At the heart of this it my belief that clipless pedals hurt people. One of my earliest influences in this industry was Ian King and he always preached injury prevention first and foremost. He always said “If you’re hurt it don’t matter how fit and fast you are”.

One of the things that I keep throwing out there but keeps getting glossed over is the 85% overuse injury rate among cyclists. I personally don’t think that cycling is a dangerous sport and that the vast majority of participants are simply doomed to some sort of ongoing knee, back or neck issue. Much like running, which suffers from 80%+ overuse injury rates as well, I think that it is not the activity but how we’ve screwed it up by trying to “improve” on how Mother Nature made us to move.

Add in the riders who get hurt from their clipless pedals either popping out when they were not expecting it or couldn’t get out when they needed to and you have a lot of riders suffering. Even if you had to take a significant performance decrease I’d still argue that flats are, functionally speaking, better and that clipless pedals should be reserved to racing situations only.

However, this is not the case. The two examples that people always fall back on in the “every pro does it” argument is XC and gated racing, two extremes that don’t represent real trail riding. Let’s take XC racing off the table – sure, there may be some technical features on some pro courses but until every course steps up and you get penalized for jumping off and running over technical features then I’m not buying it. And let’s take gated racing off as well since most of us don’t have a gate start at the trail head. My message is for the average rider out there who wants to ride faster and with more confidence on the trail.

DH racing is seeing more and more flat pedal riders making podiums so there is nothing definitive there and the vast majority of those guys can rip trail with flats. Your average freeride/ slopestyle/ dirt jump rider can rip trail as beautifully as anyone and the vast majority of them don’t clip in. I’m not talking about road riding on dirt or gated racing, I’m talking about mountain biking with technical trail features and “pucker up” moments.

So, if there is no real advantage to clipless pedals (since they simply feed into a dysfunction while you can fix your movement to better power flat pedals) then what it boils down to is are you willing to accept the injury risk associated with them? I’ve literally had dozens of riders make the switch and report no decrease in performance (once they got the technique down), an increase in fun and a decrease in chronic pain.

If you still think I’m wrong then please answer these question…

– Where is all the science that proves that clipless pedals are definitively better? If you don’t believe me then why believe the clipless argument without doing some research and seeing for yourself what proof they have? Look at the studies, too, because research done on riders in a seated position doesn’t necessarily translate over to the standing position.

– Am I wrong about my description of how the human body is made to produce lower body movement (using the hips to push through the “dead spot” instead of using the hip flexors to pull through) and how the foot is supposed to articulate during movement?

– Am I wrong in my description of how sitting and spinning with clipless pedals is completely removed from the description of proper movement? Or my description of how the clipless pedal interface and shoes screw up the natural inward rolling motion the foot is supposed to cycle though?

– Am I wrong in my assessment that the “sit and spin with clipless” mindset, and the horrendously dysfunctional movement it wreaks on the body, is at the heart of an 85% overuse injury rate?

If we can not refute these points then I think that there is something there. No one I’ve spoken with yet can refute all of these points which is why I’m starting to get a bit more vocal with my thoughts. In fact, last week I was visiting with Alwyn and Rachael Cosgrove, two of the best strength coaches in the country, and when I asked them about it they both told me that they couldn’t refute my logic and there was probably something there.

I don’t say this stuff just for the shock value as I really don’t care either way. Like I said in my podcast about this, I don’t own stock in flats pedals and 5-10 shoes, I just want to get to the truth. If someone can prove to me that clipless pedals offer a real advantage and don’t contribute to that 85% injury rate then I’ll admit I was wrong and go about developing the best programs in the world to take advantage of that.

So I won’t just let it go as long as people are needlessly wearing out their knees, hips, low back and neck. I won’t just chalk it up to “personal preference” as long as most new riders are encouraged to go clipless based on lies and half-truths and end up one of the timid souls I see every day on the trail who’s progression stagnated long ago.

While I will back off the statement that they are “worthless” (I’m sure that they offer someone some sort of advantage in some type of race) I won’t back off my assertion that they offer nothing but an increase in overuse injuries for the average rider who just wants to rip some sweet trail and keep enjoying some progression every year. Entire sports have been wrong about things before so ignoring my points and falling back on the “that’s not how everyone else does it” argument is a bit short sighted. Sports progress and I think that our sport, the sport of mountain biking, can progress past this road riding influence.

-James Wilson-

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