Flats vs. Clipless: Please prove me wrong & why I won’t let it go…

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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  1. Robert says:

    James, thanks for sticking with this argument. I don’t have the background in kineseology to know whether any of this is factually correct, but my own experience seems to match the observations you’ve outlined. Beyond that, however:

    As riders I think we should all take the time to try this approach. Challenging our assumptions s always beneficial – if the outcome of that challenge isn’t an improvement the learning process itself is a critical portion of training. Questioning our shared assumptions about the way things should be done is part of progression and I see this argument as being highly beneficial in that regard.

    Besides, flat pedals are awesome – just be sure to get some thin ones.

    Reply • July 29 at 10:18 am
  2. Gord says:

    I don’t disagree that good flats and 5-10s can be just as good as clipless, but if you are racing XC and only use clipless when racing then you are asking for problems, IMO. You need to be comfortable and familiar with your clips and shoes. Wearing them 2-3 a month for races only you might struggle getting in and out and most likely crash because of it if you need to dab or dismount. I would equate riding flats to train and clipless to race to riding a road bike to train for MTB racing. Practice and train with the equipment you plan to race with.

    The biggest problem is that people think that clipless pedals are there to help pull them through the top, which isn’t the purpose. What I was taught was that clipless pedals are meant to #1 secure your foot to the pedal and #2 help pull through the bottom until your down stroke leg is at 1:00 and in a power position. This is for seated pedaling only, not tech sections or shorter power climbs where the rider should be out of the saddle.

    My son keeps asking me to go clipless and I refuse to get him any because he hasn’t learned how to pedal properly with flats yet. Once he masters flats I will consider it if he decides to race, but right now he is only trail riding so I don’t see the advantage for him to go clipless, even if he was a perfect pedaler.

    Reply • July 29 at 10:37 am
  3. Joe says:

    Hey James. I tried clipless pedals for about 3 weeks after I got my mountain bike and surmised very quickly it was a bad idea, even though everyone I saw was riding clipless and suggested I do the same. I went against the crowd and dumped my pedals and clipless shoes, got some 5.10’s instead with good pedals.. and have never looked back. When I found your website discussing this same topic, it was a breath of fresh air ! I really don’t get the cipless thing, as I seem to pass many riders wearing clipless. It doesn’t seem to help them much.

    Clipless is downright dangerous. Overuse is only one example.. but staying locked into your bike and your head and neck hitting the ground causing paralysis is scary. Not to mention tumpling off the side of a mountain because you can’t unclip. There are many times, I get in situations where I think “thank goodness” I wasn’t wearing clipless here. I’m here on the front range and you can get hurt real quick.

    Unfortunately, I’m not sure clipless will go away anytime soon. One of the biggest obstacles in the way are the LBS themselves. Walk into any LBS and tell them you want 5.10 shoes and excellent flat pedals. They won’t have them. Look around.. 99% of what they sell is all for clipless. IMO, it’s not because they are necessarily the best for the rider, but because they generate a lot of profits as well.

    My new quote… “Clipless” is for the “Clueless” 🙂

    Keep Rockin James !

    – Joe

    Reply • July 29 at 11:57 am
  4. Trevor says:

    I know I said something similar before, but after another ride, I am even more amazed:

    The other day I went riding with a bunch of guys on 20 pound XC bikes (with clips obviously) and I was riding number 2 in line for the full three hour ride, much of the time right on the tire of the leader…on my slalom bike and flat pedals. Living in a city, I don’t get to trail ride more than a few times a month, so it isn’t like I am used to long rides either.

    27lb bike with 34t chainring, chainguide, 25-11 cassette and flat pedals vs. 20lb bike with full XC gearing with clips.

    I will stand by flat pedals.

    Reply • July 29 at 11:58 am
  5. Cyril says:

    I can say I’m glad to see “…& why I won’t let it go” in the title of your blog post because I have to admit, the last time I saw a post on this topic I thought: “Can’t this guy let it go??”

    It’s not that I disagree with you — at least not entirely. Maybe I’m just programmed to resist people when they seem to be getting too evangelical about anything.

    I don’t know the research on this, but let me start here: I swapped to flats on full-suspension bike several months ago because your ideas on the subject were interesting to me. There’s a lot I enjoy about the change. I’m more confident pushing my technical limits. I’ve re-learned how to lift the rear end of the bike without “cheating.” It gets me thinking about powering from my hips, as I’ve learned from your programs.

    But there are downsides. My feet don’t always land where I want them on the pedals when I’m hitting lots of roots or ruts at speed (and I’m pretty good at staying planted). When I’m moving fast and suddenly hit a super steep climb, where I have to drop several gears fast, it’s almost impossible to nail a high-cadence rhythm at the exact moment you need to engage the drivetrain, and the result is often spinning out and losing the pedals. These are just examples.

    Meanwhile I’ve also kept my SPDs on my hardtail, and I love them. I don’t race much (or well). But I often ride long, and I know I can ride much longer clipped in. The idea of riding 40 miles on flats seems silly and unnecessary. With clipless I can use my hips and all the techniques you promote, but also dip into my roadie toolkit. Also, my feet stay planted exactly how I’ve set my cleats. And I can “cheat” with lifting the bike and dance through technical sections more gracefully. Oh, and there’s that supersatisfying “click” when you step in at the beginning of a ride. I love that sound!

    I’ve never had an over-use injury related to bike or pedal setup, because my bike is set up right, and I’m not convinced that properly set-up clipless pedals have anything to do with over-use injuries. I’m not an expert, but haven’t seen evidence of this in my own experience or among the folks I ride with.

    Overall, I think you have a lot of valid points but apply your argument too broadly. From what I’ve seen on your blog and in your videos, you’re an awesome rider that gravitates to riding that’s somewhere between all-mountain and freeride. more power to you. Not everyone rides like that however, and I think there’s a lot more room for clipless pedals within the many worlds of cycling than you acknowledge.

    Reply • July 29 at 12:00 pm
  6. electric says:

    It’s true your feet can come off flat pedals, proper technique eliminates a lot of this, but when they do come off it is less likely to be a surprise because you aren’t doing the wacky “pull-up” movement. In addition, your feet will always come off flats when you want them to. Advantage: flats

    Cadence is not a real issue, sure i don’t spin at 115 rpm like on the road bike but 95rpm is quite sustainable with flats when you are practiced. A lot of cadence objections come from clipless guys who are using their polished clipless technique with flat pedals… the feet go flying everywhere.

    Repetitive injury is a real issue with clipless pedals, particularly those with very little float. I haven’t heard of such knee and hip injuries being associated with flats – probably because there is “infinite float.”

    Fun factor, flat pedals are way more fun. After a new indoor MTB park opened in town the guys who went there ditched the clipless for flats and some 5.10 or 661 sticky rubber, they are having a lot of fun and though i never asked they haven’t re-installed the clipless pedals this season.

    Reply • July 29 at 1:36 pm
  7. Bruce Wacker says:

    Just because you can’t find research supporting more power in clipless doesn’t mean anything. Can you find research saying they don’t produce more power or have other negatives? To say they are the cause of overuse injuries is like saying shoes or socks are the cause. Just about everyone uses socks, so they must be the cause. How much foot rotation really happens on a flat pedal, and who is to say that the running motion is appropriate for biking? There is no “natural” biking motion since it is a recent invention and not part of out evolutionary makeup. Also, the hips can’t do much of anything for power. They’re basically a hinge dependent on the muscles around them, primarily the glutes and hip flexors. Those muscles primarily power the femur and lower leg which are the only way to affect the foot/pedal in the fore and aft directions. Quads and hamstrings do most of the extension and retraction of the foot, but only with support of the hip muscles. Maybe I’m not a very good rider, but when I’m bombing down a rocky section of trail I depend on the clipless connection to keep my shoes from coming off the pedals. Also, since I ride a brain rear shock, I have to use them to lift the rear tire at times. Nobody likes to come off and be stuck with one foot in the pedal and no way to get leverage to unclip, but that happens to me about once a season and stuttering downhills are at least a weekly occurrence. I lost a cleat during an XC race once and kept coming off powering up hills, much to the annoyance of a gal I’d just passed. After a few times I finally let her go so she wouldn’t think I was intentionally messing with her. Of course, a regular MTB shoe without a cleat on Crank Brothers pedals is a lot worse than flats.

    How do flats work on loose rocky uphills where you’re trying to keep constant power to the rear wheel? Even with “traction pins” or whatever they’re called, it seems like it would be a lot harder to “pedal in a circle”. Agreed that is a misuse of the hip flexors, but, hopefully, not for very long. And how about suspension? A downhill bike with lots of travel is pretty different from the average XC bike. Do some research on hard-tails to emphasize the differences. Flats are undoubtedly “better” on certain bikes and certain terrain, but there are lots of different bikes and terrain variations out there. I’d also guess there a high correlation between injury and tightness of the cleats. I started off with tight SPD’s and soon had them almost all the way loosened in addition to the M float lateral freedom. I figure they’re about right if I sometimes pull out of the top. You raise good points for discussion, but I think the use environment needs to be a major consideration. I doubt one size fits all or that there is one right answer.

    Reply • July 29 at 1:41 pm
    • bikejames says:

      You can’t apply clipless “sit and spin” technique to flats. Once you get the technique down you’ll be faster on the uphills and be able to maintain better traction (I consistently make climbs standing up with flats I see other riders spin out on in their high cadence spin). So, while you can’t pedal through rough section as mindlessly as you can with clipless pedals you learn to float those sections, hammer harder where you can and then jam on the downhills with the confidence of someone who knows they can just step away if things get rowdy which all adds to to being just as fat if not faster. Again, if they offer no advantage then why use them? What is their point?

      Reply • July 30 at 9:33 am
      • Phil says:

        I don’t see why you can’t stand while using clipless pedals

        Reply • May 27 at 6:11 am
  8. Gord says:

    “It’s true your feet can come off flat pedals, proper technique eliminates a lot of this, but when they do come off it is less likely to be a surprise because you aren’t doing the wacky “pull-up” movement. In addition, your feet will always come off flats when you want them to. Advantage: flats”

    I completely disagree. If you are well practiced on clipless pedals unclipping is never an issue. Even in a crash my feet pop out without even thinking about it – it has become a natural instict for me. Unfortunately the learning curve is quite steep and you are bound to take a few unexpected tumbles when first learning how and when to unclip.

    Anyone who ‘pulls-up’ with clipless pedals isn’t using them correctly.

    Reply • July 29 at 1:53 pm
    • bikejames says:

      Again, how can you say that? I know dozens of riders who have gotten hurt because they could not get unclipped, some of them high level pros. You simply can not say that getting out of them is never an issue – for you perhaps but that is not the case for most riders. Also, if they offer no real advantage over flats why go through that learning curve? Why not devote it to learning to corner or manual, two skills that are more valuable on the trail?

      Reply • July 30 at 9:30 am
      • Phil says:

        If you know anything about clipless pedals they are designed to be unclipped during crashes, the rotation of the foot releases it from the pedal. Probably set at too high tension

        Reply • May 27 at 6:14 am
        • bikejames bikejames says:

          I know what they are “supposed” to do and I also know that there are hundreds of riders every year who get hurt because they can not get unclipped in time. Aaron Gwin, defending DH World Champ, busted both his two teeth out when he went over the bars and couldn’t get unclippped on a simple XC trail, if it were so easy and foolproof surely a rider of his ability wouldn’t have had that happen.

          Obviously there is more to it…

          Reply • May 27 at 8:18 am
  9. jeffB says:

    Honestly, I think a lot of the folks that take it so personally (the clips/flats debate) are the clipless riders who are afraid to admit that having the “cutting edge” technology in gear doesn`t make a rider fast. I in no way mean that as a shot to anyone in particular. All I mean is that there is a HUGE culture of riders that believe that having the latest and greatest gear means they are serious and dedicated, and that riding anything less makes you a “recreational” rider. The attitude was exactly the same in BMX. All you ever hear is “if you want to be serious at the higher proficiencies you HAVE to clip in”. Well, one of the biggest prize money bmx race events was a flat-pedal only race. The same pros raced each other, the results were pretty typical, and the speeds were pretty much the same as any other race, just on flats. And we`re talking a sport where pedaling cadences are frequently well above 185. Mountain bike culture has evolved to hold the gear in such high regard and with such esteem that if yo`ure not using what everyone else is, you must not be as dedicated. Those riders are afraid to even TRY something different, scared to death to find out that they are, in fact, just as accomplished on less gear. The hypocrisy here is the elitist embracing of single speed bikes. “pfft…I finished that trail with only one gear.” Yeah? I did it on flat pedals. “whatever, flats are retarded”. Why do you like single speed? “Duh. It`s simpler. It makes you have to make the most of what you have. It teaches you how to REALLY ride a bike.” Wow, flats have that same effect. “yeah….well…no one uses them so they just suck.”

    Dig what I`m sayin` here? By all means, ride what you like. But don`t belittle or berate something just because YOU refuse to give it value. If being clipped in is the be-all-end-all, well keep on riding them. If you`re willing to give flats an honest go, you`ll probably end up having a lot of fun and find the changes it makes to your riding style beneficial. Then you can say to the trailhead monkey pro wannabe`s “hey, just turned in a PR on this trail…on FLATS. What`s that? Sure, let`s see how my flat times compare to your clipped in times right now, I`m good for another lap. Oh, I understand, yeah, I`d be tired too after riding as hard as I`m sure you guys do. We can hit a lap together next time, when you`re recovered.”

    Reply • July 29 at 7:39 pm
  10. moment_uhms says:

    >> Repetitive injury is a real issue with clipless pedals, particularly those with very little float. I haven’t heard of such knee and hip injuries being associated with flats – probably because there is “infinite float.”

    Unfortunately, for me, with flats on my MTB, I will have knee injury in no time when traveling about 10km on the road. On SPDs I can last longer, but I still use flats on my MTB just because it’s just easier to get out of the door whenever I feel like it.

    On my Roadie however, yes it’s definitely a clipless setup with Duraace pedals, and I can go for miles and miles without knee pain. So, I’m not sure where James got the 85% overuse injuries data from, as I really suffer when riding flats, therefore, MTB is relegated to short rides only, unless I feel the need to “dress up” with my Specialized MTB shoes, fix in my XT SPDs.

    Reply • July 29 at 9:05 pm
  11. Deek says:

    “Honestly, I think a lot of the folks that take it so personally (the clips/flats debate) are the clipless riders who are afraid to admit that having the “cutting edge” technology in gear doesn`t make a rider fast”

    I have to somewhat agree with you. I ride flats, always have, but do not have any issues with clips, they’re just not for me, but it is interesting that a good majority of riders that get really upset about this debate appear to be clippless riders? I may be stepping out of line here, it is just an observation I have made over the last 8 years I’ve been riding/racing. Not sure that I agree it’s a technology thing, but clipless riders appear ‘threatened’ by the arguement.

    Reply • July 29 at 9:30 pm
  12. michael says:

    hey james,
    i have read all your articles on clips vs clipless. i agree that clipped pedals are not for everyone and should not be given to beginners ever. i also agree that cover over bad pedal technique and more than likely create knee problems. i do think though that there are good for certain kinds of rides and rider.
    while i know that your blog and facility focus mainly on downhill and four cross and generally you are not a cross country trainer or particularly a fan of xc racing as you have described many times as road racing on dirt.
    i agree that sometimes xc races are like this and sometimes not at all those races regardless of there technical level are made for people who love them and like clipless pedals have a place in the cycling world.
    i am as you can tell into xc racing and let me tell you some of the tech sections that might not be tricky when you are either riding 6inch plus bikes or are fresh are not that simple when you thing your lungs are going to pop.
    i like to take what i think will help me from your blog. when i do a indoor interval session i warm up and warm down not clipped in to try to improve my technique as a result of one of your articles.
    i read books about other types or training and take what i think will help me from them as well.
    i have to say that the constant harping on about clipless pedals has stopped me visiting your blog as much and thats a shame as i really like what you do, we get the point man move on.
    it’s not just trail riders using your blog and my clipless pedals will always be on my bike. i have even put flats on my training mtb that i use sometimes as a way to further improve my pedal technique but this is only so that when i am clipped in on my race xc bike i am even more efficient. please though let it go and give us some more of your thoughts on other biking and strength issues

    Reply • July 30 at 12:40 am
    • bikejames says:

      Sorry, as long as riders as being lied to about their benefits and they are causing injuries as a result I won’t drop it. Clipless gained their popularity through the false assumption you want to pull up and through which has been shown to be false so how exactly do they help you?

      Reply • July 30 at 9:27 am
  13. eMPee says:

    Gord sums it up for me.
    “If you are well practiced on clipless pedals unclipping is never an issue. Even in a crash my feet pop out without even thinking about it – it has become a natural instict for me. Unfortunately the learning curve is quite steep and you are bound to take a few unexpected tumbles when first learning how and when to unclip.
    Anyone who ‘pulls-up’ with clipless pedals isn’t using them correctly.”

    Yes flats have benefits for some styles of riding, but keeping James point’s in mind i’m sticking with the clipsless.

    I tried flats again today, foot slipped off over a rough section of track. Copped a nasty pedal to my shin, now my shin has a hole….cool. I argue that flats cause injuries 😉

    Reply • July 30 at 2:04 am
    • bikejames says:

      Wear some light shin pads until you get your technique dialed, feet flying off the pedals requires pressing the feet down into the pedals and will get better with practice.

      Reply • July 30 at 9:25 am
  14. Kyle Mears says:

    Nico clipped in…… let his record humble your rant

    Reply • July 30 at 8:07 am
    • bikejames says:

      Dude, you know I respect you as a rider but great athletes in the past have been wrong, lets base this discussion on more than “that is how so-and-so” did it…

      Reply • July 30 at 9:24 am
  15. Evan says:

    Fist let me address the false myths about clipless pedals that you’ve harped on frequently.

    #1 – Clipless pedals are difficult or slow to get out of. This is simply BS, propagated by people who tried clipless once and then threw them away.
    We all know how fast washing out the front end puts you on the ground, even with flats, and riding SPDs I can always get the leg out in time to save it. Like anything, doing it takes practice. James when you decided to become a fitness professional were you instally endowed with the knowledge and wisdom? Of course not, it takes practice time and work.
    To learn clipless you start off inside propped against a wall clipping out and in, then you do some XC rides, until getting in and out of clipless pedals will be instant muscle memory that you dont even have to think about and takes literally zero time to get out of. Most people make it to this level in 10 rides or so, but definately ease into it until you are comfortable.

    #2 – Clipless pedals can cause injury by trapping your feet in the pedals during a fall. Slightly related to #1. Clipless pedals release at 5 degrees of rotation. Even if a fall catches you completely by surprise and you have no idea its coming clipless pedals release at 5 degrees of rotation. If youve really binned it, your feet will come out, always. Ive had wrecks when I was a beginner that all of the sudden Im on the ground, I never consciously clipped out, but my feet are out of the pedals.

    Now lets talk about flats.
    You’ve talked about the (false) injury potential of clipless ad nasuem , but Ive never heard you mention the injury potential of flats. I think we have all seen the DH videos of when a guys feet come off the pedals, which begins an all too predictable sequence of straddling the top tube until the front end digs in and the rider is launched down the trail. Just recently over on Lee’s site a guy wrote in to talk about his broken leg when his feet came off the flats.
    There [i]is[/i] a reason many of the pros use clipless. I never heard any basketball coaches criticise Michael Jordan’s jump shot……

    You like to talk about natural motion of the legs knees and hips, but have never actually shown how flats have anything to do with improving that. With flats, and the super sticky shoes and pedals you talk about, your feet are glued to the pedals laterally and you have no play or twisting float to allow the knees to rotate if they want to. Clipless pedals have float, usually about 5 degrees that allow your foot rotation.

    The overuse injury statistic you bring up is certainly of concern on a broader scope of the machine that we chose to ride, but that statistic doesnt even take into account pedals, so even correlation is not proven, and trying to prove causation with correlation is a logical fallacy anyway.

    Youre ‘mother nature’ argument hold no water either, as you havent shown how flats allow you to move more as though mother nature intends. In addition to the float of clipless pedals mentioned above, a clipless pedal allows you to better use the back stroke, which you brought up in your blog a few weeks ago. Flats are notorious for encouraging simple up and down mashing of the pedals.

    Bottom line: clipless pedals are a valuable tool to have in the mountain bikers toolbox in addition to flat pedals. They are certainly no more dangerous than flat pedals, and have great advantages in many situations.

    Reply • July 30 at 8:09 am
    • bikejames says:

      I know plenty of people who have not been able to get unclipped and got hurt. Many of them have stories on this sight and for you to pretend that just because you’ve never had an issue then it is a none issue for everyone is not a valid argument. Aaron gwin got his two front teeth knocked out when he couldn’t get unclipped, Gene Hamilton told me yesterday that being clipped in still spooks him some and I’ve personally heard from dozens of riders and come across a few others on the trail who got hurt because they could not get unclipped. So all of your points are not valid and simply your personal experience. That is the difference with most riders and myself – I deal with things on a much larger scale than them so just becuase they have never seen it doesn’t mean that it is not a problem. I just don’t get how intelligent riders such as yourself can pretend that most riders can become adept with clipless in 10 rides and never have any issues from then on amazes me.

      And if you don’t see how having your feet strapped in shoes with stiff soles and arch support is less natural than the pliable soles and little to no arch support then I’m afraid we’ll just have to agree to disagree. You also can not mash up and down with flats, at least not for long. You have to learn how to scoop through the dead spot, something you don’t with clipless. We just don’t live in the same world if you truly think that clipless pedals don’t cause crashes and that they allow for more natural movement than flats with good shoes.

      Reply • July 30 at 9:23 am
      • Adam says:

        I have to agree with Bikejames here. I am a long time roadie who always used high end clipless (top of the line Look pedals and cleats and Carnac shoes). I never had a problem getting uncliped on the road. When I got my mountain bike I went to Shimano SPD and Sidi Dominators (again top of the line equipment) and crashed several times, even with the pedals on the lightest retention setting. Sometimes the things just wouldn’t come out. Now I didn’t get hurt bad (because it happened when I was stopping anyway), but it was hard on the ego going down just because I couldn’t the damn things unclipped! Made me wary on technical sections where I was going slow. Switching to flats and 5-10’s. Back in the day of my Schwinn Varsity, we rode all day without the clipless stuff anyway…

        Reply • September 13 at 8:02 pm
      • Cris Doyle says:

        I have to disagree. To say ‘all of your points are not valid and simply your personal experience.’ is not justified. Yes, riders, including a top DH pro, sometimes get caught in clipless and get hurt. Do you deny that other riders have slipped or bounced off flats and also got hurt? It happens so the point stands.
        Now, about ‘natural’ vs ‘unnatural’ levels of foot support. Riding a bike is unnatural anyway. We have evolved to walk and run with a bouncing action, absorbing an impact with the ground, rolling the foot side-to-side and fore-and-aft and springing up while releasing energy stored in our tendons. None of these things happen while pedalling, so it’s hard to argue that what’s good for one is automatically good for the other and that there’s an ideal level of constraint on foot movement. It probably varies between individuals. (I do agree that clipless pedals need to be adjusted well and may not work for some people with unusual biomechanics.)
        I’ve a confession to make here. I’m an old-school XC rider and racer; 25 years mostly on SPDs but I really enjoyed reading your stuff – very challenging and food for thought, certainly. In fact, I agree with much of what you say, especially about not blindly doing what x or y other rider does, trying things for yourself and the importance of good technique and good set-up. You don’t need to undermine the force of your arguments by being unnecessarily strident.
        Keep up the good work and happy trails!

        Reply • July 24 at 2:28 am
        • bikejames bikejames says:

          I don’t think I have ever said that you couldn’t slip a pedal on flats, I’m just pointing out that there is a very real danger to riding clipless pedals. This danger is usually brushed over or minimized when talking about the pros and cons of clipless pedals. The injuries you get from not getting unclipped are also much worse than what you get from slipping a flat pedal – I know dozens of riders who have broken their hand, arms, hips or had a head injury from not getting unclipped and the worse injury I know from slipping a flat is some stitches in the shin. Again, this is reality and denying it is doing new riders a disservice.

          I also don’t agree with riding a bike isn’t natural. No sport is “natural” outside of the pure sports like running or wrestling and all of them require for us to look at how the human body moves and then how to optimally apply it to their sport. In our case, we need to look at lower body locomotion and foot mechanics. The biggest lie that they got us to believe was that pedaling was like running or walking when it is more like a series of step ups or lunges because your foot doesn’t break contact with the ground. So no, we can’t simulate the same foot action as when we run but that isn’t what we want to do – we want to simulate the foot action from a squat or deadlift where you have the foot firmly planted and you are pushing through the arch and not the ball of the foot. Again, these are facts and denying them because they don’t fit the old narrative is holding our sport back.

          It is easy to take what I say to an extreme – just because I point out the dangers of clipless pedals isn’t the same thing as denying the risks of flats – but when you step back and look at the entire argument I am presenting you see that there is a lot more to the story than what the bike industry has told you. Knowledge is power and the more riders who actually check this stuff out for themselves instead of just taking my word or the bike industries word the better off we’ll be.

          Reply • July 24 at 9:26 am
  16. jade Jenny says:

    I’ve posted in the past on this before. Didn’t read through all the posts but a good portion of some. To Trevor you didn’t keep pace on the ride on your slalom bike because of your flat pedals, you kept pace because you are obviously a good rider and in good shape.

    I’ll say again I’ve ridden both quite extensively, and have always gone back to clipless (except for dirt jumping). I’ve never had a problem not getting out of clips (except for when I first go them about 13 years ago, they were shimanos, and set up way to tight). I feel more comfortable in them, and whether you want to call it cheating or not it’s a hell of a lot easier to pick the bike up when you are attached, it takes less work, and for me, racing downhill at a pretty high level I would want to have to put forth the least effort possible to perform a given movement. Kind of like lifting at high intensity, form breaks down and you start having to use more energy to perform the same lift.

    As far as the float goes I would almost say there is less float on flats. I ride crank brothers clips which have quite a bit of float in them. I can recall from riding my flats and 5.10’s that when your foot is planted on the pedal it isn’t moving around at all, there is no float, in order for your foot to float you would have to either pick your foot up and move it, or experience a pretty hard impact, which in both cases your foot would come out of a clipless pedal anyway.

    Last thought is on power, I still think you get more power out of a clipless set-up. Think about powerlifters or olympic lifters, they go barefoot, chuck taylors, or olympic shoes with wood soles, all of which have little to no give, why because if you were wearing a sneaker you’d lose power to the compression of the sneaker. I don’t see how that is any different here, I know my clipless shoes are way stiff and more solid than my 5.10s.

    In the end I think it’s personal preference, I don’t think one is really better than the other, but if clipless pedals are too hard for you to use you probably shouldn’t be riding, at least not anything very difficult. And for those who pull up on the pedal, again you just need to learn how to ride a bike.

    Reply • July 30 at 9:42 am
    • bikejames says:

      You know, some would say that if you can’t ride without clipless pedals then you’re not very good and are instead an equipment dependent rider. Not me, just some people…

      Are you really going to tell all the freeride/ slopestyle/ trail riders that don’t don’t clip in and yet slay trail like nobody’s business that they shouldn’t be riding becuase they don’t clip in? I know I’m on to something when people resort to statements like you last one – you have no real arguments against my points so you start getting personal.

      Please find anywhere I’ve said that if you ride clipless pedals you suck. You may take that from what you’re reading but I’ve never said it, that is just your interpretation. I am just challenging people to explain to me why clipless pedals are so much better and that new riders need to use them. The fact that they can not and are instead grasping for straws and getting angry doesn’t mean I’m attacking them, just challenging them to think which tends to make people defensive and uncomfortable.

      Reply • July 30 at 12:42 pm
  17. jade Jenny says:

    Oh and James, I know you train the guy, so you’d know better than me, but from the races I’ve been to, and the footage I’ve seen I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Gwin clipped in more often than not.

    Reply • July 30 at 9:44 am
    • bikejames says:

      It’s funny everybody keeps bringing up Gwinny – yes he races in clipless pedals BUT he also busted both front teeth out when he couldn’t get unclipped on a trail ride and this whole thing started about a year ago when he mentioned in an interview that flats make you a better rider. The only reason he wears clipless is because he says they help keep in keep in place in rough corners so he can start pedaling away when he gets out but he is also a top 10 World Cup racer. Hardly a nail in the coffin for flats…

      Reply • July 30 at 12:29 pm
  18. Drew Freeman says:

    I find it funny that people are complaining that this topic is brought up to often. I found this sight a couple months ago and have loved to see all the great info that James gives to people for FREE!! Its nice to see someone teaching people about movement! Most trainers don’t focus on moving correctly and try to build strength and performance on people that are full of dysfunction.
    I use clipless because I was told that is the only way to go when I started riding. I have not had any problems with them…yet. I agree with all of James arguements against them. It completely makes sense. It is just like running with shoes that give us all sorts of support to make up for peoples poor movement patterns and bad running technique. I plan on trying some flats next year. I can’t knock it until ive tried it.
    So if you agree great, if you disagree that is great to. You can ignore this topic, but pay attention to all the other things he is trying to teach you on this sight because it is all really good stuff, from all the foam rolling to the barefoot training, to keeping programs simple, and making sure you have a solid core. It is refreshing to see someone that really knows his stuff and is willing to share with everyone.

    Reply • July 30 at 11:22 am
  19. The Real Rob says:

    “I know plenty of people who have not been able to get unclipped and got hurt.”

    I’ve taken you to the emergency room twice James. Clearly that’s proof* that platform pedals are dangerous.

    *my point being that anecdotes don’t prove shit and they are NOT proof of ANYTHING — and the arguments on both sides of this issue are 100% anecdote based and have devolved into simple name-calling (XC racing isn’t real mountain biking?).

    This kind of thread is exactly why I don’t visit MTBR, Pinkbike or NSMB any more.

    Reply • July 30 at 11:39 am
    • bikejames says:

      Dude, keep it in perspective. I never claimed that you will never get hurt wearing flats, in fact I have downplayed the “getting unclipped” aspect in this and previous posts. However, when people say that getting out of clipless pedals is effortles and no one gets hurt because of them is wrong and I had to say something so please keep my statement in context. And we both know those wrecks could have been worse if my bike had stayed attached.

      And sorry but my argument is not based on anecdotes, that is the argument of the clipless defenders (I’ve never had a problem, so-and-so always clips in, etc.). I have presented a fact based argument grounded in functional movement and anatomy while also pointing out how the advantages of clipless are gained through feeding into a dysfunctional position and movement. No one has refuted my actual arguments. I’ve spelled out my points and asked for someone to prove me wrong and no one has.

      So I’m sorry if your don’t like this discussion but it is necessary. There are a lot of riders out there who are pressured into clipless pedals and are worse off for it.

      Reply • July 30 at 12:23 pm
  20. Motomom says:

    I have been following this argument since it started for several reasons – my riding partner uses only flats and hangs with me riding clipless effortlessly and second, last year, I broke my ankle because I could not unclip fast enough to put a foot out to save me. My friend and I have had many spirited discussions on this subject and she has endured some continuous ribbing about her preference for flat pedals. I bought some 5-10’s and flat pedals this spring and gave it a go but experienced that performance dip you talked about, plus took some ribbing myself and quit. Now, I am ready to try again, this time I won’t expect too much too soon, realize I might have to slow down for a bit but honestly, the one thing I do remember is how much fun it was riding flats and how it gave me confidence to try stuff I wouldn’t in clips. I loved the wide base under my foot and I found myself flying through sections that normally would have backed me off. The two problems I had were with my feet coming off the pedals and trying to climb short, steep sections of trail, which don’t usually give me any trouble. Both of which, if I can stick with it, should improve with practice.

    The idea of trying something new that has the potential to actually improve my skill level is really exciting. So, with that in mind, I am going to put the flats on for this afternoon’s ride!

    Reply • July 30 at 11:39 am
  21. Tom says:

    I for one would like to see James give clipless another chance. I think you should try clipless pedals for 30 days and then give another review.

    Reply • July 30 at 12:04 pm
    • bikejames says:

      Hell no, I like to have fun. Why would I switch? The reason I never tried them out was I kept waiting for the day that I was getting crushed on climbs by guys with clipless pedals. That never happened which was my first clue they were not all they were cracked up to be. Have you tried flats?

      Reply • July 30 at 12:14 pm
      • Ha, this comment is hilarious. An entire article devoted to the evils of clipless pedals and you have not even tried them. I think a much more even take away would be that clipless are not for everybody or every situation and if they cause pain, stop using them.

        Reply • April 8 at 10:27 am
        • bikejames bikejames says:

          Correction – I have tried them, I just didn’t like falling over at stop signs and so I decided to stick with flats until I knew that they were holding me back. After 13+ years of riding and becoming a pretty decent rider I’m still waiting for that day, which is what lead me to question the common notion that clipless were “better” and lead to the debate that was started with this post.

          Reply • April 9 at 2:50 pm
  22. Tom says:

    I have definitely used flat pedals. I started off racing XC on flats, granted that was over 15 years ago, but I try them every once in a while on the trails. To be honest with you I find them really sketchy for any type of trail riding that involves any kind of downhill or tech sections. Right now I only ride flats regularly on my dirt jump/slalom bike.

    Reply • July 30 at 12:22 pm
  23. jeffB says:

    Alas, this has blown up into the typical (and far too common) cheap shots at the side the individual does not favor. Why? James has asked for something tangible, and hasn`t been offered what was asked for. I have ridden clipless for 13 (maybe 14…?) years on and off. I have committed to flats even for my XC riding, and the text I got from a friend of mine (who happens to be a pro rider) when I told him was “Damn dude. You are officially a badass.” LOL.

    It`s ridiculous to take this debate (either side of it) personally. And it does seem that it`s the clipped in riders that make up a bigger portion of the people getting their feelings hurt by it. I think it may be because many clipless riders had to be convinced, at least a little bit, to try them. So they took a huge leap of faith, and it worked so they feel validated. They feel their initial fears were legit and they have overcome some mental obstacle, and now the idea of riding flats would mean their success with clipless is without value. I HAVE fallen because I couldn`t get unclipped. It was never moving very fast, and each time was unique. I have never, ever fallen because my feet blew off the pedals for no reason. I have slipped pedals trying to save a situation that was already a train wreck. Point? Falls happen. Regardless how yo`ure attached to your bike, falls happen. The question at hand is whether or not clipless pedals are better than flats. In general, IMO, no. I have personal evidence that clipless allows me to hit max speed a few feet sooner from a dead stop. In a bmx race, where you may only need 4 inches of lead over someone else to get an elbow in and force them behind you it makes a small advantage. But it`s also a 40 second race and you generally only get one chance to get ahead. On a mtb, even in a race situation, using my 25 years of riding/racing experience I do not believe clips are inherently better. I do believe that some riders develop techniques that utilize what clipless pedals offer, and that those techniques bypass some of the fundamental, basic skills flats force us to learn. Either way, I really don`t see the need to argue about it. Ride what you like. But if you`re going to get passionate about a debate, you`ve got to understand the other person`s point of view. That means actually getting on some platforms and riding them for a while if you`re a clipless rider, or getting yourself clipped in and doing the same riding you`d normally do on flats if you`re a platforms rider.

    Reply • July 30 at 1:41 pm
  24. electric says:

    To the posters saying that sticky shoes and flats results in the same repetitive injuries as a cleated shoe without any float, because they stick so well, i have to point out you’ve missed the key point. The little to zero float shoe has the potential not to damage because it has no float but, because every single stroke, every time is of the exact same foot/knee/hip orientation. As soon as a flat-pedal rider takes his foot off the pedal and puts it back the motion of the knee and hip will be a bit different. This is why i think clip-less riders are far more likely to get injuries like “runners knee” prematurely. Now some studies say runners knee is OK, but it is still an injury, and to be fair there is PLENTY of discussion around elsewhere about how to setup your cleats to avoid knee and hip pain or why you need special arch inserts for your clipless shoe. I find all that suspicious, particularly if you don’t need such aids while walking.

    Again i just wanted to clarify, that just because a flat-pedal shoe is sticky on the pedal does not make it the same as a clipless pedal shoe.

    Reply • July 30 at 3:55 pm
  25. Walt says:

    Gord is wrong. XC racers don’t really need to practice with clipless pedals. They are easy. Once you have used them for a few years, you can throw th back on the bike and pick up right where you left off. Clipless pedals are not hard to get out of and they usually do release in a crash anyway. That isn’t the issue. It’s the damage they cause to your body that is. To pedal well with flat pedals is actually more technically challanging… but worth the effort. Clipless pedals should be reserved for racing. I think of the ski analogy. (James is totally out of the loop on this one considering his clueless comments on the winter olympic. He’s obviously not a skier. But for a lot of us skiing will always be #1 and mountain biking a great adrenaline and training tool for skiing when there’s no snow.) You don’t use race skis for every day skiing. They are stiff and unforgiving with a narrow margin for error. You ski on more tuned down, wider skis that are more forgiving when you are sending that 40′ cliff in waist deep powder. Like freeride skis, flat pedals are just more fun.

    Reply • July 30 at 8:24 pm
  26. Flatlander says:

    James is a bit of a fanatic on this subject. James rides in an area and gravitates toward a ride that validates consideration of flats. James doesn’t ride in a midwest XC oriented arena, not that he would, and Grand Junction simply can’t accommodate the rest of us.

    This stated, I’ve built a bike for a local twisty trail that features flats. The rest of my rides clip. Tonight, my feet and knees hurt in the clips, but I was riding different; I was sitting through my climbs, and the pedals had my larger joints locked into a repetitive motion that has become unfamiliar.

    I don’t know the answer–I would ride the clips/that bike again on that ride, and I know I love my flats = multifactorial consideration. Ride, bike, physical condition, trail condition, and bike setup relate. James is oversimplifying, and his soapbox is public.

    His soapbox is public because he provides a service and insight unique to our sport that caters uniquely to our interests. As an Osteopathic Physician and longtime student/disciple of James’ principles, I have to point out that I have *never* read anything here that didn’t make valid biomechanical sense in this blog.

    Keep up the good work James, you speak a lot of truth. This issue is more complex than the logic you’ve assigned it however, and your continued commentary approaches a narrow sighted standpoint. Your arguments are not scientific (nor are mine). If there is no evidence to support either side of this debate, each side stands on speculative and circumstantial footing (by definition).

    Agree or disagree, consider it food for thought, then go for a ride (or foamroll, or split squat, or drink a beer). Emotion serves no purpose–either as a origin or as a response in this debate.

    Reply • July 30 at 9:13 pm
  27. Walt says:

    One thing I’ve noticed with flat pedals is that you really have to press into them more instead of mindless spinning. Will this use more energy on a really long ride? Probably… but so what? Unless you are in a race it doesn’t matter. But the advantage of having to press more is that even when you are sitting, it is more like you are pedaling standing up which is good for you. Because after all, what mortal can really stand the whole ride? Since I switched to flats, my chronic low back/hip pain has subsided even though I’m really only truly standing less than 5% of the time. (which is still more than I used to) But it’s have to push with the feet more that helped.

    Reply • July 30 at 9:14 pm
  28. jeffB says:

    “If there is no evidence to support either side of this debate, each side stands on speculative and circumstantial footing (by definition).”

    “Agree or disagree, consider it food for thought, then go for a ride (or foamroll, or split squat, or drink a beer). Emotion serves no purpose–either as a origin or as a response in this debate.”

    Point, and match.

    Reply • July 31 at 6:23 am
  29. Dan says:

    Attachment sucks! And I don’t mean to your pedals. Attachment to your beliefs to your ideas, thoughts etc. leave no room for expansion. There is no doubt that since I started the DB combos I have become a better rider. Then standing and pedaling more as James suggests took me to a new level. Now he is saying that I should look at riding flats because of this and this and this.

    So I am thinking that James has really helped me so far, so I was willing to give it a try. I had always ridden flats until 10 years ago it was suggested when I bought a new bike to go clipless. So James offered a carrot and I took it.

    Going flats has been a good decision for me. I am riding much more aggresively and pain in my ankles has gone away and my hip is hurting less. Also I am having much more fun on the woodwork.
    Yes I also am seeing less pulling power and lifting the bike stuff but I am convinced its just a matter of learning a new tecnique.

    To take James advice it helped to be honest with myself and say “yes I am hurting” and maybe it’s not “just the way it is.”

    Deciding to try something new worked but if it hadn’t I would just say thank you very much James and here is your carrot back.

    On another note I have been riding mtb with my brother for close to 25 years and he has never had clips and he kicks ass. We both entered a demanding mtb race in the over 50 sport catagory this summer and he got first place in his first ever race. He was also 5th over all of all the men sport racers. He kicked me by 13 minutes, James we got some work to do:)

    Reply • July 31 at 11:02 am
  30. Ivan says:

    James is there an illustration, article or video on the ideal pedal technique? I have been riding flats since the late 70s and also tried clipless for spells. I prefer flats, but I want to know a bit more about the ideal posture, position of the foot on the pedal, an illustration of the scoop motion etc.. I ride flats on rolling 1track for several hours straight several days a week, and I usually keep the seat low and stand through most of the climbs. I seem to get a sore knee when putting around on the seat BMX style or going to and from the trails. Nothing a stretch and rest don’t cure, but I kinda think it’s may be general use pain that I’d get from too much trail running or even too many squats.

    So to questions I guess – What is the bad pedaling that can cause front knee pain and is there an illustration of the ideal pedaling method?

    Reply • August 1 at 2:26 am
  31. Paul says:

    blah blah blah. This is a very boring argument.

    Some people love clipless and don’t have any problems with them so they should run them. Others love flats. Great. Those guys should rock the flat pedals. Everyone else should just try for themselves and see what works and makes them happy.

    Reply • August 1 at 7:56 pm
  32. Sarah says:

    Hello! My husband, Jeremy, has been following you for some time now and has adopted your training regime… so that’s how I came to be aware of you and your training philosophies.

    I grew up in a bike shop and spent time in my early adolescence tagging far behind on team rides. Life happened, I didn’t stick with cycling, and I started smoking… I’ve always been the slightly overweight girl with a small self-esteem…

    …fast forward through time. 1.5 years ago I quit smoking for the last time… Jeremy and I quickly realized that the only way to stay quit would be to radically transform our lives. We changed our lifestyle and I dropped 25 pounds in the process. We adopted yoga, strength training, and mountain biking coupled with a nutrient dense diet, etc. to maintain our physical and mental strength.

    I bought my first mountain bike in April 2009. The guys at the bike shop convinced me to go clipless. It was one of those moments when something inside you goes “not a good idea” but you don’t know better, trust the professionals, and go for it.

    May 2009- face planted on the downhill with my bike still attached to my feet. My pretty face stayed pretty (thank God)… but my confidence level on the bike plummeted. I was filled with fear of the trail… and of not being able to unclip if I got into a bad situation. Believe it or not, somehow I managed to ride clipless pedals and shoes until March 2010 without actually clipping in! (Talk about losing power when you’re pushing down on several cm of surface area…) More frustration ensued.

    I was awarded the prestigious teacher of the year award and we planned an out west trip to celebrate. Slickrock was on the list. I spent WEEKS TERRIFIED of being clipped in on that trail. The anxiety was incomprehensible and permeated my consciousness. I was completely overcome by the fear and anxiety of being in Moab on those damn pedals. Luckily I survived the trail and trip in one piece. (Probably because I was so overcautious and avoided every possible risk.)

    I started to think critically about this pedal paradigm. I remembered being a kid and feeling so FREE and having so much FUN on my bike… why didn’t I feel that way now I wondered? I started asking Jeremy about flats…

    … then he found YOU. It’s as if we needed someone -YOU- to affirm what we already knew in regards to flat pedals.

    It may sound silly- but changing to flats has been the best decision I’ve made in a long time. I immediately felt like a kid again… I attempted parts of trails that I had always been terrified of and had always hiked the bike… and was successful! I’m SO FAST on the downhill… I mean I can keep up with the “big boys” on the downhill. I’m blessed with a strong body of which strength training has certainly benefitted from so I’m able to pump so hard and go so fast. Who needs a dirt bike when you have these legs?! HA! 😉

    I challenge other mountain bikers in their paradigm about clipless. My favorite conversation was with a bunch of guys from a bicycle company. I let them take their turns about telling their horrific crash and injury stories… then asked “Were y’all clipped in” and they looked at me like I had two heads. Of course they were… I reminded them of the freedom they felt riding bikes as children… and that they didn’t have fancy pants pedals then- so what gives?! One person even asked me “how to you stay attached to your bike” and I’m like “you press DOWN on your pedals… right?!” Seriously… in talking with mountain bikers, the common denominator with crashes and injury are the FRIGGIN’ clipless pedals. WHAT THE F**K?!

    So thank you for being out there, starting the dialogue and taking the heat when people’s paradigms are threatened and they lash out… you’re doing God’s work. That may sound hokey, but I’m serious about that.

    I’m stronger, bolder, more calculated on the trail with my flats. I have so much more fun then I ever did clipped in (which is kinda tragic because we rode some epic trails out west when I was still a slave to the clips…)

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! A silly facebook message doesn’t come close to conveying my gratitude to you. You’re a badass who has empowered at least one female cyclist, and I hope you own that!

    I continue to hound people, especially new riders and the guys at my bike shop (“DO NOT TELL NEW mtn bike riders to convert to CLIPLESS- WTF guys?! You’re road bikers- not mountain bikers… it’s different, trust me!”), about the joys of sticking with the tried and true flats.

    The love affair between my bike and me continue to grow… I think that if I still had clips on her, she’d be gathering dust in the garage… and I’d be back putting on the pounds. (I mean I do live in Beer City USA after all…)

    I greatly appreciate you and your work. You’ve impacted my life whether you choose to be my facebook friend or not…

    Cheers to doing the right thing!

    Happy Trails!
    ~Sarah Duffer

    Reply • August 2 at 9:24 am
  33. hoslotcarracer says:

    Here is a study showing that clipless pedals are more efficient, toe clips are second in efficiency, and flat pedals are the least efficient:

    The Effect Of Different Pedal Types On Maximal Oxygen Consumption And Lactic Acid Accumulation.
    Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 24 Supplement 1:1, January 2010.
    Hiebert, Jean M; Hoover, Don L; Best, Michael A; Black, Ashlie B; Hruska, Ryan K; Jones, Mariah E

    Cycling efficiency is dependent upon many factors such as bike set up, body position, and pedaling cadence. These and other factors often have a large influence on both performance and risk of injury. One parameter not fully understood is the influence of available pedal systems on cycling efficiency, and little scientific literature exists on this topic. To determine the effect of different pedal systems on maximal oxygen consumption ([latin capital V with dot above]o2max) and lactic acid production during direct testing of maximal aerobic power. Nine healthy recreational cyclists (7 males and 2 females; 36.11 +/- 7.7 years) volunteered to participate in the study. On average, subjects cycled 3-4 times per week for 1-2 hours at a moderate to high intensity. Subjects performed a maximal bicycle graded exercise test on their own bicycle, using one of three pedal systems on different occasions. Pedal systems included: 1) flat pedals, 2) toe-clip pedals, and 3) clipless pedals, and the order of the pedal systems was randomized. Riding resistance was provided by a computer controlled bicycle ergometer and trainer. Initial resistance was based on a 1:1 power (watts) to individual body weight (kg) ratio and increased 2:1, 3:1, etc. every two minutes until subjects were unable to maintain a pedal cadence of at least 50 revolutions per minute. Gas exchange was analyzed using a portable metabolic system. A portable lactate analyzer was used to measure lactic acid levels prior to the test, upon completion of the test, and at 3, 5 and 7 minutes post-test or until values returned to baseline. A one-way ANOVA with repeated measures was conducted to evaluate the relationship between pedal type and the dependent variables, oxygen consumption and lactic acid production. While there were differences in performance under the three pedal conditions, these differences were not statistically significant for either the oxygen consumption or the lactic acid production. Participants produced higher average [latin capital V with dot above]o2 values during the clipless condition. Lactic acid accumulation was highest in the flat pedal condition. Lastly, when using the clipless pedals, participants achieved peak lactic acid levels at relatively higher oxygen consumption measures when compared to the flat pedal or toe-clip pedal conditions. Pedal condition did not produce statistically significant differences in maximal oxygen consumption or in lactic acid during a graded exercise test. However, these findings may be clinically meaningful, as statistically significant difference often may not exist within a given group of cyclists, whether the group be performing at a local amateur cycling event or an event such as the Tour de France. Participants produced higher average O2 max values during the clipless condition, suggesting this condition may be more efficient as is commonly believed. Lactic acid accumulation was highest in the flat condition, suggesting participants may have been least efficient when pedaling in this condition. Likewise, the achievement of peak lactic acid levels at relatively higher oxygen consumption further suggests the clipless pedals promote higher performance levels when compared to the flat and toe-clip conditions. Our findings suggesting clipless pedals allow for greater efficiency and result in higher performance. Further study is necessary to investigate these potentially clinically meaningful findings.

    Reply • August 3 at 5:52 pm
    • bikejames says:

      Great research, appreciate you bringing it to the table. I do find it interesting how the authors admit that there is little science behind the claims of better efficiency in the first place. Here is another study that was forwarded to me coming to the opposite conclusion. I still think that it comes down more to what you know vs. what is “best” with pedal interface but when you add in the possibility of clipless contributing to overuse injuries I still think that flats make more sense for mountain biking.

      Here’s the complete citation:
      Mornieux G, Stapelfeldt B, Gollhofer A, & Belli A. (2008). Effects of pedal type and pull-up action during cycling. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 29(10), 817-22.

      And abstract:
      “The aim of this study was to determine the influence of different shoe-pedal interfaces and of an active pulling-up action during the upstroke phase on the pedalling technique. Eight elite cyclists (C) and seven non-cyclists (NC) performed three different bouts at 90 rev . min (-1) and 60 % of their maximal aerobic power. They pedalled with single pedals (PED), with clipless pedals (CLIP) and with a pedal force feedback (CLIPFBACK) where subjects were asked to pull up on the pedal during the upstroke. There was no significant difference for pedalling effectiveness, net mechanical efficiency (NE) and muscular activity between PED and CLIP. When compared to CLIP, CLIPFBACK resulted in a significant increase in pedalling effectiveness during upstroke (86 % for C and 57 % NC, respectively), as well as higher biceps femoris and tibialis anterior muscle activity (p < 0.001). However, NE was significantly reduced (p < 0.008) with 9 % and 3.3 % reduction for C and NC, respectively. Consequently, shoe-pedal interface (PED vs. CLIP) did not significantly influence cycling technique during submaximal exercise. However, an active pulling-up action on the pedal during upstroke increased the pedalling effectiveness, while reducing net mechanical efficiency."

      Reply • August 4 at 6:59 am
      • Michelle Johnson says:

        Bikejames, the research you posted is better in that they didn’t find significant differences and that’s what reported. It’s also better in that they had a few more participants and compared elites to non-cyclists (I read the entire article, BTW, and they found no differences in performance for elites vs non-cyclists, either. In sum, both articles posted on this page suggest that there is no difference between clipless and platforms when it comes to performance. I supposed when you dump $200 or $300 on a clipless system, you have no choice but say they are better. That being said, in both studies the N was extremely small and more research is needed before arriving at any conclusions.

        Reply • September 17 at 5:36 am
    • Michelle Johnson says:

      Hmmm. Extremely biased conclusions based off of the actual results of the study. Most notably, the authors state, “While there were differences in performance under the three pedal conditions, these differences WERE NOT STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT for either the oxygen consumption or the lactic acid production.” Meaning there were no real differences at all! They go on to say, “Pedal condition did not produce statistically significant differences in maximal oxygen consumption or in lactic acid during a graded exercise test. However, these findings may be clinically meaningful, as statistically significant difference often may not exist within a given group of cyclists, whether the group be performing at a local amateur cycling event or an event such as the Tour de France.” Huh? That is such bunk!!! In other words, we didn’t find anything but we’re going to make some spurious comment about not finding differences anyway? I can’t even believe this study got published. Worse, it was conducted with only nine cyclists! Terrible research that tells us absolutely nothing about the efficiency of clipless vs platforms. Just terrible.

      Reply • September 17 at 5:28 am
      • bikejames bikejames says:

        Thanks for the reply. However, I’d like to point out that I am using these studies to dispute the myth that you need to pull up on the backstroke, which is the #1 selling point for clipless pedals. The studies were not meant to show which system is better, simply what really happens with the different pedaling styles. The results from that study was that pull pulling up on the backstroke was not the best way, unlike what we are told to sell us on “needing” clipless pedals.

        I’d also like to point out that despite the problems with this study, there are no studies that show anything different. I would think that if these conclusions were so wrong it would be easy to do a study to prove them wrong.

        Again, the point is not that flat pedals are better, simply that they are not nearly as bad as we’ve been told and that the image of the pedal stroke we’ve been sold by the bike industry is wrong as well.

        Reply • September 17 at 8:44 am
  34. Motomom says:

    Ok, two weeks on flats after 9 years riding clipless. One, fun factor is off the chart! It just feels good bombing downhills and pumping berms, riding rock gardens with more confidence. Very cool! I have noticed no difference in climbing but I do have to look farther down the trail and plan ahead, which is good riding anyway. The pedals just feel GOOD under my feet, esp. after riding Eggbeaters for so many years. I do move around on them some, sometimes it’s hard to get them where I want them on my feet. But no big deal.

    The only thing that’s bothersome right now is that I still have a tendency to lift up, esp. when climbing, so I’m having to remind myself to push down all the time. That’s just muscle memory and will improve with time. But the confidence I feel riding rock gardens and downhills is totally worth some initial mistakes. I can even ride my singlespeed just as fast, so I say, try it out! If you don’t like it, you can always go back but you have to give it enough time to a slightly different feeling pedaling technique. And I have found that you CAN pull across the very bottom of the stroke without slipping as well. It’s working for me!

    Reply • August 9 at 7:27 am
    • bikejames says:

      Awesome news, glad that your seeing the big picture. You’ll figure out the pedal stroke thing soon enough and in the meantime you can relax and have more fun – a decent trade off in my book!

      Reply • August 9 at 11:22 am
  35. Jorgen says:

    James, first of all, many thanks for a great blog / web site!

    I’ve ridden clipless for so many years now I struggle to remember. Actually, make it about 13 or 14 years – and unfortunately put a big 10 year break in the middle there for mountainbiking (started again Dec08). I’d struggle big time to make the switch to flats on the MTB, however after reading your blog I’ve reconsidered my pedaling technique and after doing lots of deadlifts, squats etc it is now much easier for me to stand up during the hill climbs and make sure to put the power into the downward stroke. So it might not all be lost for SPDs? 🙂

    I’m noticing improvements already … cleared the You Yangs Rockwell Run climb, and only had to get off the bike once on the Junction Track climb of the You Yangs in Australia. Moving from my 1998 Y22 to a 2010 Hifi 29″er (I’m 1.89m – or ~6.3) with tubeless, disc brakes and what have you might have had something to do with that too, however what really clears the track is explosive power pushed down on the pedals. I was no longer using the granny but rather letting the power rip from my legs .. that was the biggest difference on my last ride.

    Budget’s well and truly spent, save for maybe an adjustable seat post like the upcoming RockShox, but still, if I spot a good deal on some flats … I might be tempted. 🙂

    Reply • August 11 at 5:12 pm
  36. Jeff says:

    I rode clipless pedals since I started MTBing until switching to flats at the end of last season.

    When new riders start out with flats they typically have pedals that suck and wear tennis shoes. They go for a few rides and see everyone else riding clipless, all they hear is you gotta go cliplless, and most of the LBS are pushing clipless. So the new rider that’s been riding on their sucky flats and shoes goes and buys a clipless system and they obviously have a better experience and they now have the clipless are better than flats mentality albeit with the increased danger.

    For example I coach along with James for BetterRide and I had a student two camps ago that was a brand new rider with a brand new Stumpjumper Carbon Expert and it had plastic pedals with reflectors! I said to myself WTF this guy just dropped $4,000+ on a bike and has $10.00 pedals. My assumption is that the LBS a. didn’t stock any good flat pedals or b. said you’ll want to go clipless so no reason investing in a pair of good flats.

    I contend that “most” riders would have a better MTB experience and more fun if they invested $150.00 – $175.00 in a nice pair of flats and 5-10’s. I know I’m having more fun.

    I also contend that if a rider is stronger and more skilled they will out ride another rider regardless of what type of pedals, bike, wheels and latest and greatest gizzo there is. Unless you’re at the pro level or a hard core racer ride what puts the biggest grin on your face and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing or thinks.

    Reply • August 12 at 3:41 pm
  37. Daniel says:

    I think this argument is a little silly. It sounds like religious fanatics going back and forth. James makes some great points on correct technique and how new riders should not be pushed into clips and he should be commended for his work here. With that said, I think that we can all agree that there are benefits to each and drawbacks to each. To me a great rider can be fast in either type of pedal both up and down the hill. My personal advice is to learn proper technique on flats. Starting too early on clips screws up your cornering, jumping, bunny hopping, and technical dh technique (possibly pedaling technique too). Once you feel comfortable with your skills in these areas and you are looking for a little more efficiency or stability in the rocks then give clips a go. I use both types of pedals. It just depends on what I’m doing; clips for xc and flats for dh and dj. It seems pretty simple to me. Can we maybe dial it down a notch on each side?

    Reply • September 10 at 10:01 pm
  38. Ivan says:

    James, thanks for the well thought out discussion on clips vs flats.

    As someone who has been riding MTB for 15 years, and regularly rides both clips and flats, it is certainly though provoking.

    I might put the flats back on my trail bike for it’s next outing, and see how it feels.

    Reply • September 16 at 3:47 am
  39. Verp says:

    Yeah Dawg!! Drop the seat and get up on your feet!!!!!

    Reply • September 20 at 7:48 pm
  40. beep beep says:

    no pain no gain-too careful makes the sports dull and boring

    Reply • November 1 at 9:36 pm
  41. Nate Turner says:

    Love the debate! Great points on both sides; crappy, anecdotal points too. I vote for the ride flats first and add clipless to your toolbox later approach. In my case, I went clipless in my first year of MTB’ing (18 years and counting). Now I have flats and (re)learning that technique to look forward to this year.
    Keeping it new,

    Reply • December 25 at 11:26 am
  42. 2wheeler says:

    I ride clipless xc and enjoy it more and flats for winter commuting and DH. Both have there place. Nobody has brought up cyclocross. I can’t ride some of those steep uphill pitches without clipless, I just don’t have the power with only the downstoke especially at very low rpms. WIth both legs pushing and pulling at the same time I’m able. Granted I’m not a Pro rider, but it’s a specific application where clipless enable me to ride the course and compete. Also the constant in and out of the pedals in cylcocross give you great confidence in the clipless system.

    You’re probably right that clipless are oversold to the general population of MTBers, just being out on the bike is way more important that what kind of pedal you choose.

    Reply • February 12 at 11:21 am
    • bikejames says:

      Sorry to bring this up but pulling up and pushing down as you describe is actually less powerful and efficient that simply driving the lead leg hard into the pedal and letting the trial leg return passively. The fact that you can’t do that doesn’t mean that it is impossible, simply that given your pedaling strategy is different. The biggest lie they ever told you was not to mash but to “spin”, which changed your pedal stroke from a powerful hip driven movement to a weaker quad driven movement.

      Reply • February 14 at 9:26 am
  43. 2wheeler says:

    I don’t try to spin, I’m standing and mashing up a very steep slope for 5 to 10 m. At 20 rpms there is no momentum to return the trailing leg.

    Reply • February 14 at 5:08 pm
    • bikejames says:

      But you’re still pulling through the top with the trail leg, which greatly reduces the power of the pedal stroke even more when standing. Sorry but the evidence is pretty clear – pulling through the top with the trail leg is a less powerful and efficient way to pedal. If you feel you need it to power through tough climbs you’ve developed a bad pedal stroke. Pedaling should feel like running – no one tries to run by flexing their knee at the bottom and by pulling their trail leg through the the top and so you shouldn’t pedal that way.

      I’m not trying to pick on you, simply pointing out that your evaluation of your abilities with the clipless system is based on your pedal stroke. If you have developed the habit of pulling through the top to get extra power then that is an indictment of your pedal stroke, not against flats.

      Reply • February 15 at 6:39 am
  44. sar says:

    I agree with posters on both sides of this argument… however, I stick with my flats because you really need to learn how to pedal correctly in the first place. There are definitely advantages with being ‘clipped’ in, but I can certainly have noticed one thing. I’ve only been riding for two years (only seriously for one year) and I have smoked clipless riders climbing and have gotten smoked by them. Proper technique and strength no matter the difference in the equipment (as long as it’s solid stuff) is what’s important. Downhill and technical terrain can easily be cleared with flats or clipless pedals, it’s all in practice and technique. I know for myself, flat pedals give me a level of confidence that clipless cannot provide… it’s very similar to doning arm and leg armor for fierce technical courses with lots of places to break things (like yourself or the bike).

    I will agree with the author’s argument that no one should just take someone’s advice unless it’s backed up with fact. I’ve had some friends that constantly told me to go clipless ever since I started to ride with them and at races I get surprised looks when they see someone with flats. The only thing I can say for a fact is… the two years of riding, I’ve learned how to pedal efficiently and effectively with my flats, my legs are much stronger from training, and I’m riding longer and faster than I ever had before. I’m not sure if there is any real scientific data that can prove either argument. People should just try things out for themselves and see what works. If you get overuse injuries, try to narrow down the source of the problem and change things up… the worst thing that comes from it is you will learn something.

    Reply • April 4 at 4:06 pm
  45. sheryl says:

    So I read this article and read some of the comments and am on the fence. I mainly mountain bike and ride cyclocross. I also use my cross bike for road riding. I am fairly new to mountain biking, only been riding and using clipless pedals for a year. I can say from a beginners stand point I definitely feel the strain on the muscles metioned. I also have had a few instances where I have fallen because of my pedal but thats mainly minor falls like unclipping the wrong foot and just tipping over. I am not sure that the major falls I have had would have been any different no matter what pedals I was on since they tended to be pretty split second falls until I was on the ground.

    But, I began to think about the flats and one possible very very good use for them. I race cyclocross. Usually in cross its wet and muddy and you are getting on and off your bike ALOT. Being a beginner in that as well I worry alot about my timing unclipping before barriers so I don’t fall flat on my face and one good run through the mud in cleats and its difficult to even clip back in because everything is clogged up. Then you waste valuable time fussing with clipping back in and so on. I think I am going to try flats during cross this season. I will be worrying and fussing much less and if my pedaling power is the same, the flats might just give me that added edge.

    Reply • June 2 at 1:04 pm
    • bikejames says:

      Rider’s really underestimate how the mental stress of riding clipless pedals, no matter how small it is, can interfere with just riding your bike on the trail. There is so much going on that any distractions, like thinking about the fact you have to unclip if things get hairy, will interfere with your ability to just concentrate and react to the trail. Hope your experiment goes well, thanks for reading and keeping an open mind.

      Reply • June 3 at 10:19 am
  46. Mark says:

    Made the switch to flats in the spring of this year, after 30 years of riding with clips of some description, and won’t be going back. I followed your advice and bought some five-tens and some platform pedals with pins, and the grip is terrific. My only question is what to wear in the winter? I’m in the Scottish Highlands and it’s wet and muddy now, and will be REALLY wet and muddy in the winter. I wore a goretex mid-ankle SPD boot last winter and they kept my feet warm and dry. They have vibram soles. I’ve tried riding them with the SPD removed and they’re okay, but not exceptional like the five-tens. So …

    Can anybody recommend a waterproof winter boot for flat pedals that grips like a five-ten?

    Reply • August 30 at 10:07 am
  47. Rob Ault says:

    I read all this discussion about pedals, and I thought I’d tell my experience and offer a compromise that I don’t think I read about here.

    More than 20 years ago, I learned to road ride with toe clips, and my first mountain bike had toe clips. I later upgraded to “clipless” for road riding, and I still ride clipless on my road bike. Two years ago, I bought a new mt. bike and Crank Brother pedals. I spent about 30 minutes practicing clipping in/out and made sure I had the least tension to clip out. I felt comfortable with them.

    After about 6 rides and at least that many crashes because I couldn’t clip out, I was having trouble riding things that I normally cleaned. Irealized it was because I was afraid of crashing.

    So, I switched back to toe clips, and immediately I started riding better. The ability to do a quick dab or get off the bike entirely brings great peace of mind. I keep the straps loose, but they keep my feet on the pedals in rough stuff and while standing and allow my foot and leg plenty of movement.

    After reading all these comments, I’m tempted to go with flats, but I think toe clips are the perfect compromise, and I’m surprised I didn’t read other comments about them (I might have missed a comment over the three posts).

    Certainly, I will NEVER got back to “clipless” for mountain biking, and I will probably try flats at some point.

    Reply • September 6 at 4:45 pm
    • bikejames says:

      Rob – thanks for the insights. I’d still encourage you to try a good pair of flats and some 5:10’s, they work much better in my opinion. However, if you’re comfortable with the toe clips rock on.

      Reply • September 8 at 7:13 am
  48. DHer says:

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on clips for DH racing. Especially since in 2011 Aaron won 5 World Cups on clips, and Danny Hart SMASHED the world champs on the hardest/slickest course out there, also on clips…

    Do you still think flats are a better alternative? It’s hard to argue with the above results, surely?

    Reply • September 23 at 3:12 am
    • bikejames says:

      This whole debate started when Aaron Gwin said in an interview I did with him that flats will make you a better rider. What gets lost is that Aaron and Danny are almost as fast on flats as they are on clipless pedals, and don’t forget that Sam Hill has won more races and World Championships than they have on flats. The point is that clipless pedals get sold as being much better than flats, which is simply not true. You should be 90-95% as good on flats as you are on clipless, or else the clipless pedals are covering up technique flaws, not really enhancing your performance. When you factor in that riding flats makes you a better rider and they carry less risk of overuse injury then I still think they are a better alternative for most riders, most of the time. You’ll always be able to find examples where clipless are better, but that doesn’t make them hands down better all the time.

      Reply • September 23 at 9:45 am
  49. Adam says:

    I’ve ridden both flats and clips for at least 6 yrs now after riding flats for the 2yrs, and in my opinion once you get used to the clips they only offer a benefit to the rider. I race DH at national level and have never once had a crash where the bike has stayed with me, because like i said, once you get used to the clips you can get your foot out just as quickly as anybody on flats, because it becomes 2nd nature, you do it instinctively. I’ll agree that flats are more fun, but i can never get as much power down as i can with clips. I ride everything from DJ – XC – FR & DH and only ride DJ with flats because you don’t even need to pedal for this. The rest i don’t see the point of flats as i ride the same but get much more power from the clips as i can use both legs at once to provide power throughout the pedal motion, push with 1 leg and pull with the other. I believe that if you give them chance (it took me about 6months to get fully confident on clips) and set them up properly clippy pedals can be very advantageous. And as Danny Hart/Aaron Gwin/Peaty/Minaar/Gee Atherton regularly prove this i see no reason that the don’t offer an advantage. The above are currently winning more races than any flat pedal rider and this has been the case for quite a few yrs, which is why no flat pedal rider has anywhere near the podiums of any of these riders.

    Reply • October 25 at 5:30 pm
    • bikejames says:

      Couple of quick points – you are not supposed to push and pull at the same time. This has been shown to be less powerful and efficient than driving hard with the lead lead and pulling the trail leg thigh up just hard enough to get it out of the way of the down stroke. Trying to apply power into the pedal while pulling up is not the way you want to pedal and so the idea that this technique is needed is not true. The reason you can’t put as much power down has to do with the stiffer interface and slip-proof attachment points, not a magical pedal stroke only available with clipless.

      Clipless pedals are like a weight belt – you can either enhance good technique or cover up bad technique. Flat pedals are the way to tell what you pedal stroke is really like and keeps you honest.

      And Sam Hill might have something to say about the ability of a rider to win on the World Cup Circuit riding flats. But again, if you took the clipless pedals away they would still be almost as fast, which is not the case for your average rider who relies on the clipless pedals to cover up bad technique.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, though, and hopefully my points clarify my position a bit better…

      Reply • October 26 at 7:01 am
  50. Lisa says:

    Personally, I go for Flats. I tried clips and hated them, Why? Because I could not get the hang of getting out and was tired of getting hurt. My body and Knees are happier with Flats. Yes, the old Practice, Practice, but I would rather spend the time practicing other things. I find I only lost a small amount of up hill pull but technique and strength have made up for what I have lost. The people I ride with use clips, they have been for over 10 years and jump huge stuff and do super technical and their feet come off with out a thought. For them, great. For me, nah, I like my flats and im staying.

    Im sure this will be a debate until the end of time, thats cool. Ill still be on my flats.

    Reply • December 21 at 7:00 am
  51. Dennis says:

    I rode MTB for most of my teenage years (90’s). I rode toe clips back then. The bike shop guys tried to get me to try clipless when they were new, but I stuck with the toe clips (primarily due to money issues, I was a broke teenager). I recently got back into the sport and have been riding for a little over 6 months. When I got my new bike, I put my old toe clips on it, and was LOVING being back into the sport. Everything came right back to me (except my endurance – the reason why I found this site in the first place).

    After going on several group rides, I noticed almost everyone was sporting those must have clipless pedals, and those who did not have them were on some level, looked at like newbie/beginners. I was not really pressured into switching, but as an observant person, I figured, hey if everyone else is using them, I probably should be too.

    So I went out and got some good Shimano shoes, and a pair of crank brothers eggbeaters (3’s). I practiced in the park (on grass) for a few hours and had the hang of clipping in and out, and thought I had the hang of it. Everyone told me “you will crash your first time out”. I thought to myself, nope, not me, I have the hang of this. First ride out, I fell. I spun out my rear wheel on a steep climb, came to an abrupt stop, and instinctively tried to lift my foot off the pedal, and then quickly remembered I was clipped and twisted my foot, as I was lying on the ground with a bloody elbow, just a few feet away from a large cactus (could have been MUCH worse).

    Since then I have been out riding with them a dozen or so times. I did notice a small improvement in my pedaling efficiency, but at what COST? On EVERY climb I am analyzing what path to take to make sure there is not a cactus or large bolder that I could possible fall on (so it is affecting my line), I am also waking up a lot of hills I would usually just hammer up. Downhills I am freaked out by some of the staircase drops I used to fly down, the thought of me going OTB bike and all scares the bejesus out of me. So I am sometimes unclipping and resting my foot on that tiny egg beater (no way that is safe). All for what?

    I am mountain biking for fitness, fun, and to get out into the outdoors. Not to race competitively and shave minutes off my lap time. This whole clipless thing has taken the FUN right out of my sport. I hate all of the thinking I am doing about clipping out (clipping in, even on steep inclines is really not an issue for me). I know some of the veterans say “you will get used to it, it will become second nature”. But at what expense? Broken arm/wrist, leg, missing teeth? No thanks.

    I wish I had found this site before I made my purchase decision. Those expensive shoes and pedals are going to be gathering dust in my closet.

    I am putting my toe clips back on the bike and researching the 5 10 shoes and platform pedals. I would love some recommendations on pedals and shoes, and where to get them (finding most local places do not carry them).

    James, thank you SO much for putting this much FREE information out there. I am amazed how topics like this have an almost political or religions feel about them. People that claim they are not going to follow you because of your opinion on something crack me up. You are not forcing anyone to do anything, just putting information (great in my opinion), and they can do with it as they please. If they stop following you because they do not agree with one thing you say, then the could be missing out on some really good information, or not.

    Thanks again, and you have a new long term follower (whether or not we agree on some things or not).


    Reply • January 6 at 9:10 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for sharing, I hope that as more riders find this site and see that they are not the only ones who think that clipless pedals are taking the fun out of trail riding more riders will not make that mistake in the first place.

      Reply • January 6 at 9:36 am
    • Britton says:

      Well said Dennis. There are many of us who read James site as we ride for fitness and fun. That is exactly how every crash I’ve had since getting into MTN biking (2 years) has happened. It’s always those abrupt stops climbing , the abrupt fall to the right, that for me is impossible to send the signal to my brain down to the right foot before I’m on the ground on my right shoulder and popping advil a few hours later. I also went clip less cause all my riding buddies do it. But honestly before I crashed a few times in the first year of getting into riding I was much more aggressive, having way more fun as the fear had yet to get the best of me. I’m definitely getting some flats and shoes and making the switch to give it a try. My only concern is the proper technique for digging in on steep long bouncy runs where there are many times I have felt my clip less were keeping me attached to my bike. Coming off my bike on one of those fast bouncy drops would probably hurt a lot worst than a fall to my shoulder at a dead stop. Great discussion. Great insight..

      Reply • August 26 at 6:09 am
  52. justin says:

    my sports/med doctor was very clear flat pedals are better for you in the long run, they help to maintain brain/nerve connections to the feet, your brain has to think about your feet and balance, and it’s use it or lose it, so when you turn 75 you have the brain power/coordination to stay standing despite other minor ailments. if you sit on the couch all your life don’t be surprised by random faceplants when your hair turns silver!!!

    Reply • January 8 at 11:45 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      You have a very progressive sports medicine doc, glad to hear they realize the importance of maintaining natural foot movement and contact.

      Reply • January 9 at 10:58 am
  53. Mark says:

    come on man …… the basis of your rejection of clipless pedals is the 85% injury rate – knees etc. I have been riding mtb, road for over 10 years – some competitive, mostly as a rider committed to fun and fitness. I haven’t had any injuries in knees etc (chronic, long term), of course listen to your body and back off if issues arise. The real contributor to the injury rate is the rider, clipless pedals are just a tool that I think offer some very nice advantages in XC terrain. But … yes, sure – there’s a skill set requirement to get over before you are proficient (also knowing how to fall) picking a fail line and knowing you can clip out. Once you get the balance, read terrain well clipless pedals are invaluable. However initially they are a liability.

    Clipless pedals (I use egg beaters with float) allow you to pedal through rocky terrain, climb using ‘pull’ method if required (can’t do that with flats!!) and generally give me the certainty of pedal engagement no matter what I encounter. Additionally having the foot locked in offers a firm platform for spin pedaling. Now if you are referring to more leisure type riding agree there’s no advantage or reason to use clipless, however once familiar with clipless I think there’s a clear advantage for high performance type XC riding.

    Think your argument is more a ‘bad tradesman blames his tools’ line, keep up the good work, apart from 29ers and clipless pedals I generally agree with most other things you write. Cheers, Mark AU.

    Reply • January 23 at 5:24 pm
  54. Mark says:

    I’m just listening to your clipless pedal podcast and it reminds me of driving through your southern states in the usa and listening to fundamentalist christian commentators waffle on about stuff, as you probably realize you can mount any argument and quote any resource to qualify your position. Still don’t make it right or plausible.

    If your argument/s had merit then wouldn’t we see elite athletes in the Tour for example using flat pedals? Surely their training, research and expertise would bring out the advantage and injury prevention you mention to justify flats in the tour (or are they brain washed by marketing???). Likewise in XC racing – similar situation there. Agree that in downhill, free ride and trails clipless pedals are not essential for elite levels, but you have also chosen cycling sports with the least pedalling required!!!! What about Cyclocross – clipless pedals are the default setting, track – clipless. BMX is the odd one out as they use flats at elite levels.

    I agree with you regarding a new rider to mtb, clipless pedals can be difficult to master and in many ways are not essential, however as the rider progresses in skills and wants to maybe race I think they will be an essential tool for him or her. Keep up the debate.

    Reply • January 23 at 8:38 pm
  55. Rob Ault says:

    James, after my post and your reply in Sept. 2011, I did switch from toe clips to flats, just before a Better Ride clinic. They took a bit to get used to, especially over very bumpy sections or on steep climbs, but I’m still riding flats now, and I don’t think I’ll stop.

    I’m riding harder stuff because I know I can dab or jump off easily if I need to (and because I learned some great techniques in the Better Ride clinic). I’m no longer having problems with foot bounce in bumpy sections or foot lift during climbs. I’ve also noticed that on days with temps in the 20’s and 30’s, my feet aren’t cold, and I’m sure it’s because the toe clips aren’t restricting circulation.

    Sometimes I do think I’d climb a bit better with toe clips, but that slight advantage isn’t enough to make me stop using flats. I still want to get some 5-10s, but my current shoes are working fine.

    Anyway, I thought you’d like to know that I took your advice to try flats, and it’s been a success for me.

    Reply • February 3 at 3:13 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Awesome story, thanks for sharing! Glad I was able to help you find the ride enhancing power of flats, hope they help you enjoy riding more. Invest in some good shoes ASAP, they make a huge difference.

      Reply • February 5 at 8:04 am
  56. The coolkid says:

    most falls can be prevented by three things:
    1. clip tension. you cant pull quite as had on low tensions, but they make them much easier to get out of.
    2. habit. instead of pulling you foot up, pull it down and to the side, like you’re making a beeline for where a kickstand would hit the ground.
    3.knowing you tire. if you know the point at which your back tire slips out, release your clips just before then, or come at the hill in a higher gear (pretend you’re singlespeeding and accelerate a bit before the hill), giving you less torque, but still enough to make it up the hill.

    Reply • February 7 at 6:54 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      All falls can be prevented by one thing – using flats. Glad you don’t have trouble getting out but I’d argue that you don’t ride very technically demanding trails if you’ve never been unable to unclip and fell over. I see and hear from a lot of riders who have been screwed by clipless pedals more than once on the trail and considering the slight advantage clipless pedals give you in one or two areas (and hinder you in some other areas) there is no reason for most riders to force themselves to learn to ride clipless pedals.

      Reply • February 8 at 8:28 am
      • Tyler says:

        “All falls can be prevented by one thing – using flats.”

        That’s so untrue and ridiculous it negates pretty much every single thing you’ve written. This post is literally the worst argument I’ve ever seen. You present your opinion as fact. You make up statistics. You have absolutely zero actual data. And then you make the claim above. You’re ridiculous.

        All the problems with the Internet are summed up with your OP and the follow-up comment above. You have no business providing anyone with advice.

        You’re so obsessed with this, and with being “right”, that it’s just bizarre.

        Reply • June 26 at 12:56 am
  57. Highschool Chem Sucks says:

    currently doing a research paper on clipless pedals. most studies that I have seen so far have shown either increased endurance or power due to clips. This is likely due to the clips doing two things:
    1.eliminating the dead leg. to keep you non-driving foot on the pedal, it is common to keep weight on it, which provides additional resistance for your driving leg.
    2.spreading the workload. clips bring more muscles into the motion, such as quads and even sometimes small amounts of abs. by spreading the work out between more muscles, you get more endurance and less muscular strain (as well as a smaller chance of cramping). Also, by spreading the work out to more muscles, you give your body access to more of its stores of ATP (adenine triphosphate, your body’s ready-to-go burst energy stored in your muscles). The access to atp means more bursting/sprinting power, leading to faster hill climbing and having a larger reserve in case you start to slip/spin out.

    Reply • February 8 at 9:00 pm
  58. Aaron says:


    At 36 years old, I fully entered the cycling sports world just this last summer. I have owned a decent, hard-tail mountain bike for about 10 years and I probably rode it on non-paved surfaces maybe a half-dozen times throughout that stretch (I also just got a road bike for Christmas). Having said that, it would come as no surprise to anyone that when I went out with some of my die-hard mountain biking co-workers on the first few “serious” rides of my life this last summer, I was immediately overwhelmed by my lack of fitness and riding skill. To make matters worse, I was wearing some expensive shoes that everyone I knew told me to buy and locking my feet onto some expensive new pedals that everyone said were critical to my success as a rider.
    My first serious ride was cut short when I went to make a simple u-turn on a wide spot in the trail, came to a stop and failed to get unclipped before the thumb of my left hand was bruised to the point that I could not rest my hand on the bar. A fairly smooth dirt road was very near the trail, and having access to that road prevented a 4 mile, late evening hike out of the canyon in which I was riding. On my next trip, a much more technical and more arduous climb, I cut open my leg, bruised a knee and tested out my nice new helmet on a rock when I again failed to get clear of my ride.
    Needless to say, my next 2-3 trips were nerve-wracking affairs, which I dreaded going into (this sport is supposed to be fun right?), and supplied me with few thrills and a lot of nervous thinking about how to ride in such a way as to give myself enough time to get my feet out if things got hairy. Add to that the fact that fatigue, from lack of serious fitness, does not instill confidence when you know that you still have to get out of your pedals if you spin out or simply burn down on a tough climb. I rode very tentatively, enough so that my companions were often waiting for me to catch up to them.
    It was in September that I began asking myself if mountain biking was really my thing. I knew vaguely that platform pedals existed somewhere and I thought I might like to check them out, but in the groups I rode with, they were something of a pariah! I decided to go to the internet and search for arguments on the merits of clipless vs. platform pedals. That was when I found your website and I was set free!! I went to my LBS, bought some big, beefy, gnarly Specialized platforms, busted out my old skate-style shoes and decided I was just going to ride for the fun of it. Before the snow fell in late October, I rode another 8-9 times, with huge improvements in my riding development, and a massive improvement in my enjoyment!!
    As a beginning rider, I can absolutely attest to your claims. I am likely to buy some 5-10 shoes this spring, but honestly, the grip I have now is hardly lacking.


    Reply • March 8 at 3:18 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks a lot for sharing your experience, I am glad to hear that I was able to open your mind to the value of flat pedals. Really glad to hear that riding is fun again, at the end of the day that is what it is really about.

      Reply • March 12 at 1:40 pm
  59. Andrew says:

    Enjoyed reading all the comments. I am 48 and have been riding all my life but mainly for fun and fitness. I used to ride using leather SIDI shoes with old style cleats and clips then transitioned to SPD road peddles. Besides a few tumbles at stop lights and such in the beginning I loved them. My knees never gave me a lick of trouble until I went to my local bike shop to investigate bike fitting because I was having a problem with saddle sores. They lowered my saddle as a first step then the plan was to raise the hight gradually as needed. I got about half a mile from the shop and my knee started to hurt and I have had knee problems ever since. I have tried 5 different types of clipless peddles different road bikes, shoes, saddles, positioning techniques and physiotherapy, no joy! I have basically come to the conclusion I cannot use clipless anymore so I have gone Flat! I have sold my last road bike and bought a used MTB. I put basic Flats on the MTB but as I feared my feat would come flying off when trail riding. I tried Flats with steel studs which work great, almost as good as clipless. I still have knee pain but I can at least get 15 to 20 miles before my knee complains. I would love to try flats on a road bike next when I can afford it. I am encouraged by this discussion that all may not be lost.

    Reply • March 14 at 7:33 pm
  60. Perfecto says:

    I’ve started riding clipless pedals since the start of this year, coming from flat pedals all my life. My main reason for running SPDs is to stabilize my foot position, I’ve always found it hard to get started especially on steep downhills and I often find myself constantly readjusting my foot on the pedals after I’ve start rolling.

    A good compromise that I found is the Shimano silver cleat SPDs. They’re multi-release so you can just lift your foot and they’ll come off easily. I have no problems lifting a foot to dab a corner or put a foot down after miscalculating steep uphill or ejecting from the bike if things go awry on a descent or jump.

    I also use 510 Minaars, having the cleat embedded in the sole (as opposed to sticking out like Shimano shoes) allows the sticky rubber to come in contact with my DX pedal’s platform cage for a more positive connection to the bike.

    Reply • March 15 at 11:09 am
  61. Adam says:

    Thank you James for not tucking tail and going with the status quo on this one. It amazes me how much we are still haunted by road biking traditions, like frame geometries based on sitting and spinning, putting 30 gears on a mountain bike, and just now getting bars that are wide enough for aggressive trail slaying. Although I still use clipless pedals for hopping around and over things that I couldn’t with flats, I very clearly notice when I climb in flats that my legs and knees are less fatigued and the kneecap pain I get on long clipless rides is totally nonexistent with flats. I think any accomplished rider that slips into a platform specific shoe and gets on a nice pair of modern flats is in for a treat! Something alot of the xc fundamentalists might not realize too is how flats improve your form. Assuming that bunny hopping and jumping over certain trail obstacles with complete confidence and good form is something every rider aspires to, and how the foot is designed to spread out and roll through a natural step, and considering that pulling up on a clipless pedal is bad for your knees and burns out inferior muscles (hip flexors), there are more than enough reasons to take your argument seriously. Its interesting to me that some people would rather put faith in companies selling them a product than someone, such as yourself, who is actually focused on their well being and longevity in the sport. Thanks for helping the progression of the sport James!

    Reply • March 15 at 11:25 am
  62. Jason says:

    I’m 36, a downhill racer, and I can switch between flats and clipless seemingly without issue. I can say that I have much better results with flats than with clipless. But I still use clipless for trail riding.

    Reply • March 15 at 1:07 pm
  63. Matt says:

    At 20 years old, I do not have as much experience as most, but I will say this, my experience with clipless pedals has been great. Personally I think they are not much better than good flats with riding shoes. Without that rubber on the bottom, the average tennis shoe will slip off a lot. toe clips are good, but i still prefer clipless. the reason being that clipless pedals force your foot into the best riding position possible. If clipless and toe clips were relatively the same, why would pros be using them? they can also be lighter… not always necessary…. depends on if your a weight weenie or not. Also I would say if riders are getting injured based on feet not coming out when falling, that is a setup error. Whoever set those pedals did not set them up right. I have clipless cleats on my mountain bike and every big fall ive taken Ive come out…. in fact, every fall Ive taken except my first one where i stopped and leaned the wrong way, I have come out just fine.
    And also my first day on clipless was my first day riding a bike in 3 years. I rode 22 miles. I was 15 years old. On a 25 lb mountain bike.

    Reply • March 15 at 2:29 pm
  64. Tom says:

    I have been riding for three years now. The first two years I rode entirely with flats and dealt with knee problems the entire time. Last year I figured I would try clipless, thinking I would hate it.. I had trouble with them, falling all over the place, but stuck with them just to get a real sense of how they worked. After a couple weeks I was gaining confidence and understanding how to use the clipless system. Since then I have not gone back.. The knee pain that I had all year with flats has since been eliminated since the switch. I am faster, and feel that I have better control over my bike. This is an interesting discussion that I never thought I’d read. For my situation, the flats hurt my knee joints more than clipless has. I hope that doesn’t mean that in ten years my knees will be degraded from clipless however. I’d like to see more discussion of this topic but for now, I’m stickin with my clips.

    Reply • March 26 at 2:27 pm
  65. Peter says:

    I’ve been riding MTBs for nearly 20 years in Denmark, and went for clipless back when it was the newest and hippest ting to do. I totally agree with thise who say that it has come from a huge road-influence, that surged the MTB community,back in the early 90’s. I stopped riding for years, not really missing it much. Then a couple of years ago, I got back into the sport, only this time on a singlespeed and only for fun, no racing, no lycra and now no SPD’s. Closing in on 44, I feel good in the baggies, loose shirts and comfy shoes, not looking like a World cirquit Pro racer. Wich I never was anyway.
    So the debate here is definately right down my trail!
    Riding flats is just more fun and relaxed. And the riding style is way more elegant.
    Will get my first pair of fiveTens in the mail soon, and if they are just nearly as good, as Said here, it will be legendary!
    Thanks for the different kinds of input here, its good to be in a forum that takes this stuff serious.

    Reply • April 8 at 1:14 am
  66. John Weirath says:

    Let me start by saying I would have to agree with the people posting basically that neither clips or flats are “evil” and that riders should ride with whatever they are comfortable with.

    Some background on me: I’ve been a practicing physical therapist for about 15 years and have been specializing in bike fits for over a decade.

    I’ve been a PT for a while now and I read and ignore all sorts of incorrect or poorly reasoned biomechanical arguments relating to many sports. I hesitate to even write anything since it just feeds the fire but, hey, I have an extra five minutes right now so here it goes:

    James, you seem to be very inclusive of your anecdotal arguments regarding the dangers of clips (“…I know dozens of people who couldn’t get out…..Aaron Gwin knocked his teeth out!…”) and you keep referring to the “dysfunction” they breed and all the over-use injuries they cause without pointing to any actual data. At the same time you are very exclusive of contrary arguments about the dangers of flat pedals calling them anecdotal. Bit of the pot and the kettle.

    You write in your original argument:

    “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?”

    Yes, you’re wrong. I don’t think you have a clear understanding of the mechanics of the foot. The “inward rolling motion of the foot” is identical on a clipped or unclipped foot. I have about 6 years of infrared motion capture data of riders on the bike (clipped and on flats) that shows identical ankle and foot motion (leading to identical hip and knee motions) in all three planes. There is nothing remarkable about the unclipped foot on a flat pedal that significantly differentiates it from the clipped foot. I will stipulate that a poorly placed cleat can cause problems, but you would have to work pretty hard at placing it incorrectly to start to affect the mechanics of the foot and lower leg. Suffice it to say that the unclipped riders I’ve tested have the same threshold for normal or aberrant lower extremity movement as their clipped brethren. Long story short — just because you say a motion is unnatural or dysfunctional doesn’t make it so….you still have to point to actual movement patterns and aberrant mechanics that result and are proven to cause problems. The human body is incredibly adaptable — we’ve had to manage the impact of innumerable tasks that don’t fit neatly into the closed-chain proprioceptive models of kinesiological study. Riding a bike…no matter how your feet are attached to it….certainly fits this odd-ball category and yet we’ve been doing it (clipped and unclipped) for a lot of years.

    Trying to relate the movement of cycling as functional (or dysfunctional) by comparing it to a “functional” task like lifting (although it’s not like any lift we do) or walking (sorry it really hasn’t much in common with that either) is a false equivalency, and doesn’t really make your point.

    The research you keep touting really doesn’t say what you think it says; or at least what you purport it says. For anyone interested in a breakdown of what the Korff and Mornieux studies actually say, you’re welcome to check out a blog post I wrote about a year ago:


    Again, I don’t think anyone should be judged for their pedal choice….if you want to ride flats, knock yourself out, I don’t care. But it’s not productive to take poorly reasoned arguments with no factual basis and use them as Exhibit A in your proof that clipless pedals are dysfunctional. This silly argument seems to have turned into a religious one — it’s time it goes back to science and reason….and then we should all just ride our bikes

    Reply • May 19 at 3:11 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      In my anecdotal evidence please don’t forget that riders like Aaron Gwin, Ryan Leech, Jeff Lynosky and coaches like Gene Hamilton and Lee McCormack all say that riding flat pedals makes you a better rider and that switching too early to clipless pedals makes it hard to learn proper skills and technique on the bike – no scientific basis for those statements as well and if we’re going to point out anecdotal evidence lets get it all out on the table. BTW, there is also a huge difference between people sharing their stories about how clipless pedals caused crashes and injuries and other riders pointing out what might happen with flats. Both types of pedals can cause crashes and I don’t recall saying otherwise, I am just trying to point out that clipless pedals cause a lot more than people like to admit.

      You’ll have to forgive me if me if I don’t don’t take your word on your private stash of infrared motion capture info, I would have to see it and know more about what it is saying. I believe I have a pretty good understanding of the foot and I have spoken to people who have a much better idea than I do in formulating my position and I am pretty confident that there is a difference between how the foot articulates in a stiff soled clipless pedal shoe with arch support and on flats with a flexible sole and no arch support and that the differences have profound changes in how the rest of the body reacts to the foot. Here is an interview I did with a foot movement expert on that subject:


      I also think that cleat placement makes a much bigger difference than you do and that relating how the body powers movement off the bike to how we want to move on the bike is a valid way to look at things. We are not as adaptable as you say or else we wouldn’t have an astronomically high rate of overuse injuries among cyclists (85% according to this study http://www.sportsinjurybulletin.com/archive/cycle-injury.htm) and runners would have adapted to the overly padded and supported running shoes instead of succumbing to injuries as well.

      Here is an interview I did with international bike fit expert Greg Choat who strongly disagrees with your assessment of the importance of the cleat position and the need to understand and apply a movement based model to the bike:


      And I am not sure exactly what you think that I think the Mornieux and Korff studies say but all I have ever used them for is the same thing that cycling experts like Andrew Coggan, Ph. D. (author of Training and Racing with a Power Meter) and Darcy Norman (head of cycling performance training for Athletes Performance and strength coach for the T-Mobile Cycling Team) use them for, which is to disprove the advice of “spinning circles” and “pulling through the top” of the pedal stroke. You’ll have to forgive me if I place significant stock in what guys at that level have say about how to power a pedal stroke and what these studies say about it.

      The evidence from those studies suggests that powering a pedal stroke looks much different than what we thought it did and that it looks like a hard downstroke with the lead leg and a more passive return of the trail leg works best, which just happens to be how you would power a running stride. You did a good job of poking holes in the studies in your post but really failed to present any evidence that suggested otherwise – until you can produce a study that shows that pulling through the top and/ or spinning circles is better I’ll have to go with what these tell me.

      So, in conclusion, while I may not have disproven anything in your mind I am certainly not taking “poorly reasoned arguments with no factual basis” and using them in my argument. I have spoken with some of the top minds in the fitness and cycling field about this and while a lot of them aren’t ready to go as far as I have about the need for every rider to spend some time on flats they all agree that there is a lot more to things than the traditional view on movement behind a good pedal stroke.

      And you are really missing my central point anyways – you can have good, clean functional movement with both flats and clipless pedals (although I do think the cleat needs to be moved more mid-foot), however flats force you to figure that movement out while clipless pedals allow you to get away with bad movement. Most riders switch to clipless pedals way too early and end up with some bad habits that clipless pedals are covering up. It is those bad habits that are causing the problems, not the clipless pedals. If more riders understood that they did not need clipless pedals to ride at a high level they would probably spend more time on flats and all I am trying to do is bring the other side of the argument to light and give riders “permission” to use them.

      Reply • May 20 at 9:14 am
    • Tyler says:

      Thank you! This article is nuts. Totally made up “facts”. Thanks for posting real data.

      Though it’s clearly falling on deaf ears.

      Reply • June 26 at 12:58 am
  67. John Weirath says:

    I haven’t seen the Dirt Rag article actually. I’ll have to check it out. I had a client come in last week with questions and decided to check in on this post and see where it was, since it’s always good for a laugh – still getting lots of traffic! Great for business being a contrarian.

    It’s interesting that when challenged with information, like the Heibert article one poster mentioned, your arguments and intentions get more circumspect and conservative. And these arguments tend to make some sense, as do some of your mentions of the experts you’ve talked to. I would encourage you to consider, however why these people aren’t, as you say, “ready to go as far as (you) have about the need for every rider to spend some time on flats”. But it’s not really even that innocuous is it? You routinely take it two steps further, spouting off about the evils of clipless pedals – the mysterious overuse injuries that clips cause and how they “offer no benefit whatsoever” – and the huge industry behind them that you’re gamely battling (incidentally I wonder what we’d find if we compared the sizes of the clipless pedal industry and the “weekend fitness expert” seminar industry?).

    If all you have been doing is “trying to do is bring the other side of the argument to light and give riders “permission” to use them” then your posts and replies wouldn’t be as interesting or get as much attention.

    A few notes:

    1. I would agree that flats have the ability to help you learn techniques and skills that you otherwise may be unable to learn. I could say the same thing about hard tail bikes, though. Doesn’t mean I’m going to proselytize about how everyone on a full suspension bike is feeding into dysfunctional movement patterns.

    2. I’m sure you do think you have a good understanding of how the foot moves.

    3. The idea that a foot in a 5.10 shoe on a flat pedal is somehow freer and more “barefoot” is misguided. I do understand why you would want to bandwagon on the term “barefoot” though – good for business. Incidentally, since you have mentioned in the past how stiff-soled, arch-supported clip in shoes prevent the foot from moving, my 5.10 shoes have more (artificial) arch support than my clip in shoes; when on flats my pedal axle is in exactly the same position as when in my clips, and this is something I have been able to repeat over and over for my clients.

    4. When I mentioned cleat position, I wasn’t saying it wasn’t important but merely that you won’t be able to keep the foot from moving, no matter how stiff your clip-in shoe is or where the cleat is. There is no magical position of the cleat that “locks” foot out and insulates it from moving within the shoe.

    5. I still have heard nothing to back up the “clipless pedals cause overuse injuries” claim.

    Don’t misunderstand, I have no intention of trying to convince you – so I won’t be holding your hand through the infrared data I have. And to be clear again, I have no problem with flat pedals, I just take issue with poorly concluded arguments.

    “At the heart of this it (sic) my belief that clipless pedals hurt people.”

    This is a far cry from saying that “you can learn some good technique with flats”, or “cyclists should switch between clips and flats to improve their efficiency”

    Maybe I’ll check back in another year and see if this argument has evolved any.

    Reply • May 22 at 6:42 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I believe that I have the right to refine my position over time and I am not going to apologize for it. I may have made some over-the-top statements when I first started talking about this subject but I wasn’t far off – clipless pedals offer little to no real advantage on the trail for your average trail rider when you factor in the mental stress/ confidence factor of not being attached to your pedals. For pure performance/ high level racing they are faster but that doesn’t make them better for everyday use for your average rider.

      I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on the science – if you think that I know that what I am saying is wrong and I am doing it simply to be different and drive business then we really have nothing to talk about. Anything I say will be seen as coming from an immoral place and not taken as trying to advance a rational discussion.

      However, I do want to say that while my arguments for flats has become more refined since my first posts on this subject I still think that clipless pedals hurt people. I have heard from hundreds of riders and have come across injured riders on the trail who said they were hurt because they couldn’t get unclipped. I had a rider come up to me last night and say that he would be switching to flats as soon as his broken wrist healed – the broken wrist he suffered falling over from not being able to get out of his pedals.

      I have emails from dozens of riders thanking me for letting them know that it was alright to ride flats. Some of them disliked riding and were ready to give it up when switching to flats made them more confident and riding more fun. Whether some riders want to admit it or not, clipless pedals are pushed on new riders as “better” and there are a lot of riders suffering through them for no reason.

      I also believe strongly that there is a connection to clipless pedals and the type of pedal stroke it encourages/ allows and overuse injuries. Again, my own experience of hearing from dozens of riders – one of whom just wrote an article for Dirt Rag on how flats saved his riding career – who say that simply switching to flats cleared up knee, hip and low back pain tells me that, for some riders at least, clipless pedals are somehow causing overuse injuries.

      There are a lot of myths and half-truths about the advantages of clipless pedals and flats and riders deserve to know both before deciding.

      Reply • May 23 at 6:34 am
  68. Davemud says:

    I ride clipped in on Vancouvers’ infamous North Shore and have done so for over 20 years. Seriuosly, the number of times I could not unclip when I needed to is negligible and I have never been injured once by not being able to get away from my bike.

    Those times when the pedals do get sticky its because the cleats are worn and need to be replaced. While working for Syncros as a tech rep I spoke to Shimano tech a lot. One thing they said about Clipless pedals is most people dont maintain them properly. When I started cleaning and jubing them when I do my chain the release finction improved.

    I currently have CB Eggbeaters on my cyclocross commuter bike and I hate them. Much harder to get into than the SPD DX full cage pedals on my AM bike. It is moronic that CB does not allow you to adjust spring ttension. The DXs however do not release as freely as my 15 year old SPD 747s. Not sure if its the binding or the cage.

    I think James is over stating the safety issue with riding clipped in. Flats riders are not injury free. Even experienced riders can have their feet come off and seriously gash their legs requiring stitches. Ill bet that happens at least as often as injuries caused by not being able to unclip. Then there will also be injuries due to the feet coming off the pedals and losing control of the bike. You cant discuss clipped in injuries without discussing these so I really think the safety argument for experienced clipless riders is tit for tat.

    Shops around Vancouver stock both types of pedals and depending othe market they serve they sell sticky shoes too. Ive worked in the bike industry around Vancouver for 12 years and beein the community for almost 30 and never known any shop to push clipless on beginers. I also teach learto ride and learn to flow clinics with my bike club. If you california shops do push clipless pedals on beginer riders they are doing a huge diservice to their customers and the sport. Its stupid because that will turn new riders off, they will park their bikes and then their will be less repeat sales in service parts and accessories if the new rider doesnt ride out of fear for their pedals.

    I do know however I use my clips as a crutch for lifting the rear wheel. i have had more problems pulling out than getting stuck in. I know I really do need to learn to ride flats and I like Brian Lopes idea for this best. Ride the flats in the off season… Yea we ride year round here in the mud, its a rain forest, learning to ride flats for me ithe winter is best because the wet soft conditions slow things down and restrict some of what is rideable.
    Previously when trying flats I didnt get same quality shoes and pedals as my clipless set up and I know that affected my results.

    An interesting discussion James but please dont be too preachy and dont forget that flats can and do cause very serious injuries as well even if you do always wear armour like I do. Most armour does not protect the back of the legs and those gashes can be really nasty.

    Reply • May 27 at 9:11 am
  69. john power says:

    I know you guys are debating flats versus clipless for mt biking but I thought I would share my road riding experience with flats. I am also a mt biker, personal trainer and massage therapist – my job is rehabing sports injuries. This spring I set up a touring/randonneuring bike with simple, flat road pedals. I just did my first real ride of 33 miles mostly uphill climbing through the Berkshire Hills in Western Mass. I used a minimal running type shoe with a flat sole. First of all with flat pedals you intuitively find a sweet spot foot position fore/aft relative to the ball of the foot and toes. With flats you can also move your feet more laterally or bring them closer to the crank arm. You can move your foot closer to the crank arm when descending steep hills (grip the crank arms) or move your foot in/out changing the Q angle and force production for climbing etc. Asymmetry in foot position is more comfortable compared to my experience w/clipless. With lateral foot rotation you just move your foot a bit further out on the pedal, this keeps your heel from rubbing on the crank arm. All this adjustability of foot position adds up to more comfort since you have many options for foot placement. Again you will intuitively find a foot position that works for your body and riding style. When climbing my spin was much improved with flats versus my clipless riding technique. I immediately noticed I could wrap my toes over the edge of the pedal and tilt the front of the pedal down (toe flexor and calf activation) then pull down and back on the pedal using my hamstrings and glutes. This technique (scrapping the bottom of your foot) is similar to what Greg Lemond advocated years ago which I could never get used to with clipless. The muscle activation pattern of toe flexor, calf, hamstrings and glutes is the exact same muscle firing pattern if you walk or run up hill. With clipless pedals I always tended to pull up with my shin (ankle dorsiflexors) and hip flexors when I attempted a push/pull pedal stroke. In my experience the hip flexors are not ideally suited to pull up under load, whereas the hamstrings, glutes and calf muscles are naturally wired to move us up hill under load. Learning to pedal with flats using the toes, calf, hamstrings and glutes seems like an ideal technique for cycling since you are using natural muscle firing patterns. In my personal and professional experience hard soled, narrow cycling shoes and clipless pedals can lead to serious foot and lower extremity injury/dysfunction – most of my serious cycling clients have over pronated feet and poor lower extremity strength, balance and control. This is due in part to a lack of proprioceptive feedback since their feet are “bound” in a fixed shoe and their knees and hips are also “bound” in a fixed movement pattern. (this is called Pattern Overload in the strength and conditioning field. Locking joint movement in fixed movement patterns/arcs can lead to joint and soft tissue injury. I have also used flats for mt biking and I think they have significant benefit as well. The ankle, knee and hip joints need to have the ability to move without being locked into fixed positions. I know clipless pedals have a certain amount of “float”. This movement is typically only in one direction and is also limited. The bottom line is very few people have “ideal” biomechanical alignment and during the course of a ride or over a week, month or year bodies change. The more flexibility the pedal system is (flats) the more likely the rider will find a comfortable foot/knee position.

    Reply • July 2 at 9:33 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks a lot for sharing your insights into how this applies to road riding as well. It is really tough to get riders to understand how much the clipless pedal interface can interfere with natural lower body movement. Great write up, riders that get a chance to work with you are lucky to have someone who gets it.

      Reply • July 3 at 12:51 pm
  70. N says:

    Love this article!

    Personally love both clipless and flat pedals equally.

    Started out on flats for BMX, trials, and MTB (XC,DH) since the late 80’s. Did some racing XC and used clipless pedals though. For trail, trials and DH always used flats.

    Eventually switched over to road (Especially singlespeed) for 9+ years (no MTB, but trials in btw)and used clipless.

    I just recently picked MTB back up and the first place I went to was Slickrock, on flats, and I can simply say the almost 17+ years on flats regardless of the 8 year break (MTB wise), felt like home.

    The confidence on flats and ability to trials around is hard to argue but I will argue that my pedal stroke was smoother on the MTB than b4 b/c of the the last 9 years spent on a singlespeed road bike in clipless.

    I’m not trying to argue which is better, I believe riding clipless pedals CAN teach proper pedal stroke. (Super important on a singlespeed on long climbs or plains with steady headwind, and believe it or not spinning with proper pedaling technique with clipless CAN save energy) Flat pedals teach proper riding technique, as well as increasing the fun factor tenfold.

    I believe if folks look at the benefit of both systems and applied the ‘good’ aspects from both systems while focusing on not developing the ‘bad habits’, one can reap the benefits!

    Reply • June 24 at 10:33 pm
  71. skankingbiker says:

    Couple of rebuttal points here.
    1. As a single speed rider, I need clips to gain the benefit of pulling up on my pedals when climbing. I saw a comment that pulling up on clipless means you are using them wrong? WTF…to me that is their main advantage
    2. While a “technically perfect” bunny hop should not require the “pulling” motion to raise the back end, I find it near impossible to do multiple “pure” bunny hops with flats over sections where you need to lift the rear multiple times in a row at speed….i.e. tight, twisty, rooty midwest singletrack
    3. I have had more injuries bombing rock gardens in flats than I ever did when starting out with clipless. If you feet come off you are screwed either way; but they come off a lot less when clipped in.
    4. Riding clipless does not make you “dependent on your equipment” anymore than the fact that you use suspension or handlebar grips.

    Reply • November 7 at 1:48 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. However, I do have a couple of thoughts myself on them…

      1. Pulling up on the backstroke is not the right way to pedal. There is a lot of evidence that shows that the old thoughts on the pedal stroke are wrong and in fact not what the best do when they pedal and none showing that it is. If you want to ride clipless then that is fine but you can’t claim that you need them to pull up on the backstroke when climbing – if you are doing that then you are pedaling wrong. I have EMG and scientific studies that prove this linked to from my Flat Pedal Riders Manifesto, which you may want to check out if you want to know the truth about the pedal stroke.

      2. I can lift the rear end of my bike just fine without clipless, just another example of becoming equipment dependent for a skill that shouldn’t require it.

      3. If you had some good flats and shoes that wouldn’t happen. Get some 5.10 sticky rubber shoes and good flats and you’re feet won’t come off. If they bounce off then you don’t know how to “ground” your feet into the pedals and, again, is an example of using clipless pedals to overcome bad technique.

      4. True, just like using a weight belt doesn’t automatically make you dependent on using it. But if you learned using a weight belt and use it all the time then odds are you have developed some habits that depend on it. Same with clipless pedals. You can use great technique with them and use them to enhance that good technique OR you can use them to overcome dysfunctions and mask technique flaws. The best way to ensure this doesn’t happen to you is to make sure that you have learned to ride really well on flats before you switch to clipless and that you still use flats from time to time to keep you technique honest.

      Again, I don’t blame you for thinking this way because it is based on widely accepted lies and myths about the value of clipless pedal. Clipless pedals have a place but it isn’t on a new riders bike for at last a year or two or on any riders bike 100% of the time. You’ll actually get more out of them this way.

      Reply • November 8 at 9:37 am
  72. mud says:

    I’m a long time flat pedal user. I used cages, toes clips, and recently straps too.
    Now I’m on clipless (SPD style). I don’t like it so much.

    It’s not the unclipping. I find unclipping very easy and clipping isn’t very hard.


    – knee pain. it’s very hard to adjust clipless pedals perfectly. Plus since they bite in the shoe you don’t have all that many tries. if they’re not setup to the freaking millimeter, even with the 13mm movement, bang, knee pain after 2 minutes

    – it makes you noticeably higher on the pedals, and you might even have to change crank or frame to fix it.

    – its extremely hard to clip if you’re in a bad position, like on a steep muddy hill. with flats it doesnt matter, if you have straps or what not, you don’t *have* to use them til you passed that hill

    – I don’t feel like they’re ANY more efficient than straps. Seriously. What is this bullshit everyone says about efficiency?

    – shoes are expensive and less comfortable than “real shoes”

    Now the good:

    – it looks cool and its reasonably light.

    – its easier to clip in on flat terrain than to strap in. Much easier. pretty much instant to clip in.

    Well that’s it.

    Reply • November 15 at 1:04 am
  73. Jim says:

    I’ve been riding seriously for about a year now. Just a weekend warrior trianing for triathlon. Everyone said go clipless. As a physician I was worried about injuries being clipped in as a novice. I’ve stayed on flat on the road and have to say I love it. The research I looked at (some of the studies cited above were included) showed no real statistical improvement in power/efficiency with clipless over flats, so I stayed with the flats. Perhaps a true road professional (i.e. a Contador or Sagan type) my have benefits, but I’ve argued that for the usual weekend warrior there is not pressing benefit…..much ribbing and guffawing from other local “experienced” clipless riders (who, by the way I can keep up with no problem). I did find a series of unique clipless injuries…5 femoral neck fractures all felt to be due to being on clipless pedals and not comeing out of the pedal. For me, it’s flats, even on the road. Besides my T2 transition is lightning since I don’t have to change shoes again.

    Reply • October 6 at 10:00 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for the feedback. It is funny how different the story is when you actually look at the science vs. just going with public opinion. Not that much of an increase in performance but a bigger risk of breaking your neck doesn’t seem like a good trade off to me either but unfortunately the truth doesn’t sell pedals.

      Reply • October 6 at 12:20 pm
  74. Will says:

    Amen. I rode clipless for several years when I started riding and I switched to flats and will never go back. At heart I am an all mountain rider and I absolutely love technical trail riding, but I also ride 25 miles a day commuting to and from work. I’ll throw in my 2 cents here on why I would never consider riding clipless again:

    1. Foot position. John Power above talks about this and I have to second it. When I’m climbing a steep hill out of the saddle, I shift my foot back on the pedal and stand on the ball of my foot so I can extend further on the down stroke. But when I’m descending some technical rock filled gully, you can be sure my foot is closer to the cranks and directly in the middle of the pedals for bigger drops. You simply can not do this with clipless.

    2. Improved balance. Why? Because although clipping out is easy, clipping in, even when you get lucky, is something entirely different. To me, this makes it really hard to take one foot off and counterbalance yourself on challenging trail sections while still being able to quickly get back into the pedals to continue once you are on balance.

    3. You’ll be a better rider. You get lots of stuff for free with clipless pedals; take bunnyhops for example. All you have to do is jump, right? You can do the same on flats but you have to learn the bike control techniques first. I think this is a very valuable lesson that some people are never getting.

    Reply • October 11 at 7:25 pm

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