For years, the debate over which kind of pedal for your particular type of riding discipline or application is best has been going on for years. For older riders like me who started riding clipless pedals decades ago, it’s hard to think of switching over to a flat pedal. I’m so used to being connected to the bike that when I did try flats, it felt very awkward and unnatural to me.
Back in the early 90’s if you were not riding clip-in pedals on a mountain or road bike, you were sporting toe-straps which were the first way of connecting your feet to the pedal. The downside to them was they were impossible to get out off without loosening them and they needed to be adjusted and cinched down for them to work properly when putting them on too. Flat pedals at the time were smooth on the top surface of the pedal and had smaller pedal bodies with not much grip for your feet to adhere too, especially if they got wet.
Today’s flat pedals have really come a long way since those days and offer a wide variety of grip, surface textures and construction materials. Mountain bike flat pedals usually have a large surface area with metal pins that hold your foot in place by gripping to the bottom of your bike shoes. With today’s flat pedal specific shoes that offer stiff platforms and grippy, gummy soles, they integrate seamlessly with flat pedals and offer comfort, control and peace of mind for not falling connected to your bike.
The pros of flats are they are easy to use, offer quick on and off entry and exit, are less prone to gathering dirt and mud. You can also alter your foot placement and balance points on the pedal, giving you some options for foot placement and comfort. Flats are also the preferred pedal for first timers or beginners, and have practically no learning curve. They are also ideal for those riders coming off knee, ankle or foot injuries who can’t be clipped in and take a chance of falling and not being able to lift their foot off the pedal quickly and easily. If you are a park, pump track, BMX, trials rider or big mountain rider, it’s much easier to get away from your bike both in the air or on the ground with flats, so you will see just about everyone using this kind of pedal for those types of applications. Cons are you have a better chance slipping off your pedal, especially in technical or rough terrain, which can result in the pedal coming back and hitting you in the shin which can be very painful and leave a nasty cut. Your pedal stroke will be less efficient too and you won’t get quite as much power, which are the biggest gripes you will receive from most seasoned riders or racers.
The two main forms of clipless pedals are single sided and double sided, single being used for road biking and double sided being used for mountain biking. Single sided clipless pedals work best for road riders as they pedal for longer periods of time without stopping and don’t have to put their feet down as much as a mountain biker or commuter rider does. Pros of the clipless pedals are you have a secure and stable connection to your bike, which can offer you more bike control in technical trail riding for mountain bikers, improved efficiency in your pedal stroke, and more power too. And because you are locked in, you have very consistent foot placement. Cons are there is a stiff learning curve involved when first using them, with many times falling connected to the bike until you get used to using the pedals. (Even veteran riders who are used to using clipless pedals still will fall connected to the bike at times) Dirt and mud can also build up in the pedals and alter the pedals engagement mechanisms, making them difficult to get in and out of until cleaned.
So, the debate continues…. What is the better way to go? The answer is there is no right or wrong answer. It comes down to personal preference and really depends on who you get your advice from. Whatever you decide, just keep those pedals turning to keep your mind and body feeling healthy.