Clipped In vs. Flat Pedals

Flat pedals vs. clipped in

I get some version of the following question at least once a month and as I have continued to ride and learn my feelings on this subject have evolved.

I do have a question, I’ve only been riding for 3 months, at what point do you think I should get clips? I’m not sure I am ready for them but I notice the people I ride with are all clipped in and they are so much faster than me. Is that a big factor in speed?


This is a great question.  First you never have to get clipless pedals.  Clipless pedals (the ones you clip into) are simply a different way of doing things, barely better in some ways, not as good in other ways.  I have heard from students who say that their local shop told them they need clipless pedals and nothing could be further from the truth.  A good set of flat pedals and sticky soled shoes is a better system for many riders.

Yes, I usually ride clipped in but it took me a lot of time to get used to clipping in and out and a lot of time to get used to riding clipped in.  The more I ride, coach and learn the more I see the advantages of flat pedals.  I have been riding flat pedals the last few weeks and each day I like them more.

Pros of running flat pedals

1. More Confidence! You can take your feet off quickly and easily making trying technical sections and learning important skills like track standing easier. I have a lot of friends who always ride flat pedals (for cross country riding) and like being able to put a foot down at will.  They say this enables them to try more technical moves and sections (especially going uphill) that they would be to scared to try clipped in.

2. Less fear for many riders (which allows the rider to stay in their comfort zone and relax!).  Fear and learning do not mix, you can not learn when scared.  Muscle Tension (which fear produces) and riding do not mix well either.

3. Flat pedals provide more feedback, giving you an idea of how you are riding. Because you are not attached to the pedals if you are riding stiff and relying on your suspension to soak up the bumps (instead of using your body) you will notice that your feet bounce all over the pedals. This is a sign that you should be more relaxed and supple on the trail.

4. Flat pedals don’t allow you to cheat when doing lifting maneuvers such as rear wheel lifts and bunny hops. This can be valuable when learning proper technique.

Pros of being clipped in:
1. I like clips for the “attached” to my bike feel (although they have made me less smooth because of this). When you foot lands with the heel on the pedal (instead of the ball of your foot) you lose the use of your ankle (which is a big part of your shock absorption) and you start plowing into the trail instead of floating smoothly.  So being attached to your pedal keeps you on the ball of your foot no matter how stiff you ride.

2. Being clipped does make pedaling a little more efficient.  Again let me repeat myself, a little more efficient, there have been no studies done that I know of.  If pedaling at 100% efficient vs. 99 or 98% efficient is more important to you than having a little more confidence clipped in might be for you. Remember, being efficient on mountain biking is more than just pedaling, smoothness, cornering ability and confidence will also help you become more efficient.

3. Being clipped in encourages you to corner with correct technique and body position and keep your feet on the pedals (usually when you take a foot off your pedals you end up in an out of balance position often causing a slide out). World Champion Greg Minnaar always uses clips when racing in the mud for this reason. He said in one of my camps, “with flat pedals you take your foot out instinctively, often when you don’t need to”.

Which pedal type should you use?  Experiment!  find which pedal system you fill most comfortable on and confident riding on.

After 18 years of riding clipped in 99% of the time I starting to really enjoy being unclipped!

42 replies
  1. dan roberts
    dan roberts says:

    Old fashioned toe cages with straps can be quite effective too. Strap em tight on the road and leave the straps loose for quick exit on the technical stuff. Even with the straps loose they will still keep your foot from bouncing off the pedal when you forget to stand on your feet.

  2. Michael Yares
    Michael Yares says:

    Hey Gene, Dana and I converted to flats over two years ago and we don’t plan on going back. I had been on every type of pedal known to me but bebops. I used to swear by my Speedplays.

    I am glad to hear you advising new riders to avoid the hype. I even single speed on flats (no intentions of fixies thought).

    It would be cool to have you do a clinic in the Bay Area.

    Nice work on the clinics!

  3. Gene
    Gene says:

    Hi Michael,

    Good on ya. Not sure if I will stay on flats but the more I ride the super thin Canfield Pedals the more I like them.

    Should be in the Bay area soon. My brother lives there and I do two or three camps a year there.

  4. Beth
    Beth says:

    I’ve been riding for almost 10 years and switched to clipless about a year into my riding. I rode in the grass to get used to them. One thing for sure, you will fall. I just made sure that I was on easy rides until I got really used to them. The clip on my shoes is one that i can pull straight out of if I need too. I’m not sure where you can find them but they are out there. So instead of having to make sure I twist my shoe out of the clip, I can pull straight out. I also have them on the loosest setting. I know. I know. Sometimes my shoe comes out when I am pulling up but it’s worth it to me to know I can unclip quickly if I need to. I am 53 and not wanting to break any bones so I take it pretty easy.

    Take care,
    Nice site,

  5. Mike Bielas
    Mike Bielas says:

    I have been riding for 10+ years off and on but riding more lately. I have ridden mostly with flats but I broke down last year and bought clipless and rode them for about a year. I got fairly comfortable riding with them even on moderately difficult single track. However, I totally agree with the pro once I got used to them the bike almost became part of me and my pedaling did get more efficient. But, on more techinical sections especially where I had to go very slow I became very nervious and it totally ruined my ride. Now I am back to riding flats and my comfort level is back up. I am sticking with flats. It allows me more mental control and smoother riding and I am more confident to try sections that I would not try clipped in.

  6. Sean Bryson
    Sean Bryson says:

    I’ve been riding clipped in for a couple years now and just love it. I have the pedals that are clipless on one side and flat on the other and climbed the same hill both ways. Flat first then clipped in and I can honestly say that I climb in a higher gear and faster clipped in. Being able to pull up while my weight pushes down is a huge benefit for climbing hills. I won’t argue the flat versus clipless, to each their own. Clipless just works for me better. Either way, keep on riding!!!

  7. Max Davis
    Max Davis says:

    I’ve been mountain biking for 25 years now, the last 10+ of those years with SPD pedals. I wear very stiff, carbon fiber soled shoes. This combination gives me more confidence in technical sections, because I’m connected to my bike in a way that I never was with flat pedals. Small adjustments in my body position translate directly to my bike. It also gives me more power when I need it, as I can pull up quite hard on the pedals and know that energy is going to my drivetrain. Don’t get me wrong, this level of confidence didn’t happen over night. It took many years and many crashes to become comfortable with clipless pedals. That being said, I should add that with my cruisers and bmx bikes, I only use flat pedals without toe clips. There is a comfort factor there…riding in traffic or on a bmx track…that disallows the use of clipless pedals. Basically, I believe that a person should try everything and decide for themselves what makes them more comfortable and happy. After all, happiness is what riding a bike is all about.

  8. Chad
    Chad says:

    Like Sean I have the dual pedals, clipless on one side and flats on the other. I love them! For me they are by far the best combination for being clipped in in moderate sections and climbing and then having the choice of un-clipping in more technical sections.

  9. Macsamillion
    Macsamillion says:

    Friends, please consider these comments. Clipless pedals are more efficient. There are three times more muscle in your legs that can pull up than can push down. If you commit yourselves to working on your stroke, you will get smoother. It generally takes one fall to get used to riding with clipless pedal; that’s all it took me twenty years ago. I ride super technical stuff I have never worried about not getting my foot out fast enough, my foot knows what to do.

    As for no study ever having been done on pedaling dynamics. Aerovironment did one in 1980 in preparation for winning the second Kramer Prize—human powered aircraft crossing the English Channel—it couldn’t have been done without being clipped in.

    All my bikes have clipless pedals, beach cruiser, down hill, cross country, tandem, and my commuter.

    • Gene
      Gene says:

      Hi Macs,

      Wow, what an interesting opinion you have. Did you read the article that you commented on? It said, “Their study established that mechanical effectiveness is greatly enhanced by using the “pull up” technique; it ranked higher on an effectiveness index than pedaling circles, self selected or ‘stomping’ the pedals. Gross efficiency, on the other hand, was significantly lower using this technique. It took more energy to use the ‘pull up’ technique than to simply pedal in circles or stomp. Unfortunately, Korff et al, didn’t delve into the efficacy of the trade off. Is it worth the decreased efficiency to get the greater effectiveness?”

      So actually pulling up is less efficient than not doing so (according to the only scientific study I could find). It is more powerful though which can come in handy on steep climbs/moves even if it is less efficient. That it one reason I have used clipless pedals for the last 18 years.

      I am impressed that you only took one fall on clipless then mastered it! I fell 47 times on my first ride on clipless pedals (the last time on to a cactus!). From asking the approx. 1,500 students I have coached many say they have been riding clipped in for years but still feel uncomfortable and often unclip one foot when things get a little sketchy. So telling people to just go over and ride clipless isn’t the most responsible thing. Glad to hear it works for you as it does for me but Sam Hill and Nathan Rennie are much better riders than either of us and they prefer flat pedals. In the end it comes down to ones goals and personal preferences.

  10. Rich Andrews
    Rich Andrews says:

    The clips vs flats argument is like Macs vs PCs. I started out with baskets, quickly ditched those and went to flats for a short time. I would slip off occasionally, probably due to poor flats and shoes that weren’t soft enough to provide enough grip. I bought some clipless to see if I would like them and it just clicked for me. It took me a little while to set the tension right but now it feels very natural to twist my foot to release and I can do it very quickly so I never feel nervous, even riding like a mountain goat on a steep technical descent. Everyone thought it was very funny while I was honing in on the proper spring tension as I came to a stop and tried to wriggle out of them and fell to the ground like the guy on the tricycle on Laugh In! It’s all personal preference.

  11. Lee
    Lee says:

    Hey Gene, Dana and I converted to flats over two years ago and we don’t plan on going back. I had been on every type of pedal known to me but bebops. I used to swear by my Speedplays.

    I am glad to hear you advising new riders to avoid the hype. I even single speed on flats (no intentions of fixies thought).

    It would be cool to have you do a clinic in the Bay Area.

    Nice work on the clinics!

  12. Dario Sartori
    Dario Sartori says:

    I use the Shimano pedals that are a flat “campus” pedal on one side and SPD on the other side. I really like them. I have a bad knee and it is just no quite as strong as the right knee so it helps having the good knee clipped in as it can pull while the bad knee tries to push. However in a tecnical situation where I am not too sure, I can unclip either one or both feet and run the flat side. They do take a bit to get used to as you have to make sure they are in the correct orientation, but you get used to it. Also i set the SPD clips to the weakest setting, with this I get the clipping effect but can still get unclipped easily, actually with a strong yank I can come unclipped if needed.

  13. Julie
    Julie says:

    I started out on flats, then eventually switched to clipless pedals. I never got used to them. First of all, the ones I bought were really hard to get out of! (Time Z’s). I just noticed that all the places that I used to ride comfortably all of a sudden I was slowing down, and tensing up and becoming fearful. My husband suggested “Just unclip one foot to give you more confidence”. But that just sucked, because then my unclipped foot had no traction on the pedal with that metal clip sticking out and bounced my foot around. I gave it a go for a good couple of months, but I was just sick of feeling like my technical skills were lagging in them. So, I chucked ’em. I’ve been riding flats for the past 3 years, and I am totally happy, and I am nowhere near the slowest of my peers riding up steep hills. I even race cross-country in them, and I ride my cyclocross bike in them… on the road. 🙂 (OK, maybe I will switch to clipless on the CX bike on the road…)

    One thing I found though: The 510 freeride shoes have a great sticky sole, but they have no arch support. I found that I started getting knee problems right after I started using them. I went back to using tried & true Specialized Taho’s, and the knee problems went away. Pretty weird – but what can I say? You just have to listen to your intuition, do what works, and not listen to what anyone else says.

  14. Todd Hoffman
    Todd Hoffman says:

    Like many, I started on clips and straps for a year or so then dove into SPD’s and never went back. I have stuffed the front wheel on a descent and mysteriously leap-frogged over the bars and ran ahead of my cartwheeling bike without even thinking about how my feet came out of the pedals. I run them pretty tight too. I also know many really strong riders who run platforms all the time. Since I’m so comfortable with SPD’s I can rationalize their use, but there is still a logical element here. What holds your back foot on a platform pedal on its upstroke? You guessed it! Downward pressure. Even if “pulling up” is less efficient, the issue is “NOT pushing down” which is logically more efficient. The only time I really pull up my back foot is on a steep climb with my single speed. On non-technical XC sections I routinely spin the cranks – not really pulling up or pushing down and opposing the down stroke. Over distance this certainly adds up. I can also think of some local rides here in PA where the entire ride is so technical that there would be no opportunity to gain any spinning advantage. That’s where you will find the strong platform riders I refer to. I guess a lot of the preference comes from where you ride as well.

  15. F. Felix
    F. Felix says:

    I’m on spiked platforms after many years on clipless, & toe-clips before that. Platforms rock for all the reasons mentioned.

    One advantage of platform pedals that hasn’t been mentioned, is that the shoes are far more effective when things get really technical and it comes time to get off & hike-a-bike.

    Those squishy soles are basically climbing rubber, so they stick to steep slickrock like lizard toes. No more skittering around, gouging the rock with slippery cleats, above an abyss.

  16. Justin Kinkade
    Justin Kinkade says:

    I have used flats ever since I was a kid riding BMX. I always laughed at my friends with clips, falling over at a standstill but they all raved about the control and extra power in the upswing. I tried going clipless last year and it was terrible. I gave it a month and then sold shoes/pedals. Like Julie I was riding scared. It changed the way I rode and I didnt like it. I was falling in areas I never fell in before and taking injuries more than ever before. I was using crank brothers/egg beaters and have heard they are not as easy to get out of. The day I got rid of the clipless was amazing. I felt so good and free. Whatever benefit I was getting from pedeling with clips was minimal. When the ship is going down, I get off! Don’t buy the hype that clips are needed.

  17. Paul
    Paul says:

    Moved to Santa Barbara six months ago. Trails here are way technical, steep, rocks are big, and exposures to cliffs and ravines are common. I just switched to platforms (and 5.10’s) and so far I’m stoked. I’m way more confident climbing and descending and my bike-handling skills are improving. And I’m learning to be better on the bike. If I go back to clips, I’ll ride smoother and more balanced, know how to jump the bike, manual, and so on better. I think Todd makes a good point about where you ride – before I moved here I was riding New Jersey woods and never thought of switching to platforms.

  18. Nick
    Nick says:

    I am 17 years old and have started seriously mountain biking recently. I have biked for my whole life but only on simple trails with flat pedals. I got clipless about a year ago and have found they work great. I ride moderate trails such as Daley Ranch and Elfin Forest in Southern California. I started with the normal Shimano pedals that are just a little knob on the end of the axle, but after going to their new trail pedals with the fixed metal cage around it, I have been able to bring my riding to a new level. Since they are single direction release, the tension settings can be kept low so if you get in a tight spot, your natural reaction to pull your foot off the pedal sideways toward the ground will easily let you get out. The cage lets you ride unclipped on them (even with the carbon soled racing shoes like I have) and they keep rocks from knocking you out of your clips. I would really recommend getting a pair of them and giving it a shot.

  19. Tom
    Tom says:

    This is true. I have Shimano SPD shoes and one side of my pedals is SPD.
    I rode a time or two clipped in and the next time while stopped on a trail I
    went to snap out and the connection jammed. I fell over right there next to
    a friend and couldn’t get up. The show was jammed onto the pedal I
    ended up riding back down some 1,200 ft. to my garage using my sock on
    top of the shoe. I ended up putting a 2X4 into my shoe to pry the thing off.
    I know this is some kind of a fluke (and it would happen to me!). This was
    some 10 years ago. Needless to say I’m psyched out on clip and ride flat.
    That said, I’ve learned there’s a certain amount of pulling up possible even
    riding flat pedals.

  20. Lindsey
    Lindsey says:

    Haha, reading everyone’s stories about clipless- I had forgotten about the learning curve. I started on them almost the same time I started riding. First couple sets were eggbeater variety. Man had I got myself in some situations because of those. Everything from forgetting to clip out before stopping (bike stopped, I couldn’t get a foot out and just slo-mo fell over sideways) to getting pinned against trees or falling facing downhill with the bike over me- both of which gravity prevented unclipping without help from my husband. I went to adjustable float pedals. I keep them super loose so the only thing thy do is keep my foot from slipping forward or back but up or out there’s virtually no resistance at all. Seems to be a happy medium for me. I tried flats in there somewhere and just didn’t feel safe I guess. But I do agree, if you’re a blank slate, starting on flats is probably better so you don’t come to rely on clipless. That’s kinda what happened to me, I’m trying to put flats on the bike here and there to ease into at least using them correctly. It’s weird though, I keep catching myself twisting my foot to come off the flat 🙂 muscle memory I guess.

  21. Dorsey
    Dorsey says:

    Great discussion here! I guess I’m kind of odd because I actually started riding clipless pedals because of BMX. I had experience with them from road riding and then my kids and I got into BMX. When I first started riding BMX I rode on flats of course but I always seemed to “slip” a pedal here or there(gashing my shins in some cases) in every moto and finishing at the back of the pack. Most of the top riders at that time were using clipless pedals so I gave them a try. I instantly went from the “back of the pack” to the front and basically never looked back. Riding clipless in BMX, I needed to have them adjusted pretty tight too or I would pull out of them on the gate, and IMO on the gate in BMX is where 90% of BMX races are won or lost, and also IMO where clipless pedals are a huge advantage because of the power you can generate on the upswing of your pedals. Don’t get me wrong I crashed hard several times “connected” to the bike but this was just the nature of the beast. A couple of times these crashes were “loop outs” that if I had been riding flats might not have happened? But there were also several near crashes and actual crashes that happened because of slipping pedals when I rode flat pedals. As I transitioned from BMX into MTB’ing I felt very comfortable riding clipless pedals. I do not adjust them really tight as I did in BMX so there really are not very many situations that I get into that I cannot get out of them. I have also always used clipless pedals that have a platform with clips on either side of the pedal. I have the minimal clipless pedals on my road bike and admit I would never want to ride with them on the trail. The platform type clipless pedals just seem easier for me to get in and out of? Once on a ride in NC I was forced to ride “unclipped” for several miles because the trail crossed a waist deep stream so many times all the lubrication was washed from everything and it was extremely difficult to clip in or out and I kept falling over trying to get out in certain situations, but this was a rare occurrence that did not even make me think about riding flats again. I just feel more in control and connected to my bike riding clipless? When I ride a bike with flats is when I feel apprehensive in touchy situations because I don’t feel “connected” or as “in control” as when I am clipped in. So my question is… are you saying that if I ride flats for awhile that it will make me a better rider in the future when I am clipped in? Or are you saying that my ultimate goal should be to totally wean myself off of clipless pedals when I’m MTB’ing?

    • Gene
      Gene says:

      Hi Dorsey,

      Glad you like the discussion. No, we don’t want you to only ride flat
      pedals, Andy and I both ride clipped in for xc/all-mountain riding and
      I and many world Champs downhill clipped in. Andy was just explaining
      that my riding flats every now and then you may find flaws in your
      technique (like yanking up on the pedals to lift the rear wheel or not
      being smooth) and be able to improve them. As long as you are
      confident on clipless pedals there is absolutely nothing wrong with

      Create a great ride,


  22. Susan
    Susan says:

    Hi Gene, I would like to get flat pedals and shoes for my mountain bike. I just started riding last year and I was wearing sneakers or trail shoes. I am terrified to clip in and am not interested in learning, but I would like to try flat pedals. Can you recommend both the pedal and shoe? Thanks! Susan

  23. Kate
    Kate says:

    been following these blogs and just got a pair of the Canfield Bros Ultimate flats, I love them, had the best ride of my life, granted I have never ridden clipped in, but these flats are the berries, and anyone riding any other flats should get these, I rode with my Keen’s, worked great. Someone needs to pump these big time in New England, not one shop owner knew what I was talking about, got them as a gift for being the best trail boss at the 24 hours of Great Glen, thanks for all of your input on these flats

  24. Dorsey
    Dorsey says:

    Hey Gene,
    An update here…I bought a pair of 5/10’s and a set of Blackspire Flats. They came in and they set in my room for a month or so. I was actually kind of scared to try them. But then I went to my local trail here about a month ago and one of my high $ shimano clipless pedals just came right off the shaft. So I finally had the “opportunity” to make myself try out the flats. It was definatly not an instant “love” relationship. I kind of felt like I was learning to ride all over again. But now after about 3-4 weeks on them I have really grow to like them. In the last week I have made major progress and feel much more comfortable on them. As you probably know I was one of those people that thought I was really getting all kinds of power on the upstroke pulling up on my clipless pedals. But now I know that is really not the case, there are a few instances where you might but in most cases you get the same efficiency on the flats that you get being clipped in while MTB’ing. I’m going to Colorado Springs next week and I’m taking both sets of pedals…but the flats are going on first and I’m gonna ride Capt Jacks and see how they feel. I shipped my Stumpy FSR 29er today so I pulled my Prophet out and said WTH and took the clips off, put some flats on it and went and rode my local trail. I think I’m gettin hooked…!!! I’m feeling much more comfortable than I ever thought I would!
    I have to also give James Wilson 1/2 the credit but thank you both for opening my mind!

  25. Rass
    Rass says:

    Hi guys,
    I also went from clipless to flats and from day one I felt the confidence – a lot more fun to ride. Every time I met a technical climb I concentrated on how to get out – those days are over! I mostly ride XC-trails with smaller technical climbs and lon curvy streches. The only thing that bothers me is that riders with clipless ride faster than me, riders whom i used to be on level with – speeding wise. They are faster in the uptake and on longer straight flows. I, on the other hand make the smaller climbs before they do and I’m much faster on descents.
    Why are they faster is it the saddle position, the length of the seat post (position), technique or just pure and simple – lack of power:). I have a pair of Answer pedals combined with 5/10 impact boots which are quiet heavy too. I ride the Rocky Mountain Altitude 90 RSL (fantastic climber).

    • Gene
      Gene says:

      Hi Rass,

      Glad you are riding with more confidence and having more fun after your switch to flat pedals and 5.10 shoes!

      As to why your friends are faster on the climbs and flats could be many factors, many that you mentioned, fitness, better seat placement, lighter, stiffer shoes, lighter bikes, it is tough to say. I have yet to see a study that proves that clipless pedals are faster and definitely have quite a few friends who ride flat pedals that can out pedal me when I am clipped in. The important thing is you are more confident and having more fun. If it is important for you to be faster than your friends on the flats and climbs, train harder!

      Create your best ride yet,


  26. Jack
    Jack says:

    right now I ride wellgo wam d-10 dowmnhill dual pedals. spd one side platform other. soon to get maltes falcoln 5/10 but current pear shoe does same thing. clipping in is easy. too easy.makes climbing easy.but ever corner clipped in and the instinct to dab is hamper? i am convinced platform will allways out corner clipped in. even with no dab because i can position better and free er. a 10 year old child knows this. it takes a smart adult to unlearn even tho i like my set up you could could give me canfield platforms and coach me but im not a fan of egg beaters.sure i ride better clipped in now but they dont make me better. befor clip in i could bunny hop and jump small on platforms. not now. clip ins programmed me so if i forget shoes sure i just ride platform but my feet leave the pedals.i haved to be clipped in to jump! ouch. bad habit. I dont know “Jack”shtuff (altho in this case I am Jack he he)but i watch this 12 year old kid dirt jump the bejesus over any adult in my neighborhood and he makes me look like santa clause and the easter bunny! i would trade in my silly pedals and clipping in for ever to have what that kid i signed up for camp..

    • edjack
      edjack says:

      so now after 18 months + I look at this old post of mine, the dual pedals are on my road bike now, and diety flats on trail and dh bike .and the 12 year old? still out jumps me but he could not corner his way out of a wet paper bag. problably could lap him on both xc and dh. thankx to betteride camp and much work over 15 months

  27. RK
    RK says:

    I ride both types of pedals on both my road and mountain bikes. All of my clipless pedals were/are SPD, and I have ridden wiith maybe four types of flats. Which I use between clipless or flats just depends on how I feel. The flat pedals I use off-road are always BMX style, and on-road either a “touring lite” cage or “Lambda” style. I have used dual sided pedals on road rides and have tried to judge whether I am faster cliped in or riding on the flats, and I don’t think there is an appreciable difference. If you have been told for decades that clipless will make you “more efficient” then you are going to think they are great. If you have watched BMX park and dirt, you are going to scratch your head when someone says you have more control on clipless, or that you can’t “use the upstroke” using flat pedals. How do you think BMX riders control their bikes in flips if there is no control? How do I manage to lift my pedal when stopped at traffic lights? Not by pulling up but by pushing straight forward. You can’t beat the convenience of riding with flats, but I had clipless on my road bike until a coupl of hours ago. Since I don’t race and don’t care about being a cycling fashionista, the choice is more arbitrary than based on any “logical” considerations. Sometimes clipless is fun but I often prefer flats.

  28. Greg Everett
    Greg Everett says:

    Great discussion – now a few years old, but I’ll add my two cents. I worked my tail off to get comfortable with clipless when I first starting riding my full suspension bike. This was after years of road racing with clipless. I crashed many times, experienced much frustration, but finally figured it out and loved it. I thought it was the ultimate. But bought a BMX bike a couple of years ago and saw what the most amazing bike handlers are doing without being clipped in. I’ve since learned to jump the bmx bike and keep my feet on the pedals. That was very confidence inspiring for both mtb and cx while clipped in. But I recently bought a pair of flats for my mtb and rode my favorite flowy trail (Hall Ranch – Antelope & Nelson Loop near Lyons, CO). What I didn’t expect to see was how much more fun the ride was. I was bombing down runs, catching air in places I never had before – WOW, it was a blast. And I could only attribute to the fantastic connection you get with the bike having that big platform pedal contacting such a large area on your shoe. I feel so much more in control than ever before. I was fine on technical uphills and downhills and ripped it going downhill. I could tell that the long uphills were a little bit more difficult than with clipless, but not so much that it was a problem. So I am 50 and pretty much thought I would always be clipped in, but now I may only use clips for long rides with smooth trails – wait, no, I’ll ride my CX bike clipped in for those. When I’ve got a rocky, technical mountain bike trail, I’ll use the flats.


    Thanks for an interesting discussion. I ride both flats and clips depending on the ride… Mostly clips near home since where there’s lots of climbing and not much super technical stuff. I break out the flats when I ride in new places, and for more technical rides. And when I want to remind myself how to bunny or vert-lift without “cheating.”
    I’m surprised your podcast didn’t include more about the training effect of the subtle differences between pedaling styles. I tend to ride platforms slightly further forward on the pedals, and definitely feel a different engagement in the hamstrings and calves, even though I think I keep a pretty smooth stroke. Thoughts?

    • Gene
      Gene says:

      You should always stand on the ball of your foot for balance, shock absorption and control. You foot should be in the same position on flats and clips.

      • Gillian
        Gillian says:

        Hi there! I don’t know if anyone is still around this comments section, but here goes: I just switched to flats after riding with clipless since 1994! I had some years off the bike after my kid was born, and moved to a place where the riding was very technical, and more obstacles and bridges than I’d ever encountered in my life. Anyway, my foot automatically wants to be more “mid-foot” on the pedal than I am in my SPD’s. When pedaling on the flats or down hill, I can down more, and when climbing in a mid foot position, I can point my foot down on the way to the upstroke and get some pedal power through the upstroke. This is what James Wilson recommends as well. I am certainly not trying to pit anyone’s theories and or ideas against the other, I am just wondering the “why’s” of why you recommend a more ball of the foot position? Thanks!

        • Gene
          Gene says:

          Hi Gillian,

          Great question and I think the answer is in the article but I will answer it again. Standing on your instep takes away your biggest shock absorber, your ankles! Jump up and land on your heels or flat footed then jump up and land on the balls of your feet, you will find the second landing is much smoother. Then ride into a rock garden on your instep then a second time on the balls of your feet. Again balls of your feet will be much smoother.



  30. Dave Diamond
    Dave Diamond says:

    Helpful! Thx. I just put 250 bucks in Teva shoes and CB Mallet pedals two weeks ago. 12 or so crashes and some blood spilled have me here – I climb amazingly better. I live by a college track with a big climb and a 2 mile single track loop that I ride daily. I can climb sections I have never been able to before – unless I stall – then I wreck cause I’m pushing so hard on the pedals I can get unclipped. I had a big fall today. I never wreck when I’m not standing up and really baring down on the pedals – as I can easily unclip. I there a secret to using the pedals to go up really steep climbs and still be able to unclip when you stall?

    If I don’t solve this I’m going to relegate the Teva and Mallets to a road bike which is not what they were designed for but at least I will get use out of them. I’m 42 and very healthy and don’t want to break or tear something trying to learn how to use this tool on the technical stuff that I enjoy most.

  31. edjack
    edjack says:

    interesting because my sidi shoes have cleet too far forward for how I ride because it jacks my ankle.but i don’t clip in anymore exept road . clipped in crashes are worse . I am not a mtb expert but before camp i was a crashing expert. because of my bad habits i was faced with having to tighten them. now on flats on my remedy 7 I could ride instep though I never do. but on my 2014 glory which is lower(unnecessary change cuz greg m beat them with a 14 1/4 bb and they will not beat him because of a 13 3/4 bb) well on my glory I put them where gene says exactly because if I don’t it will break my toes when my toes hit the ground. clip vs flats depends on rider goals. since I am not trying to go pro, I can live without the plantar faciitis and ride flats. once I took camp and switched to flats the plantar fasciitis was gone. problem with my thoughts tho is they aren’t as true for a higher level rider. i am 50

  32. Michael
    Michael says:

    Good article. When I first started out in the early 90’s, I road with those flat pedals that looked like they had metal teeth on them. After smashing my shins over and over again, I moved to cages. After riding cages for years and wiping out at least once a ride because of them (trying to get your foot in them starting from a dead stop and rolling downhill = not good). After one nasty crash, I immediately left the trails, went to the local bike shop and had them put on clipless pedals and I purchased the shoes. Road the back streets for a day or two to get used to them, then hit the trails.

    Now I maybe wipe out about once every 30 rides or so. I find being clipped in helps me feel connected to the bike in a way that when my bike gets squirrely on a tough section, I ride through it, where as I probably would have bailed halfway through if I was not clipped in.

    Maybe I will try flats again (sorry shins), but for now I will stay clipless.

    Again, Great Article Gene!


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