For two relatively small pieces of material that go underneath our feet, it’s surprising just how important pedals are when it comes to efficiency, power, speed, comfort and more.
If you’re not a professional or experienced rider, you probably aren’t aware that there are lots of different types of bike pedals that are designed to meet different needs depending on the type of bike as well as the rider.
One of the biggest debates in the pedal world is clipless pedals versus flats (or ‘normal’ pedals).
Probably the most popular type of pedals are flats. This is because recreational and children’s bikes come with flat pedals as standard.
So, people tend to grow up riding bikes with flat pedals and rarely realize there is any other option.
So, what are clipless pedals? Well, despite their name, ‘clipless’ pedals actually clip onto a rider’s cycling shoes.
These can be useful because they prevent your feet from slipping off the pedal at higher speeds or during wet conditions. This provides the rider with better control and allows them to pedal harder and faster.
However, flat pedals can be preferable in other situations, such as mountain biking because riders will like to have the option to quickly slip their foot off the pedal to regain their balance after landing a jump etc.
There are pros and cons for both pedal options. Whether one or the other is best suited for you will depend on where and why you ride your bike.
Should I ride clipless or flats?
As a general rule, road bikers will almost always utilize clipless pedals whereas mountain bikers go between flat and clipless pedals depending on preference.
Commuters, recreational riders and children will typically use flats because these ‘generic’ bikes will come with flat pedals as standard.
Flat pedals are a very versatile option. You can position your foot anywhere on the pedal, whereas clipless pedals require you to keep your foot clipped in the same place for the entirety of your journey.
Clipless pedals need to be set up correctly otherwise you will likely experience some discomfort, particularly in your knees.
This is often due to incorrectly set up cleats. This can be fiddly and hard to get right which is a turn-off for lots of riders.
Clipless pedals also aren’t a great option for new riders as they can be tricky to get going and very difficult to remove your feet in time to put them on the ground once you’ve stopped which often results in falling over in the road which can be both painful and dangerous.
That being said, when it comes to speed and power, clipless pedals come out on top for outdoor riding. This is because, the faster you go, the more likely you are to lose control and your feet slip off the pedals.
So, if your shoes are clipped into the pedals, they won’t be able to fly off once you get up to higher speeds, making them much more efficient for high speed riding that requires more power.
Despite the added power and efficiency, many mountain bikers like flat pedals because they make it easier to quickly drop their foot down on a turn or to readjust their balance on jumps.
Although, these pedals make it very easy for your feet to slip off when riding over bumps and throw off your balance, not to mention hit you in the shins which will be very painful and almost certainly ruin your ride.
Can you use clipless pedals without cleats?
You can attempt to ride your clipless pedals without cleats, but it will likely be very uncomfortable, and your feet will be prone to slip off the pedals a lot, particularly it wet conditions.
Single-sided clipless pedals have a super minimalist design to save on weight which makes them very difficult to ride without cleats because there is hardly any surface area to place your foot.
So, you will need compatible cycling shoes with cleats at all times to use single-sided clipless pedals.
If your bike utilizes double-sided clipless pedals that are flat on one side, you can go between both pedals styles when it suits you much easier so, consider purchasing double-sided clipless pedals if versatility is important to you.
Do mountain bikers use clip in pedals?
Mountain bikers often like to use double-sided clipless pedals. These are designed for mountain biking and, as the name suggests, feature double-sided platforms.
This is to enable the rider to switch between the larger pedal for riding without cleats, and the smaller side that require being clipped into to ride them properly.
On the other hand, a lot of mountain bikers will prefer to ride mountain bike flat pedals. These don’t require cleats which makes their bike instantly more versatile.
These peals are larger than clipless pedals and utilize small metal pins that grip onto the bottom of their mountain bike shoes, to keep their foot in position while still having the option to dab their feet down on the ground whenever they need to regain balance or maneuver a tight corner.
Other options include normal pedals/ flats that have a general design and feature less intense grips and can be used without special riding shoes. These will mainly be used by recreational mountain bikers or for the daily commute etc.
It is not often that mountain bikers will use single-sided clipless pedals.
This is because these do not offer any flexibility and are pretty risky to use on terrain that may result in slipping and sliding that would benefit from quickly taking their foot off the pedal to regain their balance etc.
Why do pros use clipless pedals?
Professional riders often swear-by clipless pedals, especially road bikers. They like to use them because they provide a firm grip between the pedals and their feet.
This allows them to feel more stable and able to push harder and faster without worrying about their feet flying off the pedals.
Even some pro mountain bikers like to use clipless pedals because it can be hard to pedal through rougher terrain with enough power because it can be easy for their feet to slip off when riding over bumps.
This can cause you to lose your balance or even whack you in the shin which can be very painful.
Some other reasons why pros use clipless pedals include:
- Consistent foot positioning - their feet stay in constant contact with the pedal
- More efficient - no risk of slipping means they can pedal more powerfully and faster
- Better control - when maneuvering and tackling tight corners
- Cycling shoes - the required compatible cycling shoes are much firmer than regular trainers which further enhances grip between the bike and their feet
Clipless pedals can be a super efficient addition to certain riding styles.
While they are most often used on road bikes due to their ability to pedal harder and faster, they are often loved by mountain bikers both recreational and professional.
That being said, they’re not ideal for everyone and the benefit of standard flat pedals cannot be denied. Whether using clipless pedals is better than normal pedals depends on how you ride.