Before I start in on my rant let me share a real life conversation I had a few months back with one of the guys I do BJJ with…

Is the industry wide accepted lie that you need clipless pedals to be a serious mountain biker good or bad for our sport?

Him – “Hey man, nice bike.”

Me – “Thanks, do your ride?”

Him – “I bought a bike last summer but I only rode it 3 or 4 times.”

Me – “You planning on riding more this year?”

Him – “I don’t know. I didn’t have much fun on the rides I went on and I fell over a lot. I can’t afford to get hurt so I kind of stopped riding.”

Me – “Let me guess, you were on clipless pedals.”

Him (puzzled look on his face) – “Of course. The guys at the bike shop said that I would need them so I might as well get used to them right away.”

Me – “Well, that’s not really true. You see… (at this point I went into the TRUTH about clipless vs. flats).”

Him (look of relief on his face) – “You mean I don’t need those things? Well, that sounds a lot more fun. I’ll have to get some flats and get out there again.”

So, what is the point of this story?

We were going to lose this guy as a rider because as a new rider he was (rightly) scared of trying to learn to ride on clipless pedals.

And this isn’t an isolated incident by any stretch of the imagination.

I’ve gotten dozens and dozens of emails from riders around the world with similar stories. They were getting ready to quit mountain biking because they were tired of feeling scared and timid on the trail and they didn’t want to get hurt. Or they had gotten hurt as a direct result of not being able to unclip and had begun to question if it was really worth it.

Worse yet, they had been coerced into getting clipless pedals in the first place based on lies and half-truths.

They had been told early on that they “needed” clipless pedals to “spin circles/ pull up on the backstroke/ keep even tension on the pedals” and that “serious riders use them” so they needed to get on them ASAP.

As a not-so-funny side note – the guys who sold my brother-in-law his first mountain bike told him the same thing. He told me that if he didn’t know what I had told him about flats he probably would have just gotten clipless pedals.

My brother-in-law hasn’t ridden a bike of any kind for a decade and he’s getting pressured into clipless pedals before he’s even test ridden a bike in the parking lot – stories like that just make me wonder what the hell is going on with our sport.

Besides affecting new riders, this idea that you need clipless pedals is keeping countless people from even trying our sport. I’ve had numerous conversations with people who said they could never “do what I do” when I tell them I ride mountain bikes.

A lot of them had a totally different outlook when they were told they could just ride flat pedals like they did when they were a kid on a BMX bike ripping around the neighborhood.

I’ve even gotten a few of these people out onto the trail for the first time, converting some to becoming mountain bikers…new riders our sport never would have had if they were left to the conventional wisdom about mountain biking.

Because these riders/ potential new riders had never heard about the benefits of learning to ride on flat pedals and the truth about which muscles are used during the pedal stroke they never even thought that flats were a viable option. They had been told or were under the impression that flats were vastly inferior to clipless.

And based on this logic, quitting or not even trying mountain biking is a more viable option to most people than using flat pedals.

This is absolutely nuts when you think about it. I’ve thought this for a while but I think it is time to say it and see what other people think –

This insane stance taken by the mountain biking industry at large about the “need” to ride clipless pedals is driving away thousands of new riders every year between people quitting and others simply not even trying our sport.

And here is where I have to insert my obligatory Just because I’m Pro-Flats doesn’t mean I’m Anti-Clipless link for those who think I “hate clipless pedals” or some other nonsense. Clipless pedals have a time and place, it just isn’t on a new rider’s bike for at least the first year or on any mountain bike 100% of the time.

Also, just because it hasn’t happened to you or isn’t as prevalent in your area doesn’t mean that it isn’t an issue in most places. I’m stoked that some riding communities – especially in areas that don’t let you get away with just being a “dirt roadie” – are more progressive about this but in most areas you still get a lot of the usual clipless pedal propaganda.

So, enough of my rant, what do you think?

Is the industry wide accepted lie that you need clipless pedals to be a serious mountain biker good or bad for our sport?

Yes, it is a loaded question but I’m not really sure how else to put it, I’m open to suggestions…

So post a comment below and let me know your thoughts. And please click one of the Like or Share buttons to help spread the word – who knows, with your help this post might get in front of someone who needs to see it.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

2 thoughts on “Is the lie that you need clipless pedals driving away thousands of riders every year?

  1. Tanya Allen says:

    Hi James, thanks for the Flat Pedal Revolution Manifesto, lots of great points. However, in the intro you write « So, in conclusion, remember that this is not about flat pedals being better than clipless pedals, it is about understanding the real value and application of both systems.«  I didn’t see anything specific about the value and application of clipless pedals. When do you feel they are an advantage over flats? I’m a Mt bike instructor and although I recommend flats,,I want to be able to offer both sides of the argument to my students. Cheers, Tanya

    Thanks, Tanya

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