When selling a mountain bike or simply talking upgrades with customers, one of the most common topics we cover is pedals. Pedals can be a tad tricky to choose: first there are myriad of brands and models many of which have fairly specific biking purposes. Second, there are two major camps in the mountain biking world which can be occasionally fanatical; the clipless vs. flat pedal crowd. But what we’d like to point out that at the end of the day we don’t feel one is better than the other, both have their distinct advantages, and the key is finding the right solution for your needs.
Clipless pedals is one of the one of the more confusing terms in the bike industry, as they are the pedals with specific shoes and cleats which clip into the pedal. For clarity sake we often refer these at Start Haus simply as “clip-ins” when discussing pedal options with customers. The term “clipless” derives from the pedals with straps around the foot, which were referred to as “toe clips” (not a pedal option we will be discussing). With the advent of cleats and a mechanical pedal, the “clipless” pedal was born. Flat pedals do not clip in in any way; they most often rely on pins on the pedal and tacky shoes for traction.
Getting into these differences, those in the pro clip-in category will often cite an efficiency advantage while climbing. In short with the pedal attached to the shoe the cleat is pulling with the upstroke of the crank, an advantage one does not have with flat pedals. It turns out its been a bit tough to quantify the precise energy advantage that clips have over flats, but arguably there is a slight benefit there. Also, with clip pedals you’re feet are literally clipped to the pedal; this creates a super stable platform for the rider to push on, pump and ride. Many of those who have been riding clips for a while have become reliant upon being so connected to the pedal, and when riding flat pedals they may not like the feeling of their foot coming off the pedal or moving in any way.
For years flat pedals were generally used by downhillers, BMXers, and beginning mountain bikers. The last few years have seen a flat pedal renaissance. Flat pedals allow the rider to get a foot off the pedal very quickly. Second, a flat peal rider has a much greater platform to stand on, which can be a big advantage when hitting jumps, pumping berms, and generally riding freeride terrain. One last advantage to note that flats have over clip pedals is when the foot has been removed from the pedal it is much easier to get the foot into position than with clips.
It must be mention that flat pedals are reliant upon the combination of a good pair of pedals and high quality bike shoes. Good flats are generally low profile (meaning they are thin) to reduce pedal strikes. Good flats have quality pins to keep the foot in place, which are generally replaceable if they get bashed on rocks. High quality shoes have high friction rubber and a flat stiff sole. The sole should be stiff to absorb impact and create a tough surface to connect to the pedal.
As far as shop employee preferences go, those who started and kept with flats ride flats; those who are clipless veterans ride clips. If you’ve been riding clips and never felt comfortable or never got used to them, join the dark side and try a good pair of flats!
We really don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to the flat vs. clipless debate. Our experience has shown that flat pedals do not hold you back on climb-intensive rides or even pure XC bike rides. Like most things in life, the correct answer is based on one’s expectation of the product’s performance and your preference. But what we are sure of is our ability to help you find just the right pedals for your mountain bike! We carry top pedal manufacturers like Race Face, Spank, VP Components, Issi, and Xpedo as well as great bike shoes from Five10 and Pearl Izumi. Call the shop or come on by to check out the selection.