Flats or Clipless: What pedals are best for you?

It is a question that mountain bikers have been asking themselves for a long time, particularly in the last five years when most racers transitioned to clips. Racers that are not only riding in the lycra-clad cross-country scene but those in the world cup downhill scene too. When Aaron Gwin dons a pair of clipless shoes and smashes down Leogang for the win…. the world takes notice.

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Sam Hill’s Nukeproof Mega 275 with the signature flat pedals – Photo Nathan Kennedy (Diall’d Industries)

So if you are reading this, then you have come to the point in your riding career where you have decided to don a pair of clipless shoes and give it a go…..or have you. After all, isn’t it safer on flats? You can’t have the freedom of movement you get on flats when riding clipless, can you? Oh and how do you put your foot out when you are railing a corner flat-out? Why the heck are they called clipless anyway, after all I thought you ‘clipped in’?

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Matt Donnelly putting the flat pedals to work at Boomerang Farm

The Benefits Flat Pedals

Besides being able to say that you are part of the “foot out, flat out’ crew, just like the ’26ers aren’t dead’ crew, there are actually benefits to riding flats. Flats give you the ability to quickly remove your feet and yourself from the bike, before an accident occurs or during a crash. You have ability to shift your foot position and weight more easily with flat pedals and the cornering confidence they give you is unsurpassed, foot out, flat out is truly a benefit. Whilst pedaling efficiency isn’t as good with flat pedals when compared to clipless, Sam Hill doesn’t seem to struggle with speed.

Sam Fraser launching into the abyss, flat pedals are the free rider’s preference

For the beginner learning new skills or the intermediate rider honing your craft, flat pedals provide a platform to be able to improve your skills in the best possible manner. Flat pedals prevent you from using incorrect technique, such as scooping the pedals up for a bunny hop using the cleats on the clipless pedals. They teach you the correct technique, allow for better and more technical progression and inhibit you from skipping ahead of the current level you are performing at. After all, if you can ride well on flats then your technique is on point.

Why ride clipless?

Clipless shoes are vastly different from riding flat pedals, the inability to put your foot down rapidly can leave some riders feeling a little insecure. It is this attribute that is exactly where the benefits of clipless pedals really come into their own for the gravity rider. The fact that your feet will stay attached to the pedals, the bike moves more easily with your feet and body; making the bike and rider feel more fluid and secure. Over rough terrain your feet won’t bounce off the pedals, over big jumps your feet wont wander and on the climbs or flat terrain your pedal efficiency is improved.

All of these benefits come into play when deciding which way to go, which ‘crew’ to join and what pedals to turf on your steed. For the cross-country riders the choice is clear, clipless all the way, but for the gravity rider the choice is a little more muddy. Cornering confidence and the ability to throw the bike away in a crash is a huge win fall when pushing downhill on technical terrain; whilst the security of clipless pedals in a nasty rock garden and better pedal efficiency can be critical for an Enduro Rider.

Which one is right for me?

The age old question that can only be answered by each and every individual rider. After all, we are all different and we all have different riding styles. The proof that flat pedals can win medals is clear with Sam Hill winning back to back EWS Championships. We are still seeing most DH podiums ruled by those in clipless shoes though and the vast majority of pro riders are tossing the flats to the crowd.

Some things… pedals don’t change

Will we see a resurgence of flat pedals or are they a dying style? The reality is that they are coming back harder than ever and the fact is most average everyday riders are choosing flats over clipless each and every time. Which one are you? Here at Brakes Wide Open we are all about the clipless pedals….. or are we? The age old debate continues…..

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