We’re all born being “cursed” in certain ways. While I know that you can make significant changes with some focused effort it still seems like some things are more of a struggle than others.

If you took that magical pedal stroke off the table and you knew from day 1 that you could pedal, bunny hop and maneuver your bike just as well on flats as you could on clipless pedals would you really feel as compelled to use them?

For me, well, among other things I can’t dance, I’m terrible at remembering names and I have this compulsion to call bull shit when I see it.

ICallBS_747_BlogAnd it is this last “curse” that has landed me in so much trouble over the years.

I know this may shock some of you but I’ve actually been fired from jobs because I said something that was true but not politically correct.

I’ll just never understand why you wouldn’t want to just be honest about how things are.

Pretending that things aren’t what they are doesn’t change them so why not just admit that things are what they are and move on?

For example, why do we keep pretending that new riders actually have freedom of choice when it comes to deciding between flats and clipless pedals?

Whenever I bring up flat pedals and how a lot of riders would benefit from some time on them I often hear from a clipless pedal backer with the “you just need to let people ride what they want to ride” argument.

And honestly, that would be fine with me…if the clipless pedal mafia wasn’t selling their wares based on myths and lies about the pedal stroke.

Therein lies the heart of my issue with clipless pedals – clipless pedals are NOT the problem as much as the lies being told to sell clipless pedals to mountain bikers who don’t really need them.

Think about it – if you’re told that you need clipless pedals so that you can pedal more efficiently by pulling up on the backstroke/ spinning circles/ keep even tension on the pedals and that this pedal stroke isn’t possible with flats then do you really have a choice but to use clipless pedals?

I mean, according to this argument it is literally impossible to pedal properly without clipless pedals.

How can this not give them a decided advantage in the decision making process for riders who trying to decide if flats or clipless pedals are best for them?

But the problem is that this picture of the pedal stroke is outdated and flat out wrong. You can not only pedal in the most efficient and powerful manner possible with flats but trying to pull up on the backstroke/ spin circles/ keep even tension on the pedals is a less powerful and efficient way to pedal.

In other words, there is no “magical” pedal stroke that is only available with clipless pedals.

And this makes it a lie.

The point is that I just find it incredibly unfair to continue to push clipless pedals on riders based on something that doesn’t exist. And if you ride clipless pedals for pedal stroke purposes then you need to reassess why you ride them because that reason simply isn’t valid.

And this leads me to the $25,000 question…


If you took that magical pedal stroke off the table and you knew from day 1 that you could pedal, bunny hop and maneuver your bike just as well on flats as you could on clipless pedals would you really feel as compelled to use them?

I think that if a lot of riders were honest with themselves they would either say no or they wouldn’t have made the switch nearly as soon.

And there again is the problem – how can we say that we should just let riders choose for themselves when most riders are making that choice under the influence of a lie?

And on another level this lie is keeping new riders from trying or sport and driving riders away each year, making it harmful in a lot of different ways.

Again, clipless pedals have a place, it is just not on a new rider’s bike for the first 1-2 years or any riders bike 100% of the time. They are a piece of performance equipment that artificially strengthens the weak links in the foot – namely keeping you foot planted and the ability to pedal with less focus on pedaling under fatigue and stress.

This can result in improved performance but it comes from enhancing already good technique built and maintained on flats, not from giving you anything that flat pedals can’t from a pedal stroke perspective.

So the truth is that learning to ride for the first year or two on flats will build a solid technique foundation so if you do decide to use clipless pedals you’ll get more out of them. And while clipless pedals can increase performance in certain racing applications it isn’t a monumental improvement and they should never become a crutch for bad pedaling and skill technique.

All of this also means that if you started to ride clipless pedals based on that magical pedal stroke then you were fooled by the lie. You may still like to ride clipless pedals and there is a time and place for them but it has nothing to do with your pedal stroke.

Now, admitting that you were fooled isn’t easy for most people and this is where I’ll lose a lot of clipless pedal riders. Everyone has this image of themselves and being fooled by a lie usually isn’t part of it.

And when presented with info that contradicts this image the ego gets busy constructing excuses to either dismiss this new info or to find reasons to attack the messenger.

But we’ve all been fooled and making mistakes is actually a way to find the path towards improvement. Hell, I’ve been fooled so many times I’ve lost count.

From crappy training advice I found in muscle magazines to countless supplements, I’ve wasted so much time and money on these mistakes it makes me sick to think about it.

But I’ve also learned very valuable lessons about what not to do and that has led me to better, more productive ways to train and become a better rider.

If I didn’t admit that I had been fooled and moved on I’d still be blitzing and bombing my muscles and popping boron. This mindset has also helped me avoid being stuck in a bad relationship, job and countless other things but that is getting a bit off subject.

My point is that the truth doesn’t sell clipless pedals and the lie is more profitable. This puts the truth at odds with the cycling industry as a whole.

Clipless pedals and shoes are bread and butter money makers for them where as flats can last for years and they don’t cost nearly as much.

elephant-in-the-room1And so here we are, with an elephant in the room that is going to have to be dealt with eventually. I’d love to let riders choose for themselves what they wanted to ride but the truth is that until we can get past these myths and half-truths about the pedal stroke that simply won’t be possible.

Hopefully as more and more riders are exposed to the truth about flat pedals and more studies come out disproving the need to create power on the upstroke we’ll be able to simply let riders choose for themselves.

But that isn’t where we’re at today and as long as a new rider is being sold clipless pedals based on myths and half-truths then the members of the Flat Pedal Revolution will have to keep calling bull shit no matter how much hot water it lands us in.

So what do you think? Am I right or am I missing something? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please post a comment below sharing them.

And if you liked this post please help me spread the word to other riders who could benefit from the info by clicking one of the Like or Share buttons below.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Strength Training Systems

15 thoughts on “Clipless pedals are NOT the problem, the lies told to sell them are…

  1. melissa roque says:

    I just read your article. Thank you for this eye-opening info. I just did my first bikepacking trip with an unsuited bike and gear. I lived to tell. No “clip-in” pedal and a Salomon trail running sneakers to use all weekend. All I heard was ” you need clip-in set-up to get better. All the physics behind the “clip-in” theory. After reading about Alexandera Houchin I am very convinced that I can do more with less. Thank you for your article!

  2. Craig says:

    Excellent article bikejames. I use SPD pedals on my road bike but on my MTB bike and hybrid I use flats. I guess a good alternative is to use the SPD-platform pedals if you really think you need clipless. I use to use LOOK Keo pedals but found road shoes are atrocious for walking when needed. I also have found no loss of power using flat pedals on my MTB and hybrid bikes. Flat is where it’s at!

  3. Wil de Sain says:

    I have been using flats on my MTB bike and whilst my foot rarely, if ever, slips (thanks to the pins) I sometimes loose my footing due to severe shock and bounce. I do suffer a bit of pedal strike in rocky terrain and wonder whether SPD pedals might reduce this. My only concern is will it increase the risk of having a severe crash. SPD pedals might actually reduce the risk of a fall, but when it does happen there may be no escaping the bike. Just my thoughts on the matter but thanks for the article. It helps to keep things in perspective.

    • Adrian says:

      The shimano SPD pedals with the multi release cleat can help alleviate some of the fear. The multi release cleat allows you to pull your foot off the pedal from multiple angles. As well you can lower the tension of the pedals to making coming out of them easier. I use SPD with multi release set very light. I have had my feet come off on jumps if I pull on the pedals. They have even come off if I get bounced too much in rough terrain. I am trying to move to flats to get better technique after being clipped on some sort for 30 years. Just like you are scared for your feet to get stuck I am scared for my feet to come off. My two cents.

  4. Serviceyards.Com says:

    One of the biggest lies told in the cycling industry is that clipless pedals are not more dangerous than flats and that they do not increase your risk of serious injuries. New riders are told that they are just different from flats and that neither is safer.

  5. Daysis says:

    This means that saying clipless pedals increase your risk of injury isn t just opinion anymore and the cycling industry needs to stop ignoring science that it doesn t like and tell the truth about the real benefits and risks of clipless pedals.

    • bikejames says:

      Yeah, that’s basically what I’ve been trying to wake riders up to. The cycling industry is causing more harm than it realizes with the lies they push out there and we need to do our part to help pressure them to stop it.

  6. Jason Williams says:

    Not sure why i googled ‘flat pedal myths’ but damn if it wasn’t enlightening.

    Honesty is tough. I spent nearly 20 yrs riding every and any skatepark and vert ramp I could (bmx) in any part of the world. After making the transition to touring the US on a road bike I bought into a shop’s recommend that my pedals/shoes sucked. Seriously. Same setup i used to blast airs out of a vert ramp were now wrong to pedal down a street. I’m weak. I bought in full tilt. And officially my pedals and shoes really did suck.

    Here i am yrs later finally able say, I’m not ok with flat pedals, I miss them.

    So anyway great article

  7. kangjie says:

    I have just ordered a set Clipless. After read your article, I have more thoughts about getting injuries. I don’t believe people can unclip in all the situations as a second nature like when you try to do a massive boundyhop, you need to put your heels down and apply pressure on the pedals in order to lift front wheel higher, if something happens, we are going to loop out, I don’t think it would be as easy as a second nature to twist your feet to unclip during puting heels down, aplying presure on the pedals and your centre weight is on the rear wheel. on some slippery road conditions, your rear brake might not be able to save you from flip out. The best way to survive, is just jump off your pedals.

    However, I would still try Clipless on my mountain bike, just keep in mind, Clipless is not as safe as flats, don’t do unnecessary on the trails with Clipless.

  8. Rachael Maxwell says:

    I am a road cyclist and have been riding TTs the last 2 years. I am alone in using flat pedals (yes even on my TT bike) and get told constantly that I’d be twice as fast if I used clipless. Because of this I have started using clipless on my indoor trainer which I race on frequently. My peak watts are lower with clipless pedals although my overall watts may be higher. At the end of the day, I just feel safer on flats and it is very rare that my feet bounce off the pedals. I wish people would just accept that some of us prefer flats and that there are only minimal gains to be had with clipless if any!

  9. Michael Dwyer says:

    I’ve been mtb’g for most of my life. I have been using various SPD pedals for about the last 15 years. I just switched back to flats. I was expecting a significant decrease in speed but to my surprise my rides on Strava say different. Admittedly there is a slight drop, less that a 1/2 mph average over a 15-20 mile ride, I don’t consider this a big deal and may disappear over time as I’ve only been back on flats for about a mounth.. This is on a trail with a bunch of short black diamond level options with a lot of single track. I did have some issues with climbs initially as I found myself picking my foot up and then I’d blow the climb but I seem to have corrected that. Jumping and dropping I am still adjusting to the flats. I think I was/am still using a lot bad technique that I got away with with clipless. I think people should ride whatever they like but I agree with everything in this article. I was sold on clipless on all the reasons mentioned and still hear it from many riders/friends who say I’m crazy for going back to flats. I’m not saying I will stay on flats forever but currently I think I am finding out many things in my pedal stroke and body positioning etc. that I was doing wrong and I am slowly correcting them. I am also starting to feel more safe and confident riding things that I used to question or pass on. My point and it’s just my opinion based on my experiences so far is there is really no downside using flats unless a stated in the unless you are doing a perfect pedal stroke and everything else, you really aren’t getting the true benefits of clipless pedals and only the downsides, which is most riders. I will also, say this… buy a quality flat pedal set and shoes. You don’t have to spend a fortune but don’t go cheap I hbe not regretted for a second switching back to flats even with the relearning and correcting bad habits. Every ride has been better. Just my 2 cents.

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