Clips vs flat pedals (warning: graphic content)

For those new to mountain biking, there are two types of pedals: flats, where your foot sits flush on the pedal, and clipless (doesn’t make any sense to me either), where your foot clips in the pedal using a cleat and a locking mechanism.

Riders of flat pedals will tell you that you need to be on flats because it improves your skills and is far safer in a crash. On the other hand, people who ride clipped in will patiently point that the pro riders who don’t ride clipped in can be numbered on three fingers. But which is right for you?

Well, I’m here to tell you that clips are the way forward.

Why ride flats?

Here are the theories behind riding flat pedals:

They’re safer 

One of the biggest arguments used by flatters is that, in the event of an impending crash, you’ll be safer because you can stick your foot out easier. However, if your shoes are set up well, it takes only a fraction of a second to unclip, so if you do crash, it’s unlikely to be because you didn’t unclip in time.

Also, take one look at a decent set of downhill pedals – those things have a contingent of spikes sticking out of them, each of them just waiting to tear your leg to shreds. I’ve seen far more damage done by feet slipping off pedals than I have from people failing to unclip.


Each one of those pins is just waiting for an opportunity to rip your leg to shreds.


Ride flats? Better get used to this.

They’re better for building skills 

It’s true, no one will debate that clipless pedals promote poor bunny hopping and jumping technique. Because you’re clipped in, you have the ability to pull up from your pedals, which is a terrible idea. This movement shifts your center of gravity and can end up with you going OTB. But there is a simple solution: don’t pull up. Practice the right technique to avoid those issues.

So, why ride clips?

There must be a reason why every cross country racer in the world rides clipped in. Here are the theories supporting clips:

They’re more efficient 

Being clipped into your pedals means that you can pull up on them, and theoretically this means you’ll get more out of each pedal stroke. Whether or not this actually results in any real world difference is still under contention, but why not take any possible advantage you can get?


You’re more secure

Whilst mostly an issue for new riders, having your feet slip off mid-ride can have some disastrous consequences. Whether you’re flying through a rock garden or the air, there’s a good chance you’ll end up slamming a sensitive area into your top tube. Never a good time.

Back when clipless technology was being developed, it was understandable that people would be wary about being clipped in, but recently clipless pedals have improved in leaps and bounds. With better locking mechanisms, more customisation and tonnes of grip, there’s no reason not to ride them. That said, it’s more important that you actually ride your bike, so get out there on whatever you feel comfortable with.

Categories: Discussions, Riding Tips

6 replies »

  1. I’ve been riding my MTB in flats and have suffered the inglorious skin tear and shin whack from the studs and also have slipped off the pedals at the most inopportune times…..looking forward to giving it a go being clipped in


  2. I prefer flats when riding very technical trails where you are likely to have to put your feet down often when not quite making it up that rock climb.T
    he key with riding flats is to have a decent pair of shoes designed to be ridden with flats. That is flat soles that grip on the studs not running shoes that will not sit flat and also have a lot of give as they are designed to cushion the feet.
    With a decent set of flats and shoes (5 10’s are brilliant) you wont experience slipping off the pedals that you might without the right shoes.


  3. I believe the term clipless came from the absence of the toe clips and straps that were used on early road bikes.


  4. Here’s a question, has anyone out there who has got used to riding clipped in, ever gone back to flats full time? I’m talking on the same bike after a month or more of riding clipped in on it, I’d be surprised. I hate it now if I ride a bike where I’m not clipped in, either road or MTB. But I do understand on certain bike types (eg. beach cruiser, short commute bike) why you wouldn’t bother


  5. After around 15 years of clips I’ve gone back to flats and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I have a good set of Race Face pedals and 5.10 shoes. Anything less and there’s no point.
    XC riders are like roadies anyway, so will always go clipless. For trail, enduro, DH, flats are great. Not locked in so no sore knees, can move around on the bike, dab on corners, slide into corners flat out etc all equals more fun! !


  6. They’re called “clipless” because ‘clips’ are those cage things that enclose the toe and are tightened with straps across the instep as used by TDF riders in the 50’s. No ‘clips’ = ‘clipless’ even though we “clip” in to cleats on “clipless” pedals.

    Aint English fun?


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