Top 3 Clipless Pedal Myths

Most people go through life never realizing that most of “reality” is nothing more than their paradigm on stuff, shaped by physical and mental experiences. For example, most people would think that running a marathon is extremely hard, if not impossible. Based on their lack of endurance and experience running, plus the extra 20-30 pounds they are likely carrying, their mind forms the reality that a marathon is “hard”.

However, someone who trains for a marathon and runs them regularly probably has a different opinion on the subject. Their brain scans their physical shape and mental experiences and says that running for a few hours at a good clip isn’t so bad and is, in fact, enjoyable. Each person has their reality…and it can change.

If the first person decided to train hard and make it happen they could get to the physical and mental place where they too feel than running a marathon isn’t “hard” anymore. If the second person broke their leg and had to take a lot of time off their physical and mental state would change and what used to be easy is once again hard. Your reality isn’t permanent and it can be changed rather easily.

So, what the heck does all this have to do with mountain biking? There are a lot of “truths” surrounding clipless pedals that are nothing more than a shared paradigm towards working around common weaknesses. Here are a few of the ones that really drive me nuts:

– Clipless pedals let you pedal with more power. Absolutely not true…there is nothing that shows that clipless pedals definitively let you produce more raw “power”. They do let you artificially strengthen the weak link of the feet which allows you to pedal longer before power starts to wane, which is useful for multi-hour/ multi-day racing, but there is absolutely no raw “power” advantage in clipless pedals. The fact that you can’t climb that steep hill without them is more in your head and lack of pedaling technique (see below).

– You need to be able to pull up on your pedals to produce max power. Again, this is simply not true no matter how many times it gets repeated. When studied, the best peddlers are not pulling up and producing power on the upstroke. They are instead getting the trail leg un-weighted and out of the way for the far more powerful down stroke of the lead leg. They can finish the pedal stroke off with their hips, which makes the pulling motion unnecessary. Less skilled peddlers use the clipless interface as a crutch to bypass the hips and place extra stress on the already chronically tight hip flexors.

– Standing up to pedal is hard and doing it too much will tire you out; it is better to sit and spin and save your energy. While not directly tied to clipless pedals, most of the advantages of clipless pedals are lost when you stand and so riders that use them tend to sit and spin a lot. Standing up to pedal is only hard if you lack the core strength and hip drive to stabilize and power from the standing position. Most riders come into mountain biking with weak cores, weak hips and serious dysfunctions from sitting all the time. The old “standing is hard” mindset isn’t true once you fix these things (and yes, they do need fixing if you value your knees and hips).

I think that a lot of riders are trapped by the paradigm that clipless pedals are somehow definitively superior when the facts tell us something much different. Just because most people come into mountain biking with dysfunctions that make it initially easier to use clipless pedals doesn’t mean that they are hands down better.

In the hands of someone whose reality isn’t shaped by the same dysfunctions flat pedals allow you to ride every bit as hard and far; you just have to use a different technique that isn’t possible without addressing the core and hip weakness that are really at the root of the issue.

Let me close with this…in the hands of someone who isn’t using them to mask dysfunction clipless shoes and pedals are a useful tool. However, I think that they are like competition shoes in track.

Track runners don’t train in the same shoes they race in; they know that race shoes are specialized equipment that should be used to enhance race day performance. They don’t use them everyday in practice simply to massage their ego and run faster times. They know that they will run slower in training but be faster for it on race day.

I think that clipless shoes and pedals should be looked at the same way – competition level performance enhancing technology that isn’t meant to be used everyday by your average rider. Flat pedals will enhance your technical skills and confidence, teach you better pedaling technique and save your knees, hips and low back – not a bad trade off if you can get past the “myths” surrounding clipless pedals.

-James Wilson-

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  1. jeffB says:

    Granted, I have 25 years in BMX behind me so it only makes sense, but once I got over trying to ride like an XC racer and started standing up to get up the hills and sprint the flats, not only did I get WAY less fatigued, but my lap times came down dramatically.

    Clips vs. flats: (again, using a bmx situation) I put out 2060 watts on a G-Cog (it`s like an SRM made specifically for BMX racing, and a device all of the US Olympic bmx team uses) equipped bmx bike clipped in over a 50 yard sprint. My best on platforms was just over 1800. Those results were consistent with everyone else participating, but so was the fact that the average power output got close and closer the longer the sprint was. There was a HUGE difference in how soon we hit max power clipped in.

    With that said, on a mtb trail where you`ll spend FAR less time at max cadence the power outputs (I only speculate) would be likely identical. I turn in nearly identical lap times at most of our XC trails on flats or clipless, and riding flats is more fun. I grew up on flats, and even racing bmx at the pro level clipped in I pedaled the same way I do on flats. I basically used the clipless attachment to keep my feet on place through rhythm sections or pedaling through stuff you just couldn`t on platforms.

    Pulling up: fact or fiction? FICTION. Focusing on the act of pulling up is a waste of time and energy. You *might* find yourself passively pulling up in anticipation of the next downstroke, but making a point of actively pulling up is just another detail to distract you from your ride.

    Reply • June 29 at 5:46 pm
    • Shaun says:

      The best pros in the world struggle to average 400 watts and you’re doing 2000/1800 watts??? By the way recent GCN videos have proven that flats are more efficient

      Reply • June 7 at 3:41 am
  2. Chris Cowan says:

    Amen James! I used clipless pedals since I was 16 years old. I use to think that if you didn’t use clipless pedals you were not a real mountain biker. Then I started having knee pain about 2 years ago. I tried everything… bike fittings… different cleat positions… you name it I tried it. Then I found your MTB Strength Training Program and blog. I’d been toying with moving to flats but never fully committed. After reading the barefooted post I decided to give it an honest try and start the strength training program at the same time. I found with a stronger core I’m able to pedal 10 times better then I ever had with my clipless. Knee pain… GONE! I can hardly remember the last time I had knee pain.

    Reply • June 29 at 6:26 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ Chris – Way to go! You represent exactly what I’m trying to do – free peoples minds to think for themselves and actually see if flats are as bad as most riders make them out to be.

      Reply • June 30 at 7:45 am
  3. Ant says:

    for me being clipped in on XC type rides just means i can split my effort between pushing and pulling rather than concentrating specifically on pushing. granted i only do it when i start to get tired. i ride DH on flats and love it. i could also loose more than a few pounds which would help all round!

    Reply • June 30 at 8:47 am
    • bikejames says:

      @ Ant – just want to make sure you saw the myth about pulling up and how it is not good pedaling form and will result in too much stress on the hip flexors…

      Reply • June 30 at 9:55 am
  4. Bill Blomquist says:

    I am one that was convinced by others that if I want to be efficient, I will have to go clipless. After two thousand miles commuting on my road bike with clippless pedals…my MTB riding buddy beats me standing up mostly the whole MTB race on platforms.
    He also can climb short steep hills of which I end up crashed clipped in.
    I read the post here on platform pedals…switched and have been happy ever since.
    I started the MTB strength program and now stand up much more.
    Without a doubt standing gives me much more control and platforms let me stick with a maneuvering effort that split second longer resulting in many more successes.

    Reply • June 30 at 11:10 am
  5. Joel says:

    I gotta say, that even when I was commuting with flats, I had a harder time sticking with a high cadence spin. When I ride with my clipless pedals I’m able to smoothly pedal at a much faster rate, which keeps me in the saddle longer, and I prefer for climbing since I’ll sit until my spinning slows down enough to warrant a good standing climb.

    I do agree that the eggbeater pedaling is bogus. Every time I tried it, at the request from my roadie buddies, I found that I just tired myself out more than getting up and sprinting, plus, the concentration needed to effectively time the stroking slowed down my rhythm. Lastly, it feels like its putting unnecessary stress on the shoe itself, and those things are expensive, so why pedal in a way that’s going to cause early failure.

    Reply • July 1 at 11:11 am
  6. scott says:

    I think I am convinced. what platform pedals do you guys recommend. I am an XC rider and would be looking for something in the $50 – $100 range. thanks.

    Reply • July 1 at 2:30 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ scott – Azonic A-Frame pedals are a great entry level flat pedal. Kona makes a really sweet pedals as well that is not too much but offer a good flat profile and excellent traction. Make sure you invest in some 5:10 shoes as well. You can actually find them on http://www.zappos.com if no one in your area carries them. They are essential for a good flat pedal experience. Hope this help…

      Reply • July 2 at 12:33 pm
      • Open_Class says:

        Specialized beni’s are about the best pedal from the price. I ran Azonic and I ran the aggresive syncros pedals. For the price the Beni’s are the best. for the record I have been recently running the Canfield Brothers Crampon (super thin) and they are great.

        Running the 5.10 Sam Hills and it is as close to clipped in as you can get.

        oh, I also switch back and forth between platform and clipped in. Good to be comfortable with both.

        Reply • July 30 at 9:45 pm
  7. Patrick says:

    I use to race BMX and Now its clip-less only. What is all this talk about clipless not stand up. I climb mostly standing up. On flats its way slower to climb. Maybe its just me. Another thing I like is the lack of shin scrapes. I even ride DH with clipless.

    Reply • July 1 at 7:32 pm
  8. The Real Rob says:

    OK James. I’m going to give XC platforms a chance on Sunday’s Powerline race. If I place 5th or higher the beers are on me… last year I was 6th with clips.

    Reply • July 1 at 10:16 pm
    • bikejames says:

      If some one falls in a puddle in front of you don’t stop and help, just keep on charging…

      Johnny “Yellow Shin Pads” Freerider

      Reply • July 2 at 12:35 pm
  9. Trevor says:

    I commented on an earlier post saying that my Five Tens were in the mail. Since riding on them, I have a big pile of clipless pedals in the corner of my apartment.

    I have been racing pro slalom on flats, and I have never felt faster or more confident in corners. After racing at Diablo on Saturday, I decided to take my slalom bike out for an XC ride on Sunday. I spent two hours on a 90 degree day on hill, tech east coast terrain on my 27 pound short Santa Cruz Jackal, flat pedals and seat dropped an inch off the tire.

    I believed in flat pedals for gravity riding, but this was my first trail ride on them. It changed my mind about everything as far as bike technology. My 22 pound Stumpjumper hardtail (including pedals) is on ebay as we speak…

    From now on, I’m riding what I have fun on; not what “everyone” says is best.

    Reply • July 2 at 9:18 am
    • bikejames says:

      @ Trevor – that is great. I love getting feedback like that, it really makes me feel we’re on to something with trying to liberate the masses from clipless pedals and the road riding influence that grips out sport.

      Reply • July 2 at 12:37 pm
  10. jeffB says:

    @Trevor: Best. Post. Ever. LOL. YOu and I think a lot alike.

    Reply • July 2 at 12:26 pm
  11. Wish I Were Riding says:

    Why are 5:10’s so good? Can I get some cheap Vans instead to try? How are 5:10’s anything like barefooting (which I think has merit)?

    Reply • July 3 at 9:49 pm
    • bikejames says:

      The sticky rubber and semi-stiff soles are tough to appreciate until you experience them. They don’t have to overly stiff soles and arch support you find in clipless shoes so that allows for natural foot movement, which is the real idea behind the “barefoot training” concept…

      Reply • July 5 at 12:33 pm
  12. jeffB says:

    The rubber used on the 5:10 shoes was initially made for rock climbers I believe. They now have a few different compounds for the different purposes, but they are all extremely soft and sticky.The sole is mildly stiff (more than a regular skate shoe), but still enough give to be comfortable. It`s a difference you can`t really grasp until you`ve ridden with them.

    Reply • July 4 at 8:19 am
    • Dustin says:

      I’ve used 5:10 shoes for climbing for years. For there climbing shoes they are one of the few companies that seem to make a climbing shoe that is comfortable and not made to be “crampy”. They defiantly last a long time and are the best I have used for Trad climbing.
      For on topic, I will have to try getting some 5:10 shoes for trail riding. Some associates of mine have been trying to convince me to go clipless and I’ve been apposed so far. This article re-enforces my decision on this. I have tried Toe clips but the ones I tried any way feels like they cause me to sacrifice power by putting my foot to far back on the peddles.

      Reply • March 19 at 8:19 pm
  13. Walt says:

    You never said how flats “save your knees, hips, and lower back” ? I have lower back pain on the right side when I ride. I usually do ride clipless. But I have 5:10 shoes and flats and ride them sometime. I notice no difference in power like you say, and they are fine for 90% of my riding except on steep. rocky uphills where I tend to bounce off the pedals. If I could figure how to not get bounceed off on those steep, rocky uphills, I’d use them all the time. Any ideas on how to prevent this?

    Reply • July 4 at 10:42 am
    • bikejames says:

      @ Walt – that is a core strength issue. The ability to ground yourself and apply pressure through your feet is a skill that has to be worked on. Strength training helps develop it since you have to learn how to apply force through your feet into the ground. This is another thing that riders don’t realize is “real” but can be changed.

      Reply • July 5 at 12:36 pm
  14. Jen says:

    If flat pedals were the most efficient wouldn’t all the pros be running them? They’d run over your grandmother for a few more seconds.

    Reply • July 8 at 3:02 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ Jen – two things there. First, at one point every high jumper used a scissor kick. No one would break out of the mold and try something different until ol’ Fosbury came along and developed a better way. Up until that point, though, you could have argued that since all the top pros used the other method then it was the best, although we know now that it was simply a case of everyone using the same thing, not that it was hands down better.

      Second, pros can and should do everything to win. Most people aren’t pros and for them using a piece of technology that helps in competition for every ride they do may not be the best way to go about it…or at least the 85% overuse injury rate among cyclists would suggest that.

      Again, I’m not saying that flats are “better”, they just aren’t worse like most riders assume they are. A lot of the advantages attributed to clipless pedals simply aren’t true and that’s all I am trying to point out. If you want to run clipless then fine, just don’t do it based on faulty arguements.

      Reply • July 9 at 7:09 am
  15. Walt says:

    My feet don’t slip on the downhill or most trail riding situations. I can bunnyhop on flats. I don’t think lack of core strength is the major issue. I can do a few full standing wheel rollouts. TG half my bodyweight…. I’m not weak. I’ve heard other people say the same thing about flat pedals on a rocky uphill. There must be something more to it. Also, please explain the science as to why flat pedals are much better for the knees hips and back? That’s what I’m really looking to know. If you can explain that logically, then I’ll be convinced that flat betters are worth the trade off.

    Reply • July 8 at 6:08 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ Walt- let me rephrase it then…you are lacking in a specific application of your (more than) adequate core strength. Being able to “ground” yourself and make your feet heavy while staying loose is a skill that will help with the feet bouncing off. I find that single leg work helps with that but mainly you have to actively practice it during training with everything you do. Or, you may just be trying to pedal in spots that you simply can’t avoid being bounced around and in that case there isn’t much you can do.

      Check out this post I did to see my logic behind why an 85% overuse injury rate among cyclists means that something is wrong…


      Hope this helps…

      Reply • July 9 at 7:14 am
  16. Dan says:

    Went for a ride the other night on my clipless and decided to stand on all the hills and I had a blast. If I wanted to chat with my spinning friends I just stood and ground slowly as we went up hills. I used taller gears and went faster than ever before and when I sat down to spin it felt really odd. I was sore the next day I believe because of using new muscles but it was worth it. Went and bought a pair of 5/10’s and am going back to flats. I have to say that even though I went harder and faster I felt better at the end of the ride than when I just spin. Could be because I was having FUN!

    Reply • July 10 at 9:14 am
    • bikejames says:

      @ Dan – yeah buddy, welcome to the club!

      Reply • July 12 at 1:57 pm
  17. […] Top 3 Clipless Pedal Myths | MTB Strength Training Systems […]

    Reply • August 17 at 1:40 pm
  18. CHRIS says:

    Im all about cranking up hills and well just cranking standing up. I have been riding clipless for year on my single speed 29er. Well I have been having IT band issues and I wondering if it comes from not enough float in my pedals. The ones I have are 4degree of float. I thought about going back to flats and convers shoes like I did when I was a kid racing BMX. I guess Im just worried about how it is going to work out racing XC 6, 12 and 24hr races, runing flats on a single speed. any one have any ideas on that or have raced singlespeed races with flats.

    Reply • September 17 at 5:29 pm
    • bikejames says:

      One of the earliest influences on my career was a guy named Ian King and he always said “if you’re hurt it don’t matter how fit you are”. If you are having issues and you end up injured, you’ll definitely be slower than you would with healthy knees on flats. I think you’ll be surprised at how little it really matters but just some “big picture” advice for you.

      Reply • September 20 at 10:44 am
  19. Chris says:

    This info is very helpful. I haven’t seen many SS 29er riders chime in here. Do all the same principles you describe apply to that type of riding as well?

    Reply • October 7 at 7:22 pm
    • bikejames says:

      yes, this applies to pedaling your bike period, no matter what it is.

      Reply • October 11 at 10:46 am
  20. Chris says:

    Well, I got my 5:10 Freeriders and some wellgo MG-1 pedals and I’m having more fun, and trying more stuff than I ever did clipless on my SS rigid 29er. There is a learning curve to be sure, but every ride gets better and more fun. I don’t think that people realize how much grip you actually have with 5:10s and good pedals. I rode a very familiar local slickrock trail last weekend and I tried climbs and rollers I NEVER would have tried clipped in. That is enough to keep me on the flats. I’m really glad I stumbled on to this page, this info made my riding improve and made it a lot more fun.

    Reply • October 24 at 11:10 pm
  21. UncletravellingMatt says:

    A few months ago I was riding some DH/FR trails. I nearly always use flats for this style of riding, however I always use clipless for riding trail.

    Now when riding DH/FR I normally have my foot positioned with the ball of the foot over the spindle (which is my normal trail riding position as the cleat doesn´t move any further back in the shoe).

    However after giving some thought, it made far more sense that I have pretty much the middle of the foot (the arch I suppose) over the middle as this would be far stronger for absorbing big hits and wrapping the soles of the shoes over the pedals (I use 5.10 Savants – basically a running shoe). It immediately felt better from a fatigue perspective as well as increased confidence. I assumed that there was less effort on the lower leg as there is less gastroc/soleus involvement than if on ball of foot (?).

    Now in the Flats/clipless saga, would you advocate riders on flats to ride with the ball of the foot over the spindle or to move the foot further forwards.

    I recall from many years ago a study that suggested when pushing through the ball of the foot during an exercise (eg leg press) the thighs and in particular the VMedialis would be far more taxed than if pushing the the ball AND heel which would greater utilise the glutes and hamstrings. If this is true, does this translate to MTB and should I ride on the arch of my foot or stick to the ball?

    When I stand to ride on my clipless shoe/pedal combo my thighs get tired very quickly however I am now very confident that, since looking at your site for the past few weeks, my glutes are tighter than a ducks backside and are also probably not working properly. My max deadlift over the last year has dropped about 20kg and my ability to put a curve in my L back during a simple DL or front squat is pathetic!

    Anyway, enough of the waffle, I´d be very grateful for some input / advice.

    Muchas Gracias


    Reply • January 18 at 10:24 am
    • bikejames says:

      I ride on the mid-foot, which is literally between the ball and the arch. This lets you drive your feet into the pedals while also letting you drop your heels more effectively for braking and riding steep terrain. Get stronger on your deadlift and you’ll feel a big difference on the trail.

      Reply • January 19 at 4:30 pm
  22. SDV says:

    You have got to be kidding. Only a very few, very gifted MTB riders can climb on flats with anywhere near the proficiency that you can exhibit climbing with clipless.
    There is also the issue of getting your foot knocked off in rough terrain.
    I ride with both nearly 50/50.
    They are both great ways to get you and your bike out the door and into the woods.
    But if we are going to climb something big and steep I’m going clipless.
    There is no comparison.

    Reply • February 11 at 9:59 pm
    • bikejames says:

      I can climb just as well as anyone I’ve ever ridden with on flats. Sam Hill wins DH World Cup races on flats. So obviously you can climb on flats and keep your feet on in rough sections. Your experience doesn’t mean that is the truth, simply your experience.

      Reply • February 14 at 9:23 am
  23. Leith says:

    I totally see where you are coming from in the flats vs. clips argument, it makes total sense. I have been racing at a high level for 10 years and have used clips 95% of the time. I have recently switched to flats on my mountain bike and road bike to help speed up the learning curve. A couple of things I noticed are that riding flats makes you focus on your pedal stroke and body posture a lot more, because if you don’t you really notice the efficiency going down.

    The only things i’m still struggling with are power at the downstroke seems less with flats, I think due to the stiffness of the shoes and not having that connection point. The other on the mountain bike is control of the bike. I notice line changes and quick maneuvers and bike shifts are slower with flats. I have only been on 3 mountain bike rides with flats so far but feel comfortable already. Do you think these issues are learning curve? Did you experience any of these issues when you switched? How would you describe bike control and bike handling in the clips vs. flats argument?

    Thanks man, I enjoy reading this site, it has been very helpful so far.I will be getting the training program as soon as I get back to work!

    Reply • March 10 at 8:13 am
    • bikejames says:

      There is a learning curve to it, just like there was a learning curve with clipless pedals. Give yourself 2 weeks and you’ll be feeling much better. The exercises I have listed in the Top 3 Clipless Pedal Myths special report will help a lot and are a good place to start.

      Reply • March 10 at 10:42 am
  24. Jody says:

    This is pretty interesting. I’m a keen road and cross rider. I don’t have a license, but I have been riding for 15 years for fitness and can keep up easily on the local club rides. I ride with BMX flats and sneakers. I consider it my duty to provide entertainment to those cyclists that swear blind that it is impossible/dangerous/ridiculous to ride a road bike in flats. A butt of jokes if you will. I’m tough skinned and don’t mind the jibes. I had a pair of Shimano MTB SPD pedals and shoes and rode them for two years – I’m not mentally defective, but the number of times I was late un-clipping in traffic was beginning to worry me. So I went back to flats. I love the look on a fully lycra’d and clipped in carbon missile as I pass them in sneakers. Oh the humanity. Just remember flat pedallers – cycling for fun and even serious fitness doesn’t have to mean emulating every aspect of the Pro-Tour. It is possible to be fast and fit on the road in flats. I recommend flat pedals with the little replaceable spikes on. I haven’t skinned my shins since I was a kid.

    Reply • March 22 at 11:08 am
  25. Bob says:

    Just this weekend I made the switch to SPD after riding MTB with platforms for about 4 years. I had ridden clipless on the road before and had even tested them out one time before for MTB, but wasn’t sold.

    I agree with all of your statements regarding platforms and would like to reiterate the point that riding platforms made me a better rider. The only reason I’m making the change now is that I’m riding faster and harder on more difficult terrain than ever before, while at the same time training up for some racing.

    All of that being said, I do not regret AT ALL my time spent on platforms and will gladly make the jump back to them if I decide to rachet back the intensity of my riding.

    Great site, great discussion, great points… GO DO.

    Reply • April 18 at 8:26 am
    • bikejames says:

      Great points, thanks for keeping an open mind. As you rightly pointed out, I have nothing against clipless, just against using them before you really know how to pedal and ride without them.

      Reply • April 18 at 8:53 am
  26. UMDbkr says:

    Great article! I agree that it comes down to personal preference. Of course, once I went clipless, I never looked back!

    Reply • June 27 at 1:16 pm
  27. Smithy says:

    Great article. Growing up racing BMX on flats I feel comfortable riding XC on flats with good shoes (wellgo MG1 and Shimano AM40s) I love being able to move around on the bike and I am certain I have saved quiet a few potentially serious accidents buy not being clipped in. After some silly accidents on my cross bike (clipped in) I will be going flat on that as well.

    Reply • July 4 at 9:50 pm
  28. Uncle GroOve says:

    I’ve been lucky to be able to train with Powercranks and have finally *learned* from the real physical experience what “pulling” means (it works for me, but I don’t race BMX or DH, I just do AM tours). Before that I *thought* I knew what it was all about, but I was stuck on “the wrong side” of reality… I was just imagining things.

    At the end of the day you need to go through that experience in forst person – and not for 10 minutes to see “what’s it like” (this goes for clippers who go flat and viceversa). You have to make that effort to discover the real pros and cons of both techniques.

    For me now it’s clipped on the way up, and clipless on the way down (Crank Bros Mallet w/ cleats).

    Ciao from Switzerland!

    P.s. Kudos to James for the EXCELLENT articles. Shame you don’t do seminars here in Switzerland 😉 !!

    Reply • July 14 at 12:52 am
  29. Zoon says:

    You mention some studies regarding pedaling (not “peddling.” If one is peddling, then they are selling something). Can you cite these studies? Otherwise, your credibility is suspect.

    Reply • August 15 at 8:40 am
    • bikejames says:

      Here is a post I did that has the studies I am referring to:


      I got them from a presentation done by Andrew Coggan, Ph. D. who’s conclusion was the same as mine. You might recognize him as one of the leading authorities on power training for road cycling – yes, a roadie coach is also saying the same things and he’s not the only one.

      Reply • August 15 at 9:25 am
  30. Frank says:

    I use wellgo flat pedals B114 and 5 10’s on my road bikes I love them they do not slow me down, 20.4 mph average on a 50 mile bike ride with hills. I can spin at 100-110 rpm without any problem. I ride all my road bikes with any kind of shoes but the 5 10’s are the best.

    Reply • September 18 at 3:06 pm
  31. Steve says:

    I mountain bike in Florida, and cannot imagine using clipless pedals. Many of the trails contain sugar sand and some areas turn to mud after rains. There’s times when I can’t hit the sand at a fast enough pace (like if I’m passing an oncoming bicyclist–a frequent happening) and if it’s thick enough it can toss you if you don’t get a foot down very, very quickly.

    Reply • September 20 at 4:34 am
  32. Pat O says:

    To Walt (posts #13 & #15); my feet used to bounce off the pedals as well when trying to climb when I first switched to flats. I found the problem to be that I was in the wrong gear and I was trying to pedal/spin too fast, as if I were still clipped in. It took a couple of rides to get used to this and it has never been a problem since. I do wish 5-10 had more US size 14 shoes, though…

    Reply • October 18 at 12:06 pm
  33. enOehT says:

    RE: Bouncing, I ride Tioga’s, while I wanted to learn early due to my legs looking like I put in a pirhana tank, bouncing was an early issue for me. I learned to keep your heel down on the descents, and forward on ascents. The 510’s just grip like a velociraptors main claw on the Tiogas for me, and the lateral force digs in and my feet dont move a millimeter anymore. It look me quite a bit to get into this habit.

    The question I have for James is, is this a bad habit? I see many conformists jumping to clipless and I love the “I get at least 30% more power” statements.

    Anyways, appreciate the article, and good comments.

    Reply • November 13 at 9:17 pm
    • bikejames says:

      No, that’s how your foot is supposed to move. You should be screwing your foot into the pedal as you drive into it, just like you would do when you run or do lower body exercises. Float is actually an unnatural thing and an answer to the lack of foot movement caused by the restrictions of the clipless shoes. Your foot wants to roll in 3 dimensions against a stable surface, not twist back and forth in 2 dimensions.

      Read my latest blog post to see that even though you may get an immediate performance bump from clipless (but no where near and extra 30%) that doesn’t mean that you want to use them all the time.

      Reply • November 14 at 12:39 pm
  34. sebastian says:

    Hi james, I just changed my SPD to flat. Can I wearing running shoe to pedal “flat”?

    Reply • November 14 at 10:20 am
    • bikejames says:

      You can use skater type shoes with flat soles, however running shoes with tread on the bottom won’t work very well. The pins from the flat pedals will sit in the empty spots between the tread and your foot will float around.

      Reply • November 14 at 12:41 pm
  35. Peter says:

    I have been seriously considering this argument. As far as I can tell there is as much valid research supporting clip less pedals as not. The 1979 MacCready team—12 of the top scientists of their time in world—that accomplished the Human Powered Flight across the English Channel used specially designed pedals very similar to todays clip less pedals. This was probably one of the finest teams of scientists every assembled, with a profound understanding of biomechanics. Without this team and Bryan Allen (the pilot) this feat could not have been accomplished. Allen had to pedal full power for 2 hrs 49 mins to cross the channel. He needed the resistance from the propeller and the connection to the pedals to keep the thrust constant.

    I believe I am teachable to that end, I have been riding on flat pedals with my seat lowered for the last week. The pain in my lower back, and my left knee has returned. It would seem that for me; riding with clip less pedals and my seat in the full height—normal for me—position is the answer.

    This subject has started many interesting conversations with my friends. One point that was raised was that this idea of lowering the saddle didn’t really grab hold until the younger generation of MTB’ers came up riding with baggy shorts. The older riders whom wear bike shorts don’t worry about lowering the saddle. Some have even suggested that it is much harder to ride a Mt Bike with a lowered saddle and clip less pedals. Therefore, baggy shorts = lower saddles = flat pedals—logical. As my attorney friend said, “don’t search for meaning where there is none.”

    Reply • January 3 at 10:32 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I am not sure I followmthe logic there. You can not lower your seat and switch to flat pedals and not expect some sort of learning curve that may take more than a week to sort out. Hopefully you are standing up and not just riding around sitting down with a lowered seat becuase that is not what I advise. I would also not advise jst lowering it and leaving it there the whole ride, you may need to put it up and down over the course of a ride, which is why adjustable seatposts are so great. Flat pedals and a lowered seat are not the problem, whatever you are doing with them is.

      Also, the first “mountain bikers” had chopped up cruisers they railed downhill in jeans. Seems the lycra came later. Plus, any skills coach will tell you that you have to get the seat down to best control your bike so the type of shorts you wear has nothing to do with it. Getting your seat down lets you manuever the bike better.

      Just because you are good with what you know (clipless and seat raised) doesn’t mean that it is better. The roadie influence is deep in our sport – remember when mountain bikes had drop bars? – and trying to look at baggy shorts as the cause of my advise is interesting but not true.

      Reply • January 4 at 8:35 am
  36. Jaime Grant says:

    I enjoyed the article and arguments but not sold on platforms yet. I spent the first 20 or so years of my riding on flats. Then a year or so in toe clips. Horrible things, but greatly improved my riding. I followed that with the first SPDs and saw another significant performance boost but did get knee pain and did get stuck clipped in a few times. I have spent the last 15 or so years on Speedplay Frogs and find that these have all the benefits of SPDs but with no spring tension and therefor no knee pain and no getting stuck clipped in.
    I don’t have specific numbers for increased wattage, but I do know that I can get up to speed much faster and climb hills in far better contol in the Speedplays than on flats. I am also so used to them that it is quite dangerous for me to ride hard on flats. I feel much more connected to the bike and in far better control in all situations. I even use them in the Whistler bike park on my DH bike.
    I thinkthe pedal issue is an individual thing. I have been told more times by people here in the Squamish area that I should be on flats. The simple truth is I am uncomfortable on flats and prefer the feeling of being attached to the bike.

    Reply • January 9 at 7:29 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      That is fine but just know that being uncomfortable on flats means that you have flaws in your pedaling and skills techniques that the attachment point is making up for. Sam Hill seems to do pretty well on flats, trials riders don’t clip in and neither do slopestyle riders so if clipless pedals really gave you better control then I would thin that the most technically proficient riders on the planet would use them. In the end it comes down to using what you like but just know that you should be almost as good on flats as with clipless or else that points to some underlying problems that, once addressed, would make you a better rider.

      Reply • January 10 at 10:33 am
  37. The coolkid says:

    I swear by clips. I am very fast for only being 16 and have won two sires championships. That said, I race XC, where there aren’t many large falls. If I were to ride DJ, 4X or DH, I would go for a mice pair of platforms. I have found that, contrary to one bit of this site, I do get extra power from clips. I only find this at low rpms on hills and in rock gardens and when accelerating out of tight corners, but it definitely makes a difference. Also, the areas where I ride are rooty and rocky and staying on the pedals is very beneficial.

    Reply • February 7 at 6:38 pm
  38. The coolkid says:

    Also forgot to mention the falling part. Once you are used to clips, you can get out of even the tightest settings in no time. I have gotten out of both of mine while falling in midair, superman-ing off of a failed log crossing. Any quality clips have tension adjustments and can be set so that you can get out easily. As an example, an old pair of mine was set so well that I could pedal at almost max power on an upstroke and could still get out by just dragging my foot towards where a kickstand would hit the ground, which is a natural position to put my foot in anyway.

    Reply • February 7 at 6:45 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Appreciate your input but your understanding of the clipless vs. flats debate is a bit uneducated – it is not an “either/ or” debate, it is whether clipless pedals are “better” and should be used all the time by all riders. Here is an article I wrote that explains it a bit better:


      The truth is that flats make you pedal stroke and skills better and that clipless pedals do give you a slight performance advantage but using them all the time is not the best way to learn to ride. You can also check out this podcast to learn more about why flat pedals enhance your balance and reaction time and create less wear and tear on your body:


      Lastly, while you may be able to get out of your pedals effectively the truth is that most riders don’t share that view and more riders than not have suffered some sort of needless injury from not being able to get unclipped. Forcing new riders into clipless pedals right off the bat is not necessary or ideal. Sam HIll has won DH World Championships on flats, Nathan Renny laid down one of the highest power outputs ever on flats and trials riders don’t use them so they obviously aren’t “better”, just different and flats offer advantages and lessons that clipless don’t meaning that you are not as good as you could be if you don’t spend some time with them.

      Reply • February 8 at 8:25 am
  39. Lisa says:

    Like most, I dont think that clips or flats will win out, but its really preference. I agree on the flat arguments and went to flats and never looked back. We could debate all day on who can get out and who can get more power, if they work for you, thats great ! I love my flats, I love knowing I can get out, sure practice would be good but Id rather just practice other things. My friends who ride clips and swear by them only come up with one argument, you can break your foot by coming off and your foot going in front. I really hurt my ankle by not being able to come out of clips one day. To me, flats are my choice. I ride DH and technical trails and have not come off or slipped or had any problems.

    Reply • February 8 at 10:01 am
  40. Richard says:

    I’ve ridden clipless pedals on road bikes for decades. Using them mountain biking can be uncomfortable (scary) in some situations. (And they can save your ass at times too.) I don’t mind pedaling in ‘bare feet’ on steep climbs.

    But eschewing clipless pedals all together is just plain unreasonable, at least if you like going fast on even ground. Assuming you know how to SPIN.

    You can’t spin without clipless pedals. You can’t spin without clipless pedals. You can’t spin without clipless pedals.

    If you’ve never spent a few hours training on rollers then you don’t know what spinning is. Spinning is becoming part of the machine … or it becoming part of you. You may not pull up when you pedal, but when you’re spinning you almost do. Spinning means pedaling in a smooth efficient circle — not pounding up and down. Smooth, smooth, smooth. It makes you go incredibly fast. It takes the load off your knees. It reduces the pounding. It makes you feel like the wind.

    Before clipping in and training on rollers you’re nothing more than a pedestrian. Learning to spin is getting your wings.

    Reply • February 29 at 12:09 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for your opinion but unfortunately it is misinformed and ultimately wrong. You can spin with flats just fine and here are a couple of blog posts for you to check out to further the debate a bit:




      The studies cited in two of those posts clearly showed that there is no difference in the pedal stroke when on flats or clipless pedals, meaning that you can and should pedal the same way on either type of pedal and that if you can not “spin” on flats then your pedal stroke is dysfunctional and the clipless pedals are allowing you to get away with it. Spend some time on flats and you’ll be better when you go back to clipless.

      BTW, your last statement is ridiculous, inflammatory and uncalled for. I pass rider who are clipped in all the time while riding flats so obviously you can fly just fine with them. I even get asked “how can you climb so fast with flats” to which I respond “I never drank the clipless pedal Kool-Aid and thought that I couldn’t”. Statements like yours and the other popular one “serious riders use clipless pedals” are a major reason that new riders feel pressured into using clipless pedals ASAP and never get the chance to develop their pedal stroke and technique. If you want to debate facts and science then fine but keep opinions like that to yourself because there is no way to prove it and instead results in flame wars so common on forums.

      Reply • February 29 at 12:49 pm
  41. Richard says:

    Thanks for the response, James. My apologies for the ‘inflammatory’ remarks. That was not my intent. I was trying to convey my enjoyment of spinning. I guess my licentia poetica was a little over the top.

    I’ve had a couple mountain bikes now for a few years — a newer pursuit for me. The bulk of my experience has been with road bikes. Both of my mountain bikes have simple flat pedals, which I enjoy. This discussion has reminded me how much I enjoy spinning, too.

    You may be able to spin without some sort of restraining pedals — I can’t. At least not very well.

    I learned to spin on a set of rollers a couple decades ago. The experience made my many previous miles seem clunky and awkward. Riding rollers at high RPMs taught me to pedal much more smoothly and efficiently. At least that’s my perception.


    You’re right, my spin stroke is somewhat ‘dysfunctional’ without clipless pedals. Being bound to the pedals keeps my feet from flying off as I push for higher RPMs and rounder, smoother strokes to keep from bouncing off the rollers. I admit it — they’re a crutch. But a wonderful crutch.

    When I pedal too fast for my feet to stay firmly on the pedals without them, those bindings get me more degrees of power from the alotted 360. As my feet try to leave their orbits the bindings keep them reined in, converting their attempted escape into additional power. With practice this has become a deft merging of man and machine at a new level of performance. For me.

    As you suggest there is much subjectivity involved. My impression is that I can get much more output, distance, performance and enjoyment from man and machine when I clip in. At least when smooth, high RPM pedaling is possible. Other conditions and terrain call for different equipment.

    I enjoy spinning with clipless pedals. I enjoy hill-climbs without them. My unicycle would be very scary with clipless pedals. (Though a number of new tricks might be possible. 🙂 My recumbent bike would be almost impossible without them. I have a collection of human-powered vehicles, each with a different set of requirements. I haven’t tried clipless pedals on my mountain bikes yet — they hadn’t seemed appropriate to the way I ride. Now I may have to give them a try for comparison’s sake. Who knows, with a helmet and knee pads maybe I’ll try them on my unicycle sometime. 🙂

    Thanks again for an interesting discussion.


    Reply • March 2 at 7:08 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for clarifying your statement there. I appreciate your insights into this and I have to admit that there probably is an advantage to spinning a high RPM with clipless pedals, however spinning a high RPM is for long periods of time is not the best way to approach pedaling on a mountain bike. Lower RPMs with more tension on the pedals and shorter bursts of pedaling are better for trail riding and, in fact, one of the biggest mistakes I see riders make is trying to apply the high RPM spin to the trail. Since that type of pedaling is not very good on the trail then that is another reason that clipless pedals are not “better” for trail riding.

      As long as you are using clipless pedals to enhance the performance of a sound pedal stroke and not as a crutch to cover up bad overall technique then you are using them correctly, however the truth is that is not the case for the vast majority of mountain bikers using them. I am just trying to bring some logic and real science to the discussion instead of the hype and myths that seem to surround it. Thanks again for your posts, I appreciate anyone who can take a step back and realize that they may not have come across as they intended to. That is one of the problems with internet debates – it is very tough to know what someone really means and ask follow up and clarifying questions.

      Reply • March 3 at 9:16 am
      • Richard says:

        I think you should admit that you need to take a step back sometimes as well. You over-reacted to this gent’s first post and it is to his credit that he offerred a temperate come-back.

        Reply • May 30 at 4:42 pm
        • bikejames bikejames says:

          The internet is a tough place to have a discussion. Even he admitted that, looking back on it, his remarks could be taken as inflammatory. There is a real problem with advanced riders making statements to the effect of “real riders use clipless pedals” and I will go out of my way to point out how bad that message is. Luckily it was a case of misunderstanding and we were able to come to an agreement but I don’t know that I overreacted as much as we were not clear on what exactly he was saying.

          Reply • May 31 at 6:36 am
  42. Paul says:

    This debate will continue for as long as we all live and I personally do see pros and cons of both platforms.

    I race DH in the UK, personally I prefer a flat pedal and am very comfortable pedalling hard on them. However, when the terrain gets rough and bumpy, its easy for your feet to bounce around and become unstable on the pedal. This inturn distracts the rider from the trail ahead, to trying to re-adjust foot placement on the pedal. Clipless you simply don’t have this problem, your feet hardly move at all and confidence in your foot placement is a priority.

    Picture hitting some rough roots in flats and your feet ever so slightly moving and then straight into a big double jump, without a confident foot platform you might not be in the correct mental state to really hit the jump.

    So now I look to see what the worlds best are riding. Aaron Gwin – clipless, Steve Peat – clipless, Greg Minaar – clipless, Sam Hill flats. and I would say at least 75% of World cup DH riders are clipless.

    I wil be trying clipless in the next few weeks to try and aid my racing career, I just hope I can unclip quick enough when needed and reclip quickly after.

    Thankyou for putting up these regular posts, I read them and they all cause for great thought.


    Reply • March 20 at 12:25 pm
  43. Brian says:

    Very interesting, and it definitely makes me think twice and consider flats. The one thing that I am surprised not to see anyone else mention (and it makes me wonder if I’m missing something 😉 is the lack of connection with the bike that flats would make. I both love and rely critically on a feeling of absolute oneness with my machine while bombing down a hill. How do you bunnyhop in a split second to get over some obstacle without this rocksolid connection? I wouldn’t doubt in a moment the biomechanics of what you’re suggestion, and am sure I can improve from strengthening and technique in the areas mentioned, but without clips I would lose a major piece of my mobility and control with the two wheels that are keeping me from eating dirt. My initial thought is to switch back and forth so that I can benefit from the training on flats, but use clips when really pushing a ride. What do you think?

    Reply • May 15 at 9:44 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Being attached and being connected are not the same thing. It is hard to understand until you experience it but your certainly don’t need to be attached to your bike to feel connected with it and be able to lift one or both wheels in an instant. Trails riders like Ryan Leech and my client Jeff Lenosky do things that are 1000 times more complicated that what you will ever experience on the the trail and they are not clipped in. Sam Hill has won multiple DH World Cup races and titles and World Championships on flats so you can rail down a mountain at high speeds and react instantaneously with flats on. Out side of our sport surfers and skateboarders will tell they feel connected to their boards but they certainly are not attached. Here is an article I wrote explaining the difference between the two concepts:


      Hope this helps, give flats a try and you’ll find out what it really means to feel connected to your bike.

      Reply • May 15 at 4:46 pm
      • Brian says:

        Thanks for the response! I think the main points around correcting any physiological bad habits and improving one’s ‘connection’ with the bike is well worth investigating any new program. I look forward to learning more then getting out there and trying it out. Cheers!

        Reply • May 16 at 9:13 am
  44. Michael says:

    Thank you for the article. I found the website looking for core exercises for mountain bikers. Very informative and I did make a purchase after reading several of your articles. I think I can attribute my many crashes to strength issues and can’t wait to begin your program. I also ride clipless (used to be a roadie, stay with what you know right?) I find that I am twisting my legs to yank my feet out of the pedal when I’m heading for an oh s**t scenario on the singletrack. Hence some knee and ankle pain. I find your articles compelling and like the idea of riding flats, but the biggest concern I have is foot fatigue. When I got my mountain bike, it had the typical platform pedals. Not necessarily a bad thing, but the shoes I wore (running shoes) didn’t support my feet and I could feel the shoe deform around the pedal and hurt like you know what. This might be off-topic, but can you recommend a shoe that would support my feet and my ankles? Being new to the sport, I’m woefully uneducated. I’m also going to be doing winter riding, so a flat is much more ideal for that and would appreciate a pedal recommendation for big winter boots.
    And if I’m asking the wrong questions or asking them in the wrong place, please let me know.
    Thanks for the great article and training material.

    Reply • June 29 at 11:35 am
    • Michael Copeland says:

      Sorry for not reading more articles before posting. Found your recommendations in the Stuff I Like: 5-10 Sticky Rubber. Think I’ll read ALL of the articles before asking dumb questions.
      Thanks James.

      Reply • June 30 at 9:28 am
      • bikejames bikejames says:

        Glad you found that article, don’t worry about posting questions, I am happy to help point you in the right direction.

        Reply • June 30 at 8:52 pm
  45. Jon says:

    Thanks for the interesting and helpful article. I’m pretty much a beginner in the MTB world, and I read this article just in time. I’ve been attempting to learn MTB skills this spring/summer while using SPD clipless pedals, and I feel like I’ve been losing confidence rather than gaining it. There’s a 5 mile singletrack loop that I ride near home a couple of times a week. I worked my way down from around 40 minutes to 30 minutes while riding clipless. Today I went back to my platforms–my confidence improved and I shaved 4 minutes off my time. I think I’ll invest in a good pair of platforms soon and focus on improving my skills before I try clipless off road again. Thanks again!

    Reply • July 16 at 7:52 pm
  46. Bill says:

    When I started I rode on platforms and after the ride I could feel the muscles in my glutes and hamstrings were very tight. I did this for a couple of years before moving to clipless. I immeadiately noticed that I was weaker on the climbs and felt the burn in my quads and not so much in the glutes. If I move back to a platform should I expact the same sort of thing in reverse (a loss of power while I build up my glutes).

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

      also, I have 3 bikes, all very similar in setup (one with a drop seatpost). Would you recommend switching back and forth between clipless and platform or sticking with platform until I get more comfortable?

      Reply • July 30 at 12:02 pm
      • bikejames bikejames says:

        No, I’d stick with just flats for at least 4-6 weeks before going back to clipless, otherwise it will take much longer to get used to them.

        Reply • July 30 at 2:49 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      You might but since your body likes to power movement from the quads it will probably get used to it much faster.

      Reply • July 30 at 2:50 pm
  47. Roberto V. says:

    Great article, personally I’m fan of both flat and clipless it all depends on the terrain and style, clipless are very useful when riding a hard tail on rocky or very bumpy trail as your feet stay on the pedals, also I like the extra control of the back wheel that you get clipped in. But if you fall its better if you are in flats.

    Reply • August 29 at 2:53 pm
  48. Gforce27 says:

    Well, very interesting article, and interesting comments as well. I have been xc mountain biking for over 15 years, however I’m coming out of a five year hiatus after having a baby… any way, I am pretty old school, and I’ve seen all these kids on flat pedals and lowered seats, and I’m like WTF, you can’t ride up a hill like that! Anyway, I just got a used Kona that came with flat pedals, and I had them taken off to be replaced with my cranks and spd’s from my other bike, with out even thinking about it. Anyway, it’s what I’m used to, and I also really like them over technical sections, and after the first fall I had in a traffic intersection, many, many years ago (embarrassing.) I never fell because of them again– and I used to ride some pretty technical uphill stuff in the desert, way back in the day. However, I’ve kept the flat pedals, and maybe I’ll ride with the flats for a while, just to see how it improves my riding. Thanks for the interesting article about a debate I hardly knew existed!
    However– I need to add, that I’ve always combined standing in the saddle in my hill climbs. I alternate sitting and standing on long climbs, and on shorter climbs I start out out of the saddle, spin in the middle and then climb towards the end again. I don’t remember where I learned this, but I remember reading somewhere that alternating was better because since your using different muscles, you don’t tire out one muscle group. Anyway, since I don’t know where I read that, it might be total BS, but it did seem to improve my climbing when I applied it.

    Reply • September 13 at 5:19 pm
  49. DesB3rd says:

    Ay, flats for MTB, ignore all the other reasons, I find being locked in terrifying on narrow, hedged-in trails and can’t help thinking what an “off” would be like if the clip didn’t disengage.

    That said I run Looks on my road bike, so I’m pretty agnostic; light, short wheelbase (i.e. skittish compared to MTB) bikes feel so much more assured when clipped to and I do tend to rip-out on the upstroke when the plastic cleats get badly worn, the all round stroke “myth” is evidently a reality in a limited set of circumstances.

    Reply • October 17 at 6:00 am
  50. moransa says:

    I appreciate all the opinions, can someone direct me to the original research??

    Reply • November 5 at 10:20 am
  51. Mtb Love says:

    James, love your articles on the flat pedals. You are very brave!
    I agree with your points. Just out of curiousity do you ride with clips sometimes?

    Reply • November 7 at 11:21 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I don’t, never saw the need. Plus, the idea of being clipped in stresses me out and since I seem to be able to ride fine without them I would rather just have fun.

      Reply • November 7 at 5:56 pm
  52. Jeff says:

    And so James, i see, that you suggest to ride clipless on races, but on everyday trainings unclipped. So what could we do, swap pedals every 2 weeks? I don’t think mine crank threads would last much. And all i see in your topics i just “hate” to spds. I saw your “im not a fan of flats and …..” thread but what i see you are writing is 1 post where you say – “go clips, but just spend a year or so on flats before” and the other post – “ride spds only for races, they f8ck up your knees back and so” Well i don’t understand how would i hurt my knees or anything, if i adjust my cleats correctly, so that my feet are in my natural position. I also cant understand why would i need bigger float than this, which spds have. The have from 4 to 15 degrees of float, depending on the models, i’m riding with an shimano model with 4 degs, i see no need for a bigger float. I do not even use the whole of it.
    You also say that you could ride a lot more comfy when placing your foot in the middle on downhills. Well, that doesn’t work for me, i have a lot more control when placing my foot in the same position as when as i’m pedalling. I only use the heel drop technique, which does really make difference, makes you a lot more stable and your braking improves. And man, no, you are not going to change my opinion, that i think you hate spds. No matter what you will answer me. I’ ve read allmost every comment on every thread on this site and easily see, that you really don’t like clipless.
    And so, once again, have you ever ridden spd, so that you make a whole site about why should we ride flats?

    Reply • November 8 at 8:19 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Why would I spend time answering when you’ve already said I can’t change your mind?

      Reply • November 8 at 10:48 am
  53. Jeff says:

    And can you answer me how flat pedals save knees, back and hips?
    And what from the clipless ones does mess them up?

    Reply • November 8 at 3:47 pm
  54. Patrick says:

    I’ve had both of my hips replaced using the Birmingham Hip Resurfacing. During rehab, my doctor suggested that I use flat pedals, instead of the clipless that I normally use. After a few days of riding flats, I became very sore. Turns out that the “float” in the clipless pedals (Egg Beaters) wasn’t present on the flat pedals. I used a set of Crank Brothers 5050 pedals and the spike/shoe interface prevented my foot from floating; while riding I would constantly shift my feet ever so slightly, mimicking the float.

    I suppose I could make the spikes in the flat pedals shorter or remove a few of them, but it turns out that they made me more sore.

    Any comments/suggestions?

    Reply • November 30 at 9:59 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      You don’t need – or really want – pedal float. Check out this article to where I explain how it is something the clipless pedal shoe makers invented to make the best of a bad situation but in no way represents how your foot should move.

      When you switch to flats they force you to use the hips in a better way that your body is not used to and you will get some soreness. You will probably need to cut back your mileage at first until you body gets used to it. Your just need to take it easy as well as work on your overall hip mobility as well.

      Reply • December 3 at 9:45 am
  55. Owen says:

    Great article and I totally agree with the points made, but I think clips bring other attributes that can be utilised by the rider to increase his/her speed.

    I have used flat pedals since I started riding (almost 20 years) and just this season I tried clips for offroad use. I had flats on my XC, BMX and downhill bikes. This summer I was in the Alps and was offered my friend’s bike for a run – he was using clips and we didn’t have a pedal wrench so we just swapped shoes.

    The first few turns felt strange, with my foot position being out of place, but as the run went on i felt myself picking the bike up out of turns, going light over roots/rocks and generally enjoying the run more. One particular spot on the run had some deep braking bumps at the bottom of a steep chute. On previous runs all I was thinking about was dipping my heels and trying to keep my feet on – no such problems with clips. I was worried about crashing with clips but to be honest I’ve had so many ankle injuries through dabbing my feet that it nearly made me stop riding through fear of future disability. Now I just have a good set of elbow pads 🙂

    To summarise – whilst you don’t produce more power with clips, you do know that your feet will be in the right place at the right time when you need to apply that power.

    Reply • December 11 at 2:11 am
  56. John says:


    I totally agree with everything you say in relation to flat pedal use.
    I find they facilitate pushing the bike rather than pulling it – to my mind this is much more efficient and safer (after all it is a pushbike not a pullbike)
    Based on your advice I have adopted stand-up pedalling and it has given me a whole new perspective on the trail.
    Keep up the good work – your articles are keenly read and appreciated.

    Reply • March 18 at 7:24 pm
  57. danny says:

    I cannot understand why riders fall with clipless, if your pedals are correctly setup you can unclip in a split second even on technical trails, I ride in the peaks and wales with no problem. I’ve tried flats and spent most of the rides making constant adjustments and not feeling attached to my bike, each to their own, you picks your pedal and you ride

    Reply • June 13 at 4:08 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Just because you have never had a problem doesn’t mean it isn’t a real issue for other riders. And if you pre-unclip for anything then you have trouble getting out, you just anticipate it and unclip. To say that every rider who can’t get unclipped and falls over has their tension set up wrong is a poor excuse at best.

      Reply • June 16 at 8:42 am
  58. Maciek Malisz says:

    I’ve been riding clipless for over twenty years now….. but at some point, out of curiosity, I decided to try platforms.
    I got the goods, set them aside, and being a little lazy and not motivated enough I forgot ….. and then, out of blue, on one of the rides I shredded my clipless shoe – so off the pair went for the warranty repair (Fizik). Not wanting to idle, I suddenly remembered the platforms and the shoes sitting on my shelf – installed, went on to try the set up – one ride so far, Today.

    I’m sure I will get used to it after a while, but going flats after clipless was probably as weird as going clipless after the years of platforms. Honestly, I was worrying about slipping a lot (which did not materialize) but I was never worrying about not being able to unclip before.
    Here is my two cents to the discussion, as objective as I can do after only one ride on proper platform pedals:
    I agree, that most of the power comes from the rider’s strength and technique, so it felt really OK. Pulling up (clipless) in a seated position is an illusion and complete BS, however once you get up of your seat, the initial pull gives a lot of exploding force…. the time will show if I can substitute for it on flats.
    Platforms kept me “on my toes” most of the time, leaving no room for sloppiness. Climbing steep stuff while seated was at equal if not slightly better due to the fact that I had to force my feet more to the pedals to keep a non slipping contact with them. On the downhill they were definitely more comfortable but again, required more attentiveness to stay put. At least for a newbie.
    One thing about clipless that has not been mentioned here – your foot is always in the correct position as in the case of the flats it needed numerous adjustments at times, but this will most likely improve with time.
    For easy XC it is difficult to beat clipless, since you can’t slip from the pedals and you can toss the bike any way you want during the furious climbs, and the unclipping is never an issue.

    The advantage decreases the second you need to take your foot down and brake the slide a little or when you come to a standstill on an extremely steep technical rocky climb when the combination of forces makes uclipping virtually impossible (these are the only times – not many – I ended making a contacts with terra firma)

    Will come back in a while with my further impressions. So far – I can agree on a draw in the battle of the pedals, with a personal preference of clipless due to the life long experience.


    Reply • July 11 at 1:52 pm
  59. Maciek Malisz says:


    6 days passed, 5 more rides.

    On the second day my feet went numb from all the tension and effort during my routine ride. This could not be right, I was thinking, so
    after getting back, I looked again at my post here and realized, that in fact, contrary to what I wrote, I was not a newbie to the flat pedals, whereas I was a newcomer to the world of clipless 27 years ago. Like every one else, I started on a single speed and the issue of foot to pedal contact never even appeared as a possible problem. So when I went to bed I accessed my “Time Machine” and overrode all of the habits of being hard wired to the pedals.
    Next day (day three) I went out totally relaxed and it all came together – I was able to ride hard like before. I also found some extra stickiness in my Canadian rubber (Sombrios) and I can report with all honesty, that like with any glue, I simply needed a little more time for the strong bond to develop. Now, after almost a week (6 rides) I do not think about the pedals anymore – no slipping of any kind or adhesion drama – toes down while climbing off the seat, and a little down when descending.

    In the meantime my replacement clipless shoes are on the way back, (newer and improved model,) but I already decided to extend the lease on my flats. Next week I will be trying the technical single tracks to see how I will do in the sections I typically walk due to the steepness and rock obstacles.

    Clipless pedals are faster.
    Platforms are fun and liberating, you ride your bike without any suspenders and your technique does not go down the sewer. And you grin like a child again!

    I will return one more time with a final personal verdict.
    Still a tie, but the preferences are shifting.
    (which wasn’t really expected.)


    Reply • July 16 at 7:41 pm
  60. Maciek Malisz says:

    Update 2
    (possibly not the last one ….)

    The clipless shoes came back – beautiful, and I couldn’t be any happier, I swapped the pedals back to my XTR Race clipless and went on my regular training ride (out and back: 7km 6%-10% grade up and then additional 4-5km way more steep, ridiculously at times.) Pure joy of speed, extra torque, smooth cadence, and extra pull….of which I did notice none this time – weird, it felt, like I continued to do exactly what I was doing on platforms and the whole “smoothness” of clipless did not happen. Everything felt – well, meh…… and all of it only after two weeks……

    My new shoes therefor went on the shelf in the garage and my “Origin8 Ultim8 Slimline Platform Pedals” (same weight as Shimanos – 310gr) returned to my HT 29-er Titanium all XTR bike. Last week I tried some more technical stuff and felt decisively more in control, a thing three weeks ago I would call a heresy – so it is rather a shocking development.

    What happened, is, that the flat pedals injected “freshness” into my mountain biking – after additional week I came within 5 seconds of my best times on clipless and concluded, that short of professional racing I would not need to be attached. Well, I do not race…….
    So, cutting the straps liberated me and made me more aware of the bike. My pedaling – contrary to what’s being said on the Internet in regards of platforms – is now much smoother.

    Yes, clipless set up is faster, and whoever thinks otherwise is in denial, but for a non professional rider the difference is minimal. It is actually so small, that it can be ignored. You loose some, you gain some, and it is all a draw. The fabricated science is bullshit, however the pros prefer clipless, especially on the road.

    For now, I’m sticking with my new flats, probably I will keep coming back to clipless to stay relevant, but for everyday fun I choose now to go hand in hand with my bike instead of being handcuffed to it. Long way coming…..

    The Luxury of Dirt (not my slogan)


    Reply • July 26 at 10:43 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for the updates, I’m finding it very interesting.

      Reply • July 29 at 2:02 pm
  61. Bing says:

    Damn some of you sound like you are training for the Olympics. Good on ya though!

    Reply • October 4 at 5:39 pm
  62. Matt says:

    I have been riding flats pedals, both on and off road, since I was a kid … I once tried 5.10s, coming from $28 northwave commuter shoes. Still my worst ride in recent history, even compared to busting a shimano saint pedal off at the spindle and having to hike on a hyper extended knee.

    5.10s are way too chunky, clunky, heavy, sticky and soft. Asics are better IMO. Plus the markup on 5.10s is damn ridiculous.

    Anyway, I never sit down to pedal and have gotten to the point of filling in Northwave all mountain rubber soled shoes with McNett Freesole to get a decent pair of kicks to mash in. Still my feet are getting old, and I am going to try clipless just because there really are very few options for flat shoes.

    Sorry to ramble, just frustrated that I have to give up flats because there really aren’t decent shoes available.

    Maybe clipless will be worse .. I will see. I have Northwave extreme tech shoes coming in the mail, for less than msrp of 5.10s cheapest offering.

    The 5.10 hype is so unfounded IME. The direction of flat shoes is fubar.

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

      Yo, you nailed it James. Clipless pedals suck, mainly because you cannot shift your foot inside your shoe, and no matter how stiff the soles the contact point is still small. Try Northwave all mountain shoes filled in with FreeSole, they blow 5.10s outta the water =)

      Reply • March 10 at 5:49 pm
      • bikejames bikejames says:

        Thanks for the tip, I’ll try them.

        Reply • March 11 at 4:02 pm
  63. SMIS says:

    Hi James, thanks for this article. I would qualify myself as an “oldschool” mountain biker. I’ve been doing mtb from the beginning of the sport, on flats and off the seat. I also stick to hardtail for the feeling. Every time I go out, someone is challenging my choices, even after I wait for them to reach me on top of the hill…
    Also funny to see newbie with clipless falling because of them…
    I will look at your training stuff and see where I can bring the fun further.

    Reply • September 21 at 2:41 pm
  64. SMIS says:

    For shoes, I use my crossfit nano5. The sole is solid and flat, the support is amazing for the ankle, lots of room for the toes and the grip is not bad at all. I also use my Salomon speedcross when I know it will get dirty, they do pretty good and can save some slippery situation…

    Reply • September 21 at 2:52 pm
  65. Brandon C says:

    Flats have their place on all mountain and downhill trails, where imminent bailout is desired. But to argue they are better in XC riding is purely preference and likely due to lack of user confidence in a clipless system. Every rider I’ve ever brought into XC racing has drastically improved once they’ve switched to clipless and gained confidence. You need the repeatability of proper foot position which the clipless system offers.

    Reply • January 17 at 10:19 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      You can and should be 95+% as fast on flats as you are on clipless so seeing a huge improvement when you move to clipless is a sign of poor skills and pedal stroke, which clipless pedals simply help cover up. This isn’t the same thing as improving.

      The need for a repeatable foot position is a myth and speeds up over-use injuries. The foot needs some “noise” and uses the small changes in foot position to help it find and refine the best position for it.

      And most riders have not used good flats and shoes, plus most flats on the market are too small and lead to an unstable foot, which means that clipless aren’t better as much as they were better than the crappy flat pedals we had. Once you stabilizer and balance the foot you get the performance of clipless on a flat pedal, which is what I did with the Catalyst Pedals.

      Clipless pedals are bad for your body and bad for our sport. They are sold to riders using lies and half-truths, like the need for a “perfect, repeatable foot position”. The truth is that using flats will make you a better rider and cause less wear and tear on the body in the long run.

      Reply • January 17 at 10:34 am
  66. Jlrslope says:

    I only ride technical downhill and jump sections. I never use clip less
    Pedals. I usually beat guys that use them on flats and slight up hills. I smoke them on downhills and jump sections. Real mountain bike riders use flat pedals. Unless u dig shaving your legs.

    Reply • February 22 at 1:50 am

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