One of the biggest obstacles I face when trying to discuss clipless vs. flat pedals with riders is that there are a lot of pseudo-technique that has been developed by the clipless pedal industry and sold to the cycling world. For example, one of the common things I hear as an argument against flats is that they don’t allow for “float” since the rubber of the shoe sticks to the pins of the pedal and does not allow for lateral rotation of the shoe. This is said as if that is a bad thing since the shoe and pedal makers all promote “float” as an essential element of a pedal.
However, what gets lost is that float is not a natural thing – the two dimensional activity allowed by float in no way resembles the three dimensional action the foot takes when walking or running. Float was created because it was better than the simply locking the foot into place and allowing for no movement at the foot, which wreaks havoc on the knees.
If you look at how your foot works off the bike then you see that the contact patch with the ground at the point of pushing off does not move laterally and instead stays planted. Your foot, on the other hand, went through a whole series of movements in all three dimensions as it struck the ground mid-foot, bent and rolled through the arch to the forefoot and then pushed off from there. Your foot needs this specific movement sequence, not some man made mish-mash of crap created by “optimal float”.
You can not just look at the end of a movement and disregard how your body got to that point in the first place. The clipless pedal and shoe does just that – the attachment point is placed based on maximizing the push off point of the foot and severely restricts the action the foot normally takes to get there. Float is simply an attempt to minimize the damage from such a disregard for natural foot movement.
So yes, flat pedals don’t have float which is actually another reason that I ride them. Float is a sad trade off for the natural foot movement my body needs to stay healthy as I rack up the miles/ hours on the trail. Again, use clipless pedals for what they were intended to be – a performance enhancer on race day, not as a fall back crutch for a lazy pedal stroke and riding technique. And don’t let industry created hype terms scare you from trying flat pedals and seeing how much better your joints feel and your riding improves.