Flat pedals vs Clipless pedals

Pedals make two out of the five main contact points on your bike (the other three being the handlebar grips and saddle). When it comes to choosing a set of pedals for your bike, your options fall within two main categories: flat (also known as “platform”) pedals, or clipless (also known as “clip-in”) pedals. Nearly all beginner cyclists begin their journey in the world of cycling on flat pedals. They’re safe, easy to use and require to prior practice. Many cyclists eventually switch to one of the several varieties of clipless pedals (more on that below). The topic of flat vs clipless pedals has also turned into something of a polarizing debate in certain circles, especially among mountain bikers.

In this article we look at the main differences between flat and clipless pedals, and discuss the pros and cons of each type with emphasis on which would be more appropriate to specific discipline of cycling.

Flat pedals:

What’s great about flat pedals?

Flat pedals are super easy to use. Once fitted to any bike, you just need to hop on, put your feet on the pedal and on you go! No special shoes are required. That does not mean that all flat pedals are equal. Mountain bike flat pedals have pins in them that greatly improve the grip at the interface between the shoes and the pedals, which decreases the likelihood of your foot coming off especially on rough off-road terrain.

Using flat pedals also encourages you to hone your fundamental riding skills. If you move to clipless pedals too early, it becomes hard to master those essential skills because they become either too easy (you can easily “cheat” by lifting your rear wheel while clipped in) or too difficult to do when your foot is mechanically attached to the pedals. Learning on flats forces you to master riding skills without the risk, or the additional assistance, of having your feet clipped in.

Finally, any shoe will do! While mountain-bike specific shoes with a special type of sticky rubber sole will significantly enhance the stability of your footing on the pedals, there are no cleats or cleat positions to fiddle with. If you have not invested in a pair of flat pedals shoes yet, your old pair of running shoes will do for now!

What’s not so great about flat pedals?

Remember those pins we that keep your feet stuck to the pedals?  They are often made out of sharp metal and, if you haven’t quite mastered your off-road riding skills yet and your foot does come off and the pedal comes in contact with your shin it can be quite a painful experience!

Unless you have a perfect pedal stroke, flat pedals will not offer the optimum pedalling efficiency because the ‘dead zone” in your pedal stroke will be further amplified. Then again, a clean pedal stroke is one of those skills best practiced on flat pedals, because they expose the flaw in your technique and allow you to work on it further.

Clipless pedals:

What’s great about clipless pedals?

Clipless pedals mechanically attach your shoes to the pedals by means of a cleat on the sole of your shoe and a spring mechanism on the pedal body. This makes for a very secure attachment, and the benefits are many: it becomes easier to maintain a higher pedalling cadence, you have a more secure footing over rough terrain with reduced risk of pedal slip, and – assuming that your cleat position is done right and you have the correct bike fit – your feet are always in the right position. You don’t need to wiggle your feet for optimum positioning every time you remove a foot from the pedal or remount the bike.

What’s not so great about clipless pedals?

Clipless pedals have a steep learning curve compared to flats. There is no getting around this fact. You have to take your time practicing clipping in and out before you start going on big rides clipped-in. Even when you eventually master using clipless pedals systems, there will always be the odd where you don’t manage to unclip in time. Get to know the mechanism on your pedals and the angle at which your foot unclips, and you will significantly reduce the risk of clipless-related injuries.

Clipless pedals are only one side of the clipless system equation. You need to invest in clipless shoes to start using them. Mountain bike clipless shoes have two bolts in the sole with a recessed cleat position which makes them easier to walk in, while road bike clipless shoes have a larger exposed cleat often but not always attached with three bolts, which makes slightly more efficient for long distance pedalling, but more awkward to use off the bike.

Conclusion: Which type of pedal should you choose?

There is no straightforward answer here. It all depends on the type of cycling you do and the pedal/shoe system most appropriate for your own type of riding. As with most things, both types of pedals come with their own sets of benefits, trade-offs and compromises. Flat pedals will let you sharpen your riding skills and will boost your confidence in situations where you thing having a foot down might be necessary. Flat pedal shoes will also offer a more casual look in situations when you don’t want your attire to scream “cyclist!”, like in certain cycle commuting set-ups. Clipless pedals will offer a more secure attachment and you will feel one with your bike. If you are anything like me, spending almost equal time on road/gravel and mountain bikes, you will come to appreciate both types of pedals for what they are and what they offer.

At Cycle Limited we will make the process of getting started with your pedal type of choice easy: with every bike purchase from Cycle Limited, you will get your choice of pedal at checkout for free! More information at https://cyclelimited.com