Clipless pedals are NOT the problem, the lies told to sell them are…

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But the problem is that this picture of the pedal stroke is outdated and flat out wrong.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

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  1. Albert FB says:

    One thing I like/dislike about cleats are they compensate for a lot of my bad technique. Which makes you lazy about identifying and correcting your bad technique.
    e.g. keeping my heels down. With cleats I can stand on my toes,(which I’m inclined to do even when not on my bike) and not worry about my feet coming off.

    Reply • December 2 at 7:08 am
  2. I have been riding flat pedals since 2004 with the occasional return to clips only to go back to flats. I own a bike shop where we frequently discuss flat pedal options and the benefits they offer. I find it frustrating however that customers will buy clip in shoes and pedals if they choose to go that route. When they chose the flat pedal route it is very difficult to get them to commit to a good pedal and shoe combination. “I will just keep these (plastic stock pedals) for a while and see what I think.”
    New plan of attack this year with rider clinics, pedaling and skills demonstration, more product displays that show quality flat pedal and shoe contact points. Knees hurt when clipped in, It’s not about the float, it is about your foot position.
    It is pretty fun to watch “fast riders” expressions when I show up to the start line with my 5-Tens on, priceless. Thanks James for this valuable and true information. Robert Sayler, Big Sky Bikes, Missoula, MT

    Reply • December 2 at 7:39 am
  3. Chuck Kutscher says:

    I’ve tried flat pedals for safety purposes. They allow me to get my foot out a LITTLE faster than loosely adjusted SPDs. And I can see that riding with them can help you expand your skills. But I’ve gone back to SPDs for two reasons. First, on steep climbs with poor traction, they allow me to provide a more uniform torque to the rear wheel and lessen the chance that the rear wheel will spin out. Second, and more important, on steep, rocky climbs I usually stay seated and have trouble keeping enough weight on flat pedals. So encounters with rocks will often cause my foot to bounce up off a pedal. Even the stickiest soled shoes (Five-Tens) don’t prevent this, because it isn’t an issue of insufficient friction between the shoe and the pedal. Yes, standing would probably help, but that’s not easy to do for any distance, and standing makes it even harder to maintain a uniform torque on the rear wheel. So I keep SPDs loosely adjusted and find I can get out of them very quickly. I’m not against trying flats again at some point, but I would have to solve the problem of my feet bouncing off in rocky terrain.

    Reply • December 2 at 8:06 am
  4. quino says:

    How many dollars costs a race-bike? a carbon crank-set? a lightweight pair of wheels? a 100gr titanium and carbon pair of pedals? more or less you can buy a car or a motorcycle. I’ve made on my own a kind of experiment: I did myself in the past years three bikefits, everyone costs a lot and the truth was that they only made me a worse rider and the pain is still there.

    I work in an office, all the week and i’ve got poor gluteus and tiny vastus medialis, a rotated pelvis and not a strongh core. I’can´t ride on flats cause my technique is soooo poor that I get tired after a bit, but I can eat my patella and knees pedaling improperly like lots of folks there with spds atacs or speedplays, thinking that no clipless no bike or I can admit it and start to build a routine to get efficient and powerfull my weak zones.

    Clipless are not necessary. They are a thing that you can ride to race, but not for every day. Riding a bike it’s not healthy, it’s fun and you need a lot of wise work to tune your body before be able to ride efficiently..or you can ride clipless and get more and more inefficient, more prone to injuries, and get involved into the game…new cranks, new saddle, lighter frame, bikefit, new shoes, new pedals…an hylaurionic injection, a knee tac, a surgery.

    If you can ride flats efficiently , you are a true rider I´m sure. Future it’s there, flat pedals, fat bikes, short stems, wide handlebars, it’s a revolution.

    First the body, then the bike. Maybe don’t sounds o.k to get money selling bikes but my next bike will be steel framed, and flat-pedaled.

    Reply • December 2 at 8:18 am
  5. Chuck Kutscher says:

    Sorry to be a devil’s advocate here, but I forgot to point out two other disadvantages of flat pedals. The frictional force between the shoe and a pedal causes a torque that makes the pedal want to rotate around its spindle. The thinner the pedal, the smaller the moment arm and the less the tendency for the pedal to rotate, but this still exists. Cleats prevent a pedal from rotating. Finally, if the pedal does suddenly rotate or your foot otherwise loses contact with it, the pedal pins that are used on most flat pedals can encounter your shin. I’ve gotten a bloody, painful shin from this on at least one occasion.

    To be fair, I should also point out some significant advantages I have found with flat pedals. They allow you to get restarted more easily on a steep hill, as you don’t have to fiddle with getting clipped in (although you still want to get your foot down in the right place on the pedal). I also feel more confident on flat pedals when practicing a track stand or negotiating downhill switchbacks. The bottom line is that there are advantages and disadvantages to both types of pedals.

    Reply • December 2 at 8:32 am
  6. Pat says:

    I used to ride clip less years ago I raced xc and dh. But I found that after a while when ever I rode my BMX bike I couldn’t bunny hop or Jump like Infused too. Iwas relying on theclipless pedals too much. So I decided to switch back to flats and I haven’t gone back since. Plus it is nice to be able to hop on any of my bikes for a quick stroll and not have to really worry about putting a a shoe just to ride

    Reply • December 2 at 8:35 am
  7. RennyG says:

    If clipless pedals were the huge asset for better technique that they claim to be, why don’t trials riders use them? If clipless are your “seat belt of attachment” to the bike you ARE setting yourself up for touble.
    James, I wish I knew you 15 years ago so maybe I would not have made so many of the misguided mistakes I have made. I have actually quit riding in the woods multiple times due to bad falls with clipless pedals. I have totally fallen in love (obsessed has been a label thrown my way) with riding in the woods again now that I am riding flats. I am 54 years old and rode clipless for more than 20 years. I agree that clipless have their place, but only AFTER good technique has been well established. So – you see you can teach an old dog….

    Reply • December 2 at 8:41 am
  8. Jon Laterveer says:

    Your bang on in your philosophies, especially in how hard it can actually be to truly admit you have been fooled and really move on. This pedal debate always brings my thoughts back to how I thought I was a quite good mountain biker while riding clipsless but really sucked when I first went to flats. I lost speed and power in flats. I at first and still do need to work on my foot positions and pedal stroke using flats a year after switching. I feel I was lucky that I did not fall back onto my clipsless crutch. After seeing how much I sucked on flats I new the “clipsless” pedals were a lie because I remember being a kid and riding my BMX in the mountains of BC on many childhood adventures. I am also lucky to have a few not interested in racing friends who are very fast and now better than me using flats 🙂

    Reply • December 2 at 8:42 am
  9. slk says:

    My experience with clipless is that my race runs are always faster, however, my reliance on them to improve my pedaling speed has cost me. Now, when I rad flats, not only does pedaling seem tougher but I’ve lost certain aspects of control. Comfortably clipped in, me center is locked to the bike over rougher terain. I feel Without being clipped in, the responsibility to maintain body position and control lies on me. Some one noticed that I ride up on my pedals (pedal angle is more parallel to bike). I miss how I road with flats but have a hard time going back.
    I recently switched to a clipless pedal that is flatter to simulate flats but the clip was too tight and not adjustable. I started using them on my smaller bike in an attempt to brake the cletes in. Well I came into a left corner too hot and couldn’t unclip to lean bike. So I went to high into the bush a bit and had to bail off too the left. Again couldn’t unclip from right pedal so my knee bent perpendicular to the joint. I lost my MCL. Ive been racing and riding all my life and now Im not sure if and when Ill be able to ride again.

    Reply • December 2 at 8:57 am
  10. Tony says:

    Coach…its hard to believe that this dead horse still needs a beating. If a new rider wants their share of crashes and injuries…go clipless. After they pick themselves up off the trail and out of the trees a few times the glamor of clipless will have faded. Hopefully your message will get through and safe some of them.

    Reply • December 2 at 9:24 am
    • Grammar Nazi says:

      Because everyone deserves to be safed.

      Reply • December 2 at 2:32 pm
  11. Ferreira Filho says:

    Please, I use pedal platform for mountain. But the racing bike I think the pedal clip works better because taps the spin cycle pedaling. That’s my opinion, respect for other opinions.

    Please delete what was referred in Portuguese. thank you

    Reply • December 2 at 11:49 am
  12. cookie says:

    James, you said “I’m terrible at remembering names” might I suggest reading ‘Moonwalking with Einstein’ Book by Joshua Foer. Awesome read and one you would most likely enjoy!

    I agree wholeheartedly about clipless vs flat. They both have a place in the cycling world and I wish that I had kept my flats when starting out on my MTB 15 years ago. I just dont have the confidence to ride at the same level now on flats.

    Any suggestions on flat pedals that are good value, again, you have inspired me to give it a go again!


    Reply • December 2 at 3:36 pm
  13. Mike says:

    I spent 25 years on clipless pedals, and I switched to flats a year ago because of your information. I haven’t missed riding clipless at all — not even once!

    Reply • December 2 at 8:07 pm
  14. Lou says:

    After riding for several years with clipless pedals and being relatively happy with them I started riding flats to hang with my little son and ride with him. I started just because I didn’t want him to feel pressure to deal with clip ins when he was just learning to ride. He also likes the BMX park and I hate sitting in the peanut gallery with the parents so I ride with him there too. After practicing and getting advice from some of my dirt jumping/BMX riding friends about foot placement etc. I really got the hang of it and now go back and forth without thinking about it. In fact, learning to ride well with flats helps you ride better when you use clipless pedals too because you naturally have your feet in the right position when riding technical terrain, hopping logs, jumping, etc. I am soooo glad that I took the time to become proficient with flats. I just ride better now when I’m clipped in too. Every skill you learn helps you ride better. Taking the time to ride flats well is totally worth it.

    Reply • December 2 at 9:49 pm
  15. Philip Madeley says:


    Another challenge in bike stores is the lack of access to good quality flats and shoes. In my home town of Tucson (a big MTB town) the big bike chain has one thick moderate level flat and about 20 different clipless pedals and no flat shoes. I found one LBS only with a high end low profile flat.

    Online there are some amazing flat pedals coming out and continuing to evolve. It is good to see the shoes evolving and new options coming out too.

    Not sure why people are hitting shins? I have no trouble doing steep climbs. Love that if I make a mistake pushing hard on corner I can dab and continue real fast no clipping in and out, I do this less and less now, but sometimes I push it harder and the option is there. I can spin pretty fast and definitely pass plenty of people on the trail. Do my feet slip, sure they do, but this IMO makes me more conscious of my body position, my foot position, my bike position etc… if I was locked to the bike I would not have that instant feedback.

    I like not being locked to the bike IMO = less stress on the body, I think perhaps a little disconnect on bumps may be healthier for the body so your joints not taking all the hits… and when you really need to lay the power down on the straights flat are no hinderance IMO.

    Getting the right flat and the right shoes is key and if you have been using clips, give flats only at least a month of hard riding before making conclusions and try some different shoe/ pedal combinations.

    James It is clear that your opinion is that flats need to be made more available as an option and highly recommended for beginners and recreational riders and that the %’s gained are not worth it or even attainable unless you are a high end athlete… but the benefits gained from flats are for everyone from beginner to advanced to really connect with the bike on so many levels…

    These are my random thoughts for the evening….


    Reply • December 2 at 10:04 pm
  16. Bogdan Balasa says:


    A bit of my personal experience in this regard. While I have been around bikes for a long time (mostly what we call now a BMX bike), real mountain biking only for two years (this is riding a mountain bike on mountain trails). I have started with flats and tried various type of shoes, from regular running shoes, to a Pearl Izumi Seek Alp IV to right now a 5-10 shoes.
    Also I have tried clipless (I actually recently purchased a good pair of clipless shoes with a big discount). It is also worth to mention that my riding is XC only in Salt Lake City valley, and I’m trying to participate in 2 – 3 races every season, Beginner category.

    With this being said, I have the impression that riding clipless on a trail that I know well, will help me conserve more energy or ride a bit more faster / more efficient. In the same time I’m aware that, at my level now, I’m riding way more carefully, trying to pay more attention to cases where I need to unclip to clear some technical terrain, where normally on flats I would not care. On flats if I need to stop and dab a foot down, it is just natural.

    I think that with time, maybe clipless will become more natural – unclipping part, so I would not need not make a conscious action to unclip, just from muscle memory, but I’m not there.
    So in conclusion, I would say that for me riding clipless, for now, it is a bit more efficient, but less fun or worry free. Also until I will get more comfortable with clipping / unclipping I will still race with flats. In the same time I will keep practicing both flats and clipless.

    Also I will understand that everyone is different and thus experience is different. I also think that people coming from road biking can be way more comfortable with clipless.



    Reply • December 3 at 10:04 am
  17. Tepi says:

    The point here being, that everyone can make their own mind about this, but “the clipless mafia” is having the higher ground because of false information about the pedaling spindle.When I started MTB about 22 years ago, there really was just one option: clipless. It was regarded as the only solution for “real” biking. Flats were crap quality and only used in commuting bikes. So I went for clipless and rode them for 20 years. When some DH riders and ALL dirt riders started to use flats, I just thought that they are so much better riders than me. How wrong I was….After stumbling in to James’s site and starting training with his methods, I also thought that James could be right about flats also (the strength training is amazing). So I moved to flats on my trail/enduro bike. First week I thought it’s not for me, but I persisted and now there is NO WAY I am going back on clipless. I am better and faster trailrider on flats. I am now seriously considering to change in to flats on my marathon bike also.

    Reply • December 4 at 5:06 am
  18. John Roberts says:

    Clipless pedals most certainly help you achieve a more efficient pedal stroke compared to flats. As previously discussed they can help you deliver greater power output to the pedals, in certain situations, but that’s not what their soul purpose is. Clipless pedals help distribute the source of that power output to a wider range of muscles in your legs. Key word being, “help”. Flats are inferior. I will admit it takes allot of practise to master clipless pedals.

    Reply • December 4 at 10:13 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Sorry but that is an outdated perspective of the pedal stroke and exactly what I am talking about. Please check out the slides from the studies and EMG readings I have in the Flat Pedal Revolution Manifesto and you will see that you can – and should – use the exact same muscles when using flats or clipless pedals. If you have some studies showing differently please feel free to share them up until this point no one has been able to show me any evidence that supports the myth of clipless pedals allowing for a more efficient pedal stroke.

      Reply • December 5 at 3:18 pm
      • John Roberts says:

        I’ve never read a shred of literature discussing the pros and cons of clipless pedals compared to flats. My opinions are based purely on personal experience. And just for the record I currently ride flats and prefer them over clipless due to the fact that I have an aggressive riding style. I care nothing about my performance these days but only about having fun and staying in some kind of shape. When performance and delivering max power output to the pedals was important to me clipless was the only way to go. I figured this out by trial and error not by reading studies. I could without a doubt feel the benefits of clipless pedals in my legs. They HELPED distribute the resistance to more muscles in my legs. So maybe you can chalk it up to the fact that everyone’s different and what might work for me might not work for you. I could tell clipless pedals HELPED with my overall power output and HELPED distribute that resistance to more muscles in my legs. No question. Thus allowing for a more efficient pedal stroke.

        Reply • December 6 at 8:26 am
        • bikejames bikejames says:

          What you “feel” and what is really going on can be two different things. There is a story about a tennis pro who “felt” that snapping the wrist was the key to putting topspin on the ball and when he taught that then his students ended up with elbow and shoulder problems. It seems the snap for putting topspin on a tennis ball comes from the shoulder and ends in the wrist, giving the pro a “feel” for how he was doing something that was really a symptom and not a cause.

          The evidence is clear – you shouldn’t use your muscles in any different way on clipless than on flats and that while you can do it, it isn’t better.

          And I would like to point out that while you may not have read anything on it, you were somehow influenced into trying clipless pedals. Someone told you something along the lines of how they would help you – probably something to do with the pedal stroke – and so you were influenced by this myth in some ways.

          So again, until someone can show me something other than their own “feel” – which can be off in a lot of ways – I have to go with the science, basic functional anatomy, the opinion of experts I have talked to (if you look into it you’ll find that a lot of top tier road coaches no longer subscribe to the different pedal stroke theory) and the anecdotal evidence I have experienced and seen myself.

          Reply • December 6 at 9:15 am
          • John Roberts says:

            I’ll be darned. Well you’ve successfully convinced this guy to un-bolt his AE03’s and ride clipless again.

            • December 9 at 2:29 pm
  19. CrossStuntry says:

    You are ALL Correct in your perspectives, especially for your current level of riding experience and fitness…
    Agreeing with (at least understanding) other perspectives (even if not adopted) is admirable…
    Disagreeing (without understanding) is against logic/pragmatism…
    I was an EARLY Adopter of SPDs in 1990 for Mountain Biking, because Straps&Traps (what most of the ‘Old Timers’ ‘like’ me call “Clips”, which was not a correct-enough term back then to displace the term ‘Clips’ from being reasonably interchangeable with Cleats, but I digress…) were simply Too Frustrating to use, and I liked (needed) the captive foot over technical/rocky/rooty/fast sections because it made me faster and more efficient, and safer with my foot ‘attached’…
    There is a valid reason for snowboards, skis, rollerskates, rollerblades, running shoes/cleats, etc. To Be Attached! Just as there are reasons for barefoot running, skateboarding, surfboarding and other ‘unattached’ sports/hobbies like gymnastics, cliff diving, etc…)
    I have done most of my 14years of Mountain Biking (I have 27 different bikes) with CrankBros. (Mallet/Candy/Acid/EggBeater/etc), yet I still have many SPD Pedals/Cleats…
    I KNOW The BEST Way to ‘Learn’ ‘Clipless’ is with the Multi-Release ’56’ Shimano Cleats (that do not come with any of their pedals that even the ‘first-timers buy! Yet, HeelKickBallPivot-Only ’52’ or ’51’ cleats do)…
    I also KNOW that I am better off with FLAT Pedals when doing (highly) technical Trials-type Riding, even though I often ride CrossStuntry (CrossCountry with Stuntry interspersed!) ‘Clipped In’ (aka ‘Cleated’ – Not soccer/football/track shoes! Just Sayin’)…
    I understand if I was Much Better without Cleats, I would be Even Better WITH Cleats (in most of the Same Situations)…
    I also understand clearer than JW that I personally can (frequently – but not always) MAKE some Tough Climbs or Technical Sections (or Both!) WITH Cleats, that I have still never made without cleats (without dismounting, that is)… There are many situations I have ridden with Flats (and good shoes) where I would have preferred Cleats, yet, I can imagine that is balanced by all the times I have fallen (still clipped, er, ‘Cleated’ In) where I may have been able to just ‘Step Out of it’… possibly damaging my knee or ankle via overextended anticipation of unwanted impact movement…
    I intend to spend many more hours/miles ‘untethered’ on Flats, yet I am fairly certain I may never have a Ready-to-Ride Mountain Bike (or 7) without ‘Clip-In’/’Cleated’/’mechanical’ pedals… Just Sayin’…
    Well, long and short of it – Both FLATS & CLEATS have Pros&Cons…
    Solution? Try BOTH! (or the ‘Other’) during non-critical situations and benefit from the opportunities to experience the differences, and apply that as you see fit for your future Rides, Races, Excursions, Competitions, Events, Trainings, etc.
    Using Cleats is Not ‘Wrong’…
    Using Flats is Not ‘Wrong’…
    Using my Future non-mechanical Pedal/Shoe interface
    NOT Knowing About and stocking and leaning toward selling/promoting the Safer and easier-to-learn ‘Multi-Release’ Shimano ’56’ Cleats (and adjustable tension pedals) with RUBBER Soled (Mountain Bike, Rail-Trail, easy walking, good grip) Shoes… Is ‘Wrong’!!!
    (Rather, not as ideal as I would hope for from so-called ‘Professional’ LBS’s…)
    Also, Selling ‘RoadRace’ Shoes/Pedals/Cleats to recreational riders (such that they cannot walk easily or safely)… IS ‘Wrong’!!!
    I believe Rubber soled Mountain Bike or Rail-Trail Shoes, and appropriate CrankBros Cleats/Pedals, Time ATAC, Shimano SPD’s, and similar, are better suited for a majority of the cyclists who are sold the clickity-clackity, slippery, wear-out-quickery ‘Road’ Shoes/Cleats… Just Sayin’…
    Just Remember… If you are Not Having FUN!!! You must (be) do(ing) something different (than in the past or in the future) such that; You WILL Have FUN!!!

    Reply • December 5 at 3:17 pm
  20. CrossStuntry says:

    Using my Future non-mechanical Pedal/Shoe interface?
    Well, it will provide Most of the Benefits of Both FLAT Pedals AND Clip-In Pedals while avoiding most of the Detriments…
    More to follow… (Just finishing an incomplete sentence above which was supposed to be just a teaser with little useful info…)

    Reply • December 5 at 3:39 pm
  21. Garry Scott says:

    Best thing I ever did was to toss the clipless. First day on my 510s and Cromoag Scarabs flats I powered away from my bike buddy up our hill climb and have never had so much fun and confidence hitting the downhills. I am learning how to connect and move my weight around the bike like I never would have clipped in. Big bonus off the bike is climbing rocks and waterfalls- the 510s can’t be beaten. No more falling and slipping when rock hopping to admire a view or go for a swim. You can’t get me out of these shoes as they are the most comfortable shoes I own. I wear them to town and get approving looks from the skate kids.

    Other riders wonder why I don’t go clipless, shop owners say clipless is the way.

    My bunny hops are getting higher and past my mate who is still stuck in his clipless pedals spinning circles like he has been told and not driving his weight around the bike down through the feet.

    Us humans evolved walking running and climbing. We never had the need to pull up with our legs with any force. To do so on a bike clipped to pedals is asking our anatomy to do a very foreign thing. Clipless people wonder why they have knee problems? We were designed to move from the strength of our core powering down through a fabulous series of levers and joints. Levers and joints that evolved through the millennia of time to be both powerful and stable. Those muscles that clipless riders ask to pull up on their pedals evolved largely to stablise the joints and allow the power of the extention of the entire leg.

    So often following the mob mentality is a very big mistake. It might sound right in some ways however at the same time it can also be very wrong. Open your mind, get some good flats and shoes and listen and learn from those who have discovered for them selves how much more fun and skill you can develop.

    Thanks James- you’ve opened my mind to a joy and skill level so often locked out by the clipless myth

    Reply • December 5 at 3:48 pm
  22. John H says:

    Thank you for your views on the flat vs clipless debate. You pointed out many things I absolutely agree with, like benefits of good technique on flats, bunnyhops, ect. I believe flats are better for all-mtn type riding and most DH/FR, and I can see where XC guys and professional DH guys would benefit from clipless. since xc is mostly roadie style riding for the most part. The DH pros going so blazing fast through the roughest terrain imaginable would give then an advantage by letting the pedals do the work for them. I’m a AM/FR/DH guy who also likes my DJ bike, so flats are for me. Most”mountain bikers” around here never get their tires of the ground for more that a fraction of a second, so if they feel clipless makes them a better rider, good for them, Lol.
    Now, if I ever decide I want to take all the years of developing my flat pedal technique and rely on clipless to to the work for me, I might give it a go. If i every become an XC guy and sell all my fun bikes and get a hardtail 29er with an 80mm fork and start wearing roadie clothes on the trails, I’ll probably switch to clips as well. Maybe 30 years from now, who knows. I can say that I have influenced more that a few clipless guys to try flats, not by saying anything but but them observing my skills on flats alone made them want to try it. In closing, I think it really depends on what kind of rider you are or want to become when making the choice. I do get a kick out of watching a guy who only rides clipless jump on a bike with flats and can barely make it up a curb, much less do a pepper bunnyhop. They always ask, “how do you keep your feet on the pedals” – I just smile, and laugh on the inside.

    Reply • May 7 at 10:31 pm
  23. the cycle industry as convinced every cyclist he’s a budding Bradley Wiggins why they want to improve on there time every time they go out goodness knows. cycled for years with cleats far better with flats. better on your joints as well.James is bang on what he says. you’ll always get someone mention the tour boys when discussing cleats. They don’t have to contend with heavy traffic…..

    Reply • July 5 at 4:05 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Great insights, thanks for sharing.

      Reply • July 6 at 3:51 pm
  24. Bill says:

    Mountain biking and golf have something in common. They both have an endless supply of subject matter experts promoting their tips and philosophies on the internet; within simple reach by new riders. The next thing that both sports share is that it takes thousands of hours to learn or relearn a skill and there in lies the trap. It took Tiger Woods two years to change his drive and he is arguably one of the greatest of all time and probably hits 5-600 balls a day. Most amateur/recreational riders ride maybe once a week, never practice, and then get frustrated when they can’t perform that maneuver they saw on a three-minute YouTube. The alternative to not training and developing muscle memory is to buy equipment that helps us perform better without trying. I think clipless pedals fall into that category. We have a lot of roots and rock gardens on our trails. With flats, my feet bounce around. With clipless, my feet stay connected and I fly through these areas. I could learn proper technique and apply the proper weighting and unweighting to my pedals but that takes time which I don’t have, so I take the easy way out. Unfortunately, I believe this mindset applies to a large portion of the recreational market buying clipless. Why spend time learning good technique when a piece of equipment can be bring me instant success. This of course results in developing bad technique that may never be corrected and certainly won’t be fixed by watching a video on YouTube. I agree with James about riding on flats first but I would also add the importance of seeking out a riding instructor and taking some lessons, regardless of your skill level. Not sure about MBing but the billion dollar golf industry is predicated on the 95% of golfers that stink and the money they waste trying to get better without ever addressing the root cause of their problem.

    Reply • July 22 at 6:44 am
    • James Wilson says:

      I guess my only reply would be that you have to learn a skill with clipless pedals as well – getting in and out of them. That time and effort you spent on that unnatural skill could have been put into learning the more natural skill of grounding your feet and you would have gotten better at it as well. I’ll bet that by the time you got to where you were comfortable enough unclipping to ride those rock gardens you would have had your feet planted on the pedals if you had stuck with flats. Clipless pedals solve one problem but they create another that you have to train yourself to overcome.

      Thanks for the insights, though, and you are right about the parallels between equipment being sold as the answer to newbies in both sports.

      Reply • July 22 at 2:29 pm
  25. Reformed Roadie says:

    the clipless pedal mafia? really?

    whatever you are smoking is making you paranoid.

    (I enjoy the rest of your stuff, but the pedal tirades have to stop.)

    Reply • July 22 at 6:53 am
    • James Wilson says:

      What would you call it when you’ve had countless discussions with riders, coaches and members of the mountain biking media and they all say that they know clipless pedals are over-hyped and pushed on new riders too soon that’s just the way it is. I’ve literally been told that there is no reason to upset the “industry” by promoting the truth about flat and clipless pedals. There is a concerted effort by the mountain bike industry art large to promote lies and half-truths that support the narrative of “clipless good-flats bad”. This is being paranoid, it is the truth and I don’t understand how someone can’t see it. Do your own research instead of sitting on the sidelines judging someone who has and see what you come up with – if you find something different please let me know but if you are brave enough to dig into it you’ll find that there is a lot more to the story than you think.

      Reply • July 22 at 2:25 pm
  26. Rafael says:

    It’s so interresting to see how many feelings this subject stir up 🙂
    The past year I only ride flats, even on my road bike. It felt different in the begging, specially on the road bike but and it takes a while to get used to. but 1 year later I wouldn’t go back. Was my stroke less efficient in the begging? Probably, it felt that way anyway. It felt like I used more energi on every stroke. I felt new muscles working that I haven’t felt before. I had more contact with my glutes and hamstrings.
    I also have less pain in my lower back and the knee pains after long rides are gone.
    I would recommend trying flats, even on road bikes, but you have to commit to it and give it some time. It will probably feel awkward “a long time” before it feels good and before you get all the benefits, but I feel it’s worth it.

    Reply • July 22 at 10:01 am
  27. Norman List says:

    I,m 71 and been riding clipless for around 35 years and based on your insistance i have been using a set of Mash SL. For the last 6 months
    My rotation has improved incredible as well as cornering ,stand up peddling etc. I do bike tours and claim to ride the best trails in Costa Rica. Got to take a skills course to see what else will help me keep up with the young dudes
    Ride it till the wheels fall off
    Norm List

    Reply • July 22 at 2:42 pm
  28. Russell says:

    So James, you’ve talked a lot about flat pedals, but haven’t spent too much time discussing the different types and which ones might be best. Here is my cheesy flat pedal primer:

    Rubber Block pedals (I can’t post pix so you will just have to google to see what they look like). I have them on my ’69 Phillips. They work great on a do-all 3 speed over dirt roads, rail trails and city streets. Exposed ball bearing. Just pour 30 weight oil down the spindle every few years. Extremely comfortable even in bare feet, but not for real off-road riding.

    Toe Clips; the original clip in pedal. These were used before mountain bikes were invented. You can ride with the strap loose, snug or tight. The toe clip does allow your foot to move around, letting you use slightly different muscles. The difference may seem small, but when you have been climbing forever, the effect is huge. These pedals were quite thin and would cut through the soles of your sneakers over a summer, which is one reason the stiff leather sole bike shoe came about. Racing shoes often had a simple cleat which griped the pedal. Still a great option for a touring bike.

    The Bear Trap pedal. These suck, unless you use toe clips (I rode a 26″ ridged this way for a long time and yes it did suck). I first saw them on 1980’s mountain bikes, and they still come on cheap mountain bikes or as ride-home pedals (for those who didn’t buy the clipless sales pitch). Any bear trap I’ve had did not grip my sneakers, so my feet slipped around, and were downright slippery when wet.

    BMX or Platform Pedal with Pins. I have three bikes with these and they are my personal favorite. Simply a thin, wide platform with pins on both sides to grip into the soles of your shoes. The pins dig in best with a soft, smooth sole sneaker ($29 Costco Puma or $150 510’s). They also grip my 10″ insulated hunting boots too. Foot position is unlimited; fore/aft, side to side, toe in or out, whatever. Good ones can be had for less than $50 bucks, but if you just have to spend tons of money on a pedal, you can. Caution, these will tear up your shins even worse than the original toe clip pedals.

    If I were to bet a new bike today, I would get a set of BMX/Pinned Platform pedals for it. There may be other types of pedals out there, but these are the ones I have experience with. I have never used “clipless” pedals, and only rode with cleated shoes and toe clips once (and that was enough). Your Milage May Differ!

    Reply • July 23 at 8:28 am
  29. Paul says:

    The only thing wrong in here is the whole article. Clipless keep your feet positioned correctly at all times, feet are much less prone to falling off the pedal in trail riding situations and, in contrary to what the author implies, they do help in pedaling power. Especially while sprinting, low traction situations (winter riding – pedal stroke is much smoother, thus power transfer is more constant and rear wheel slip is minimized).

    Reply • April 4 at 4:34 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I’m sorry but all of this is nothing but talking points for the clipless pedal industry. If you can provide a single bit of evidence that clipless do what you say please share it. I have provided ample evidence to at least cast doubt on those claims if not outright disprove them.

      Everything you mentioned comes down to skill, not your equipment and your inability to keep your keep planted or pedal without the rear wheel slipping on flats indicates of your lack of skill, not an indictment on flat pedals. Once you do some of your own research into it you’ll find that the science is much different than what the guys at the shop, trail head and in the magazines tell us.

      Reply • April 4 at 10:27 am
  30. Hi. The article “Clipless Pedals are not the problem, the Lies told to sell them are”, is written by a tyrant and very self righteous attitude person. I get the impression from reading the article that you know it all, when in reality you have a lot to learn. Many professional are using SPD pedals and shoes.(clipless Pedals) So why aren’t you calling them or contacting them and telling them how screwed up they are. Admit it, you jumped off the DEEP END with extreme reactionary behavior when you wrote this article. Your B.P. was elevated big time when you wrote this article. All I can say is these comments probably won’t be seen except by the one that rejects it. To you that has read everything I wrote so far, I hope you realize how totally self righteous the article, I mentioned the title of at the top of this page, really is. This is totally out of control and not necessary at all. The article smells like crap. It wreaks of self righteousness.

    Reply • December 5 at 4:02 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Surely you have some specific points that you disagree with and have some evidence to the contrary. To just call me names and make accusations about my state of mind seems a little self-righteous on your part, which I’m sure you aren’t since you seem to be so against it. So if you wouldn’t mind having a discussion instead of a name calling contest, please let me know what you disagree with and I’d be happy to share ideas on this.

      Reply • December 6 at 4:51 pm
  31. Mike says:

    I guess clipless vs. flats is the new wheel size debate?

    I have been mountain biking since 1986. In 1991, Shimano came out with SPD clipless pedals and I switch from crappy bear-trap pedals and toe cages to SPD’s. I have ridden SPD’s ever since. Until May 2019.

    I’m a level 1 PMBIA mountain bike instructor and I need to certify level 2, and I have always been a crappy jumper and weak on drops of any significant size. So, I needed to improve myself. I know, in theory, what I am supposed to do when jumping and dropping, but have never been very stable or solid. So, I reviewed and broke down my essentials skills and I decided that my TIMING was the weakest aspect of these maneuvers for me. I never really rode DH where many, if not most, people use flat pedals and really learn to jump well. When I did DH it was using SPD’s, and this got me thinking that my technique may be compromised because I am doing things clipped in that are not correct or at least not well executed. I did not WANT to ride flat pedals, but I decided to switch in an effort to improve my techniques. I have been secretly validating my findings with my various instruction clients by monitoring how they learn and advance with their skills.

    Findings since May 2019:

    1. ANYONE & EVERYONE who uses clipless pedals is pulling up when they execute rear wheel lifts, preloading the bike, or attempting to jump. I don’t care how much you try to execute a proper preload by compressing through the crank and exploding off the pedals, you will also lift your feet as a reaction to the action. This is not necessarily the end of the world, but id’ say this makes everyone lazy. This results in poor technique and by that, I mean many (if not all) clipless riders will preload with ½ the necessary force because they end up lifting to achieve height. Most riders, I included, are using a slow, artificial lift using their legs to raise the rear wheel instead of using their legs to compress down into the trail and then control the resulting forces. This is bad and affects your ability to drop, lift either or both wheels, manual, and bunnyhop. So, yeah, 90% of important trail moves are compromised. And flat pedals provide a much larger and effective platform to compress with; more area for your foot and shoe to push against equated to better power transfer and bike loading. Once you switch you realize how small the cleat interface on your shoe is and how much power is lost into your shoe when compressing. As soon as I switched to flat pedals and watched video of myself, this was obvious to me. Correcting this alone has improved my jumping and drop mechanics. This IMO is the #1 reason to switch to and practice on flats.

    2. Climbing performance is NOT compromised because of flat pedals. Anyone using good body position, hovering and standing (I support some of your position on standing climbs James) will likely be just as good climbing anything on flat pedals. My clipless pedals provide more clearance over rocks and other trail obstacles than my RaceFace Atlas flats, so timing pedals strokes and using ratcheting because more important on techy climbs and in rock gardens. Again, if you don’t have those skills, then switching to flats at first seems to make climbing harder. But the truth is you have been using clipless pedals in place of better techniques. I have PR’d every one of my favourite climbs on flats, the biomechanics, if not the same, are not less effective, just different. A lot of riders LIFT their rear wheel when climbing over obstacles (see #1) which is a learned technique and can be effective but is easily restored using improvements in body position and hovering or standing in place of lifting, which I will argue are better, correct techniques. Hey, lift using your feet if it helps you. Nothing wrong with that. But if that is your only tool for climbing, then you are limited. Flat pedals require some other mechanics which are worth learning.

    3. Downhill performance is +10x on flats. Flat pedals provide several benefits when descending; better power transfer through your cranks, greater range of foot position and rotation, ease of adjusting heels down, quick and easy removal of your feet from the pedals. Good body position, range of motion and angulation are maximized with flat pedals. This is why most DH riders are on flats. (Yes, I know the UCI DH riders are mostly on clipless pedals. You have not consolidated your skills like a UCI downhiller…) I LIKE the secure and positive foot placement that clipless pedals give me, mostly because I can be lazy when clipped in overall, but flat pedals allow me to be far more dynamic on my bike which allows me to use greater range of motion and body position for everything. I especially notice how much better I corner on flat pedals.

    4. Safety is better on flats. Even though I am accustomed to riding difficult features on SPD’s, I am discovering that being able to instantly jump off my flat pedals is giving me confidence to try harder lines and maneuvers including jumps and bigger drops (although that is combined with better drop techniques). When practicing manuals, flat pedals are almost mandatory because when you loop-out on a manual, SPD’s will not release when you pull back off the pedals and you can end up on your ass in the grass. For practicing manuals alone, get flats. I teach lots of beginner and intermediate riders, and FLAT PEDALS are the single biggest contributor to safely learning and building confidence. EVERYONE remembers the first time they could not clip out and fell over on their bike. IMO, this effect results in many crashes on the trail where moving your leg off the pedals could save a rider from crashing. Crashing is hard and results in a massive loss of confidence for every rider. Don’t get clipless pedals for your kids please. Just don’t.

    5. Overall efficiency is…..different. All summer I have been systematically riding my favourite black trails. First on clipless (like always) and then on flats. Each time, I feel “better” on flats. Almost every descent is faster, but I’d say it’s just more fun all the time. On climbs, the Strava times indicate no difference. NO DIFFERENCE. Sometimes I miss a hard, punchy feature on flats, but this is currently because my timing of pedals stokes is off and I haven’t yet adjusted. Sometimes your foot gets ‘stripped” off of a flat pedal by a rock or root, which can be unnerving at first. Learning to put your foot back on flat pedal in the correct spot requires some new muscle memory learning. And flat shoes with pedals are surprisingly sticky and sometimes hard to adjust at speed which is something else to learn. I sometimes miss being able to slam my foot back into the SPD without having to think about it. Right now, at the end of my rides, I’d say I feel more tired after riding on flats, but then I’ve only been on them since May and I suspect some muscle adaptation is in process. This is really obvious on long XC-ish rides (20mi.) I’d say there is some efficiency in using clipless pedals, but for me it is mostly on longer rides. Overall, for the style of riding I do, I think I am having MORE FUN on flat pedals. (maybe because it is still a little new and I like the challenge)

    Will riding flat pedals make you a better rider?
    No, not necessarily. If you are not interested and open to learning new and proper techniques, then you are likely to hate the differences and resist the need to adapt. If you don’t take the time to learn, you might see SOME benefit in terms of confidence, safety, and maybe body dynamics. But you won’t necessarily get much improvement. Flat pedals might make you feel like a noob and change where you is tin your pack of friends on weekly rides. You could also practice better techniques on your clipless pedals and see similar results. If you take a lesson (or lessons) you will absolutely be taught better techniques regardless of pedals. On flat pedals you will be forced to execute “correctly” and you will improve. IF you go back to clipless (I ride about 25% o the time on my SPD’s now) your techniques WILL be better. But if you think switching to flats will make you a better rider overnight, it won’t. You will need to do 3-5 rides to adapt your basic riding and build flat confidence and techniques. If you are just starting or getting back into riding after some time off, then I’d say, yes, ride flats for a few seasons. If you are into racing, I think clipless pedals can be more efficient; spending some time on flats and re-learning basic things like body position, cornering, and drops could make a huge difference in your riding. (Nino was a DH rider before he switch to XC competetion). Start slow, on moderate trails you know and feel and learn the differences. Get some actual coaching so you can learn good techniques or unlearn bad habits.

    And have fun with it.
    Because bikes are supposed to be fun!

    Reply • July 24 at 10:34 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Great observations and thanks a lot for taking the time to share your insights. A lot has changed about this conversation since I started riding almost 20 years ago and it’s good to see more riders like yourself who are trying flats and making their own conclusions. And yes, it is because bikes are supposed to be fun!

      Reply • July 25 at 2:20 pm
      • Mike says:

        So, I decided to share my comment on our FB page yesterday too. It’s getting some good traction but MAN some people sensitive about their pedals! I was accused of gross generalizations and bias. Funny though, every person who takes issue has the same response, “Well that’s what the PROS use.” Ok, but I’m not a pro in that sense, and I don’t actually care much what the pros ride. (Except Minaar. I want that black jacket he was wearing before the race in Les Gets.)

        Lots of other comments from flat pedal riders who say that they are actually looked down on and made fun of because they aren’t using flats. WTF? All of these parts are just tools in a big system where, IMO, the rider and their skills are the important element. I guess I’m biased because I enjoy instructing….

        Maybe I wasn’t clear enough that these are my opinions and observations about some of the clients I instruct. Hardly a scientific study and I don’t think anywhere I say “You should…” or “You shouldn’t…” I also don’t really discuss the pros of clipless pedals. Maybe we should revisit that too.

        Anyways, it was one of your previous posts that got me questioning the source of my jumping difficulties and made me rethink my feet.

        Reply • July 26 at 1:04 pm
        • bikejames bikejames says:

          Yes, people are very sensitive about their clipless pedals. When you realize how much psychology is involved you can start to understand why but for most riders this is a not a rationale discussion.

          The problem is that you have a tool in clipless pedals that is misunderstood and sold to riders based on myths and half truths. Those lies can not exist in the same space as the truth about the pedal stroke and foot position and you have a lot of people who have an interest in maintaining the status quo.

          This conversation has changed a lot since I first started riding and it is goo to see more riders like yourself willing to try flats and see for themselves how they impact their riding. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and good luck with everything.

          Reply • July 29 at 1:52 pm
  32. David Reynolds says:

    Interesting conversation! I guess I will throw my opinion in as well, since that’s what a lot of this is. My thoughts are use what makes you feel the most comfortable. I haven’t done downhill in parks before so I can’t really say what would be best for that but I would probably go with flats since it would give me the benefit of a quick bailout. I’ve had a couple of bifs on my XC mountain bike that I might be able to blame on my clipless pedals but more likely my abilities as a rider. As a long time roadie, I would never choose flats over clipless as long as you have your position correct. Spinning at high rpm on a road bike can make it very challenging at times, to keep your feet on the pedals and I would not want to use flats or God forbid go back to the old pedals and toe clips. There is really not a right or wrong, just choice. Use what fits your situation and the type of riding you are doing. If your new to the sport, start simple and try different things. There is no end to the supply of used equipment, so you can try something without breaking the bank. All contact points with the bike are very personal and everyone prefers something that fits and suits them.

    Reply • August 5 at 2:18 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, although I will say that a lot of what I’ve shared isn’t opinion, it is based in science and movement principles. That is actually one the lies we are told about clipless pedals – it is just a matter of opinion and that there is no real objective science or other things to consider. There are a lot of ways to solve the problem of pedaling your bike but only one lines up with the science and movement principles we currently have. The others are, as you have pointed out, just opinions based on nothing but the talking points the industry has drilled into everyone’s heads.

      Reply • August 13 at 9:23 am

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