More proof that flats are better than clipless pedals?

EinsteinWell, it’s happened again. Einstein once defined insanity as “trying the same thing over and over, expecting a different result” and that seems to be what is going on recently with several “Flats vs. Clipless Pedals” videos being posted lately.

The other day yet another video pitting flats against clipless pedals made the rounds on the internet in which flats not only did better than expected but actually won. For those of you keeping count at home, this makes the third time this has happened in about a year.

This time the video was inspired by Sam Hill’s recent 2nd place finish at the Enduro World Series in La Thuile, Italy. As they pointed out, this was interesting because Sam Hill runs flat pedals while no one else in the Top 30 runs them.

This means that he beat A LOT of clipless pedal riders in a discipline that most feel is best suited for clipless pedals.

The crowd looks on in awe Sam Hill does his thing. PC

The crowd looks on in awe Sam Hill does his thing. PC

To test it out for themselves they had their guy do two timed runs down the same track, an 8-minute stage from the La Thuile Enduro World Series course. While you can watch the video to see the details below, you already know who won…

Like I mentioned already, the flat pedals won by a full 8 seconds. However, as impressive as this is when you break down 2 things it gets even more interesting…

– They broke the track up into 3 timed sections which consisted of 1 steep downhill section, 1 flatter section with more pedaling and another steep downhill section. While he was faster on the downhill sections, the really surprising thing was that he was the exact same speed on flats in the pedaling section as well. In other words, the clipless pedals didn’t even help him out where they are supposed to outshine flats every time.

– The rider was admittedly rusty on flat pedals, saying that he never rides flats except during the winter (cheers to him for at least spending some time on flat pedals). So when you factor in that he hadn’t been on flat pedals for months his time is even more impressive since he wasn’t nearly as used to with as he was his clipless pedals. It would seem to me that if he had been spending time on flat pedals and had them dialed in better he probably would have won by even more.

As expected, though, there was no way they could just let flat pedals win without a lot of excuses and apologies for their beloved clipless pedals. They theorized that since it was such a steep track that perhaps clipless would have won on a flatter, more pedaly track (forgetting that flats tied clipless pedals on the pedaling section of the track they did test). They also theorized that since this was a single run that clipless pedals might do better over the course of a full 2-day weekend of racing.

In other words, despite experiencing for himself that he was significantly faster on flat pedals, the tester continued to believe that clipless pedals were better. To me it was almost as if some sort of alien mind control started to take over and his ability to think for himself went right out the window.

Now, this single test is obviously unscientific and we can’t read too much into it. However, like I said, this is also the 3rd time that a video was posted in the last year or so in which someone set out to prove that clipless pedals were better and instead ended up showing flat pedals outperforming their “superior” counterpart.

In case you haven’t seen them here are the other two…

What is the Most Efficient Pedaling Style?

Clips vs. Flats – Which One is More Efficient?

When you take these videos along with the science that questions the need to attach your foot to the pedal you start to see a consistent pattern of flat pedals being a much better option for most riders than we were led to believe.

Most riders on clipless pedals are unknowingly working through dysfunctions instead of letting their body find its more efficient path. When you take those constraints off the body it will actually perform better.

I feel that our sport is going through a bit of a painful growth phase where the lies about the superiority of clipless pedals and the need to attach your foot to the pedal are running head first into the wall of mounting evidence that it is all a lie. While it was so much easier to control the conversation and the mindset it created before the modern internet age, it is just as hard now to contain the truth when it is so easy to find.

Eventually, though, we’ll come through the other side in a much better position for our sport. While this is a subject for another post, the truth is that the biggest impediment to the growth of our sport is this insane insistence on clinging to the status quo of “clipless pedals are better than flats”.

Countless riders quit or never even try riding in the first place because of it and when the outside world looks at us and sees that we embrace the same pedals they knew and loved on their BMX bikes as a kid we’ll see a lot more interest in our sport.

Clipless pedals have their place…it just isn’t on a new riders bike for the first 2+ years of riding or on anyone’s bike 100% of the time. Everyone can benefit from flat pedals and hopefully videos like this can help convince a few people reading them to see past the myths and half-truths surrounding this subject and give them a shot.

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Strength Training Systems/ Pedaling Innovations

The Catalyst Pedal

The Catalyst PedalThe Catalyst Pedal from Pedaling Innovations is the world’s best performing, most comfortable pedal. It is the first pedal that looks first at how the foot and lower leg optimally move then applies that insight to the bike. The result is a patent pending design that supports your foot the way that nature intended, increasing power, efficiency, stability and comfort. Backed with a no questions asked 30 day money back guarantee, this is the pedal that gives you the performance of clipless pedals with the fun, safety and comfort of flat pedals.
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  1. Justin says:

    I’m going to open with: I ride flats on all my MTB’s. But I want to to start riding clip-ins again when I am going to the bike park.
    I find when I am doing drops, mostly to flat and especially at speed, I am bouncing back up off the pedals and a few weeks back my foot came off the pedal and then the pedal bit my calf pretty solidly and opened it up.
    Not sure I can set up my suspension perfectly for every situation, but its doing me really well in all other aspects. I kind of feel the drops at speed are a stressful thing for me, especially after the recent injury.
    Do you think that this is an area where clip ins provide the advantage?

    Reply • August 3 at 12:29 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Sorry to hear about your injury, although it is part of the learning curve with flats. However, you should be able to keep your feet grounded and be able to apply good pressure into the pedals to maintain contact with them. You can see other riders do it (every slopestyle rider and some DH World Cup pros run flats) so you know it is possible.

      I’d suggest trying a more mid-foot position if you are trying to keep the ball of the foot over the axle. This is an unbalanced position for the foot and the science has shown that there is no advantage to the ball of the foot over the mid-foot position. You may also want to check out some Catalyst Pedals, which are made to help keep the foot balanced and stable. They get rid of the foot rolling forward off of the pedals and would help as well.

      But in answer to your question, no, I don’t think there is any situation that clipless pedals are always “better” and that we should focus on our technique and not the equipment.

      Reply • August 3 at 4:08 pm
    • Tamas says:

      Not sure if the clip pedals will solve your issue – you will just pull the bike with you when bouncing back. I think practicing, refining your technique and maybe slow down your rebound damping one-two clicks will help more.

      Reply • August 11 at 2:16 pm
  2. Tamas says:

    Couple of years ago I switched to flats after reading your manifesto. I needed some “encouragement” because everybody around me was raving about SPDs but I didn’t feel the “miracle” and I thought something is wrong with me. 🙂 I still ride flats on my MTBs and clips on my road bike.
    For a while I was trying to convince others after seeing them struggling with SPDs to switch to flats but honestly I just don’t care anymore. They still think it’s better because they can pedal full circle and all that crap although they cannot really explain how can I keep up with them easily on flats and being 10-15 years older. They afraid to switch because they were told SPDs are more effective and they will miss out on something – even risking injuries with the typical SPD crashes. Just like in the video you mentioned they don’t believe even to their own eyes so let them ride whatever they want… In the mean time my Nukeproof Horizont Sam Hill Edition pedals are in the mail arriving for my new “N+1” bike in a couple of days. 🙂

    Reply • August 11 at 2:12 pm
  3. Eric says:

    This test is a real eye opener for the sport of mountain biking. Like you have said “the sport is going through a painful growth”. However the test was performed on a course that looked as thought the climbing was pretty flat. I’d like to see/do a test that involves technical climbing with lots of chunder. It is this type of riding that made me switch to clipless. I feel with clipless I can sit back and use my balance and hips to granny grind up the terrain. A test like that would break it down for the everyday average Joe rider in my opinion.

    Reply • August 26 at 9:46 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Sitting and trying to spin up chunder is hard on flats, it works better if you stand up. The whole “sit on climbs as much as you can” idea leads to a lot of the perceived problems with flats since sitting and spinning – which hasn’t been proven to be “better” BTW – makes it harder to keep good foot pressure, which is what leads to a lot of the foot slippage. Standing up and pushing a slightly harder gear allows better foot pressure and less slippage. Sure, it takes some practice but it can be done. Pedaling style has as much to do with it as anything and I don’t think the sit-and-spin pedaling style is best for the trail or the body.

      Reply • September 1 at 5:04 pm
  4. Troy says:

    I just ran into this article and found it very interesting.

    After being out of mountain biking for more than 15 years, I picked it up again last spring. And, instead of jumping right into clipless, I started off with some Race Face Atlas pedals and Five Ten Freeriders. And, for the sake of sharing the bike I’m riding, it’s a 2016 Specialized Stumpjumper 6 Fattie Expert.

    The guys I ride will all use clipless and endlessly extolled their virtues. One of the guys even told me that riding clipless was like cheating.

    That being said, all of us are of a similar age and physical ability. Yet, as time went on, I went from being last place on each ride to being first place by a ways. And, I was the only one using flats.

    Nevertheless, I gave in and switched to clipless a few months ago just to see what the difference is. I was using Shimano XTR pedals with Five Ten Kestrels.

    What I found was when I was on more of an XC style trail the ride was phenomenally comfortable and, well, easy. I didn’t really have to think about much related to my feet. The float allowed me to be in a comfortable riding position for almost anything, and I found myself being more comfortable getting air wherever I could find it.

    However, technical obstacles or trails were a different experience. I found myself hesitant on balance obstacles where I was on steep and sharp rocks because of that fraction of a second it would take to get out of the clipless. Plus, sometimes, if my balance wasn’t perfect on some obstacles, there was no way I would have enough time to get out of the pedals in time to dab or just plain stomp my way back into balance and continue the line.

    The biggest negative for me was my hesitancy to just go for double diamond obstacles because of the fear of something going wrong with the line I chose and not being able to eject in time. In other words, my fun factor for challenging myself diminished because of my mental attitude toward my pedals.

    Clipless – Better at most non-technical obstacles, XC style riding, fast descents with bumps, jumps, and re-positioning rear tire during balance moves.

    Flats – Better at technical obstacles, more confidence for faster cornering, better at practicing wheelies, manuals, and stoppies.

    Neutral – climbing.

    The result is I’ve come to look at pedals like I do a lot of the gear I have: there isn’t one answer for all occasions. I’ll use what is best for the trail and terrain I’m planning to ride. There isn’t an all or nothing approach to the pedal conversation. If we’re spending thousands of dollars on bikes, the thought of spending another couple of hundred dollars to have both a clipless and flat setup just makes sense…at least it does to me.

    Happy riding!

    Reply • March 20 at 9:52 am
  5. Bob Loblaw says:

    These n=1 “experiments” never cease to bother me. It is much more likely that he was faster due to it being his second ride. He now knows the terrain, can take each corner that much faster. If he re-did the ride several more times, he could conclude that for him (and him alone), one is better than the other, over that particular type of terrain. We can’t extrapolate for anyone else or for any other type of riding from this.

    This is me right now

    Reply • February 6 at 7:00 pm

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