Video: Clips versus flats

Get loose or climb fast

Pedals Video
The great Fabien Barel can ride clips or flats expertly but he races with clips.

The great Fabien Barel can ride clips or flats expertly but he races with clips (click to enlarge).

At Mtbr, we spend a healthy amount of time on both flat pedals and clips. We love flats because they’re fun to goof around on and we don’t have to worry about accidentally forgetting our shoes at home. That said, we also love riding in clips because they feel a bit more efficient for long rides and they allow us to throw the bike around more easily.

What camp do you fall into and why?

One thing the video didn’t cover is flats have the ability to teach the rider how to stay connected to the bike without being attached to the pedals. Using physics, timing and and heel positioning are key skills gained by flat pedal users.

Cross country races are won with clip pedals  because even a slight efficiency advantage is significant in racing.

Cross country races are won with clip pedals because even a slight efficiency advantage is significant in racing (click to enlarge).

As a result, riders who ride clip-in pedals exclusively feel naked when they’re not clipped in. Or if they inadvertently clip out of their pedals, separation anxiety occurs. It is a good idea to stay on flats as long as possible and revisit skills to jump and stay connected to the bike without being locked in.

On the other hand, look around in a cross country race and the flat pedal users are few and far between. Clips have an advantage and even a 1% difference accounts for 1 minute in a 100 minute race.

Pump tracks and flow trails are best tackled with flat pedals.

Pump tracks and flow trails are best tackled with flat pedalsPump tracks and flow trails are best tackled with flat pedals..

The good news is riders have a choice and they can take either path as they graduate to intermediate and advanced levels. Riders who can use both systems expertly have a distinct advantage in today’s vast array of riding options.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)
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  • Christopher Slade says:

    I’m 100% confident in clipless pedals (Good clipless pedals!) As far as I am concerned, clipless pedals are NOT all created equal, and bad ones leave you nervous. Certain clipless are fine under some circumstances, but on more technical stuff where pedal strikes are a reality, they are not as good.

    Did my first lifted downhill a few weeks ago, and I loved my clipless, except a few times where I got kicked sideways hard. My foot clipped out, and being as steep as it was, it was difficult to get the foot to stay on the pedal without slipping off. I can see the benefits of a large platformed clipless, or flats in that instance.

    I use normal Shimano XT pedals, so they are small. Both have benefits and security, and both can have downsides.

  • Roger says:

    I’ve switched to flats after 25 years of clips (Time Atac). The main reason I switched to flats was, I found the older I get (49) the less aggressive my riding was while in my clips. I’ve never had a big crash caused by being clipped in, but I never seemed to be able to jump clipped in without always leaning/falling to my left. Another thing I found since switching to flats, my left knee pain has gone away, I realize that the pain may have been caused by the cleat not being properly set, that’s where the Time pedals (and their copycats) helped with a large window of side-to-side movement.

    Just last week I was contemplating going back to the clips, I guess I’ll see how my knee feels after a slight cleat adjust ?

    • JAL says:

      For the last 3 years I have been using flat pedals/flat shoes for XC type riding, I love the freedom of being able to dab your foot if needed, I have never fallen over because i couldn’t get my foot unclipped, I have no trouble keeping up to my clipped in friends on the flats,uphills and downhills.
      I tried clipless this spring, my knees didn’t like it, so I went back to flat.
      Just recently I installed an Oval Chainring from Absolute Black, it works fantastic with flat pedals, you get a mini rest at the top of each pedal stroke, but max load when your leg is just straightening near the bottom of the stroke, noticeably less leg burn, your foot is less prone to slip off the pedal at the top of the stroke because of the reduced load and it is easier on the knees.
      I can see how somebody who has always rode clipped in has a problem when trying flats, but give it time to develop technique, proper pedals and shoes and you can enjoy the freedom that flat pedals offer.

  • kenj says:

    I use clipless pedals for local trails mostly XC but always flats when the trails are technical rocky and steep, much much safer.

  • Tamas says:

    I use flats on my MTB and clips on my road bike. I rode spd pedals for years but I never really felt any advantages for my type of riding. Three years ago I switched to flats and I never looked back. I think it’s important to get proper pedals and shoes. I am running Saints and DMR Vaults with 510 Freeriders and they work perfectly for me. I even ride flats on local XC races and there are many spd riders behind me so it’s all good. :)
    I would say try both and decide which one works for you. I see many new riders pressured into using spd pedals which is plain wrong in my opinion…

  • max martinez says:

    I’m truly amazed how similar my opinion was to yours not the same as many of my local friends opinions. I always use flat pedals when I decide rocky rides, All Mt. for -4 hours, they feel very confortable. Relation between pedals-shoes is also truly important in it, as hard as it seems, lot of the specific BMX/Skateboarding (hi tops) shoes fits very well for technical rides, Globe, Vans, DC…they all feel fastastic, lot of them are very grippy and comes with hard soles, harder to climb hills though. Pedals with interchangeable pins are the best. An 15 degress floating pedal clipless work great for long rides, I’m attached to most Time pedal system specially the old Z-Controls (even for XC!), never cameback to the Shimano types anymore.

  • butch says:

    I live with a lot of rock gardens and climbing rock gardens on flats is a massive pain because your feet keep coming off the pedals. Clipless solved that problem with a bonus of much better climbing efficiency. You also dont need to spend a ton on a good pair of pedals, the bottom of the line SPDs for $20 are just as good as anything else youll buy, you cant say that about flats which get ridiculously expensive very fast.

  • josh says:

    Flats are by far the best thing for new riders. Clips are a disaster until you can manage your bike.

  • sgniwder99 says:

    I kind of always felt like this was mostly personal preference. I’m certainly not willing to say clipless are superior, but I do think the ominous warnings against clipless pedals often levied at novice riders tend to be fairly pretty overblown. Back when I was a teenager several of my buddies and I got clipless pedals pretty much immediately upon starting riding (sort of a teenage boy’s pack mentality at work there). We all fell over/looked stupid/had getting trouble getting clipped back in after dabbing quite a bit at first, then less pretty quickly, then pretty soon not at all really. I’ve also had a couple of girlfriends get into riding who got clipless right off the bat because that was what I had and recommended, and neither of them had any more difficulty with them.

    I’m sure that there are real horror stories out there about someone who has suffered a bad crash while getting used to clipless pedals. But at least in my experience, people who match their novice riding abilities to the trails they were trying to ride don’t find that going clipless adds any significant difficulty to learning to ride off-road in the first place.

  • Fritz says:

    MTBR has a guy writing for them that doesn’t know the difference between clips and clipless pedals? What he is calling clips, are clipless. Clips (or toe clips) have a part that goes over the top of your shoe to retain your foot. Clipless pedals attach to a cleat on the bottom of your shoe.

  • Brent says:

    People still ride flats…..Why??

  • Francis Cebedo says:

    >>MTBR has a guy writing for them that doesn’t know the difference between clips and clipless pedals? What he is calling clips, are clipless. Clips (or toe clips) have a part that goes over the top of your shoe to retain your foot. Clipless pedals attach to a cleat on the bottom of your shoe.

    We are trying to NOT USE the term ‘clipless’ from the vernacular. It is the dumbest term ever because it is in direct conflict with the term ‘clip-in’ shoes. It is based on the extinct device called toe clips which most mountain bikers don’t even know about.

    So for our purposes, clipless and clips are the same. :)

  • Ross says:

    I have been on flats for over 20 years, never clipped in. Most of my riding partners are clipped in and a few of them have had accidents with injuries that would have been avoided if not clipped in. I have gone over the bars before and landed on me feet because I could walk over them. I ride the 2FO’s and Boomslang Pedals. They work awesome I never “slip off”, do lots of rocky sections and drops in Tahoe area. Bottom line is if you are a skilled rider and set them up properly they are just as good if not better than any clip in style pedal. Opinion No, Fact “Yes” I out climb racer types all the time in Tahoe that can’t navigate steep rock climbs on our trails because they are fussing with their pedals. If you have not tried them do so before you think being clipped in is the only way to ride.

  • Fleas says:

    Maybe I just need more practice riding flats, but I cannot ride my bike up a flight of stairs without being attached to my pedals.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOcA9cs3_bg

    If I am doing any serious off-road riding, I am attached. Telling someone else that they “should” use one type or another is silly, though.

  • Bryan says:

    Another advantage of flats, is the shoes are much better for hike-a-biking on rock. Also a simpler pedal with no cleats is much less likely to have breakage problems in the back country. If you ride sketchy terrain, where a fall can be disastrous, flats are the way to go! And if you aren’t racing, the extra three minutes of in a one hour climb is a non-issue. Flats can also teach you better bike handling skills. But other than that, it is a matter of personal preference. If you go for flats, I would recommend 5-10 shoes.

  • Anthony Kahn says:

    OK, us old riders know they were called “clipless”, after the leather strap toe clips of ancient times (and current track use). Many kids at BMX tracks started using “clipless”, which they always call “clips” since they were as young as 5 years old. Many other cyclists never even knew about clips-and-straps.
    The new vernacular has become “clips”- as people clip in, like ski bindings. Thus “clipless” is dropping from usage.

  • Dirtman says:

    Could never get used to clips. Got tired of unclipping at the worst possible time or watching my friends disappear as I’m trying to clip back in after a gnarly section requiring me to unclip.
    I have been riding with Power Grips for 25 years and swear by ‘em

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