Here are some things to keep in mind when looking at riding flat pedals:
1) The number one thing that you have to keep in mind is that there is a learning curve with flat pedals. Although it is short (most people report feeling fine within the first 2-5 rides), you will spend some time learning to smooth out your pedal stroke and keep your feet planted on the pedals. This is a classic growth vs. fixed mindset scenario – if you know that you can learn to ride flats then you will be less likely to get frustrated by the learning curve.
2) When riding flat pedals you have to avoid “trying it out” by pulling a pair of pedals off your neighbors Wal-Mart bike and throwing on your old running shoes. Just as with clipless pedals and shoes, you get what you pay for and trying to ride a trail with the cheapest option possible will never be fun. Invest in some good flats and shoes or else don’t try it at all.
3) When looking at pedals you want to get a pedal with a wide platform (I like the ones that extend to the outside edge of your foot), thin profile and good pin placement. While you don’t need the whole thing covered, you do want at least 3-4 pins on the front and back edges and a few in the center as well. Also, pay attention to the axle material vs. the type of riding you’re doing as they will bend.
4) With shoes, at this point it is 5-10’s or nothing. Skate shoes just don’t cut it – the sticky rubbed used by 5-10 on their shoes is unlike anything else on the market and will keep your feet planted in a way no other shoes can. While other shoes are available with sticky rubber, none of them are MTB specific and made to protect your toes and provide some cushioning should you slam a heel into the ground.
5) If you don’t have a shop near you that carries 5-10’s then try Zappos.com. They have a great return policy so you can order a couple of sizes and keep the one that fits or even return them altogether after a few rides if you hate them. I personally use the Impact 2’s for most trail riding, although I own a pair of the Freeriders and love to wear them when cruising around town.
6) As stated previously, there is a learning curve to using flats and so you will want to wear some light weight shin pads to protect your legs. Keeping your feet planted on your pedals will require you to stand more and to actively “ground” your feet into the pedals, two skills that will take time to develop. In the meantime, just get you some bright yellow shin pads and freak people out on the trail…oh wait, that’s what I did. You don’t have to go with yellow but you will freak some people out when you blast by them on a climb with your flats and shin pads.