Table of Contents
- Why Flat Pedals Are Better Than Clip-In Pedals
- Why Flat Pedals Work So Well
Trading my clip-in pedals for grippy flat pedals is the most profound component change I’ve made.
For most of my career as a bike shop employee, I was certain that any serious cyclist should benefit from the foot retention and efficiency gains of clip-in pedals.
However, after examining research papers on pedalling dynamics, after testing grippy flat pedals myself, and after learning the nuances of how people interact with their bikes as a professional bike fitter – I found there are significant advantages to flat pedals.
Let me run you through the advantages, and after you’ve finished, make sure to read my resource on how to select the best flat pedals for your needs.
Why Flat Pedals Are Better Than Clip-In Pedals
You Can Move Your Feet Around The Pedals
On longer rides, you can move your feet around on the pedal platforms to alleviate pressure points, recruit different muscles and reduce fatigue. This was not a benefit I was aware of until I fitted large platform pedals on my bike.
You Can Dab
With flat pedals, you can make a small mistake, lose your balance, and quickly dab your foot on the ground to remain upright. This is especially beneficial when cycling at low speeds with as you can be stopped rather abruptly by obstacles and sand.
This has undoubtedly saved me from getting hurt many times, and likely saved me from embarrassment at the traffic lights too (due to forgetting to unclip!).
You Might Achieve An Extra Comfortable Bike Fit
You might achieve an extra comfortable bike fit if your circumstances allow.
People with larger feet and a wider overall ‘stance’ will usually achieve a better alignment of their hips, knees, and feet on flat pedals. Heavier riders often find large platforms to help with distributing the load.
And if you have really wide feet (or bunions) you no longer have to compromise with narrow cycling shoes.
You Are Better Equipped For Sightseeing & Hike-A-Bike
You’ll be much more inclined to spend time sightseeing on a bike trip if you are wearing comfortable walking shoes.
You will also benefit from a better gait, toe flex, and grip. This will be especially noticeable when pushing your bike due to the road being too steep, too muddy, or too dangerous to ride.
You Only Need One Pair of Shoes
When you travel with flat pedals, you can easily ride, hike and dine in the same pair of shoes, saving precious cargo space. After all, the volume of a second pair of shoes (or even flip-flops) is considerable.
My favourite shoes to use are the Five Ten Trailcross LT.
Your Riding Technique Might Improve
Flat pedals encourage you to ride more ‘loose’ on the bike. You might even find yourself moving your feet around on the pedals to gain additional bike control on rough trails.
You can even roll your feet on the pedals to engage your hips and tip your bike into corners. And sinking your heels into the pedals while descending can bring extra control on rougher terrain.
Your Flat Pedals Will Still Be Very Efficient
GCN recently tested the efficiency of quality flat pedal shoes vs clip-ins – watch this video to get the full scope.
The results were really close, especially given the test subject wasn’t accustomed to riding with flat pedals. The biggest difference in power loss/gains between the two different setups is when sprinting out of the saddle.
I suspect the results may have been even closer if he dialled in his flat pedal technique.
Why Flat Pedals Work So Well
The Stiffness Comes From The Pedal Platform
The stiffness in a clip-in pedal system is primarily from your shoe. This is why stiff carbon blades are often inserted into the soles of clip-in shoes.
It’s the opposite when you use flat pedals. The large platform provides most of the stiffness, which means you don’t need to use the stiffest shoes, although they can help.
The Pins Retain Your Feet On Rough Surfaces
Flat pedal pins do a great job of preventing your feet from sliding on the pedals while you carry the forward momentum of your crank rotation.
Studies on pedaling dynamics show that ‘pulling up’ on the pedals contributes very little to your overall efficiency over longer ride durations. Efficiency gains are usually only found under rapid acceleration.
Now, I know that people are often thrown off by flat pedals due to the potential of these sharp pins bruising, or even bleeding their shins. But bear with me, there’s hope for you too…
The Pedal Shape Retains Your Feet On Smooth Surfaces
Pedals without pins can still be effective when they employ a large concave surface. This allows your foot to be ‘cupped’ by the pedal, creating a stable and secure platform on smooth surfaces. It’s also possible to install smaller pins or even remove them entirely from the centre of your pedal.
If the riding surface is not bumpy, a serrated lip on either pedal edge will keep your foot secure enough. You can see this feature on the excellent and affordable Shimano EF-202 pedals (pictured above).
The Flat Pedal Platforms Come In Many Sizes
Flat pedal platforms come in many sizes and are ideally sized in proportion to your feet. The larger the feet, the bigger the pedal platform should be.
An advantage to an adequately large pedal platform is that you can naturally find your optimal foot placement.
Platform dimensions less than 100 x 100 mm are considered small, and greater than 110 x 100 mm are considered large. If your foot is US Men’s 8 (EU40) or smaller, then size small pedals may be all you need.
The company Pedaling Innovations takes platform size to the extreme by providing support to your entire foot arch. They measure out at a monstrous 143 x 95 mm!
The idea is that the big platform helps to avoid hot spots or tired feet since a larger proportion of your foot can be supported. With such big pedals, you can wear even softer-soled shoes too, while achieving a stiff and grippy shoe interface.
In my years of bike fitting, I’ve seen a lot of riders make the transition from clip-in pedals to flat pedals. Many quickly benefited from the ease of entry and unhindered riding experience of flat pedals, allowing them to cycle in their favorite walking shoes.
In some cases, the change from clip-in to flat pedals actually made an appreciable difference in my customer’s riding comfort, efficiency, and control of their bikes. It’s hard to tell if this is a result of the additional riding confidence, or simply because their bodies are better suited to flat pedals.
The only time my customers were angry with me was after they accidentally hit their shins. In this case, we usually agreed to fit much shorter pins to their pedals.
The transition from clip-in pedals to flat pedals is an easy adjustment to make, and it’s easy to try out too. I suspect you might already have suitably comfortable shoes that are ready to use.
Next, make sure to read my resource about how to select the best flat pedals for your needs.