Clipless?
For fun (and for TikTok), we ran around the shop asking the staff, “Flat or Clipless pedals?” We heard a variety of different answers for a variety of different reasons. Most of the Enduro mountain bikers said that if you're not riding flats you are going to crash (they’re wrong) while the road and gravel riders stated if you're not riding clipless you won’t be fast (also wrong). The thing is, the best pedal for one person may not be the best pedal for you. So instead of basing your choice off others, you should look into exactly what you want your pedal to do, and how you want it to perform.
Poignantly, our resident gear head Isaac put the benefits of each clearly and concisely, saying “Flats for fun and to build skills, Clipless for performance.” There is more to it but it is a good starting point.
Why Should I Ride Flats?
Flats are the pedals for people who are setting out to build skills and have fun. They are great on the mountain side of things, as you can attempt uphill rock gardens without ever being stuck in your pedals and tipping over. They provide a greater mobility on the bike, and give you a faster option to bail. Flat pedals will be the pedals for people trying to learn how to become great downhill riders, and for those who want to start jumping.
On the Road side of things, there are far less benefits to flats but the benefits are still ever present. Flat pedals will be good for long days in the saddle, when you are less concerned with speed and more concerned with comfort. They are great for people looking to do big touring trips where the emphasis is on mileage.
Flats can also be your go to pedal for short, city trips and for commuting. Wear your work shoes or just some regular tennis shoes, as opposed to specially designed bike shoes. For those riding flat pedals on the mountain or road, as opposed to just commuting, I would recommend you invest in a pair of flat pedal specific shoes, as they will stick to the pedals better than your typical running shoe.
There are some downsides to riding Flat Pedals. They will not provide as much performance as a clipless pedal. You are only able to put power into the cranks while pushing down, whereas with clipless you can apply power at any point of the crank rotation. You are also at risk of slipping a pedal which can cause you to crash, or smack your pedal into your shin.
Why Should I Ride Clipless?
Like flats, there are a multitude of reasons for riding clipless pedals. First and foremost, clipless provides high performance and responsiveness. Since the pedals are attached to your feet, you are able to apply power to your cranks at any point in the crank rotation.
All cross-country mountain bike and road/gravel racers will be running clipless exclusively in races. There is simply added power transfer and responsiveness that you would not get on a flat pedal. Clipless allows you to jump and bunny-hop more easily, just by pulling up on the pedals, but if you are trying to get good at these skills it is more beneficial to use flats for practice.
On the road and gravel, clipless pedals are great for riding because, as opposed to mountain biking, you are at a constant rhythm and are typically on the bike for longer periods without breaks. Having your feet be clipped in is great as your feet stay in the same position and once your fit is dialed it becomes more comfortable.
Clipless does have some downsides. If you get stuck in your pedals, you will tip over and embarrass yourself in front of your riding partners or others (we´ve all done it). Your feet and ankles can get sore and hot spots can occur due to being in a constant position all day long. If you are doing a ride where you need to keep getting on and off, it can be a hassle clipping in and clipping out plus walking around in shoes with cleats is no fun. You can’t ride clipless pedals without clipping in because they do not provide a sufficient platform
- High power transfer
- Able to apply power anywhere on the crank rotation
- Keep your feet in the same, constant position
- More responsive
- Able to jump and bunny-hop more easily
- Can lead to soreness due to constant position
- Have to use cycling specific shoes
- You may tip over and embarrass yourself
- Generally more expensive
- Good versatility
- High mobility
- Good for building skills
- Able to wear whatever shoes
- More comfortable
- More affordable
- Lower performance
- Risk of slipping a pedal
- Risk of smacking your shin
Clipless and flat pedals will both be great options for riding, the key is figuring out exactly which ones would work best for you. If you still have questions, or want to get our advice, give us a call and we will be happy to help. You can also send us an email or chat with us through our website. Our goal is to help every rider individually and provide a personalized experience, so do not hesitate to reach out.