Clipless Vs. Flat Mountain Bike Pedals – The Great Debate

clipless or flat pedals

Tweeks’ very own Ali has been busy scribbling again – and this time it wasn’t on a plaster cast! Ali has been debating the benefits of going over to the clipless side for a while, and well, he finally took the plunge! Read on to see what he thought of it – here’s Ali:

From the very first day I swung my leg over a bike, I have always ridden on flat pedals – and I always swore that I would never in a million years contemplate riding in clips, SPDs, spuds or whatever else you would like to call them. I feel a change coming on though – as I am getting older (26 :) ), wiser and have taken up trail riding (with a goal of Gravity Enduro laser-sighted in my mind) and recently donned the Lycra and joined the masses on the roads. This means that I am now toying with the idea of breaking this lifetime promise and going clipped-in on the mountain bike.

You may have spotted the thread on the Tweeks Cycles Facebook page asking for your thoughts on what I should do about my pedal woes – the overwhelming consensus being that I should stick with my flats. Whilst I accept this, I do still have a voice in my head telling me that clipless pedals would allow me to be more 'at one' with the bike (for want of a better way of putting it) – and that this is something I should explore.

The whole quandary came about due to me getting clipped in on my new Cube road bike – where I noticed a huge benefit in terms of speed and power transfer from the extra connection I had with the pedals. This then made me wonder why I don’t feel this power on my mountain bike….

I first noticed the difference that having the right kit for the job can make when I moved from using an old pair of skate style trainers to proper flat mountain bike shoes in the form of the Shimano GR9s. These were paired with a set of DMR Vault flat pedals – and the difference in terms of power transfer and stability was instant because the solid sole of the AM41s really helps you to plant the power firmly on the pedal. This setup has performed admirably ever since – but with the road bike coming into the picture, my vision has become somewhat clouded! Seeing a video that Neil Donoghue posted on this subject didn’t help – and combined with the benefits I’ve noticed when out on the road, I thought why not give clipless a bash after all!

Should you use clipless or flat pedals

For my first foray into the world of clips, I have opted for the Crank Brothers Mallet DH Race Pedals as they are very similar in shape and weight to my Vaults (*cough* and they are red *cough*) and the Shimano AM45s as they are the SPD-compatible version of my AM41s.

Having done about five rides on the Mallets now – taking in various distances and terrain along the way, I’ve come to the conclusion that … well … I have mixed thoughts! I’m pretty sure that this comes down to my riding style and choice of bike. The trouble is that I really like to go balls out on the descents of any trail I ride – picking out roots or rocks to use as kickers, trying to excavate the fastest line out of corners and berms, and finding air off any jump or drop. Naturally, if you want to hit a corner fast (berms and corners should only ever be designed to go left, I might add at this point), then the trick is to take your inside foot off of the pedal and try to lay the bike down a bit flatter. With flats, this is really no issue at all – but being clipped in has turned this into a bit of an ordeal – which I reckon is what’s slowing me down. The upside to this is of course that picking up initial speed is now incredibly easy in contrast – with the 360-degree drive you get from being clipped in to the pedal giving you an incredible performance boost. You also gain the ability to lay down serious power for far longer – which I’ve found has given a massive boost to my sprinting ability right from the off.

Pros of Clipless
  • Climbing is easier
  • Sprinting power and distance increased
  • Boosting your bike over gaps is easier because its easier to suck the bike into your body
Cons of Clipless
  • Uneasiness on technical descents (chance you won't unclip, should you stack!)
  • Trying to find the correct cleat position (can cause achy knees)
  • Finding the cleat after unclipping during descent can be tricky at times

The conclusion: grab a cognac

So, I’ve reached the point where I have to make a decision (apparently)! Unfortunately, the truth is that I think there is a place for both types of pedals in my riding. I will continue to use clipless pedals during long trail rides as the benefit they give you when climbing and the added power transfer on sprints is a great benefit to have over long distances. As for the flats, I will continue with these for uplift days at bike parks and for days when I really want to hammer the descents.

There is a place for both in this world and I fully recommend giving both flats and clipless pedals a go. If nothing else, variety is the spice of life, and learning to pedal under different conditions can only improve your technique and make you a better rider.

Do you have experience of both clipless pedals and flats? Maybe you’re firmly invested in one camp? Let us know what you reckon in the comments below. It’s a bit of an old chestnut, but there’s certainly a lot of pros and cons to each type of pedal!