Flat vs Clipless Pedals: Which One Should You Use?

Are you trying to decide between clipless and flat pedals for your bike? Choosing the right type of pedal can make a big difference in your riding experience and performance.

In this article, I’ll break down the differences between clipless and flat pedals, the pros and cons of each, and help you decide which one is best for your riding style and goals.

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned cyclist, understanding the benefits and drawbacks of each type of pedal can help you make an informed decision.

So, let’s dive in!

What Are Flat Pedals?

Flat Pedals REI

Flat pedals are the OG of bike pedals. These no-nonsense pedals offer a solid connection to your bike and an amazing grip from your shoes.

They’re perfect for those who don’t want to fuss with clips or fastenings and prefer to wear flat-soled shoes for maximum grip.

Also known as platform pedals, flat pedals come in different shapes and sizes, with some even having metal cages or plastic platforms with pins for extra traction.

They’re designed to be minimalistic, making it easy for you to quickly get your foot on them without getting caught on obstacles.

The special tread pattern adds an extra level of grip, which is perfect for taking tight corners or descending steep trails.

If you have bigger feet or plan on tackling gnarly terrain, wider flat pedals provide a larger surface area for added support. 

What Are Clipless Pedals?

Clipless Pedals REI

Clipless pedals, despite their name, actually allow for a secure attachment between the shoe and pedal when cycling.

This is accomplished through a locking mechanism on the pedal, which attaches to a corresponding cleat on the sole of the shoe.

The cleat is screwed onto the shoe and typically remains fixed unless adjusted or replaced with a different type.

When the shoe is placed onto the pedal, the locking mechanism snaps into place, allowing the cyclist to cycle with greater efficiency and power transfer as they pedal.

How Efficient Is Clipless Compared to Flat Pedals?

I know there’s been a long-standing debate between clipless pedals and flat pedals, and everyone seems to have their own opinion.

But let’s talk about efficiency for a second. Did you know that clipless pedals have some serious advantages over their flat counterparts?

One major reason for this is the secure attachment they provide between your cycling shoe and the pedal.

This means you can pedal and transfer power more effectively from your legs to the bike.

The design of clipless pedals allows for better foot placement, giving you greater control and stability while you ride.

And here’s where things get really interesting. A study found that using clipless pedals resulted in a whopping 10% increase in the maximum power output when cycling at higher intensities. (1)

Although, it’s worth noting that the benefits were less significant for lower-intensity riding.

Flat Pedals Pros & Cons

If you’re new to cycling, flat pedals are the way to go. They provide a natural and intuitive feel that makes it easy to disengage and put your foot down when you need to stop.

They’re perfect for building confidence and mastering essential skills like weighting and unweighting.

Flat Pedals Pros

But don’t think flat pedals are just for beginners. They’re great for advanced riders too. With a larger platform and no clipless mechanism, you have more freedom to move around on the pedal and execute all sorts of cool tricks and maneuvers.

And if you’re hitting extreme terrain, flat pedals give you the control you need to quickly place your foot and stay in command.

Here are some of the advantages of flat pedals:

  • Flat pedals reduce the risk of injury and knee pain
  • You’re less likely to crash or fall over with flat pedals
  • Flat pedals are cheaper and don’t require special shoes or cleats
  • You don’t have to adjust or set up cleats with flat pedals
  • Flat pedals are easy to find and replace worldwide
  • You can wear any shoes with flat pedals, even boots or sandals
  • Flat pedals allow for easy foot position adjustments while riding
  • You can comfortably walk in the same shoes you ride in with flat pedals
  • Flat pedals give you a solid foundation for building up your technique and control skills
  • Flat pedals may be easier on the knees over time
  • Superior bike stability thanks to a lower center of gravity
  • You don’t have to learn a new skill with flat pedals
  • Easy to get off the bike with flat pedals
  • Flat pedals are better for extreme conditions like slippery snow or steep hills.

Flat Pedals Cons

That being said, there are a few downsides to flat pedals.

For one thing, they’re not as efficient at transferring power from your legs to the bike, which can make uphill climbs more challenging.

You’ll also need to focus on your pedal technique to keep your cadence consistent.

Another thing to keep in mind is that flat pedals don’t offer as much foot support as clipless pedals.

This means you’ll need to choose the right pedal and shoe combo to avoid any slips or accidents, especially on rough or muddy terrain.

Here are some disadvantages of flat pedals:

  • Flat pedals offer less control and make it harder to lift or hop over obstacles
  • Pulling up on the pedals is impossible, making climbing hills more difficult
  • Less power can be applied with flat pedals, but with practice and technique, it can match clipless performance
  • Flat pedals make it harder to maintain a high cadence and can throw off your pedaling rhythm
  • The wider profile of flat pedals can make it harder to ride through narrow gaps
  • Average speed may be slightly slower with flat pedals, making it harder to cover long distances quickly
  • Certain skills and techniques are harder to perform with flat pedals
  • Flat pedals are heavier and can cause cuts and bruises on your shins and calves
  • They are outdated and less technologically advanced compared to clipless pedals

Riding With Flat Pedals

Riding with flat pedals can be a great option for both beginner and advanced riders, but it’s important to have the proper technique to get the most out of your ride.

Here are some tips for riding with flat pedals:

Foot Position

Proper foot positioning is key when using flat pedals. The ball of your foot should sit in the center of the pedal for optimal control and efficiency. Avoid placing your foot too far forward or back on the pedal.

Actively Engage Your Feet

Rather than just resting your feet on the pedals, it’s important to actively engage them by pushing down and pulling up slightly on the pedals. This not only helps with power transfer but also allows for better control of the bike.

Drop Your Heels

When pedaling, focus on dropping your heels to create a more powerful and efficient pedal stroke. This can also help in absorbing impact when riding on rough terrain.

Focus on Round Pedal Strokes

When pedaling, aim for round and smooth pedal strokes. Avoid stomping on the pedals or pushing down too hard.

Master Momentum and Timing

Proper use of momentum and timing can make a big difference in flat pedal riding. Focus on carrying speed through corners and timing pedal strokes to navigate technical sections.

Utilize Ratcheting

Ratcheting is a technique that involves pulling up on the pedals while maintaining forward motion. This can be especially useful in technical terrain.

Clipless Pedals Pros & Cons

One of the main benefits of clipless pedals is the increase in efficiency and power transfer that they provide. By fixing your foot to the pedal, you are able to apply force throughout the entire pedal stroke, as opposed to just the downward motion.

They also provide a smoother pedaling technique that can come in handy on tricky terrain or uphill climbs. And let’s not forget about the added bonus of secure foot placement, preventing any unwanted foot slippage.

Clipless Pedals Pros

Here are some advantages of using clipless pedals:

  • Clipless pedals encourage better pedaling technique
  • They give you more control and maneuverability
  • You can apply more power to the pedals
  • Clipless pedals put less stress on the knee joints (2)
  • Clipless shoes and pedals are technologically advanced
  • Your feet can’t slip off the pedals
  • You can pull up on the pedals for extra power
  • Clipless shoes increase efficiency and foot comfort
  • You can ride at a higher cadence and through narrow gaps
  • Clipless pedals protect your shins and calves
  • They are better for rough terrain and allow for faster riding
  • Clipless pedals are the current trend and look sleek

Clipless Pedals Cons

But, like anything, there are some downsides to clipless pedals. The setup process can be a bit tricky and it may take some time and practice to get used to them.

Walking in road cleats can also be a bit uncomfortable and awkward, which may make off-the-bike movement a bit of a challenge.

And let’s not forget about the cost – clipless pedals can be a bit pricier than their flat pedal counterparts, especially when you factor in the cost of replacing worn or damaged cleats.

But perhaps the most important aspect to consider when deciding whether or not to switch to clipless pedals is safety.

If you’re new to cycling or tend to forget to unclip in time, clipless pedals can pose a potential danger.

So, before making the switch, make sure you’re comfortable and confident with the idea of being “locked in” to your pedals.

Here are some disadvantages of using clipless pedals:

  • Improperly adjusted clipless pedals can cause knee and hip injuries
  • Clipless pedals are more expensive. You need to buy special shoes, cleats, and of course, the pedal itself.
  • Studies show no discernable difference in efficiency between clipless and flat pedals
  • There is a learning curve to riding clipless and a higher risk of crashing
  • Cleats need to be adjusted for safe and comfortable riding, which can be time-consuming
  • Clipless gear is harder to find in developing countries
  • Specialty clipless shoes are required, and walking in them can be uncomfortable and damaging to floors
  • An extra pair of shoes is needed for off-bike wear during bicycle touring
  • Foot position is not as easily adjustable with clipless pedals
  • Clipless pedals increase the bike’s center of gravity and have more parts that can break
  • Clipless pedals may not be ideal for learning proper technique and can encourage bad habits.

Riding With Clipless Pedals

Riding with clipless pedals can seem daunting, but with proper technique and practice, they can greatly improve your performance on the bike. Before hitting the trails, it is important to first practice clipping in and out of the pedals in a safe, grassy area.

Clip In

To clip in, start with one foot on the pedal and push down and forward into the mounting system to lock in.

Begin riding with one foot clipped in and the other resting on the pedal before aligning the unclipped foot to clip in.

It is important to ensure that the cleat interface on the bottom of the shoe is aligned properly with the pedal mechanism to prevent any issues when trying to clip in.

Clip Out

Clipping out is easy, just push down on the pedal and twist your foot to the side to release the cleat. Don’t worry if it feels awkward at first, practice makes perfect.

When you’re out on the trails, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. So, try to unclip a little earlier than you think you need to and step off with confidence. This way, you can check the terrain ahead and feel more in control.

Now, let’s talk about pedal strokes. To get the most out of your ride, try wiping the bottom of your shoe across the ground during the bottom of the stroke.

And remember to pull up with one foot while pushing down with the other.

Types of Clipless Pedals

Below, we will be discussing the two main categories of clipless pedals:

  • Road bike pedals (three bolts)
  • Mountain bike pedals (two bolts)
  • Combination Flat/Clipless Pedals

1. Road Bike Clipless Pedals – Three-Bolt System

three bolt clipless shoes

If you’re a fan of long-distance cycling, then you know that having the right gear is crucial to your success.

Here are why road bike clipless systems are a must-have.

  • Unlike clipless mountain bike pedals, these bad boys feature a three-bolt cleat interface, which gives you a super stable and supportive platform for your feet.
  • This means you’ll experience unparalleled power transfer and support, making those high-speed rides a breeze.
  • One of the coolest things about road bike clipless systems is the ability to adjust your foot position. This helps to relieve pressure on certain areas of your foot and allows for better performance on those marathon rides.
  • Your feet are locked in place, so you don’t have to worry about slipping or losing contact with the pedal when you’re pushing yourself to the limit on those intense sprints and climbs.

But, let me be real with you – there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to using clipless systems. You need to take the time to develop proper techniques to avoid bad habits and potential injuries.

But, once you get the hang of it, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without them.

Popular brands of road bike clipless systems include Shimano SPD SL, Look, and Speedplay.

2. Clipless Mountain Bike Pedals – Two-Bolt System

two bolt clipless shoes

If you’re a mountain biker, then you know that clipless pedals are seriously crucial for optimal control and power transfer.

They use cleats that are fitted into the sole of your shoes and attach to the pedals via two bolts.

Two-bolt system clipless pedals are perfect for all types of mountain biking, bikepacking, commuting, and bicycle touring.

Unlike road biking shoes, clipless mountain bike shoes are way more flexible and comfortable to walk around in when you’re off the bike.

Plus, it’s super easy to clip in and out of them, which is essential for those frequent stops on the trail.

This system is a game-changer when it comes to maximizing your performance and getting the most out of your ride. Trust me, once you go clipless, you’ll never want to go back.

If you’re in the market for clipless pedals, you’ll want to know about the two main designs available.

  • Small clipless pedals are basically just a mechanism mounted on a spindle and rely on your cycling shoes for support. Crankbrothers Eggbeater Clip-In Mountain Bike Pedals is one of the most popular of this design.
  • Clipless pedals with platforms offer extra support with a platform around the clipless mechanism. You can use normal shoes for walking around off the bike.

3. Combination Flat/Clipless Pedals – Single-Sided or Dual-sided

If you’re looking for the ultimate combination of control and freedom when it comes to your pedals, look no further than flat/clipless pedals.

These pedals give you the best of both worlds by offering a secure connection like clipless pedals, while also allowing you to wear normal shoes like you would with flat pedals.

So how do they work? Well, one side has a clipless mechanism for when you need that extra security, while the other side is a platform for when you want more freedom and mobility.

There are 2 types of combination pedals:

  • Single-sided
  • Dual-sided

Single-sided pedals give you the flexibility to clip in when you need it and ride with normal shoes when you don’t, whereas dual-sided pedals have clipless mechanisms on both sides for ultimate convenience.

Now, if you’re in the market for some top-notch combination pedals, there are a few brands and models to consider.

The Shimano SPD PD-A530 is a great option for commuters or recreational cyclists, with its single-sided clipless mechanism and wide platform.

The Crank Brothers Double Shot is perfect for all types of mountain biking with its durable platform and dual-sided clipless mechanism.

And last but not least, the Time ATAC MX4 is another great dual-sided clipless pedal with solid construction and a low stack height.

Using Mountain Bike Pedals on a Road Bike

Using mountain bike pedals on a road bike has several advantages, chief among them being increased practicality when cycling long distances.

They provide a more secure grip and also offer a sturdier platform for those frequent stops and starts during cycle touring.

You’ll find that getting off the saddle is a breeze thanks to the design of these pedals, which reduces the awkward waddle that often happens with traditional road bike clipless shoes.

Using mountain bike pedals on your road bike means you can easily switch between different styles of bikes without needing to buy additional shoes or specialized equipment.

Whether you’re hitting the park for some off-road action or just commuting across town, the convenience factor is unbeatable.

Should I Use Flat or Clipless Pedals for Commuting?

rear view of businessman commuter on the way to work

Flat pedals are a great choice for commuting. These are the simplest and most inexpensive pedals and provide a good grip on the sole of your shoe.

Whether you need to stop suddenly or start again quickly, these pedals have got you covered.

The best part is that you don’t need any extra equipment or special shoes to use them.

You can easily put your foot down at traffic lights or stop signs without any hassle.

They work with everyday shoes, so they’re super convenient for commuting to work or running errands. On the other hand, clipless pedals offer a different pedaling experience.

They provide a strong connection between you and your bike, resulting in better power transfer. However, they can be tricky to use in urban settings or for frequent stops.

As a commuter myself, I absolutely love using double-sided clipless pedals.

They make my ride so much easier since I can clip in and out with ease. I have full control and safety on the road, even when walking my bike.

It’s the perfect solution for a smooth and enjoyable commute.

Should I Use Flat or Clipless Pedals for Gravel Riding?

XC-style pedals are the preference for gravel riding due to their ability to enable flat-soled shoes that are easier to walk in, plus have incredible levels of mud shedding.

With the rise of gravel-specific components, we now have shoes and pedals that offer a larger interface, giving you that road pedal feel while still maintaining stability off-road.

Now, don’t get me wrong, flat pedals are still a popular choice for gravel riders too. They’re great for off-bike exploration, allowing you to walk with ease without having to constantly search for your cleats or worry about stubbing your toe on a rock.

Certain models of flat pedals provide a more ground feel, helping you stay balanced while tackling muddy terrain.

Clipless Pedal and Shoe Recommendations

When it comes to choosing clipless pedals and shoes, there are numerous options available on the market.

Here are some popular options to consider:

Shimano SPD Clipless Pedals

The Shimano SPD Pedal Clipless Pedals are one of the most popular options among cyclists. They offer a reliable and durable design with a low profile and adjustable release tension.

These pedals are compatible with two-bolt cleat systems, which is the standard cleat style used for off-road cycling shoes.

Crankbrothers Doubleshot Hybrid Bike Pedal

The Crankbrothers Doubleshot Hybrid Bike Pedal is an excellent choice for cyclists who want the best of both worlds.

These pedals have a clipless mechanism on one side and a flat platform on the other side, making it easy to switch between clipless and flat pedals.

They also have excellent mud-shedding abilities, ensuring that mud and debris do not get stuck in the pedals.

Giro Rumble Vr MTB Shoes

The Giro Rumble Vr MTB Shoes are a great option for those looking for a less conspicuous look.

These shoes have a casual design and can be worn on and off the bike. They have a supportive EVA footbed, a durable synthetic leather upper, and a Vibram rubber sole for excellent traction and durability.

Other clipless shoe and pedal brands to consider include Look, Time, Crankbrothers, and Speedplay.

Flat Pedal Recommendations

Flat pedals are an excellent option for riders looking for more freedom of movement on technical terrain.

Here are some of the best flat pedal recommendations available in the market:

Race Face Chester

The Race Face Chester flat pedals are an affordable and lightweight option for riders. These pedals have a nylon composite body, which keeps them light while maintaining durability.

They also have an excellent grip thanks to replaceable steel pins. With a low-profile design, these pedals are perfect for riders who want to avoid pedal strikes. Plus, they come in various color options to match your style.

PNW Components Range

The PNW Components Range flat pedals are another fantastic option for riders seeking an affordable and high-quality pedal.

These pedals have a nylon body with a concave shape that provides plenty of grip for your shoes.

The pins on these pedals are also adjustable, so you can customize the grip to your preferences. The low-profile design ensures that you don’t get caught on rocks or roots.

Tenet Flat Pedals

The Tenet flat pedals are an excellent choice for riders who are harder on their equipment.

These pedals are built to last thanks to their CNC-machined aluminum body. This construction also provides an unparalleled level of stiffness and support when you’re putting down the power.

The Tenet flat pedals have ten replaceable pins per side, ensuring you have the best possible grip at all times.

5DEV Flat Pedals

The 5DEV flat pedals are a premium option for riders looking for maximum grip and durability.

The pedals feature a massive 118 x 105mm platform and have a lightweight 6061 T6 aluminum pedal body, which provides ample support for any shoe size.

The aluminum body is CNC-machined and has an anodized finish for added toughness. These pedals also have replaceable pins and come in a range of color options.

OneUp Components Aluminum Flat Pedals

The OneUp Components Aluminum Flat Pedals are another excellent option for riders looking for premium flat pedals.

These pedals are incredibly thin at only 8mm, which gives you an exceptional level of ground clearance.

The aluminum body is also CNC-machined and has ultra-durable DU bushings and a cartridge-bearing system.

The OneUp pedals have a whopping 10 replaceable pins per side, giving you enough grip to tackle any terrain.

Pro Tips on Using Clipless Pedals

Riding with clipless pedals can be a bit of a learning curve, but here’s a simple tip.

Get comfortable on a stationary bike first, then move on to riding in a secure space. Don’t forget to keep spare cleats and bolts in your tool kit for any unexpected mishaps.

Take your time to practice before hitting the trails, you don’t want to lose control on the road because of the inability to unclip.

Final Thoughts

As a cyclist with experience in both clipless and flat pedals, I can say that my personal preference ultimately depends on the type of riding I’m doing.

For rough and technical terrain where control is important, I find that flat pedals offer more confidence and a better sense of connection to the bike.

On the other hand, clipless pedals offer more efficiency and performance. I find that I can transfer more power to the pedals with clipless pedals and maintain a more consistent pedal stroke.

This makes them well-suited for road cycling and mountain biking on smoother terrain.

In terms of ease of use, I find clipless pedals can be a bit more challenging to get the hang of, as there is a learning curve involved in clipping in and out. However, once you become accustomed to them, they are quite easy and intuitive.

For those who want the best of both worlds, combination or hybrid pedals that offer both clipless and flat options are becoming more popular.

Frequently Asked Questions

Clipless pedals offer several advantages over traditional flat pedals, including improved power transfer, better control, and increased efficiency.

However, whether or not you need them ultimately depends on your individual cycling goals and preferences. If you’re a serious and competitive cyclist looking to improve your performance and ride longer distances, clipless pedals are a worthwhile investment.

Yes, it is okay to use flat pedals on a road bike. However, clipless pedals may provide better efficiency and power transfer. Ultimately, the choice depends on personal preference and riding style.

Clipless pedals can be beneficial for beginners as they provide better power transfer and control. However, they may also require a learning curve and can lead to falls if not used properly.

It’s important to weigh the pros and cons and practice using them in a safe environment before hitting the road.

No, clipless pedals require cleats to function properly. The cleats attach to the bottom of your cycling shoes and click into the pedals, providing a secure connection between your feet and the bike.

Without cleats, the pedals would not hold onto your shoes and you would not be able to efficiently transfer power to the pedals.

There is no evidence to suggest that people fall more with clipless pedals. In fact, many cyclists find clipless pedals to be more secure and efficient than traditional pedals.

However, it is important to properly adjust and practice using clipless pedals to avoid any accidents.

No, clipless pedals require a specific type of shoe with cleats that lock into the pedal mechanism. Attempting to ride with normal shoes on clipless pedals would be unsafe and inefficient. It is recommended to use the appropriate footwear for optimal performance and safety.

Similar Posts