Debatable: You Should Try Flat Pedals (Again)

Blister Topic of the Week: Try Flat Pedals
David Golay riding the Chromag Dagga pedals and FiveTen Trailcross GTX shoes
Debatable: You Should Try Flat Pedals (Again), BLISTER

I’ve been riding clipless pedals on mountain bikes for going on 20 years now, and still use them for the majority of my riding. But a few years ago, I started bringing flat pedals back into the mix for all sorts of riding — after only using them for dirt jumping for at least a decade — and it’s been both a lot of fun and good for my riding overall. And so if you haven’t been on flats in a while, I think it’s time to give them another go.

This isn’t to dismiss the advantages of clipless pedals. There’s a reason that they’ve nearly universally taken over top-tier racing — they do offer more efficient pedaling, more control over the bike, lower likelihood of slipping a pedal, and so on. And I know Sam Hill was dominating the EWS on flats just a few years ago, but he’s Sam Hill. It’s kind of like Hoji skiing Hoji things on pin bindings. Just because he can do it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for just about anybody else.

But do you know who isn’t racing? The overwhelming majority of people, the overwhelming majority of the time that they get on a mountain bike. (I know Strava exists, but that’s another rant for another time.) It’s going to be okay if it takes you an extra second and a half to get down the trail, I promise. And riding flats is both really fun, and a good skill-building tool for when you go back to clipless.

I’ve talked a couple of friends into revisiting flats recently, and while neither has switched over full time (and again, I haven’t either), they’ve both enjoyed the different-feeling connection to the bike, and thought that it helped them iron out some kinks in their technique, where they were previously relying too much on their clipless pedals. In particular, the more direct connection to the pedals when cornering (all clipless systems have some slop/float in the interface, and it’s pretty obvious when you hop back on flats) both just feels cool, and helps you learn to control the bike through your feet better — a skill that’s valuable for any rider.

I also think that a lot of people last tried flats on a bike with geometry that might as well be from the 1800s, and while flat pedal technology hasn’t changed a whole lot, bike geometry sure has. The vastly improved stability of modern bikes makes for a very different flat pedal experience than you might remember. Where clipless was once invaluable for keeping your feet planted on a twitchy, short bike with the bottom bracket 2’’ above the axles, flats are now a great tool for learning to weight the front of a long, low, modern bike through your feet, and getting used to lifting the bike without yanking up on a clipless pedal will absolutely make your technique better and your riding smoother once (or if) if you switch back.

I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s also a lot to be said for riding flats in the winter, both in terms of not dealing with gummed-up clipless mechanisms, and in keeping your feet warmer without a big metal heat sink (the cleat plate in the shoe) right under the ball of your foot. But even if you hang up your bike through the winter months, everything else I said above still holds, and is more than enough reason to revisit flats if you haven’t in a while.

So grab yourself some flat pedals (and real flat pedal shoes), and get out there and give it a go. And as always, let us know how it works out in the comments.

10 comments on “Debatable: You Should Try Flat Pedals (Again)”

  1. Man, my last experience with flat pedals ended with ripped pants, bloody shins, and feeling ultra sketchy taking my hands off the bars in the air, something I don’t struggle with on clipless pedals. I also broke a rim in a rock garden, which may not have been related, but I do remember feeling like I wasn’t riding as smoothly and wasn’t as precise with weighting and unweighting my wheels.

    But, I do think all my issues were likely due to my developed reliance on clipless pedals, so I probably just need to spend more time on flats and deal with the learning curve if I am going to commit to it.

  2. I’ve been switching back and forth a bit between flats and clip-less, and unless I’m going on a really (>30 miles) long ride, I stick with flats. I feel like I press the bike down into the trail better on flats then clip-less, not just in turns, but also in rough tech. I’m definitely faster on clips, but there is something fun about flats.

  3. Some great points, but when I first decided to dabble in fat biking — since, then, fully hooked — I figured flat pedals were the way to go. A few rides convinced me that I should NOT try flat pedals.

    Luckily, only in humorous ways.

    Old dog, new tricks, etc.

  4. Flat pedals give you more skills, no question. Clipless pedals are faster, no question. I know quite a few people who train on flats (maybe not 100% of the time but close) and race clipless in gravity disciplines to keep their skills sharp.

    As I don’t race anymore, I’ve switched to flats probably 90% of the time. My knees feel better and I’ve regained some skills that I loss over the years riding clipless. If you want to be a better rider, learn to ride flats and spend some time training on them.

  5. Flats for fun, clips for speed and distance. It’s good to go both ways. It’s equally nice to just hop on a bike and go without needing special shoes, but there are times that clips make a difference in your day, or commute to work.

  6. Maybe I’ve grown up in a conservative culture but I had no idea this was a thing, nor did I know either of these terms, nor did I know people other than endurance cyclists were deliberately tying their feet to their pedals.

    I had to google in order to figure out that “clipless pedals” actually tie your foot to the pedal. Huh?

    Apparently normal pedals are called “flat pedals” and that’s the only type of pedal you will ever see me bike on.

  7. ^^@ 3 piece guy
    “but I had no idea this was a thing, nor did I know either of these terms, nor did I know people other than endurance cyclists were deliberately tying their feet to their pedals.”

    Shirley, you jest?
    Seriously not trolling us?

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