Clipless Vs Flats: The timeless debate

Yeah, I thought I’d bring it up. We’ve been discussing it today in the office; the end result: no-one is changing their opinion. I’ll not give you mine now, we can save that for the end.

So, lets consider a few things:

  1. What do the pro’s use?
  2. What actually are the benefits of clipless pedals?
  3. What does science say?

Before we get into it at all though, let me answer your first question: “but Glen, I thought it was clips? What on Earth is clipless?”. Well clips, are the nasty plastic things that road bikes used to use back in the 70’s, those plastic or material cages that you slid your toes into that clipped to the pedal to hold your foot on.

These things:


Now when we say Clipless we mean these:


On an MTB a clipless pedal has an SPD style clip on one side, and a flat style pedal on the other, meaning you have to wear the funny thing on your shoes, but you can unclip and ride flat for more techy sections, or when you don’t feel comfortable being attached to your bike.

And finally, for the sake of accuracy, flats are:


So now we know what we’re talking about…. What do the pro’s use?

Well that depends. If we look at the starting line up of any World Cup Downhill race, it’ll be roughly a 50/50 split. Maybe a few more riders favouring the clipless in the dry, and a few more flats in the wet, but over all it’s about 50/50. You can even see this in a single team, like the Santa Cruz Syndicate Greg Minnaar will favour clipless at most races, where as Josh “Rat Boy” Bryceland favours flats 90% of the time. Now if we look at the field of an Enduro race, we see more riders favouring clipless.

Why is this? Flats do allow you to be free from the bike, and put your foot down when you need to. Clipless on the other hand tie you in to your bike, make you more connected, let you pull the bike up and into you more. And rumour has it…. clipless makes you quicker.

That brings me into point 3, the science. There have been plenty of studies done, which you can feel free to browse at your leisure, but they all come out with the same result. Clipless does make you faster. It’s all because you are attached to the bike, so you can use your upward pedal stroke to give extra power. That means that you’re putting 100% of your power input into the bike 100% of the time you’re pedalling. So when you think about it, yeah it should make you faster. Along with the input thing, being more connected to your bike means you can throw it around more, push into the berms more, you have more control in general.

Clipless does sound like a great idea, and clearly is a benefit to those whose skills and power are already developed. In my opinion though, flats are better for beginners. Me, as a beginner, I don’t feel like my skills are developed enough, and I think that if I was to go clipless, it would make me lazy when it comes to things like bunny hops. Plus I don’t like the concept of being attached to the bike. As you’ve seen already I crash easily, and being attached to the bike won’t end well for me.

Maybe in time I’ll give clipless a go on my enduro/trail bike. Let me know what you think and what you ride in the comments!




2 thoughts on “Clipless Vs Flats: The timeless debate

  1. Boy are you brave taking on this question 😜
    I currently prefer riding flats over clipless. I had a friend convince me to ride clipless the first summer i started mountain biking and it immediately resulted in an increased number of crashes and decreased fun. Then winter came and i put the flats back on and instantly felt more secure on my bike again (and the fun factor went back up). Haven’t switched my pedals since

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This type of question does create good debate! I have found that people who prefer clipless are either ex-roadies or people who do epic rides regularly. I’m in the same boat though, I prefer flats.


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