Flats vs. Clipless Pedals

I never ride clipless pedals and I think that they hold a lot of riders back. Here is my take on why I think that flats are a better option for most riders and why our sport should change its stance on which is better.

Please be sure to read this follow up article as well: Being Pro-Flats Doesn’t Make Me Anti-Clipless

You can download the MP3 file and/ or subscribe to this podcast by visiting this link.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Jay P says:

    I agree with this sentiment 100%. Like you say, I ride 50/50 crankbros and the 5.10 shoes and its almost as good as clips. Whenever somebody asks me, I tell them to stay away from clips and get better shoes, cuz I like to ride the technical stuff.

    Reply • November 20 at 2:04 pm
  2. Robin B says:

    Agreed. And if anybody wants proof ask any top 10 world cup downiller to shred some dirt jumps or rip down A-line in whistler in a non-race application. 99.9% of them will ride flats. Simply because it’s more fun and probably what they learned on. A lot of top guys will train on flats during the winter to kick bad habits developed over the season. Even top BMX pros will run flats some times in gate practice to improve their 1st and 2nd pedal stroke to ensure proper power placement.

    Reply • November 20 at 3:16 pm
  3. Cyril says:

    Thanks for an interesting discussion. I ride both flats and clips depending on the ride… Mostly clips near home since where there’s lots of climbing and not much super technical stuff. I break out the flats when I ride in new places, and for more technical rides. And when I want to remind myself how to bunny or vert-lift without “cheating.”

    I’m surprised your podcast didn’t include more about the training effect of the subtle differences between pedaling styles. I tend to ride platforms slightly further forward on the pedals, and definitely feel a different engagement in the hamstrings and calves, even though I think I keep a pretty smooth stroke. Thoughts?

    Reply • November 20 at 4:16 pm
  4. Vito says:

    James I thought I was alone on this , but your podcast reflects exactly my experience!

    Here’s my story, started mtbiking in the early 90’s and quit about 10 years later; it was fun at first, then I let others talk me into riding clipless, and it all went downhill after that, to the point where riding had become mostly a scary experience.

    About 4 years ago, after I had quit talking to the “experts” and reading magazines (they are the devil;-), I decided to start over from the basics, with a simple hardtail and flat pedals. In a few months I got better than when I was over 10 years younger, riding was fun again and I was actually looking forward to the next ride.

    Long story short, learn to ride flats first, only switch to clipless when and if that is appropriate for you.

    Reply • November 21 at 4:15 am
  5. Joe says:

    Agree completely. I started MB 7 months ago and while I rode a road bike for years with clipless pedals I didn’t think it was a good idea on a MB, after falling a few times especially in CO. I use 5.10’s with good pedals. I don’t think clipless offer much advantage in All mountain terrain and as you point out can be quite dangerous. I also think it’s odd that people spend thousands of hours learning how to unclip and clip in with clipless .. which when you think about it is an unnatural skill and has no redeeming value in anything else. With flats, you work on balance and feet position for uphill , downhill and long rides. You get stronger and become a better rider. I’m just surprised that when I show up at a trail I’m usually the only one on flats. Good to hear you speak up on this one… 🙂

    Reply • November 21 at 6:15 am
  6. bikejames says:

    I think that there are a lot more of us than we think, we’re just kind of the silent minority. I’m still amazed at how many riders will just keep riding clipless pedals even after getting hurt in part doe to them. It is almost like the message is “you’re not a real mountain biker without them”. Oh well, hopefully that trend can start to change, it would be great for our sport in general.

    Reply • November 21 at 10:43 am
  7. bikejames says:

    @ Joe – you raise an interesting point about how much time people spend learning to clip and unclip. I think they would be much better off spending that time and energy learning to bunny hop, track stand (amazing how many riders can’t track stand) and corner. Instead of wasting time learning a skill that will only come in handy if you screw up, learn how to ride better and screw up less. You’ll have more fun on the trail…

    Reply • November 21 at 10:46 am
  8. Simon says:

    I’d like to try flats. I’ve only ever ridden with clipless. Can anyone recommend a decent cheapo brand of flat pedals?

    Reply • November 23 at 7:38 am
  9. Glen says:

    I have always rode flats. Every time I ride with a new group they tell me how much I could improve by going clipless and I just shrug and say thats ok. They are not leaving me behind in any way on the ride. I dont usually have any problems keeping my feet on the pedals plus if I am in a slow technical area and I get way off balance I will stick a leg out to get my balance back.

    Reply • November 23 at 10:34 am
  10. bikejames says:

    @ Simon – While I can not think of a particular brand off the top of my head, I have had good luck with my Crank Bros 50/50’s and the Azonic A Frame pedals. I would say that you want a pedal with a decent amount of pins and that the pins are threaded all the way up. Something about the threaded pins make them grip better than the smooth pins.

    And remember to get some 5:10 Stick Rubber shoes. They make all the difference in the world. If I had to choose between crappy pedals or crappy shoes, I’d get the good shoes and the crappy pedals. Even if you don’t stick with the flats experiment the 5:10’s make great hiking shoes so they will be a good investment either way.

    Reply • November 24 at 8:21 am
  11. Rodney says:

    Some other arguments to add:
    o Even small jumps with clipless, especially small one like CrankBrothers EggBeaters is dangerous, there’s too little platform to absorb the hit and you may hurt your ankle. Shimano clipless pedals are a little better in this respect (and more durable).
    o The 10% additional efficiency offered by clipless, including pull-action might take years of spinning before getting efficient at it. When you climb sitting and yanking and really pulling those clipless pedals, wouldn’t it be more efficient to just stand up and hammer away, like what James is suggesting?
    o Doing skinnies with clips is just not an option, you need to be able to jettison the bike away when things go wrong.
    o I don’t think you really need 5.10’s, but reasonable good flats with replaceable pins (these pins are also a bit longer than fixed ones) and shoes with waffle soles, like Vans (got a new pair of Rowley XLT Elites) are good enough. If you have good pins they will leave their marks on the soles anyway meaning even better grip.

    Reply • November 24 at 9:44 am
  12. John says:

    I have always ridden in clips. I got them for XC and now that I ride mostly DH use them for that too. I’m going back to flats at the moment to practice hopping and bike control, but I disagree with many of the above posts and say that clips give you much more control than flats. Hit a rock garden flat out, crazy roots or any rough section in general, and your feet are always in the same spot. Comming in short on a jump? Lift up that back wheel.

    Reply • November 24 at 10:27 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ John – they certainly help in those situations…BUT you can learn to do pretty much the same thing with good flats and shoes. If your feet bounce around a bit but you can hit the rock garden faster because you are not worried about getting hurt if you fall unexpectedly then it may be a wash. And with jumping, the best dirt jumpers in the world don’t clip in so you can learn to maneuver your bike just fine without being attached to it.

      Riding flats is a skill, just like riding clipless pedals are. My point is that for most riders the trade off is not worth it. The increased risk of injury and the mindset it creates are not worth it in my opinion. But, to each their own. I guess my ultimate point is to stop putting new riders directly on clipless pedals and for the mountain bike world to stop acting like clipless pedals are better and those of us that ride flats are “missing out”.

      Reply • November 25 at 8:02 am
      • lccurtis1 says:

        Well I use a hybrid pedal clipless/platform by Shimano which gives me the ability to switch during a ride depending on the terrain. I think clipless has their benefits but sometimes you need to be able to jump of the bike especially when riding unfamiliar courses. Each option works depending on the rider so it’s good to go with a dual pedal.

        Reply • June 2 at 8:01 am
        • bikejames bikejames says:

          I’ve seen more and more riders running pedals like that because a lot of people who ride clipless pedals spend a lot of time unclipped anyway. However, I don’t really like that solution as a rule of thumb. If you are on a trail that isn’t exceedingly technical but has a few pots you feel more comfortable unclipped then they can be alright but they are a big compromise, especially on the flats side.

          Shoes designed for flat pedals and dedicated flat pedals give you a degree of grip, control and confidence you can’t get from the hybrid pedals and it is also much harder to start on a hill and be able to find the right side of the pedal.

          Rider’s should learn on flats and then try clipless if they want and the hybrid pedals are a compromise between both so while they can be useful for some riders I don’t recommend them in general.

          Reply • June 3 at 8:08 am
  13. insanegman says:

    I freeride and primarily use clipless. And yes there are times when they’ve annoyed me, got in the way, etc. but when I’m climbing it’s easier for me than flats. Maybe I’m just not that good at flats, probably because I primarily use them when the weather gets cold and I ride with hiking boots and wool socks.

    I also wear baggy even though they too have gotten in the way on occasion. I have friends who think their camel-toe looks good and wear spandex, cuz ya know, it’s all about performance. But somehow we manage to get along.

    Some say po-tay-toe. . . and some say just do what you like so long as you’re having a good time.

    Reply • November 25 at 10:19 am
  14. Walt says:

    Your wrong on not needing bike specific 510 shoes. Maybe your Vans and such are ine for dirt jumping, trials, and things like that. But for long rides, you need the sole stiffness o ike specific 510 shoes or your feet will fatigue.
    Also, SImon, why do you wnat “cheapo” flat pedals. Didn’t you listen to the podcast? Make the same investment you did into your clipless setup. I think Atomlab pedals are the best all around pedal, by the way. They make a “lite” model that has a magnesium body and they weigh just a little over 400 g. Those things are the bomb.

    Reply • November 26 at 1:16 pm
  15. Lisa says:

    I’ve gotta chime in. I went to flats after an ACL reconstruction. I was so worried about not clipping out. At first, I totally hated them. I never realized how much I cheated and I felt like I had to learn how ride all over again, which was frustrating. I never rode a bike as a kid and literally learned how to ride at the ripe age of 29! But I rode with Vans and was about to go back to clipless, then I tried the 510s. What a difference! They made all the difference in the world! Wouldn’t go back. I have to say before going to flats, I couldn’t ride a section WITHOUT being clipped in. And now, I feel like I’m riding better than ever! At 7 months post-op, went to Whistler and was very proud with how well I rode and did jumps I wouldn’t have done before I hurt my knee. So I’ve gotta say that I think flats are going to make me a much better rider in the long run. The 510s were one of the best purchases I made for the year!

    Reply • November 26 at 7:24 pm
  16. Evan Turpen says:

    I fully agree with James podcast on this. Working at a bike shop I see this happen all the time with customers and it is extremely difficult to consider people otherwise. They see 99% of the people on the trails on clipless pedals and are convinced this is the way. It is flat pedals vs. the industry and unfortunately they have the upper hand.

    I personally switched to flat pedals immediately after riding a friends 5.10 shoes 4 years ago and I’ve never looked back. 5.10’s are the only way to go if you want the best flat pedal experience. It is SO much more fun to be able to push the limits of your skills and the trail without the consequence of “not being able to clip out”. I also do long cross country/trail rides on flats and don’t notice much, if any disadvantage to my clipped in counterparts.

    Flat pedals have taught me more about flowing with the terrain and being smooth. Sprinting on a fast bumpy section of trail, on a hardtail, with flat pedals taught me how to pedal smoothly, powerfully, and efficiently. Not just winding up sporadically and letting your clipless pedals keep your feet from flying off. Sometimes they still do…

    I also believe that flat pedals will teach you to develop a strong upper body for intense pedaling efforts, more so than clipless. I notice it most on short, steep, out of the saddle climbs. Pulling up on the bars to counter each downward thrusting leg and really “engaging” your core muscles feels awesome!

    Reply • November 26 at 11:04 pm
  17. Walt says:

    Nice story, Lisa … good for you!
    There’s a good story in this month’s MTB Action under “trailgrams” by a women who always harrased by her husband for using flats. Then he ate shit on a technical uphill and ended up in the hospital. Now he’s a flat convert. I love it. One other reason I use flats is because since it goes against the convention wisdom of most riders, it really seems to get under their skin and bug them when they see people on trails using flats. I love doing that.

    Reply • November 29 at 12:56 pm
  18. Darren says:

    James, I have to disagree with this one. I moved from Flats (good quality ones) to clipless to improve my technical climbing. At first, I did fall a bunch, but nothing too bad. I did find that after I got used to it, I could climb, jump, and descend much better. I found that if you set the clipless pedals to the lightest setting, you can put your foot down at any time without even trying. I feel like I have the best of both worlds this way. My feet only stay clipped if I’m pedaling but come out whenever I need/want them to. I’ve never had an issue getting unclipped once I was “skilled” in using them. Skilled being the key work. You’ll need to learn how to ride clipless just like the other important downhill skills.

    Reply • November 30 at 2:01 pm
  19. Junior says:

    Most of my wrecks are from getting stuck in the clipless and it’s quite annoying. I learned and raced BMX in the flats because that’s all there was, I guess it’ time to break out the Shimano DX or the Hutch pedals for those old school BMX’rs that remember those pedals. I’m pushing 40 know and teaching my three kids to ride; I’ll keep them in the flats. Thanks for the advice James.

    Reply • November 30 at 6:56 pm
  20. Stuart says:

    Wow. no bike stores around here are saying what you say. I like the notion. My wife ride on a trail for the first time and has flats. I’ve been thinking about when we would get clipless. Now, not time soon. Thanks for posting your opinions. A friend of mine just broke his shoulder and dislocated a finger riding. wonder if it could have been less severe has he been able to dismount differently.

    I’ve loosened my clips considerably in the past month or so. I think you are on to something!!

    Reply • December 7 at 6:35 am
  21. Do you know, what have all people, who think that flats are better, in common? They have never riden clipless.

    Reply • December 13 at 12:21 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ Radek – have to disagree with you on this one. I tried clipless, fell over at a stop sign and realized that if I couldn’t get out of them on the road when I knew I was stopping I was going to be screwed on the trail. I would counter with “you know what everyone who loves clipless have in common? They’ve never tried 5:10’s and a quality pair of flat pedals.” When one of the best DH riders in the world tells me that flats make you a better rider I’d have to think that there is something to it…

      Reply • December 13 at 12:26 pm
      • Don says:

        I had the same experience. I almost fell into traffic coming up behind me. That’s when I decided to stay with flats and bought some 5:10s.

        Reply • April 14 at 9:07 am
    • McFeist says:

      I rode clipless for 14 years and switched to 5-10s and Canfield Brothers Crampons last fall. I love riding flats! I will probably not go back to clipless. After about a month or two, I noticed my leg strength and technical skills start to improve dramatically and I took my riding to a new level in flats. I was surprised at how well I did on some FS road climbing last week at an organized riding event. I had no problem pedaling long, steady climbs in flats that day.

      Reply • July 10 at 4:53 pm
  22. Brooce says:

    James 🙂

    “I tried clipless, fell over at a stop sign and realized…”
    I believe that in most cases it may be a matter of rider’s habits. About one year ago I changed my flats to SPD’s (started to do some 4cross so it seems to be vital). Of course, my first stops ussually ended with falling down too, but that’s because I’ve had wrong altitude to clipping out.
    It’s not like thinking “OK, now I have to turn my feet outwards” at every stop – the main difference between these two types of pedals is that while using flats you pull your feet slighty up and apart to prop, and while riding clipless you just pull your feet left/right (without ANY thinking, it clips out automatically).
    And what about getting injuries due to being clipped in – I’m not riding some harsh DH so can’t say anything about big rock gardens etc. But I had one fall while doing no-hander (on a step-up jump – in SPD’s) – I didn’t catch my bar back, but I didn’t feel anything “gripping” my feets at all 😉 I also don’t have any problems in curves when my wheel goes apart, there is no problem in fast foot take-off 😉
    Actually, clipping-IN on a trail poses a greater problem than clipping out, there you have to aim in pedal rightly and it may be difficult while riding down the slope…

    (of course I don’t want to propagate SPD’s, just want to throw some objective outlook on it 😉 )

    Reply • December 16 at 11:52 am
    • bikejames says:

      @ Brooce – I agree, it is a skill that can be learned. I guess my point is that for people just starting out there are more valuable skills to work on and that for the average rider clipless pedals don’t offer huge benefits. For some riders they may be the the best choice but I just don’t think most trail riders need them are are inhibited by them at first.

      Reply • December 16 at 1:45 pm
  23. Jeff says:

    Here’s my take on the subject. I’ve worn clipless pedals right from the start, about 5 years ago.I’m not an expert but consider my self better that average for someone my age (44). I always strive to get better, I work out using James’s program, have taken a camp from Gene Hamilton from better ride (which I would highly recommend to anyone), and listen to people and experiment and make up my own mind. I haven fallen a few times because of not being able to un clip and have gotten some mild injuries from it. I decided to try the platform pedals and make up my own mind. I bought a pair of Specialized pro mag 2 pedals (80.00) and went out for my first ride and I was wearing a pair of Merrell hiking shoes and my first impressions were as follows.
    1.) I could definetly feel some loss in pedal efficency maybe 15-20%.

    2.) My feet felt fairly secure on the pedals, I really couldn’t move them around without un weighting my foot.

    3.) I t was almost the funniest day I had riding my bike! I felt so more confident on my bike that I tried things like some high log skinnys ( 3-4 feet high) that I would not ride before due to the fact that I was clipped in and was afraid. I had to try some of these multiple times to make it accross but the fear of getting hurt was way down and it gave me the confidence to try until I made it. I also hucked off a 4′ drop that I never tried before.

    4.) I felt more confident pushing the downhills faster.

    So I made up my mind that that was a lot of fun and I had to work a little harder on my climbs but I had so much fun. I went this far so I might as well go all the way, I went on line and bought a pair of 510 impact 2 high tops. First impression was they were kind of bulky and heavy looking but they did’t feel heavy. I weighed them and they were the same weight as my mid grade mtb shoes I was clipping in with. They were very supportive and the sole was A LOT stiffer than my hiking shoes I wore previously. Ride impressions,

    1. I could immediatly feel the stiff and sticky sole at work. You CAN NOT move your foot with out un weighting it.

    2. I felt like my pedal efficency was on par with my clippless pedals, I can pull my foot past the bottom of the pedal stroke, by that time the foot is past the top on the down stroke. You can push your foot forward at the first part of the down stroke.

    The bottom line for me is I’ve had more Fun on my bike with the flats than with clipless. I live in a MTB mecca and I have already had people give me funny looks and comments, screw em I’m having more fun.

    Reply • December 17 at 12:24 pm
  24. ELG says:

    Sounds more like a discussion of unskilled / newbie clipless riders rather than a technical discussion of skilled clipless vs. skilled platform use.

    Ive personally never seen any shop put a brand newbie in clipless pedals and if they are then the bike shop is definately wrong. Most of the time the progression is flats, then to toe straps, then to clipless pedals. Ive never met a rider who didnt love the control gained when going to clipless.

    Ive been riding clipless pedals on very technical all-mountain rides for years and years. Unclipping is completely automatic, subconscious, and lightning fast. I can take a stab at the inside of a corner like any flats rider.
    My first technical all mountain ride about 15 years ago was on flats and it was absolutely terrible. Could not control the bike or keep my feet on the pedals. I was just along for the ride down the mountain.
    Clipless isnt about efficiency on climbs, its about controlling the bike. Becoming skilled (and subconscious/automatic) with clipless pedals eliminates the negatives that you bring up .

    Reply • December 19 at 12:41 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ ELG – 15 years ago they did not have great flat pedals and sticky rubber shoes so comparing your experience then to what riding flats are now is not accurate. Try some Crank Brother 50-50 pedals and a pair of 5:10’s and then tell me that you can not control your bike with flats. Besides, trials riders and slopestyle riders don’t wear clipless pedals and they are the cream of the crop when it comes to “controlling your bike” so apparently clipless pedals do not help you gain control that isn’t possible with great flats and shoes.

      And I’m sorry but when Aaron Gwin, who is an extremely skilled rider, knocks his teeth out when he could not get unclipped then there are times when even the best riders get taken by surprise and fail to get out of their pedals. I’ve seen and talked with dozens of riders who have experienced the same thing. Just because it hasn’t happened to you (yet) doesn’t mean that it isn’t a viable argument against using them.

      The advent of sticky rubber soles on mountain bike shoes has completely changed the game. Again, the best skills coaches and riders in the world will tell you that flats make you a better rider so there must be something to it…

      Reply • December 19 at 1:08 pm
    • connell says:

      I agree with ELG , most people having trouble with clips are newbies. Nino shurter wears clipped pedals. I have been riding and racing for over 25 yrs and can blow in an out of my pedals with out thinking about it. It is natural. I also race enduro clipped in. Clips over more power over distance. I have ridden flats and did not like my feet out of position. Clips are always dialed in.

      Reply • May 21 at 1:41 pm
      • bikejames bikejames says:

        While I can appreciate your view, I know some experienced riders who have also suffered an injury from not being able to unclip at an bad time. And I’m not sure about the claim that clipless pedals have more power over distance, can you please provide a study or something to back up that claim? Both of these are talking points used to dismiss the real problem, which are the lies and half truths used to convince people that they need clipless pedals when that isn’t backed up by science or real world results (Sam Hill winning the EWS on flats seems to say that flats are pretty efficient and effective).

        Pointing to what pros use is also a false logic that is only used to sell an over-hyped product to people who don’t need it. Nino can also rip on flats, which isn’t something most clipless pedal riders can claim. Using clipless pedals as a crutch for bad skills and body awareness isn’t good either.

        Reply • June 1 at 12:02 pm
  25. Jonathan Long says:

    Hey, my two cents on clipless pedals vs.flats: I bought my first MTB in 1988 and cilpless pedals didn’t exist for MTB’s. We all learned to ride with clips and straps and James’ point about clipless pedals holding you back is valid. Clips and straps were a nightmare to get out of if they were tight. So when clipless pedals came available they were much better than clips and straps but … James is right that clipless can set you up for injury. I think the clipless pedal adds about a one second delay in getting your foot to the ground. Doesn’t sound like much BUT when you are attempting something technical you don’t always leave a one second cushion, you go for it. I have fallen off many times (most times without injury) because of that one second delay.

    I switched to flats (decent ones with good shoes) in the summer of 2007 and I will never go back for technical stuff. That one second delay is gone and wondering on any level if you are are going to be able uncilip and then re-clip to stick the move is gone. On flats I don’t know how many little cruxes I have cleaned after taking a foot off the pedal, regaining balance without putting a foot down and then continuing. Flats are seamless that way.

    As far as climbing goes I would rather climb with flats on anything but the smoothest trails. With good pedals and sharp pins and good shoes it is tough to slip off a flat pedal. Actually the worst thing about flats IS that they have so much bite (a fact that my unprotected shins sometimes suffer for). I am smoother, faster and happier on flats and just like our host says most of us just are not that advanced to miss that little bit of pedaling efficiency we lose.

    Reply • December 21 at 8:45 am
  26. Sean says:

    I think this is a good discussion, but I see a few flaws in the thinking of many people’s replies — or at least the replies are worded in such a way to let me find flaws. Maybe there’s a communication issue.

    I have been riding bikes seriously (focusing on technique and fitness improvements) since 1986, where I began as a roadie. I got clipless pedals in 1988. I got a MTB in 1992 and began riding off-road immediately. I got clipless MTB pedals in 1993. In 2000 I started doing FR and DH and rode flats exclusively for 3 years, even on my XC rides. In 2004 I went back to clipless for 99% of my riding. I can bunny hop and jump just fine with either pedal.

    To me the difference is about confidence. There are mechanical advantages to pedaling with clipless, you can be more efficient because you can use more glute and hamstring and you don’t use tiny foot and ankle muscle tension adjustments to keep your feet in place while you pedal through the dead spot at the bottom of the clockface (around 7:30 pm or so is where it usually kicks in). Most of my riding is long alpine rides, so pedaling efficiency is crucial for me. Also, I’m an alpine skier and have been so for 30 years. So I am used to being clipped into something.

    Here are the problems I have seen in the discussion above.

    1) Suggesting someone spends a lot of time learning how to unclip, and the time would be better spent on bunny hops and track stands. This is exaggerated. I learned how to unclip in one ride. Over the course of the ride. No practice sessions. Someone who has such difficulty learning how to unclip probably has some serious body coordination limitations that aren’t going to be fixed merely by going to flats.

    2) Suggesting that a person who falls over and gets injured on clipless somehow proves that clipless are bad for you. No, it just proves the person using clipless isn’t ready to ride them on dangerous surfaces yet. See (1) above.

    3) Suggesting that the pedal limits the rider, when it is the rider’s confidence in that pedal that provides the limitation. Once again, the pedal is taking credit or heat for something that is entirely a rider confidence issue.


    Great site, James! Thanks.

    Reply • December 28 at 12:15 pm
  27. Julie says:

    If you are concerned about imperceptible foot & ankle adjustments in your pedal stroke, then yes, flats are not for you. But I think for the majority of new riders, learning to ride clipless pedals on the majority of terrain is way too difficult and possibly dangerous. If you have a flat smooth fireroads with no exposure, you’re probably ok as newbie in clipless. But that gets boring really quick! 🙂

    Anyway, I think it is great to hear an opinion that you almost never hear from anyone, that flats are OK! Phew! What a relief! I love riding in flats, and I do get some upstroke on them due to the stickiness of the little spikes on the pedals. The only drawback, which no one mentioned, are lovely scrapes on your legs from whacking yourself with them. But other than that… they’re great 🙂

    Also, I don’t think anyone said your time as a newbie is better spent on bunny hops than on clipless pedals – I think James mentioned essential skills like braking and shifting.

    Reply • January 12 at 10:53 pm
  28. Bog Chris says:

    Good post. However allow me to suggest that this is not a black and white argument. Like in the 29er discussion is mix it up depending on terrain, conditions motivation. Flat out technical downhill AM stuff no question I use the flats. However on a long fireroad training climb I am prone to use clipless.

    Be careful not to go too to extreme in either direction. I am not sure it is beneficial to the business side. There are a lot of people besides freeriders and BMX, and slpoeside huck peeps interested in this site btw. and they ride bikes



    Reply • January 13 at 11:10 am
  29. Howard says:

    A lot of interesting stuff in the podcast and comments. I took up mtb at 39yo about 5 years ago and within 6 months was riding clipless. But in hindsight it was probably too early. While my bike handling skills have improved dramatically in the last 5 years I still don’t have all the basics well sorted (track stands for instance). I have been lucky in that my “accidents” due to clipless pedals have all been minor gumby stacks with minimal skin and blood loss.

    In terms of confidence I mainly ride not very technical single track and fire road. In most circumstances I find the clipless slightly increases my confidence of staying attached to my bike, for instance launching off water bars. However better technique would probably achieve a better result regardless of pedal type. When the trail becomes a bit more technical, like rock gardens I find, as James says, the clipless actually reduces confidence, in many cases getting me walking the obstacle.

    For the last year or so I have been contemplating skills improvement and setting up one of my bikes, a Chameleon hardtail as a basic skills bike. Just this week (before getting James email link) I put flats on this bike so I could practice track stands, tight turning, bunny hops, mono’ing etc. Yesterday I found some 661 flat shoes on special in the local bike shop and bought them.

    This podcast has really got me thinking about which, if any, of my mountain bikes should be running clipless and which should be running flats. The roadie/commuter can stay clipless though. Worse still it has got me thinking about my kids mtb’s. Only in the last month I put clipless pedals on my 12 yo’s new bike. Now I am thinking that might have been a crime. The 14yo and 15yo are coping well with clipless but the 12 yo had a few tumbles last weekend due mainly to his pedals and its killing his confidence and enjoyment.

    Thanks for the advice James, as usual it is very practical and worth careful consideration. This morning the Chameleon and I are going riding on flats with baggy shorts and leaving the lycra at home.

    Reply • January 14 at 9:16 am
  30. James says:

    This is a load of crap! Almost all the pro DH’ers, 4X’ers and XC’ers use clipless pedals, doesn’t this tell you something? You can’t get half the power down with flats that you can with clipless for the simple fact you don’t use half as many muscles.

    Reply • February 3 at 8:24 am
    • bikejames says:

      @ James – Sam Hill rides flats and he’s a pretty good pro DH rider. Aaron Gwin says riding flats will make you a better rider and he’s pretty good as well. And your comment about not getting half the power without clipless pedals – really? You have some evidence of that? Studies show that clipless pedals only give a 10% power advantage in riders that are really skilled at spinning circles and even less in an average rider so a 5-10% potential power loss is far from half. And the comment about not using half the muscles is plain not true and really shows some ignorance about how the body works.

      And did you even listen to the podcast (I’m willing to bet you did not)? I said that the average trail rider doesn’t need to ride clipless pedals but they do have a place in specialized applications like pro racers. Average trail riders are not pros and don’t need what they do. Please step your game up a bit if you are going to post on this blog, this isn’t a forum populated by trolls who don’t know anything…

      Reply • February 3 at 4:04 pm
  31. Brent says:

    James, thanks for al the info.

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m debating about going clipless at the moment. I have been using some addidas indoor soccer shoes and flats. Not sure abut the pedal brand, but they’re decent and have some pins that work pretty well with the soft rubber sole of my indoor soccer shoes.

    What specific advantages would the 5.10’s have over the addidas or vans? I usually buy my bike gear at REI – for their excellent return policy. You can try gear and take it back if it doesn’t work for you. If I buy a pair of 5.10’s from another shop I’m stuck with them if they don’t live up to the hype.

    btw – I’m riding mainly single track xc in the southeast, nothing too technical. I have a pair of SPD pedals sitting around, the ones with clip on one side, flat on the other. I might use those and depending on terrain, clip in or not. Keeps it pretty versatile.

    Reply • February 12 at 11:41 am
    • bikejames says:

      @ Brent – The 5:10’s have a sticky rubber sole made from the same stuff they use in climbing shoes. It is something you have to try to really appreciate – they are a game changing shoe that keep your feet in place almost as well as clipless pedals. Regular rubber on normal shoes is nothing like the sticky rubber on the 5:10’s.

      I would also advise that if you want to go clipless, go all the way. Nothing like trying to ride clipless shoes like flats to make a trail get super sketchy in a hurry.

      Reply • February 12 at 11:45 am
  32. electric says:

    James, you are right on here.

    For 10 years i have ridden platforms, i don’t get dropped and have the best technical skills amongst my peers(not to brag). I recently even placed first in an technical enduro type race on my platforms, so that is that. Of course you won’t believe the ribbing i get for not using clipless but i try to tell my buddies to give it a try because of most of the reasons you listed. I find most of my riding friends are gun-shy since failure to clip-out really ups the penalty and encourages bad techniques like “fake” bunny hops. Riding skinnies and doing dirt-jumps on clipless, even that sketches me out a bit. I have seen guys really mess up ankles in rock gardens because of clipless shoes.

    I recently got a new pair of clipless pedals with my new trail bike, i promptly put them on my commuter and they work great there. I’m going to try a pair of those 5.10 since everybody is raving about them.

    Reply • February 18 at 12:17 am
  33. Nate says:

    The biggest mistake most new clipless riders make is they don’t adjust the tension of the pedals. If you’re adjusted right, you can get out instantly – none of this one second delay nonsense. If you’re pedals are too tight, yeah you’re going to have trouble getting out and you’ll fall over from time to time. Almost as bad is when the pedals are too loose. Finding the sweet spot will only take a few minutes, and maybe an adjustment or two over the next few rides.

    Adjust. Test. Adjust. Test. Ride. Smoke downhills.

    Reply • February 21 at 10:54 am
  34. Bama says:

    I rode clipless for years in the relatively flat/smooth Southeast and never had a problem getting out when I needed to, but when I moved to western CO I switched to flats, not because I couldn’t get out when I needed to but rather because I would inadvertently unclip at inopportune times, throwing my balance off mid-air (or whenever) and causing me to crash. Didn’t matter what pedal I used, how much I tightened the pedal adjustment, or how new/what type my cleats were, it still happened enough to be a problem. Obviously the problem was with my movement on the bike, but I couldn’t seem to fix it. Platforms solved this for me. I do feel that I loose a little power on smooth uphill/flat sections, but there aren’t many of those around where I ride anyway.

    Although it may seem counterintuitive, I can control my bike better now because I’ve had to truly learn how to move it around underneath me instead of being able to just let it come along for the ride while attached to my feet. It is a noticeable difference. And in watching other riders with incredible bike control clear up to 40+ foot dirt jump gaps (sometimes incorporating tricks), I’ve never seen one of them do it while clipped in. If clip-in pedals gave more bike control, you can bet these guys would be using them!

    As for shoes, I know from experience that “sticky rubber” shoes work better than shoes without it (not sure if there’s an alternative to 5.10 rubber?), and stiff soles make a huge difference too. I ride 5.10 bike-specific shoes, but tried a lighter-weight climbing approach shoe with 5.10 rubber to save weight – the more flexy sole wasn’t worth the grams left behind.

    I definitely agree with James that for most of us in technical terrain, platforms are a no-brainer. I encourage anyone to try it both ways, and then to not be afraid to rock the flats in the face of their cool clipped-in friends! The bottom line for me is that I enjoy riding my bike more with platforms, I’m a better rider with them, and I don’t really care if someone thinks my PEDALS are hip or not…

    Reply • March 7 at 4:16 pm
  35. Donny says:

    I’m just getting into MTBing now, don’t even actually have my bike yet but I’ve been cruising websites trying to learn while waiting for my bike to arrive.

    First off, thanks for this wonderful site, I can tell you really care about the sport and it really shows in the quality of the site, and also in the way you address/reply to comments/opinions that are different than your own.

    As a newbie to the sport as with all things, its very easy to get distracted and want to get/buy/do all the things that you’re “supposed to do”, clipless pedals was definitely one of those things in my case. At my LBS the guy mentioned me upgrading to them shortly, and I even considered just getting them right off the bat so as to save money and become just like all the other “pros” I see riding around. Figured that I would just practice on grass until I got used to clipping in and out.

    Your point of view coupled with your well thought out supporting comments, your talks with other great riders, and the supporting comments of other readers of your blog in this post have completely changed my mind. I have no delusions of becoming a pro, and I could honestly careless about a loss of 10% pedaling efficiency as long as I’m able to have a good time without being blown away by people of my same skill level due to a lack in my equipment.

    5-10% pedal efficiency + increased chance of getting seriously hurt – fun factor due to fear
    increased beginner confidence + enough grip for even experienced riders + more fun rides


    Its pretty obvious to me 5.10 shoes and a good set of flats are the way to go!

    Reply • March 13 at 2:07 am
  36. michael says:

    i began riding mountain bikes 15 years ago and raced seriously for about 5 of them. i went to clipless as soon as i could afford them. i like everyone else fell off and hurt myself a few times but i saw the benifits were there over the standard toe clips that came with my kona explosif.
    at least with a clipless pedal you have the option of getting out faster than being bound in like with old toe clips.
    i have never ever looked back and admitidlly i am a cross country rider and ride all the trails in whistler. not quasi dirt trails but exciting single track which was where the downhillers pushed there was up to before the bike park opened. these are the old dirt biker climbing trails that mtber’s went down on.
    i totally agree with your earn your way bit. i learned on a rigid bike and earned my skil and i did the same with toe clips to clippless.
    i tthink your right that most people will benefit from learning on flat pedals and probably even staying on them for the type of riding there doing
    i jusu want ed to let you know that i would not dream of leaving the driveway on flats
    either way we are all out there pedalling and that a good thing

    Reply • March 24 at 12:32 pm
  37. chuck says:

    Get a power meter and software program that shows power output for each crank arm. You won’t use flat pedals after that. That is if you ride uphill. Interesting anecdotes about injuries, however, I don’t think a couple stories make the case.

    Reply • March 30 at 1:00 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ chuck – Two things. First, if you don’t know how to pedal flats then you will see a difference. That has nothing to do with which one is inherently better, only what you know. Nathan Rennie held the record for highest power output recorded at the Australian Institute of Sport for many years. Rennie did it on flat pedals and he bested track cyclists using clipless pedals.

      Second, your comment about “that is if you ride uphill” is bordering on being a troll. Blanket comments like that serve no purpose to further the conversation and are simply antagonistic. I use flats and ride uphill. In fact, I go on 4 hour pedals with guys that are clipped in and I crush them on climbs. I’ve never gotten dropped by someone in clipless pedals. I know plenty of others who ride flats and climb pretty good as well. If you have something intelligent to say about this then fine but attacking anyone who uses flats and saying they don’t pedal uphill is not acceptable on this blog.

      Reply • March 31 at 6:06 am
  38. Stephen Klemmer says:

    This is great, I can’t get enough of this blog! It is amazing how defensive those who ride clipless pedals are. Maybe, like my own buddies, they know deep down that those expensive shoes and pedals only help them appear to be better riders. I have been riding bikes from as early as I can remember and have been mountain biking for over 18 years now. I rode flats on my BMX bikes, flats on my first mountain bikes, and continued to smoke my riding partners on flats while they still insisted (after waiting for them to catch up) that I needed clipless pedals! Just a couple of weeks ago I took a buddy of mine on a ride filled with wet rocks, roots, and steep drops off the side. He was so completely lacking in confidence in his new shoes and pedals he could hardly ride! He tired out so quickly from a LACK of pedaling due to his fear of injury that we couldn’t even finish the ride. After we got back to the truck he no longer thought I should go clipless, he went down to the bike shop that day and picked up a nice pair of flats. I am pretty sure he won’t be going back to clipless.
    Thanks for the discussion, it is nice to hear differing points of view and to find some validation in what I have thought for many years.

    Reply • March 31 at 10:03 am
  39. michael says:

    @stephen. why would your friend go ride on such a trai on a new clipless system without trying them say on a grass field first. that would be suicide trying to ride a tech trail first time. no wonder he backed out. that is just like bike shops giving them to new riders as was mentioned earlier in this blog.
    interesting about the aussie guy and the power meter test but i ask. in over ten years of races at local and national levels in the uk and canada why have i never seen a guy place anywhere even close to the leaders of in the top 20 for that matter if clipless pedals offer no benefit in efficiency over flats.
    maybe i should go and try some i might be suprised

    keep riding everyone
    great blog

    Reply • April 1 at 12:04 pm
  40. Stephen says:

    @ Michael- You are absolutely right, that would be suicide if it was his first time riding with a new system. He had ridden them numerous times already and seemed confident that clipless was for him, obviously he had not ridden anything as technical. It was a good learning experience for him and it wasn’t all bad. In Oregon a warm sunny day in February is hard to come by, Brice Creek is a beautiful trail, and we were out riding our bikes on a Friday. I can’t complain.

    Reply • April 2 at 8:17 am
  41. Brooce says:

    James, what do you mean by “if you don’t know how to pedal flats then you will see a difference” ?
    Is it about lifting your “rear” leg while pressing the “front” one and pushing pedals also forward when one crank is at the top?

    Reply • April 9 at 1:03 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ brooce – Pedaling with flats requires a different technique than you can get away with with clipless pedals. If you take someone who has a technique that does not translate to flats you will see a power drop. that is not because flats are worse, simply that the technique they have did not work as well on flats.

      Take someone that only knows flats, put them in clipless and i guarantee you won’t see a big increase in power. Why does it not work both ways?

      Reply • April 9 at 2:46 pm
  42. Randy says:

    James I just found your site in Decline mag this month and I have a question for you. Let me give you some background. I have been riding about a year. After continually slipping off my flats that came with my hardtail I decided to go clipless. My bike shop told me to not go clipless too quick but I felt totally out of control with the flats I had (I now know why that was thanks to your blog). I bought some Crank Brothers Acid since they had a little bit of platform so I could pedal even if I was not clipped in. Needless to say I took a couple of big falls, riding the Olympic Trails here in GA. I was given the nickname Timber from all my falls as I stopped pedaling. So i lost some nerve but did not give up. I am still learning to ride my bike and I am about to move up to a full suspension bike. I am not a DH guy but my downhill ability has gotten better this year and I am afraid of changing pedals.When I was a kid I could ride a wheelie like crazy but I am scared to try it on my clipless. So In your opinion should I stick with what I know now or give the good flats and good shoes a try? I already get left by my buddies on climbs anyway so that is not a concern for me 🙂 I want to be able to do more small jumps when I ride trails like FATS in SC (btw that is where IMBA is having its international summit this year and they are great flowing trails). Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks!

    Reply • April 10 at 8:12 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ Randy – Go for the flats and good shoes. Clipless pedals are simply not needed and in the reality if the trail have a lot of drawbacks. You’ll have more fun than you ever have on a good pair of flats and some 5:10’s…

      Reply • April 12 at 10:21 am
  43. Randy says:

    Thx for the reply James. I could not get the reply button to work but I have another question. What pedals would you recommend to start with. I know about CB 50/50’s but what are some other good ones. Here are a few I have found. Please if you can let me know what you think:

    Wellgo WAM-B25 Flat Pedals

    Easton Flatboys

    Syncros Mentals

    atomlab trailkings

    Shimano DX

    And as far as the five tens go are they better than the Nike 6.0 or the six six one shoes?

    Thanks for taking to time to help man!

    Reply • April 12 at 6:29 pm
  44. MisterDangerPants says:

    Great podcast! I’m currently debating going back to platform (for XC MTB riding), and really like the Bullseye Pro. To quote Grant Rivendell in a recent newsletter he produced, “The most important and liberating thing I’ve learned in 40 years of riding nearly every day, is that normal shoes and pedaling unconnected is the way to go.” He mentions quite a few of the benefits, and I think I’m convinced that I’m not benefiting from clipless. I’m an expert with about 30 years mountain biking under my belt, and think I’ve finally come to my senses.

    Reply • April 17 at 6:35 pm
  45. MisterDangerPants says:

    Oops! I meant Grant Petersen from Rivendell in the about posting!

    Reply • April 17 at 6:43 pm
  46. chrisso says:

    I’m new to MTBing- having done it for nearly a year. I made the switch from clipless pedals to flats after seeing this podcast about 3 months ago.

    Up until my “downgrade” I’d had a dozen or so crashes- most of these involved hitting the deck while still clipped in. While most were minor they were slowly affecting my confidence.

    Since changing to flats I’ve no longer got a nagging fear about not being able to put a foot down, and because I’m more relaxed my bike handling has improved heaps. I’ve also got the confidence to give rougher sections of trail a try which benefits my riding a lot more that clipless pedals could.

    Gear wise, the combo that’s worked for me is straitline pedals (see AND and 5:10 sticky rubber shoes.

    Thanks to all for a thought provoking discussion on this subject.

    Reply • April 30 at 8:56 pm
  47. Ned says:

    Just to add to this whole cluster-f@&# of a debate me and a friend recently got hooked up to all sorts of equipment to get a lactate threshold test done. I’ve been a dedicated flats rider for that last year and a half, my friend has been riding clipless for years and he commutes year round on a fixed gear. For the test I happened to be in clipless pedals and as part of it we had to try and pedal perfect circles based on a graph on a computer screen. I was able to get substantially closer to circles using the same technique I’ve leaned on flats than my friend could. The guy running the test even told him he should try riding a fixie! I guess this really busts two common myths since I’ve always been told that riding a fixie will make your pedal stroke smoother. LONG LIVE THE FLATS!!!!!!

    Reply • June 9 at 10:30 pm
  48. Sam says:

    I currently race the nationals in the UK and am looking at being in the junior WC downhill next year. I race wearing SPD’s, but i Dirtjump mess around etc on flats, i used to always use clips, but didnt want to use them dirt jumping. i find when going down a full on downhill track, keeping my feet on through a rough section such as fortwilliam, having clips defiantely help.

    you only learn how to properly jump/ drop your heels with flats on.

    in short, use flats until you know what your doing.

    Reply • June 17 at 7:14 am
  49. Chris says:

    I started mountain biking in 2004 and was encourage to quickly switch to clippless. I road clippless exclusively (XC, DH, DJ, Road bike) until last year when I made a half ass attempt to switch to plat forms. I failed miserably. I had 5.10’s and wellgo magnesium pedals. I felt totaly unsecure on the bike. My attempt lasted maybe 3 rides before reverted back to clipples Fast. forward to 2010, I made the attempt again only this time I decided I wasn’t going back. It probably took about 10 good rides before I became comfortable on the platforms, but once I got comfortable my progression really took off, especially with descending and jumping. I learned to lead with my hands and follow with my feet. I was a descent descender on clippless, but now I feel like I can brag about my descending abilities….I just hate to think about the kind of rider I could be had I made the switch to flats sooner. When my friends saw the change I made and how my riding improved they have made the change to….

    Reply • June 21 at 7:43 am
  50. Steve says:

    Bottom line for me is…will it make me faster on the bike. I ride alot of 45km to 80km mtb races in the masters 50+ category in South Africa. I have only ever ridden clipless , I pull away from riders on single track and technical sections and can’t say it ever crosses my mind that I won’t be able to clip out. The enjoyment I get from riding, is riding fast and racing…if I switched to flats in the off season, would that improve my strength/speed/skill on the bike?

    Once I get use to flats is it your opinion that I would be just as fast, or faster over a 45km course. Have to say I am taken in by what I have read here and would just love to crush my mates in a race riding flats! Alot of posts here refer to the enjoyment side of riding flats…yes of course I enjoy riding, but reaching my full potential as a mountain biker is why I ride…I enjoy the challenge in a race, the adrenalin and the feeling of being as fit and fast, aged fifty, as quick as riders half my age. Would appreciate your thoughts James.

    Reply • July 29 at 1:34 pm
    • bikejames says:

      Don’t know, you’ll have to be brave enough to buck the trend and find out. As long as everyone is scared to try something different then all we’ll know is that clipless is what everyone uses, nothing more. I think you’ll be just as fast and find some confidence you did not know you were lacking but that is just my opinion.

      Reply • July 30 at 9:35 am
  51. Jeff says:


    The theory being that standing with flats is better than sitting with clips.

    What percent of the time is spent standing, as compared to sitting, when riding the following terrain with flat pedals: flat, rolling, DH, and up hill? Is sitting just for rest and hammer the remainder of the time standing up?

    I vote for flats also. Mine was a gradual progression over the last several years. Getting into DJ was the best thing to progress my riding skills. I do not miss the clips when trail riding or up hill at all. The flats sometimes bang into rocks in tight situations a little more often, but I can deal with that. Pedaling backwards through tricky sections to clear pedal obstacles works when I am on my game.

    Reply • August 17 at 2:35 pm
    • bikejames says:

      I stand as much as possible, especially when pedaling hard. Once I have a good cadence going on a long XC stretch I’ll sit and keep the pedals turning but anytime I have to lay down power – like climbing or getting up to speed after upshifting – I’m up and out of the saddle. I have a lot of trails around here that I ride with my seat down, even though it is not all downhill; I just stand 90% of the time and deal with the shorter seatpost when I do sit for a rest.

      You can train yourself to be more comfortable standing than sitting, it just takes some time and commitment to it.

      Reply • August 18 at 7:49 am
  52. Steven says:

    I have been following this blog for a few weeks. I switched to clipless for cages in the spring and have not enjoyed clipless at all, so have been very intrigued by going with flats. I did reasonably well in my first race in July, but lost some time and ranking because a guy in front of me abruptly stopped cresting a single track hill. I had no where to go and didn’t get clipped out. Over the side I went – no injuries, but had to scramble out of my clips and back up an embankment.

    Anyway, today was my first day out on my new 50/50s 5/10s. All I can say is riding is fun again!! I can stand and power up and down, have more mobility, and don’t have to worry about clipping in or out. This last point is important because technical stuff that made me nervous before with clipless was not issue today. I just went for it.

    Funny thing is that for the first time ever I forgot my mini-pump and flatted out after almost two hours of riding. It was a 25 minute walk back to the car. Glad I made that walk in my 5/10s and not in those stupid Bontragers with miserable soles.


    Reply • August 21 at 10:39 am
  53. Steve says:

    I started MTBing long before clipless were the norm. It was either flats or cages when i first hit the trails. I have been using clipless pedals for years and like them. To be fair, I ride for enjoyment and enter races with no expectation (although I still don’t like to be passed on the trail) so I have never really concerned myself with the science of riding. That being said, my body has had a rough life and with knees, ankles and back begging me to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle, I take great interest in anything that may keep me riding longer. My questions are simple ones: what type of shoe would you recommend with Flats and what is the effect of not being secured to your bike as losing your footing at speed on a rough trail never has a happy ending.

    Reply • August 29 at 8:19 pm
    • bikejames says:

      5-10 sticky rubber shoes are the best. You can find them at and they’ll even let you return them if you try them for a few weeks and don’t like them. get the Impact 2 model.

      Reply • August 31 at 6:03 am
  54. Paul says:

    Here’s a new riders take on flats vs clipless. I’ve been riding for about 4 months and pretty much everyone I talked to told me I had to go clipless if I was serious about MTBing. I tried them and absolutely hated the feeling of being clipped to the bike and did not really enjoy riding with them. Switched back to flats and my riding improved greatly. I had so much more confidence riding on flats that I started hitting obstacles that I had never even attempted before and was ripping up the trail like a banshee. Thanks James for giving me “permission” to ride flats.

    Reply • September 2 at 9:01 am
  55. WAKi says:

    I agree with you James about the beginners. I started with bad flats on a hardtail and that taught me a couple of things, especially jumping. Though I must say that ever since I started riding clip-ins, they took my riding to another level, maybe I was doing something totaly wrong while one flats, but still, the first word I thought of when riding SPDs: CONFIDENCE. No more caring what happens between my feet and my bike, It helped my mind to go through many DH jumps and rockgardens. I just dared to do more. Never crashed because I couldn’t unclip, never had a crash that would have lesser consequences if on flats. Though I crashed few times because my shoe unclipped.

    In time I started to notice that SPDs hold me back, as I started noticing that I have problem with finding balance in steep rockgardens, so it was the bike and momentum starting to take over where we go, instead of myself. So… I got back to flats, good pedals with whatever shoes and I immediately noticed how faster can i be in corners just because of freedom of feet movement. After half a year i noticed what was the problem: I wasn’t letting the front wheel do its job, I wanted too much control over it. As soon as I learned myself to lean into the turns more by allowing the front wheel to go a bit further ahead after I start leaning I got back to SPDs and here I am again. I cannot imagine flats in a super tech XC that I am doing for most of my rides.

    Nevertheless the moral is: switching between SPD and flats from time to time is absolutely necessary and vital for riding technique: but ride what you prefer most 🙂

    Reply • October 11 at 11:37 am
    • bikejames says:

      Thanks for the feedback, however I have to go back to my standard advice – Try some 5:10’s and you’re feet won’t slip at all. However, it sounds like you are using SPDs to enhance your technique, not mask bad habits which is totally different than what happens with most riders. The fact that you can switch and don’t feel a massive drop off in performance tells me you are on the right track, although if you used some better shoes you’d probably ditch the clipless altogether.

      Reply • October 11 at 12:05 pm
  56. Luke says:


    I’m curious if you or anyone you know of has produced a “12 step” program for moving away from clipless. I have to say your advice is spot on in so many regards (I just smile when people, including my LBS coworkers, give me grief for running 785mm bars on a 50mm stem with a height adjust seat post on my xc bike because I know how much it improves the ride) that I am curious how flats can improve my riding.

    When I started working in shops over a decade ago, clipless was what you graduated to. It was the pinnacle of bike gear because everyone believed it made you and the bike a single unit. Everyone at one point also believed the world was flat. Since I started reading you site and I’ve reexamined aspects of my riding and it has helped me improve. Switching to platforms has been the first piece of advice that didn’t give me an immediate “A-ha!” moment and I’m curious what advice you can give in letting go of clipless.

    After my first day on flats, I noticed a few point with which I personally had issues. On short steep out-of-the-saddle grunt-up-the-wall climbs between 10 and 30 feet long my trailing foot would frequently lift off the pedal and slip forward rotating the pedal underneath so that when I went to push down I was standing on my heel. I’ve never been an advocate for the “pull up on your pedals” argument of clipless, and have argued on many occasions that it’s the wrong reason to adopt a clipless system. However, there are two times I do pull: multiple mile road climbs, just to mix it up, although never for more than 10-15 seconds, and when riding technical climbs I push and pull to power over certain technical features that I wasn’t able to carry momentum into. Obviously the road aspect doesn’t apply here, but for that one or two pedal strokes when I do pull, I floundered almost every feature I normally clear.

    Also, any word on getting permission to republish, or post a link to the slides from the “Korff et al. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2007” study from your “The science behind Barefoot Pedaling.” post?

    Reply • November 4 at 8:58 am
  57. Ken says:

    James the link to the research is broken. I am also interested in this.

    By the way started on Flats 4 years ago beginner MTB
    Went to clipless after 2 years
    Returned to flats over last 6 months after reading your site (doing mtb combo drills). I purchased good quality flats and a pair of 510s. I am loving it.

    Some of the riders I ride with will argue either way. I think my technique is improving riding flats in combination with the exercise drills I am doing.

    I will probably alternate at some stage between clipless and flats to see if can notice any subtle differences.

    James thank you for your insight and this site it is great for MTBers

    Reply • December 3 at 4:10 pm
  58. Gareth says:

    I first started off wearing flats, but then switched to clipless. This improved my riding hugely as being attached to the bike gave me a lot more confidence and the ability to learn jumps without any fear of my feet separating from the pedals. Pulling up on the pedals also really helped on technical climbs where sometimes you need all the power you can get.

    Being able to unclip was never an issue for me; once un-clipped in mid-air to jab the bankside with a foot and put me back level again; still managed to get my foot back on the pedal in time for landing. Only thing I couldn’t do was take both feet off at the same time and jump off the back of the bike as you might do with flats.

    Then as my cornering technique got better and I started getting my whole body (including my feet) facing round the corner in the direction I wanted the bike to go, I started to get problems with un-clipping accidently. Given the extra speed (and fun!) you can get around corners by having your body facing the right way, I’m now back to riding flats. The skills I learned when riding clipless mean that I can now ride flats much better than I ever could before.

    Having clipless pedals so you can pull up to improve power is only really usefull if you’ve got so much power that you can’t apply it all by pushing down alone. I think its rare to need that much power (maybe now and again on technical climbs) and even rarer to be able to sustain that level of power for any meaningful length of time. Riding flats you can always back-pedal 1/4 turn if needed to help get you up the rough stuff.

    So for me at this point in time clipless pedals are a bit like stabilisers, great for helping to learn bike skills but not needed anymore once you have.

    Reply • December 23 at 8:31 am
  59. Greg says:

    Thanks for the website! I am doing the 15 minute trail tune-up.

    The flats vs. clipless has been intriguing. I primarily ride clips. I only use flats on a BMX at the skatepark. My biggest complaint about flats is that once I put my foot down it stays in the same spot, which isn’t always optimal, where as clips always put my foot in the same spot.

    Check this out for a quasi scientific approach to which is faster when standing. I know it isn’t a scientific study, but is the most objective thing I have seen. The conclusion is that clips while focusing on downstroke is fastest (ie. not focusing on pedaling circles).

    Reply • January 2 at 1:04 pm
  60. Jim says:


    I am attaching an interesting article from Joe Friel regarding cleat position. I am not challenging your assumptioms merely asking where your foot is located when in a cleatless postion? Is it similar to the that suggested by Joe Friel or do you think it is more a matter of choice.

    I remember back when I was a kid an my foot seemed to find its way similar to where Mr. Friel suggests. It was not until the old rat trap pedals forced me to be on my toes. Sort of makes sense.


    Reply • January 3 at 5:28 pm
    • bikejames says:

      The new trend is to place the cleat at that mid-foot position, however it is still not taking the dynamic action that takes place with the foot to arrive and pushing down into the pedal. Changing cleat position is just a band-aid solution to the fact that trapping you foot and restricting its movement is not natural and causes problems, no matter wher the cleat is. At least, that’s my opinion on it.

      Reply • January 6 at 7:14 pm
  61. bradleycloud says:

    Just gave in after more than a year of your preaching and bought some 5.10’s and platforms.
    Wow!! With platforms, I had no issues with my techincal climbs, made them just the same, aslo, did not feel much power loss, but they did expose the fact I was not getting my hips back in the attach position. Clipless pedals can certain mask some issues that flats won’t hide.
    I like my clipless and will mix the two ups some, but hate it took me so long to try them.

    Reply • February 17 at 8:11 pm
    • bikejames says:

      Welcome to the cult…er, I mean club!

      Reply • February 19 at 10:51 am
  62. Michael says:

    I have been riding for about 12 yrs and have never had a prob with clipless. I have really played with mine by practicing some basic trials skills, and I think that helps me. Not to mention I have my spd set loose. I definitely agree flats on downhill. You also have to be ready for clipless, its not something you jump in to as a beginner rider. What I love about clipless is that I can really feel what the bike is doing through my feet. I think when considering which pedal to use, you have to consider the type of riding you are doing. Make sure you get very comfortable on the bike before ever consider using clipless.

    Reply • February 19 at 7:56 am
  63. Dennis says:

    Lets look at a little scenario that I have personally lived several times:
    Steep technical DH.Front wheel gets stuck in a root, rock or whatever.

    With Flats: Rear wheel starts lifting, I open my legs and push myself off the bike like when you hop over someone’s shoulders. Land on my feet take a few steps and maybe land on my knee pads. Stand up, dust myself off, untangle my bike off bushes, hope on and keep riding.

    With clipless: Rear wheel starts lifting. I realize my feet cant go anywhere. My ass is higher than my head. I try to use me hands to soften the inevitable. I break a wrist or two. I land on my face knocking a few teeth off and fracture my jaw. My buddies call 911, I get air lifted to the hospital where I spend the next few weeks eating out of a straw. Go back home and receive a bill from the hospital for a similar amount that would pay for the most expensive mountain bike you can buy. Take my bike to Goodwill, never hop on anything with two wheels ever again in my life and learn to to play poker on line.

    Luckily, the scenario that I experienced quite a few times is the first one thanks to riding flats.
    I know that the second scenario might be a bit far fetched…Ok, so maybe I wouldn’t start playing poker on line…

    Reply • February 27 at 10:55 pm
    • bikejames says:

      Not so far fetched, I got dragged into this whole debate when Aaron Gwin knocked his font teeth out with that exact scenario and he blamed it 100% on the clipless pedals, mentioned how flats make you a better rider and then all hell broke loose with this debate. When one of the best riders in the world can knock his teeth out because of clipless pedals then anyone can.

      Reply • February 28 at 9:07 am
  64. bradleycloud says:

    I still like the 5.10 freeriders with platforms, but am having numbness or tingling in the bottom of my feet on long rides. Any suggestions on insoles?

    Reply • March 14 at 8:25 pm
    • bikejames says:

      No, but if you get some just watch out for excessive arch support. If you find something that you like let me know.

      Reply • March 15 at 5:00 am
  65. Grimwood says:

    I started biking back in the early ’90s, when the pinnacle of cool was clipless pedals. After a few years off riding, I started back up, but this time on flats. And it stayed that way for almost 10 years. Recently, myself and a few buddies have been heading back to the clipless pedals and I think they are great fun. I would recommend every new rider to stay away from them as the learning curve isn’t worth the benefit, but if you already know how to use them, it’s nice to mix it up once in a while. I end up switching back and forth between flats and clipless for AM riding and mild DH and I think it keeps things fresh. I think I like that each of the pedals offers different advantages and makes different lines more accessible.

    Reply • March 18 at 5:44 pm
  66. big rich says:

    complete reverse for me, when i started out 7 years ago i was flats only and really enjoyed the thrill of going downhill as fast as i could but after several major off’s i wondered if mountain biking was for me, i tried clip in’s and found my convidence on the rocky fast sections went through the roof, i now ride downhill using time control’s and 661 filters on my v10, some of the courses i race on are super steep and if you get it wrong super dangerous, i’m not the quickest or the slowest and when i crash it is generally due to pilot error not weather or not i can unclip, i agree that newbee’s should learn the basic core skill’s on flats and if they take to the sport they should decide which area of mountain biking fire’s their rockets, at this point buying the correct bike, bike kit & pedals is the way forward.

    for me crashing at high speed due to losing my footing is far more dangerous than falling over at a stop sign because i forgot to unclip, each to their own and if riding flats makes your riding more enjoyable then go for it but this can also be said for clip in’s, they are not the devils work they are just another option just like a seat dropper, which just happens to be the second best biking kit i’ve ever bought

    Reply • April 1 at 1:55 am
    • bikejames says:

      Got to try 5:10’s, your feet won’t bounce off with them. Clipless pedals aren’t the devil, however the blanket pressure put on mountain bikers by the mountain bike industry to use clipless pedals ASAP is wrong and unnecessary.

      Reply • April 1 at 10:32 am
  67. Aaron Aliiloa Silva says:

    I ride both type of pedals. But I will tell you I never stay clipped into my pedals riding down hill or even on the techno trails. Also I worked my way up to using clipless. As far as which one I like best… Well it’s both. I never bunny hop clipped in and only certain parts on the trail I remain clipped. You are right about those that are trying mountain biking for the first time…. The bike dealers shouldn’t recommend clipless pedals to the inexperienced rider. Also my first mountain bike was a hard tail with flat pedals. Later I upgraded to a full suspension beast. And even then I had the bike shop put sunringle flat pedals on my new bike. I didn’t start using the clipless pedals until three years later after I purchased my bike. My friend recommended clipless because of the increase of pedaling power. It’s a matter of choice. I like both.

    Reply • April 14 at 11:03 pm
  68. Matthew says:

    I started on Flats then moved onto clipless SPD’s. I loved the clipless for “power” and being attached to the bike… but found the way my feet are shaped to unclip I needed to rotate my body to unclip and in an emergency situation it was an impossible feat meaning I ended busting my kneecap. I threw the SPD’s in the bin and pick up some TIME clipless units, 100% better smoother and easier to unclip I felt much more stable and safer.

    Then I purchased a road bike for fitness riding and put the TIME’s on the roadie and put my flats back on the MTB….WOW how much fun have I had since going back to flats?????? Too much to quantify!
    I now hit the rock gardens harder faster hitting the kickers faster and railing berms, I still love the TIME clipless BUT I feel for my MTB riding I now love my flatties 🙂 I feel the flats have made me work harder on the bike, but in all honestly I ride for the challenge and if I lose some of that perceived power then its a challenge to make up for it by working harder.

    Waiting on my Sam Hill 5.10’s 😉

    Reply • April 30 at 6:27 pm
  69. jazzer says:

    I’ve been riding for over 30 years, started with toe-straps, got the cage pedals on the first Stumpjumer in the ’80s, then went to clipless for about 10 years, then back to platforms. I can say that I’ve never felt more committed than riding with clipless, and never had as many falls, stupid falls, as with clipless.

    I started riding platforms for the simple reason that my sons and their friends can do some much more radical stuff with platforms than I could ever do. I realized that I was missing an important bike skill by not even being able to bunny hop with platforms and learned to cheat a bunny hop with clipless. I focused on throwing the bike around like a BMXer and it has really opened up my skills.

    I have a LOT more confidence in the trails, I can really work it hard knowing that a simple spill won’t turn into a stupid clipped-in pretzel tumble.

    And something that a lot of people don’t realize is that you need to move your foot around depending on what you’re doing on the bike, sometimes moving a little here and there in corning really helps get your weight in the right place. And I find myself riding more in the middle of my feet that the balls, which helps keep the seat and stance a little lower.

    Reply • July 4 at 8:06 pm
  70. Hino says:

    I have mixed emotions when it comes to clippless vs platforms. Having had the opprotunity to ride with James “Thor as we like to call him” has made me reconsider flats for trail riding. I really think that it comes down to application and or personal pref. Meaning the types of trails you are riding based on geographic location specifically. I will definitely say that being clipped in has its advantages when climbing simply becasue it allows you to stay in the saddle even on techical climbs allowing you to conserve energy vs standing. If this werent the case I would have to think that the top XC racers in the world would all be riding flats. I do however feel that being clipped in does have a negative impact on movement in regards to body geometry (knees, ankles, feet esp). I will also say that clip ins and DH dont mix and never will simply for the bailouts and foot repositioning needed for the style of riding encounterd with DH. The main differences I notice is with clips you have more control with the bike from your feet. With flats you have to learn how to control the bike more so with your hadlebars and weight dist. rather than your feet and in gravity situations learn to let the bike fall rather than jump when on flats. This plays out both in riding techy terrain as well as corners and esp jumping. All this being said, I have been riding cross country for about 12 years and big mountan riding for about 5 or so. To me, bottom line is they both have their stregths and weaknesses, ride what you feel most comfortable with.

    Reply • July 30 at 9:46 am
  71. Damo says:

    Hi James,

    I just wanted to thank you for getting this information out there. I have been riding on flats for years and almost made the switch to clipless recently – why? The push that is out there that tells you “You’re just not serious unless you are on clipless pedals, besides, don’t you know that you should be pulling up on the pedals also?!” This misinformation has been debunked for me – thanks to your articles. As an amateur XC rider I’m going to stay on flats – thanks for giving me evidence and permission to do so! Another clipless pedal rider that I shared this info with then admitted that they were pushed into them and have never really felt comfortable with them.

    Thank you also for your pedal/shoe recommendations. I was almost a bit dubious that 5-10’s could be THAT much better. I went to CRC online and splashed out on some new Azonic 420 pedals (lower stack height than my current ones), and also a pair of the 5-10 Impact2 shoes – absolutely BRILLIANT! I shaved a couple of minutes off one of my local tracks this morning after taking them out for the first time. The shoe really does allow you to stick to the pedal and put power down through sections where you would struggle with grip in anything else. For anyone thinking about it – they are well worth the money. Quality products at very reasonable prices!

    Reply • August 24 at 9:44 pm
    • bikejames says:

      Really glad you found the info helpful, thanks for the feedback.

      Reply • August 25 at 5:01 am
  72. Alvin Caragay says:

    I originally started riding in ’89…before clipless hit MTB. When Shimano made that first MTB-specific clipless shoe/pedal combo I was first in line. Rode clipless for years after that and loved it at the time. Then, slowly life took over and MTB took a backseat to where I actually took about a 9-year hiatus from riding. Fast forward to 2 years ago when I started riding again. I wanted to give flats a try because I just felt like I had developed a LOT of bad habits from riding clipless (pulling up on pedals when jumping and bunnyhopping, etc.). So, I purchased a set of 5.10’s and some Wellgo MG-1 pedals and gave it a try.

    For me, the transition from clipless to flats was a pretty easy one. After I got used to the fact that I couldn’t pull up on my pedals anymore, it was all downhill from there. For me, there is just a much better “feel” to riding flats. You lose a little bit of pedaling efficiency, but for me the benefits far outweigh that loss of efficiency. For example, one of my favorite things about riding flats is my ability to adjust my foot placement over the pedal depending on the terrain. If i’m hammering, i’ll be more on the balls of my feet. If i’m descending or hitting rough terrain i’ll center my feet over the pedals. You’re not just stuck riding on the balls of your feet like with clipless and those differing foot positions help inspire more confidence. Not to mention that it’s helped me to break that bad habit of pulling up on the pedals for jumps and bunnyhops, etc.

    Now, i’m riding a set of Straitline Pedals and the same 5.10 Impacts and couldn’t be happier with my shoe/pedal combo. The stick of the Stealth rubber soles and the Straitline pedals is “almost” like being clipped in. I honestly can say that I don’t think I would EVER ride clipless again. I juts see no need and have no interest in it whatsoever…ironic since I was such a proponent of it back in the day…

    Reply • September 17 at 6:55 am
  73. Jonathan says:

    I started MTB with clipless, but now I wan to try platform. I installed xpedo pedals and have a pair of five-ten. Yesterday I did a spin at my local trail, short but fairly technical wit logs, rock gardens, steep climbs and sharp switchbacks. I found I didn’t have big problem with climbs or switchbacks, but when I tried to ride over log pile or rock gardens, my feet were bounced off pedals. How do you keep your feet on the pedals while riding over log piles or rock gardens?

    Reply • September 30 at 9:26 am
    • bikejames says:

      You’ll learn how to get heavy on the pedals while staying light on the bike, it just takes some time. Try dropping your heels and “grounding” your feet into the pedals.

      Reply • September 30 at 9:42 am
  74. Adnan says:

    Hi james,

    You mention what shoes to use. What pedals do you recommend, there are so many to choose from.

    Reply • October 27 at 2:51 am
    • bikejames says:

      I like the Deity Pedals, but really any decent flat pedal will do. Spend $75-$100 and you’ll get a good pair.

      Reply • October 27 at 11:19 am
  75. Jimmy says:

    Flats all the way, especially coming from a bmx background, also meaning i’m used to standing on the bike, i’m sure clipless have thier use for road and xc and cyclocross, but with my style of riding theres too much room for erroe with clipless, i also find that standing for most of the time whilst riding helps strengthen my lower back as opposed to sitting for long stretches of time. I suppose its up to the individual and their own style and body type

    Reply • November 21 at 3:40 am
  76. Leith says:

    I just wanted to post an update on my own flat pedal experiment. I raced semi pro DH from 2001 to 2007 and now race primarily Super D and Enduro DH. Through my whole racing career I have been on clips 95% of the time. After reading some blog posts on this site it opened up my mind and made me want to do some real world experimenting for myself.

    I switched to flats around this time last year and used them primarily through this season for everything. Road riding, XC riding, and DH riding. At first it is hard to get comfortable on the trail, mostly due to the fact that if you are used to clips you probably will have a hard time keeping your feet on the pedals due to a poor riding technique (which I had developed). I would say it takes around 12 to 15 good rides to really adapt to a flat pedal riding style. After that point a lot of things just seemed to click and I didn’t really have to think about it anymore.

    Long story short, I have found a lot of information on this site to be very accurate. There is not much of a difference in terms of efficiency once you get used to flat pedals, even while climbing. I have found my riding style has changed a bit in a good way since the switch. My legs also feel stronger and more powerful than they ever have. In racing situations I would say that clips could still be an advantage because they allow you to be sloppy when you are over exerted, but I have had a hard time putting them back on my bike for any reason due to the more fun, natural style of flat pedals. Clipless pedals will feel very unnatural once you ride with flat pedals for a while. While flats may not be for everyone I would recommend everyone to try them, especially for training.

    Reply • November 26 at 11:18 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for sharing and keeping an open mind. All I want is to make riders think and it sounds like that is what you did and benefitted as a result.

      Reply • November 26 at 2:15 pm
  77. JP says:

    I just made the switch from clipless to platforms for a test. I found with regualr metal pedals I would bounce or slip off the pedal, when shifting to clipless this stopped happening of course. Then I was reading the bikejames article and thought hmm it kind of makes sense. I started doing 5 minute sessions standing on the exercise bike at the gym to get used to the standing pedalling motion. Then I switched to platforms and wow, I don’t slip off, when using the spinning, wiping the pedal motion my foot stays planted. Once you have the strength and stamina to stay standing for greater periods you will be a better rider for sure, I used to suffer in sand with stock pedals and make it with the clipless, now with a good set of platforms I can use street shoes or trail shoes, I can make the sand, the mud and if I need to pick up the bike and run too, I can
    Great suggestion and so far it’s doing me good.

    Reply • November 29 at 7:16 pm
  78. Max says:

    How well do 5:10’s w/platforms work in muddy/wet conditions?

    Reply • December 22 at 4:50 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      They stick just as well as when they are dry. Obviously if the mud gets thick and you don’t have “rubber on pin” contact they won’t stick but one of the things that really stood out to me on my first ride with 5:10s was how they stuck like glue after they got wet, unlike the skate shoes I was wearing.

      Reply • December 23 at 6:00 am
  79. Steve says:

    Hi James,

    I couldn’t agree more! I tried clipless a few years ago (after chewing up my shins on the stock rockhopper pedals) and after nearly breaking my knee I switched to a pair of bmx flats and sticky shoes. I never looked back! I think my riding is better, stronger, and safer because of it.

    My switch was, in a large part, a decision made after listening to your podcast.

    All the best,

    Reply • January 9 at 6:27 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Glad to hear it, having fun is what it is all about and nothing sucks the fun out faster than getting hurt because you can’t get out of your pedals…

      Reply • January 10 at 10:30 am
  80. Dan says:

    I have been riding for over half of my life now, and having multiple bikes for DH, XC, 4X/BMX tracks and all mountain i have different pedals on each bike. When doing DH I swap between clipless and flats depending on how rough the course is etc. If you can ride both when it suits you then why not?

    Everyone is different at the end of the day so what ever suits them is cool.


    Reply • January 13 at 6:13 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I don’t disagree but that is not what the bike industry tells new riders. As long as clipless pedals are pushed as being “better” and not “different” then I we need to help new riders know that it is not only ok but necessary to learn on flats before switching to clipless pedals. Thanks for sharing your thoughts…

      Reply • January 15 at 10:25 am
  81. john says:

    Iam 52 and back riding a giant xtc, grew up on flats, switch to clips like both, but on my full suspention bike will be flats or untill I change my mind!

    Reply • January 20 at 3:46 pm
  82. Leith says:

    Is there any info online about damage that clipless pedals cause over extended periods of time? I read somewhere, can’t remember where, that someone’s doctor recommended they use flat pedals to maintain brain / foot coordination, since you can’t just forget about what your feet are doing when on flats. This seems like an interesting perspective that should be researched further. Also, how much more work, in your opinion, would it take to be as fast on flats as on clips for super d / enduro racing? What kind of specific exercises help become a powerful flat pedal rider?

    Reply • January 27 at 5:20 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Unfortunately the quality of movement and the impact of restricting natural foot movement is not something the vast majority of the scientific community is aware of, much less researching. However, when you looks at the astronomical overuse injury rates among cyclists it is apparent that something is not right and logic would tell us that if restricting foot movement for runners caused problems then the same thing is happening to cyclists. For some reason we have been completely forgotten in the whole Barefoot Running/ Training movement. However, I am not going to wait for someone to publish a study confirming what we instinctively and logically know to be true before I advocate the switch.

      Check out this blog post to see how I feel about using clipless pedals for competitions vs. training and everyday use:

      As far as exercises to improve your pedaling power with flats or clipless pedals you can’t beat deadlifts, single leg deadlifts and kettlebell swings.

      Reply • January 28 at 8:50 am
  83. John (aka Wish I Were Riding) says:

    Thoughs and Questions after my first Flat Pedal ride…

    About me, I’m not a racer, more of a weekend warrior who likes to ride 3-4 times per week. I ride in the CA Bay Area, mainly on fireroads with lots of climbing, and some single track whenever I get the chance. I’m more “all mountain” than “xc”, but more “xc” than “freeride”.

    I’ve been reading SO many blog posts etc about flats vs. clips that I decided to give flats a try. I have been riding on Speedplay Frog pedals for about 8-10 years or something. I got some HT pedals from eBay and Teva shoes from Amazon. Today was my first ride.

    Okay onto my thoughts about my first Flat Pedal ride:

    1) I ride a rigid bike, and I can see how it would be much easier to ride flats with suspension. The rigid makes me realize my legs are too stiff, and I have been relying on my clips to keep me connected to the bike. If I had suspension it would be easier, but it might also mask learning the skills I’m looking to acquire.

    2) Now I also wish I had a dropper seatpost. Relying on the clips to keep me connected, I didn’t have to be as low. That is to say I’m always just above my seat in my attack position, but with the flats I feel like I need to be lower to root myself to the flat pedals better and use more legs to absorb bumps.

    3) I slipped of going uphill while standing once at the first hard climb, but not after that. I partially slipped on the pedals twice while going downhill, and I didn’t like that.

    Questions (for anyone who’s read this far…):

    1) Am I crazy to NOT wear shin guards?

    2) Are there other people who ride aggressively with flats and rigid bikes (or Hardtail)? If so, do you have any tips?

    3) Any other general comments that might help or encourage?

    Reply • January 28 at 10:23 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Glad to hear you finally took the plunge and decided to try flats. The first thing to keep in mind is that it will take a few rides to get the hang of it so you can not base too much on your first ride. There was a learning curve for clipless pedals for you as well and I’m sure it took a few rides until you started to feel comfortable on them.

      I’ll give you my input on your questions…

      1) Yes, you should wear some light shin guards while learning to ride flats. I called mine my XC shin pads and they were light shin pads that would stop my shins from getting tore up if I slipped a pedal. Once you get the hang of it you won’t need them as there is an art to getting your leg out of the way when you slip a pedal, plus you’ll find you simply don’t slip pedals very much as well.

      2) I learned to ride a bike on a hardtail so I don’t think that has anything to do with it. You’d have the same issue on full suspension – your legs are too stiff and you were relying on the clipless pedals to hold you on. If anything you’ll find that you will ride smoother since you’ll start to use your legs more to absorb trail impacts. Suspension is not there to take impacts anyways, it is there to pick up the slack and improve your margin for error. You should ride like you have a hardtail even if you have 6+ inches of suspension and use your body to absorb impacts, not the suspension. Of course, most riders don’t get that point and instead bash into everything in sight, relying on their suspension and big wheels instead of their body, but that is somewhat besides the point.

      3) Don’t let your ego get in the way and stick with flats for at least 6 rides. If you switch back and forth then you’ll never really get how to use flats – you have to force your body to figure it out and adapt. Also, get a dropper post or at least get into the habit of lowering your seat for sections of trail that you don’t need to sit down much for. Sitting down to pedal with your seat down is not the knee killing position it is made out to be.

      Hope this helps…

      Reply • January 30 at 6:42 am
  84. Vicky says:

    Hi, I had always ridden flats, but had not ridden properly for many years. I moved abroad and have joined a mountain bike group with plenty of climbing. I was advised to go clipless. I HATED IT. I stuck with it, but realise that my riding has suffered quite a bit. Thanks for the heads up on the scientific proof. I am seriously considering going back to my flats 🙂

    Reply • March 27 at 11:57 am
  85. Steve says:

    I have been considering transitioning back to flats for a while. I grew up racing BMX. I got my first pair of clipless pedals about 4+ years ago. I am wanting to push my riding to more AM or FR. What would a good combo of pedals and shoes be?

    Reply • March 30 at 6:50 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      5.10 Impacts and Deity pedals are a good combo.

      Reply • April 2 at 8:59 am
  86. Steve says:

    Ok, so the above post is from me. Thanks for the info on the pedals. I have an opportunity to pick up some Crankbros Mallet 2 for cheap ($40). Would these be good since they have the option of clipless or should I just jump ship and get some deity pedals?

    Thanks for the help…

    By the way, I am in phase 2 of the DB Combos…AMAZING. Thanks for the workouts

    Reply • April 10 at 2:35 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Pedals that go both ways won’t work nearly as well as regular flats. Just get a pair of flats and don’t worry about being able to clip in.

      Reply • April 11 at 5:50 am
  87. jim says:

    I started xc riding 5 years ago in the pretty smooth midwest. I started off using flat pedals and was amazed that even in cat 3 races i was one of very few doing it. At the begining of the year i was mid pack and by seasons end i was first. The next year i was in cat 2 then the year after i won cat 2. Now im in cat 1. I would say it seems like you progress much faster using flats, i train less then most guys with older equipment but i keep picking up positions all year long. I think it is very hard to get the extra 10% increase in power the clipins give you. On road biking sure, i can see it, but not with bumpy tracks with no straits. I would be impressed if clipins gave me an 10 second advantage at my home track where i know it like the back of my hand. In other tracks i think it would be a wash. For people to switch to clip ins or to flats and say they suck is dumb. It would take a few months to exploit the full advantages of either.

    I know what all you clip in guys are thinking… but you would be 10 sec faster, you said it yourself. True but you have to look at the whole picture. If i started using them years ago i would be minutes slower then i am today. Im not anti clip in, i just think you should be a cat 1 rider before even considering them, then im not sure youll be faster on any track that you dont know very well. Bottom line is if your improving throughout the year without clipins why stop?

    Ive never noticed clipin guys climb faster then i do. Faster cat one guys do, but the guys that finish my speed do almost everything the same speed as i do. My peddals are plastic wal-mart pedals and i use my everyday shoes. A bit slick when wet otherwise i have no issues.

    Reply • April 16 at 8:27 am
  88. Ray Meyers says:

    Thank you for the Pod cast and everyone else on the blog for chiming in. I have been riding for about 3 years on a hard tail. I am about to upgrade to a full suspension Kona Satori! I have been riding clipin pedals for most of this time. With the purchase of this new bike I have been hemming and hawing about what to get for pedals. I have found out, at least in myself, that I just haven’t been able to get over the mental barrier of being clipped in which is definitely holding me back. I ride in the northeast and the roots and rocks are plenty so very technical. Out on a ride yesterday I kept saying to myself every time I came to an rocky climb, if I fall it’s gonna hurt. After reading everything here and listening the podcast, my mind is made up to go with the flats and the 5.10’s. Thanks everyone! It’s great to find a website where I can get some real info!

    Reply • April 30 at 9:05 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Nice Ray, glad you found the info helpful in making your decision. Have fun and let me know if you need any help getting adjusted to your new flats.

      Reply • April 30 at 10:27 am
  89. Jeff Neill says:

    I just last week transitioned to flat pedals from clips and the results are in. Awesome change!!! Didn’t notice any difference in climbing power or speed, and definitely feel nice finding a neutral pedaling position. 5.10 Freerider pro’s and some Blackspire sub 4’s are a real good combo. I definitely think flat pedals will give me confidence to try harder technical riding. Just knowing you can bail is a nice thought. One thing I did notice is that my cornering is a little slower compared to riding in clips. Seems like I’m braking more going into the turn than before. Must be an adjustment thing. I guess I’ll have to practice on the street with some cones.
    A couple of thoughts: 1. Cheap $10 Nike soccer shin guards work well for protecting your shins. 2. People are not used to seeing xc/am riders on flats. I got a lot of questions and weird looks.
    Oh well..

    Reply • April 30 at 11:47 am
  90. David Parkhurst says:

    EVERY wreck I have suffered while mountain biking was due to being unable to get out of clipless pedals in time. Yes, on road bikes or flat trails, they save a great deal of effort. But the minute I am headed towards a rut/ditch/mudhole, I disengage my shoes and flip my Shimanos over to the flat side…it’s not worth the embarrassment of doing one of those Laugh-In “tricycle crashes” to stay in the clips.

    Reply • May 5 at 10:13 pm
  91. Steve says:

    So I made the jump to flats. Got my self a pair of 5.10’s and some flats. I went on my first ride yesterday and found like Jeff above, I lost no power in the climb. I feel more confident in the switchbacks as I can easily step off and plant a foot to throw the bike around. But, I found bunny hopping and jumps more difficult. Does any one have some good tips about how to stay heavy on the pedals. I know I am reverting back to my 6 yrs of clipless pedals to bunny hop. But any tips on keeping my feet planted during the ride? Thanks for the advice in advance.

    Reply • May 6 at 2:37 pm
  92. Victor says:

    Have been riding clipless for several years (singlespeed, full-rigid 29er). Did some racing as well. Decided I would try platforms. Did my first ride this evening. Initial observations include:

    1. Constant tweaking of my foot position on the pedal (a learning process I think)

    2. Difficult to generate a lot of torque on short, steep climbs. Clipless seem better for that.

    3. Increased confidence in technical sections.

    4. Heavy leg work out.

    5. Way fun!

    I should note that I rode using Van’s shoes while I wait for my 5.10s, which I hear will yield a very different experience.

    Reply • May 8 at 6:01 pm
  93. Oliver says:

    I’m only young (<20), but I've spent the last 4 or so years getting more serious about mountain biking, and I've flipped from flats to clipless and back again several times; rather, I use both.
    While there are mixed opinions about this, and it would depend on your shoes, I feel I can put more power down through clipless pedals; I can accelerate far faster, purely because my clip-in shoes (some shimano's, and some 5.10's) are stiffer than my flat shoes (5.10's as well). Comparing a clipless shoe with a flats shoe that's just as stiff, there'd be no difference.
    People also mention situations where they've been injured due to not being able to clip out. That comes down to how practiced they are with them they are and how they've got their pedals set up. My clipless pedals(shimano's) are set up so I can pull up hard without the risk of them coming out, but you can pop them out sideways without too much force (it actually helps when the cleats are a bit worn). The times I've managed to stack it, my feet usually end up coming off my pedals anyway. As for the times when I don't have a chance to unclip, I end up in the same boat if I'm wearing flats.
    Also, there's the issue of control. Really, that comes down to skill; you can get away with more in clipless. I can't bunny hop with flats (need more practice :P), but I can get away with it in clipless shoes. If you want to learn to bunny hop, etc. in flats. then that would probably be better in the long run. However, you can't deny that clipless can give you can edge in controlling the rear end of your bike; no matter how good you are with flats, you cannot physically lift the rear end (at best you can unweight it).
    When it comes down to the line, more often than not I ride in clipless out on the trail, because they give me better control. When I'm on the streets/trying to practice something, I use flats, because they're better for technique (and for bailing :P)

    Reply • May 21 at 5:59 am
  94. Barry says:

    Hello James,

    Have read this blog from start to finish, a great read, and a very fair and objective analysis. Congrats.

    I guess I am somewhere between a beginner and intermediate rider, and ride mostly XC. Have really gotten into the sport in the last 4 or 5 months. I ride for leisure and fitness, and have been building my fitness gradually over the last few months. I am riding on the crap flat pedals that came on my hardtail.

    I ride with lads that are fitter than me, so really wanted to try SPD’s as I wanted to improve my climbing ability so I could match the speed of my cycle buddies, who it so happens wear SPD’s. I have heard the usual, ” climb easier, 20% more efficient when climbing, increased power on the upstroke” etc etc. So I was sold on the SPD’s. I knew my downhill speed would suffer for a while until I was used to them, but it was a trade off to climb faster.

    So here I am, having taken delivery of new shoes and pedals, and before I fit them, I decided to do some more extensive reading on the pro’s and cons before I fit them to the bike. And I was happy with my purchase until I found so many on here praising 510’s. If I could climb somewhat similar in them as being clipped in, and the peace of mind to peg it down a hill, I would have gone for the 510’s for sure. Ireland isnt a Mecca for MTB’ing yet, so its hard to know whats good and bad, when most of my info comes from the net. A trial and error basis really.

    So I think Im gonna fit the SPD’s. I have a 5 mile climbing route that I have been using to build my fitness, and Im gonna try it clipped in, and if I dont improve my best time by a considerable amount, ( set in the last 2 weeks ) Im gonna ditch them and get 510’s for sure. I guess I gotta see for myself. I just want to make the most of the effort I put in, and I thought SPD’s were that way forward, but after reading this Im not so sure. I will go find out for myself and hope to report back with the good or bad news. 😛



    Reply • May 22 at 2:16 pm
  95. Barry says:


    Reply • May 23 at 8:06 am
  96. Throttlemire says:

    Great topic. I come from a racing background, but the last couple of years I’m much more into technical and steep trails. I have been riding eggbeaters forever, but I’ve been getting progressivley tired with the uneven tension, being unable to click out on technical climbs and HIB with clipless shoes.

    Since I’m riding “All Mtn,” I thought I should try flat pedals. I’ve done 6 hours on flats and generally like riding with them. I’ve noticed I can lean the bike over much easier for added grip in corners. They really reveal how I was cheating and had bad form with clipless. It’s so easy to be lazy when clipped in, but flats make you think about pedal stroke, weighting/unweighting, power transfer, etc. It’s a great way to make you focus on riding well instead of mashing a gear.

    II also seem to jump higher and I’m forced to preload the suspension as opposed to cheating by bouncing off of rocks or simply lifting the bike up with my feet. I don’t think they will slow me down much on the climbs and I’m more confident in technical sections because I know I can bail easy. They also seemed to help me get my weight back for steep, rutted, sandy trails.

    Negatives I’ve noticed is my foot has come off on the upstroke when climbing (maybe just part of the learning curve) and at the end of a long descent, my right toes were very uncomfortable and sore – I’m using 5-10 impacts, so maybe they are too stiff. More pedals strikes and less room in ruts are two big drawbacks as well.

    The pros are definitely outweighing the cons right now and my plan is to ride them for at least 25 hours before even considering clipless again. I know all my friends will think I’m crazy, but I don’t ride for their approval!

    Reply • June 11 at 5:29 pm
  97. Vvk says:

    I have been using the clipless pedals since I started M.Biking a year back. I have the ‘stupid clipless pedal’ type falls a number of times. My mentality was that ‘clipless’ was for the pros, and therefore an essential part of MTB. However, now going through most of the comments, I find lot of riders don’t seem to favour clipless so much, just like me. Yes, clipless takes away the confidence, especially while freeriding dwn hill. So now I will be going back to the platform/flat pedals. Thanks James Wilson!
    I suggest you have some kind of voting Clipless vs Flats, the result should be interesting.

    Reply • June 23 at 12:35 pm
  98. Carlos says:

    When i was younger I destroyed my ankle using flats when I shitfted gears wrong while going really fast. M y foot slipped and the pedal snapped my ankle. Are there injuries with clipless ofcourse. I have never slipped off my clipless pedals though. Now try and talk the tour guys and most downhill guys out of wearing them not going to happen. Its a good discussion but Im going to stick with clipless because I feel 10% stronger haha.

    Reply • June 24 at 8:11 am
  99. JohnC says:

    Reading these comments and the original post all I can assume is a lot of you have never actually *mountain* biked before like we do here in B.C. It’s absolutely *not* optional, you need to be attached to your bike or you face serious injury in short order.

    The author said in another post about static stretching that he hates the word “never” but ironically starts his post with that word. Perhaps he should follow his own advice.

    Reply • July 9 at 10:15 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      While I respect your view on it I would like to point out that I have a podcast with Ryan Leech in which he states the opposite viewpoint – he never clips in and I don’t think anyone can accuse him of not being able to ride like you do in B.C. In fact, most B.C. riders I have met and talked to express Ryan’s view so there are obviously riders who don’t clip in in B.C.

      Glad the clipless are working out for you, I think that you may actually be missing my point though. Some of my early posts lacked the focus needed to explain it correctly so I apologize for that, check out this post and let me know what you think:

      Reply • July 11 at 8:24 am
  100. dcadamo says:

    Thanks for the encouraging article!

    I am a long-time mt. biker considering switching back to flats. Started off that way many years ago, have ridden clipless the last few years, and just don’t have as much fun…too concerned with busting my face on really technical stuff. I’m definitely moving back to quality flats now with good shoes.

    Reply • July 12 at 11:33 am
  101. BoulderRider says:

    Ive been riding clipless pedals for what seems like forever, probably 15 years. Used shimanos first, then switched over to crank bros a couple years ago, now I switch occasionally. I tend to like the crank bros more for xc type riding. I consider myself fairly proficient at clipless pedals and they have some advantages. Or at least I used to think they did.
    A couple months ago I started getting more into dirt jumping and freeride type riding. I started on my crank bros. I didnt have any issues, just kinda wondered why everyone else had there seat post all the way down and flat pedals 😉

    Well, I switched out the crank bros for some wellgo mg1’s and wore some skate shoes. It didnt take long before I felt like I was getting more out of every pedal stroke, being more efficient and powerful. Occasionally I misplace my foot on the pedal, but that usually only happens dirt jumping…and its probably a good thing im riding flats at those moments, i feel like if i was riding the clipless id be eating dirt instead of just needing to reposition my shoes.
    When I wear my 5.10’s, which arent bike specific, they are actually for parkour, man it feels like they are stuck to the pedals, almost too sticky. They are pretty awesome, probably gonna grab a more bike specific pair soon.

    The last few XC rides I went I used the wellgos.I didnt notice any lost efficiency climbing. In fact I feel like I climb better, stronger, and those moments Im climbing and I come up on a rock that suddently comes loose or is too big to get over, I feel like I have so much more confidence to get over it or just step off…where in the past its just a sketchy situation that doesnt inspire confidence. And to me, thats what the flat pedals have done for me, inspire confidence. Ripping through singletrack? Bombing down a hill? Cruising to a coffee shop? It seems like most situations flat pedals just work better. Its also nice just wearing normal street shoes. Walking around in clipless MTB shoes generally sucks. Sucks when youre a few hours from the trailhead and you blew both tires. Sucks when youre on slippery rocks that you cant ride through. Sucks when youre at the coffee shop:)
    Ill keep the clipless pedals on my road bike, but for the most part cant seem to think of a good reason to put the clipless pedals on either my XC bike or my dirt jumper.

    Reply • July 17 at 12:47 am
  102. frank eugene says:

    # 1 reason I use to crash on my GT Zaskar 26 inch mountain bike was my feet slipping off platform peddles on fire roads and single track … Bought a pair of Shimamo mountain shoes and clipless spd pedals, Now my shoes never accidently slip off the pedals. I now ride faster with more confidence with my cheep spd pedals… bought shoes and clipless from Amazon online for under $200…will never go back to platform pedals………. Ride safe and always stay with your bike.

    Reply • July 20 at 4:44 pm
  103. David says:

    Very psyched I found your website. I started on a road bike with clipless 10 years ago. I also had a commuter bike in the city and always used flat pedals for 2 reasons: 1. I could wear winter boots, 2. I could bail if I thought I was going to be run over by a truck.
    I just got my first mountain bike and at first it seemed natural to go clipless–especially thinking of climbing. In those first weeks of intense single track I fell a lot, usually at very low speed, climbing and hitting some obstacle. What often happened was the bike would tip over faster than I could get my foot out, so I’d end up landing on my side–sometimes painfully smashing my forearm on a rock. I think anyone who rides clipless knows what I’m talking about. It’s even happened on my road bike–sometimes you just tip over a super low speed while making a super tight turn–boom you’re on your side.

    Anyway, I recently did an endo at 15mph while clipped in and landed on my shoulder with not only my full weight, but the weight of my mtb bike as well. The bike flew off me when it smashed on the ground, but not before I separated my shoulder badly enough to need surgery. Now that I’m back on the bike, I can’t imagine going clipless. The main reason is I’m not allowed to fall on that arm or shoulder for a while–and being clipped in it’s not a matter of “if” but “when.”

    So here’s my question for flats. I can’t directly blame clipless for my shoulder injury–it happened so fast and I was upside down in a fraction of a second. But are flats safer? Do you put your foot down, hop off, or otherwise prevent crashes that would have happened if you were clipped in? In my experience, YES!

    Reply • July 26 at 6:31 am
  104. Brian says:

    This has been a lot to read but very worthwhile. I’ll throw another variation in for comment and consideration. I ride with Power Grip straps, but can never get my left foot in. So my right foot is in the strap and my left is just a flat pedal. I wear a soccer shin guard to protect my left shins from the occasional bite of the pedal when I slip off. This set up gets some disapproving looks from others!

    Looking at the Zappos website there are many models of the 5:10s. What ones are recommended for my narrow foot with a high arch? And James can you please comment on suitability of Powergrip straps as an alternative to clipless?

    Reply • August 2 at 1:01 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Here is an article I wrote with a rundown on the 5-10 shoes I recommend:

      I would think the Freeriders would be good to start with but check out my reviews and you can see what you think.

      As far as the Powergrips, I don’t really see the need for them. I know some people really like them but the truth is that with the progression of shoes and pedals they aren’t necessary like they were when tennis shoes were the best choice you had for flats. Hope this helps…

      Reply • August 3 at 2:45 pm
  105. John says:

    I have been riding clippless for years but have always been uncomfortable on them, I am a bit bow legged and even though I have a lot of practice on them it seems to always take a bit of effort for me to get out of the clips, and have had a couple of falls and close calls as a result. I changed to the shimano pedals that have clips on one side and platforms on the other, but like you mentioned they are not a great alternative, I find that if it gets rough the platform side with clip shoes does not provide a lot of traction as well I have to look down to see which side I am on when trying to clip in which can be very tricky in tight situations. I was very glad when I came accross your site and have now bought some five ten shoes and a pair of spunk spike platform pedals, have been a on a couple of rides and I am finding that with the combination that I have I feel very secure and locked in , and I have a lot more confidence and fun on my bike. My only concern is that the pedals have very aggressive screws on them which is great as they provide great traction however I am worried of what is going to happen when I get a good pedal bite, now I am thinking if I need to start riding with more protection. I typically just ride single track, can be technical at times but nothing really crazy. Do you find most people on flats ride with shin pads, do you think they are necessary and if so what kind would you recommend?

    Reply • September 7 at 8:13 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I strongly recommend wearing shin pads when you first start to learn to ride flat pedals. Eventually you will learn how to keep your feet planted and how to get your shin out of the way on the rare occasion you do slip a pedal but at first use some protection. I just used a pair of hard plastic shin pads and called them my “Cross Country Shinnies”.

      I just came across these, they look pretty sweet. Wish they had them when I was riding.

      Reply • September 10 at 3:28 pm
      • Ronan says:

        There are nice and easy looking shin pads, I found though when I started it was the back of my leg that would get stabbed from the pins, my foot tended to slip forward rather than back. Then I got the 5 tens and never looked back. Well done James on all your flat pedal articles!

        Reply • November 7 at 11:14 am
  106. Jim says:

    I’ve been biking off and on for a few years and now getting serious about it. My fitness is in the way of my riding…Time for a change!

    All of my riding “buddies” are telling me “i’m not a real rider without clipless. Everyone rides clipless”. I don’t buy into that one bit and never have. The article above proves what I’ve always felt. I need to prove them wrong.

    Now I’m stuck and need to know what to buy 1st. Do I start with buying new shoes (5-10’s are on my radar) or do I buy nice new quality platforms 1st?

    Right now, the bikes’ old Crank bros Mallets are gone since they were stolen so I’m running the awful stock plastic pedals.
    As far as shoes go, I can wear classic Adidas or brand new New Balance Trail Runners. Not the best, I know….

    What should I do? Pedals or shoes 1st? Soon I’ll have both when funds loosen up a bit.

    Reply • November 13 at 11:59 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Get the shoes first, they will make the biggest difference.

      Reply • November 14 at 1:59 pm
  107. Matt says:

    I’ve been riding for a little under a year, I went to a clippless setup very early on in the picture, way before I should have..

    After some fast and not so fast step off’s I lost quite a bit of confidence. So after snooping around here I thought I’d go back to the flats… At first I wasn’t into it at all, I couldn’t keep my foot on the pedal, and I don’t mean slipping, I mean my foot would lift off, and I couldn’t hop. But the other big thing I noticed was I seemed to run out ground clearance with the bigger pedal, and as many others have mentioned I too was inadvertently unclipping in corners.

    Anyway, a couple of rides in now and life is getting better, it does however highlight the habits one develops with a clippless system and how you manage to “shut off” and never really think about what your feet are doing, at least I seemed to anyway..

    My only gripe while doing research on this flat shoe fiasco is they all seem to be and have such thick and bulky tongues on them… I guess I’m just used to a street/casual shoe..

    Anyway great blog, it’s interesting to read all the varied responses and reactions..

    Reply • November 16 at 5:39 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Check out the 5-10 Freeriders or Spitfires, they are more like regular shoes than the big, bulky shoes made for DH riding. Check out my review of them on this site, just do a search for 5-10 shoes and you’ll find it.

      Reply • November 18 at 9:16 am
      • bikejames bikejames says:

        The kettlebell swing is one of the best exercises for learning the hip “pop” you need to bunny hop higher. Check out my video on manualing on this site to see it in action.

        Reply • November 19 at 6:49 am
  108. Todd Varon says:

    Thanks for this excellent post regarding the advantage of flat pedals versus clipless.

    I plan to switch to the flat pedals for the new bike I just ordered (which comes without pedals anyway). I never felt really comfortable with the clipless ones anyway and don’t think I will miss them.

    I note that you have recommended Deity pedals and Five Ten shoes; however I was wondering if you could recommend the right model of each as there appear to be many.

    I am 49 and an occasional MTB rider (not a lot of mileage at present). I don’t do very technical runs and don’t do any jumps. Just like riding out in the outdoors on trails. Mostly interested in safety and comfort. Don’t mind paying for quality but don’t want to buy more than I need either.

    Thanks again for your excellent blog and advice.

    Reply • December 1 at 2:20 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Here is a post I did on the different types of 5-10 shoes and what I use them for:

      Stuff I Like: 5-10 Sticky Rubber Shoes

      As far as the pedals go, I like the Deity Decoy of Decoy LT pedals. Hope this helps, glad you like the blog…

      Reply • December 3 at 9:50 am
  109. Jazzer says:

    I’m in my 50s and have been riding since I was a young boy. I lived in Santa Cruz in the ’80s during the evolution of MTB and my first MTB was the original Stumpjumper (blue). Rode Slickrock when it first opened to MTB, knew Keith Bontrager when he was just a shop monkey, etc.

    I started with toe straps on my Raleigh Grand Prix, used them on every bike for 30 years, then switched to clipless for a couple of years to get some more power. Once I got used to them I felt much more committed to the bike – you have to be. Very focused on pedal position during technical sections.

    However, at least 2-3 times per year I would make what I called the “stupid fall”. You know, reach for the water bottle, bobble it, and boom, you’re one the ground, still clipped in. One comical fall was worthy of a youtube clip as I teetered over in slow motion in the middle of a very deep and stinky mud puddle.

    After years of this I started to notice that the younger riders who were doing all kinds of cool shit were not clipped in. My sons could do some serious bunny-hops on flats, more than I could do while clipped. I switched to hybrid flat/clipless pedals and noticed I was using the flat side more and having more fun.

    I bought some used 5-10s and Diety composite pedals and will never go back. I am having more fun than ever, more control, and have not had one “stupid fall” since. I ride moderate singletrack every day. Often when riding with a group someone will take the stupid fall and laugh it off. Or I get stuck behind a bunch of sweaty guys trying to clip back in after a muddy section.

    I have a lot more confidence and can really rail the bike over around turns and see how far I can push it, letting the bike slide out, no problem. At least once a week I find myself shooting a leg out to catch a potentially disastrous fall without even thinking.

    I always get asked if my feet slip out or if I bash my shins. I have never slipped off the pedals and never bashed a shin. I can’t think of anything that I can’t do with flats except pull up hills as hard, but I blame that on age.

    The clipless guys will tell you that they can get unclipped within a second, but the worst crashes happen in less time, when you’re not even doing anything challenging. You may be able to unclip 99% of the time, but that one time you can’t…

    I’ll be on the trails tonight riding with lights, I’ll be the guy bunny hopping – without cleats.

    Reply • December 13 at 2:09 pm
  110. Mike says:

    Just bought some Crank Bros Mallets DH. Been in flats for a year now and want to try something different. I am also going to do a few SuperD races and Over The Hump this year. Wish me luck

    Reply • March 20 at 9:03 pm
  111. Alex says:

    I’ve had to use an mtb with clipless pedals for the first time in the last few months (been riding for 20 years). I found them really pleasant to use. However, what I would add to the convrsation is that I feel good a bout them because I usually stick to the same area and know the terrain (Casa de Campo, in Madrid – Spain). Were I to be venturing into unknown areas, I think I would rather use platforms…don’t know if this helps…

    Reply • April 18 at 3:43 am
  112. cannonballhands says:

    Wow I have been riding for about 3 years and started with clipless because that is what i was given when i started. After reading all of this and listing to the podcast I am thinking i should give the 5.10 s and flats a shot!

    The name brand of shoe i should get is call 5.10 or is there a different brand name i should check out??? thanks for any info on this!

    Reply • May 14 at 6:33 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      5.10 is the brand I use, the model I recommend checking out is called the Freerider. Teva also makes a good flat pedal shoe and a lot of people have had luck with them when the 5.10’s didn’t fit well. You can use to order 5.10’s, they have a great return policy so you can order a few sizes and return the ones that don’t fit.

      Reply • May 15 at 7:50 am
      • Ralph Clark says:

        I can thoroughly recommend the five-ten freerider vxi with the new stealth sole. Mine arrived at the end of last week along with a pair of DMR Vaults and riding this setup both on and off road has been a revelation. My feet stick to the pedals so well that I am able to maintain rotational force on each pedal through about 2/3 of each revolution, spreading the load across more of my leg muscles and reducing fatigue considerably. My riding style almost immediately became much more fluid and relaxed. I’m so glad I read this blog.

        btw I had been a little worried that with such a chunky sole they would be awkward to walk in but thats not the case at all. When walking they feel sort of like a cross between a standard training shoe and a lightweight hiking boot.

        Reply • June 9 at 4:40 pm
  113. Mike says:

    I could swear that I posted on one of your blogs before, but I can’t find which one… :-p It was related to the flats vs clipless debate. Anywho… I, like so many others, started out in toe clips (late 80’s) and clipless pedals. Also, like many others, I often crash or fall due to being unable to un-clip quickly enough. So, after reading all of your blog posts on the topic, as well as your manifesto, I bit the bullet. My pair of 5.10 Impacts came in today and my Spank Spike pedals are coming in on Friday. I’m so stoked to try ’em out. Unfortunately, I’m currently recovering from bruised ribs due to, you guessed it, a really nasty crash that I blame on my inability to disengage from the clipless pedals quickly enough.

    I just really want to thank you for all you do for biking! My biking buddy and I have made a lot of improvements since watching your videos and reading your blog.

    Oh, and as a side note, the Dr. I go to for Airrosti uses some of the same stretching and strengthening routines that you do. I thought that was pretty cool!

    Reply • September 18 at 9:36 pm
  114. McFeist says:

    I started mountain biking around 1998 or 1999, and I honestly cannot remember why I switched to clipless pedals, but I do remember feeling like I had to be in them in order to be a “real mountain biker.” That’s when the falling began! Most every fall I have had was either because I could not unclip fast enough or was made worse by not getting out of the pedals. I have just never gotten the hang of them. My husband is great in them and can get his foot out in a flash. I have now gotten a nice set of flats and some 5 10 shoes, and WOW! I have been out 3 rides already, and it has completely changed mountain biking for me. I am much more confident now. The bike feels great, too, with the nice big but thin flats, it feels so much more stable. I think I am using a stronger part of my leg as well because I am able to make some climbs that I struggled with before. I am starting to see more and more people out on the local trails here in Georgia with 5 10s and flats. I am not a racer, never have been, but I am a passionate recreational rider. Recently my husband and I were out riding, and I actually cleaned a technical climb that he did not quite make, a little section that I have struggled with before. All I can say is WOW!

    Reply • January 28 at 8:44 am
  115. Tariq Ahmed says:

    I’ve been taking a bit of a scientific approach to this by taking the same trail that has a brutal 30 minute steep climb and then a wicked fast single track down, and alternating between clipless and flats. Then using Runtastic for Mountain Biking iPhone App to analyze the results.

    I thought the clipless with pedaling efficiency, or at least with the way I pedal, didn’t make a measurable difference. I tried to also focus “pulling up” the pedal on the upstroke to provide continuous 360 degree power… but that just wore out the leg faster. The brief break when a pedal is on the way up seems advantageous.

    The big difference is on the way down. I have double sided clipless pedals so that I can flip them over to a flat mode – but it’s a total compromise, you never really feel sure footed. So whether unclipped or clipped, I always hold back a bit as that little voice inside me wants to make sure I always have the option to bail.

    But with my flats, I know bailing is an easy option, but because of that confidence I go harder and fortunately don’t bail.

    I suppose if you’re all about XC/traditional trail over long distances – the clipless works out better. But I’m all about maximizing the fun going down.

    Reply • August 25 at 10:03 pm
  116. Price Barker says:

    James. Been riding in the woods since 1970 on a Kmart Schwinn Stingray knock off. Started MTB in 1998. Rode flats for years. Let a friend talk me into clip less and rode those for years. Then read a post here by a rider who said his foot, knee and hip pain went away when he switched to flats. I was having the same pain and it went away on the first ride on flats. Currently using Fyxation Mesa pedals. Plastic pins don’t hamburger my shins and grip just fine. New Balance Minimus shoes are really comfortable and grip great. My riding buds still express shock that I don’t clip in.

    Reply • September 5 at 5:50 am
  117. Hope says:

    Appreiate the recommendation. Let me try it out.

    Reply • September 7 at 12:19 am
  118. Andrew says:

    Great post,

    I’ve been mt biking for only 4 months. In the first 2 months bought jetblack pedals and 5-10 shoes they were and still are awesome. Started getting knee pain and was told by the bike shop dude that that was because I was over using quads and over-relied on pushing up a hill rather than using clipless and pulling up a hill and using more hamstrings and glutes etc.

    So I went and bought clipless system and it shattered my confidence. I’m am not sure if I should abandon them or persever?????

    My thoughts after one ride with clipless- It may be just perception, but I did think I climbed easier and the pain on the medial side of my knee that I normally get when climbing wasn’t there in Clip-ins. Other differences were that in clip ins I was a little more all over the track like my core stability was lacking…. Perhaps in flats greater adjustment of foot position and hence being able to adjust the position of the weight of either/both lower limbs helps with balancing .?? This may inadvertently hide a slight in midsection core stability??????

    Also that in flats I was pulling up harder on the handle bars when peddling up hill etc. I enjoyed downhill in flats as a can change foot position a little and pedal is wider stance using legs more as shocks to flow and feel the undulations

    Anyone else find this and comments about knee pain with either are welcome

    Reply • January 5 at 5:15 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Sorry to hear that you were lied to about the value of clipless pedals. You are not supposed to pull up on the backstroke and bike shop guys who repeat that lie should be ashamed of themselves. As you can see in the Flat Pedal Revolution Manifesto the science tells us that you need to focus on pushing down and that pulling up results in less power and less efficiency than simply pushing down. You can also see the same thing happen in this video where the rider was actually more efficient on flats than on clipless pedals because he was trying to pull up when using clipless.

      And clipless pedals are terrible for your knees. While you may notice some short term relief the knee pain will be back and then they will try and sell you on a bike fit. You should focus on standing up more to take the pressure off your knees. When you sit down it destabilizes the knee joint and when you stand up it is more stable.

      Like you are finding out, clipless pedals are not what you have been told they are. They will not improve your performance, help with your knee pain or help you pedal better. All of that comes from time on the bike and using flat pedals to train you pedal stroke and skills. Ditch the clipless pedals and focus on flats for at least the first year of riding. And beware of bike shop guys selling clipless pedals, they usually have no clue what they are talking about and couldn’t give you any science to back up their claims.

      Reply • January 6 at 8:51 am
  119. David says:

    I started riding clipless soon as they came out in 89. I thought they were the cats meow. When I started riding SS I started to think differently, especially after I caught a lip on a table top and ended up needing a c3/c4 fusion. Now I ride flats with five tens and a dropper post.

    Reply • May 1 at 6:44 am
  120. chris says:

    I’ve been riding clipless for about fifteen years. It seems recently the new trails are far more technical, tight and twisty. I guess due to space concerns and making the most out of what we have. I can so far manage with clipless but I feel every tight switchback I am just a loose pebble from falling over. It’s just too stressful so I’ve reverted back to flats and toe clips. Yep toe clips. I can easily slide in and out of the pedals yet still have the stability. I’ve now gone full circle to when I got my first proper mtn bike in ’95. If I ride the greenway for some cruising I’ll put the clipless pedals back on. But for the technical trails I’m done with clipless.

    Reply • June 10 at 12:24 pm
  121. Jeanne M says:

    I’ve been a road cyclist for 16 years and only one time did I fall because of clipless pedals…I took up mountain biking in the southern CA hills a couple years riding mostly fire roads and some single track, still no problem with the clipless pedals. Fast forward..I move to NJ and take my mountain bike out with a group of guys and boom I’m falling over and over again (roots are not my friendt)..blood, bruises…but I’m loving riding in the woods versus crowded NJ roads. It got to the point they were saying..there she goes again. I have double sided pedals in case a friend wanted to ride one of my Giants, so I said what the heck I’m going to ride the flat side. Last night I found my flatest sneaks, which are my comfy cross-fit shoes, and let it rip. Number of falls: 0!!!! I was so excited, for once the guys weren’t pulling my bike off of me or waiting up because I fell again. I ordered a pair of women’s 5/10 and they should be arriving tomorrow!!! I’ll look into just flat pedals after I try the 5/10’s. I think I’m a flat convert on MB!!!

    Reply • June 9 at 6:11 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      That’s a great story, thanks for sharing. Glad flats were able to help you enjoy riding even more!

      Reply • June 9 at 10:58 am

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