How To Choose Pedals
February 3, 2021
There seems to be a never-ending debate about flat versus clipless pedals in the bike world! We wanted to explore this topic and get more information out there to help you pick out the right pedals for your mountain bike. This post will cover the pros and cons of flat and clipless pedals, what qualities to look for in each style and things to consider when choosing between the two.
Flat, or platform, pedals can be used with the widest assortment of shoes and are very common in all varieties of bikes. We can thank the history of cycling for the confusing name of “clipless pedals.” Originally, “clip pedals” referred to a combination of straps and metal toe clips that your feet slid into to increase pedaling efficiency. As technology advanced, toe clips began to be used for other purposes, and what we now refer to as clipless pedals were invented. These were given that name because they didn’t have the traditional “clips” and instead attach to your feet with the use of a cleat mounted to the bottom of a cycling-specific shoe. There is a spring-operated mechanism that will open to accept the cleat and release with a specific foot movement.
There are a lot of benefits to using a flat pedal. The biggest advantage is that you can put your foot on the ground very easily if necessary. This can provide the rider with more confidence to try new skills and features with an easy out. Flat pedals can also help you hone skills associated with your ankle position, like getting your wheels off the ground or maintaining stability on the pedals during bumpy, fast sections of trail. This makes you rely on your technique as opposed to relying on the springs in a clipless pedal. By learning skills on flat pedals you have more control, stability and confidence if you decide to move to clipless pedals in the future. The primary drawback of flat pedals is that they deliver less power from your legs to the bike. We will talk more about this later.
When we are looking at flat pedals for mountain biking use there are certain attributes we want to consider: the platform material and size, peg material and shape of the pedal. Flat pedals are primarily made out of either a durable resin (which looks like plastic) or some type of metal. In general, the metal pedals will be more durable and handle pedals strikes on rocks better. With the increase in durability comes an increase in price. The size of the platform will also change from pedal to pedal. Determining how large of a platform you prefer will come from testing out different options.
Flat pedals will have pegs that stick out from the platform that dig into your shoes to keep your feet on the pedals. Lower price pedals will have plastic pegs that provide less grip than the preferred metal pegs. In addition to metal pegs, higher-end pedals will have a concave shape that works like a cup to hold onto your shoe better.
Flat pedals can be used with just about any shoe, but there are some that work better than others. Generally, we are looking for a shoe with a flat sole that has grippy rubber on it. There are a lot of manufacturers that make shoes specifically for mountain biking on flat pedals. They use soft rubber that is sticky and will allow the pegs to dig into them for the best connection to your pedals.
When deciding whether to make the change to clipless pedals, ask yourself a few questions: Am I looking to be faster? Do I want to be more competitive? Do I want to be more efficient while riding? Does my comfort level allow me to detach my feet from the pedals if needed? Getting out of clipless pedals is an exercise in muscle memory and focus. The movement of pivoting your heel away from the bike to detach is pretty simple but something that should be second nature. Practicing getting out of your pedals in a grassy field until you feel comfortable is a great idea. Getting stuck in pedals can be frustrating, and it happens to everyone at least once. After getting a feel for getting out of your pedals it becomes almost as easy as getting off a flat pedal.
The main reasons mountain bikers will consider clipless pedals include efficiency, connection to the bike and power. Clipless pedals offer more efficiency by having a shoe with a super-stiff sole. This stiffness allows for your leg to transfer as much energy as possible to the pedals. When riding in a soft-soled shoe you tend to lose energy as the sole of the shoe bends around the pedal. Clipless mountain bike shoes will have a recessed area for the cleat. This makes walking around a little bit more comfortable. By having your feet attached to the pedals, you are less likely to have them come off when you don’t want them to. This can help get you over features that require you to lift your rear wheel or on while riding very bumpy sections of trail. Clipless pedals also allow you to generate more power with each rotation of the pedal. You are able to pull up on the pedal in addition to pushing down. This can noticeably improve your climbing ability and speed if you take advantage of it.
There are a number of different styles of clipless pedals for mountain biking. These differ in the ways the pedals grab onto the cleat, the number of spaces the cleat can attach and if the pedals have a platform around the attachment point. The two main brands we are going to look at are Shimano and Crank Bros.
Shimano clipless pedals for mountain biking have the ability to attach on two sides and have an adjustable spring mechanism. When starting, you can reduce tension on the spring to make it easier to get your foot out. As you feel more comfortable, you can tighten the spring to get a solid connection and prevent pulling your foot out of the pedal accidentally. Shimano pedals are quite durable and work well for a wide range of people and riding styles.
Crank Bros pedals have created a range of pedals that look like eggbeaters. This design will give the rider four places to attach. The more spots to attach, the more easily you can slap your foot on the pedal and go! These pedals are nice for beginners because they are easy to get into and out of as soon as you remove them from the box. These pedals do not have adjustments in the spring tension, but that may not be a huge deal for everyone.
While researching pedals you will come across clipless pedals that have a platform around them. These platforms are helpful for being able to pedal even if you aren’t clipped in. This is primarily beneficial when restarting from a stop. These can often be used for short rides in non-bike shoes, but the rider will likely feel the attachment point under their foot.
A lot of thought can be put into how we set up the pedals on our bikes. I would encourage you to think about your riding intentions when deciding between flat pedals or clipless pedals. If you are just going out for fun with friends or are new to riding, flat pedals can be a great option! If you want to be faster, more competitive or do long rides, clipless pedals can help with those goals! Feel free to swing by the Bike Shop and chat about what options would suit your riding. There is no single way to ride or have your bike set up. Experiment with some options and see what works best for you!