Pedal me this...

Flat Pedals vs Clipless…the update

Well as some of you may know, I made the switch to flat pedals about a month or so ago and I've ridden at least three days a week on them ever since. I'd say I've got a solid base of research to decide which I like better.

There is a lot of information online that you can easily get overwhelmed with and I'm not going to go into that. I WILL say that I support the information provided by James Wilson of MTB strength training. He has an extensive piece on flats vs clipless but I'm not going to throw all of that in the mix here. You can go see that for yourself.

Bottom line up front…I like flats and I'm staying with them. I'm not gonna sit here and bash clipless though. I rode them for over 20 years.

Why am I staying with flats??

  1. First, I was just generally more comfortable overall.  My knees felt less stressed. I didn't realize that my knees were even under duress until paying attention to how they felt when on flats. My legs…hell…everything from my hips down just felt more free to do whatever they wanted to do.    Also, while looking at some of the information at MTB strength, James Wilson pointed out that clipless pedals placed more stress on the Achilles tendons and calves because it's the equivalent of doing squats on the balls of your feet due to the typical cleat position on clipless pedals because you essentially have the ball of your foot aligned with the pedal spindle.

    I had significant Achilles issues last year that sidelined me for several months and took a while to recover from. Even once my recovery was done I noticed that after some rides, my Achilles' tendons would be tender when I went to step forward at times. Now after significant time on flats, that happens with a LOT less frequency. It's nearly nonexistent.

    My lower back also doesn't feel like it's being stressed as much. What really surprised me though was that some hand numbness I was starting to get also disappeared when I went to flats. I can't even begin to try to explain why that is, but I'm certainly not complaining about it
  2. Second, I'm not one of those riders that climbs at a blistering pace. I'm flat out slow, BUT…I CAN climb. Slow and steady, but I can climb. Riding on flats did not worsen that. Dare I say it, looking at my post ride data it actually looks as if I've gotten a tad bit faster. That could be due to ride/training volume though, but again…I'm not complaining.
  3. Third, I'm not going to sugar coat this one…you WILL become a better jumper on flats…because you HAVE TO. Your feet will not just stay locked into your pedals riding flats. You have to do it right…PERIOD.
  4. Lastly, rock gardens and technical terrain on downhills were an issue for me…until I changed my foot position to the ball of my foot forward of the pedal spindle and started dropping my heels a little.

I've said a lot about the pedals but a major factor to also consider is shoes. Yes…they matter. If you're going to flats, spend the money on a pair of 5-10s or an equivalent product.

So there you have it…I've ridden clipless for two decades and was fine with them but I'm a believer in flats now…and I'm not looking back.