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!