Flat Pedals vs. Clipless Bicycle Pedals « Pros and Cons

Everyone begins their cycling career by learning how to ride a bike with flat pedals. Some riders continue to use flats, and they are the preferred pedal of many off-road riders. However, many cyclists, particularly road riders, have shifted to clipless pedals.

Despite the name, you actually ‘clip’ your shoes into clipless pedals, which lock them onto your feet. Flat pedals do not require any such system. Another notable difference is that flat pedals allow you to place your foot wherever you choose on the pedal platform, but clipless pedals limit how much you can move your feet.

Differences in ease of movement, technique execution, and knee strain are some of the points between flat and clipless pedals.

Let’s dig deeper into that. 

Which Pedal Type Is Perfect?

While there is no ideal pedal type out there, clipless pedals do take the lead somewhat. Not only are they more fresh and cool to look at, but they also offer excellent control and stability.

The only major issue — putting them on and taking them off — can be overcome with practice. 

Common Differences Between Flat Pedals and Clipless Pedals

Clipless PedalsFlat Pedals
Better power and efficiency.Lower efficiency. 
Reduced fatigue.Less expensive.
More stable.A lot less complicated to use and maintain.
Less convenient when moving about.Best for beginners.

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How Do Clipless Pedals Work?

You can fasten the bottoms of your shoes to your pedals using clipless pedals. Keep your foot in the best posture possible for pedaling. All that is required is to step on the pedal to attach your foot. Once you’re set, the machine emits a clicking sound.

Note: You must have pedals, footwear, and cleats all made for the same clipless system. 

Why Are They Called Clipless Pedals?

What is meant by the term clipless is the lack of straps or clips therein. To be honest, though, the term “clipless” is a little misleading. After all, flat pedals lack any kind of clip while clipless pedals attach to your shoes. Because they lack toe straps and bindings, they are known as clipless. 

Before the rise of clipless pedals, you had to use a strap over your shoes to secure your feet to the pedals. What is meant by the term ‘clipless’ is these straps or clips.

How Do Flat Pedals Work?

Simple platforms without any bindings are flat pedals. To keep your feet from sliding about, they typically include some sort of non-slip gripping pattern or dull metal pins on the top. 

Plastic or metal are options that are available for flat pedals. Boots, shoes, and sandals are all acceptable forms of footwear that are compatible. 

Pros of Clipless Pedals

More Efficient

Clipless pedals tend to improve pedaling efficiency in some cases (although, the majority of studies indicate that clipless pedals alone do not increase efficiency).

Overall, for some cyclists, clipless pedals might increase efficiency. They accomplish this by promoting an improved pedaling technique. Your feet will always remain in the correct position on the pedal thanks to the clipless system. 

As a result, you can ride forcefully and smoothly without worrying about your foot getting lost on the pedal. 

Clipless pedals enable you to exert force throughout a greater portion of the pedal stroke. Pulling up on the pedals is one option. Being clipped in may be beneficial if your pedal stroke is naturally clumsy or imperfect. 

Enhanced Control

Clipless pedals provide you with more control because you can steer with your feet and legs when you’re attached to the bike. 

You can maneuver technical trails with greater accuracy, thanks to this. You can also use your weight to steer the bike without falling off.

Going clipless enables you to apply greater force to the pedals since your feet are always in the optimum place and because lifting allows you to pedal for a longer portion of the pedal stroke. 

Technologically Advanced

Modern-day pros typically ride clipless because they are more technologically advanced than traditional shoes and pedals. 

Naturally, these professionals insist on the best, most cutting-edge equipment that delivers the best performance. 

As a result, considerable effort and resources are spent on research and development to enhance clipless shoes and pedals. The same technology is also available to regular bikers like me and you.

Stress-Free Rides

While riding clipless, your feet can’t leave the pedals. Even on wet, slick, or uneven terrain, the cleats keep your feet firmly planted.

This increases self-assurance throughout difficult or technical trail parts. It’s one less thing to worry about if your feet take off from the pedal.

When riding on hard terrain, clipless pedals are preferable because they make it simpler to ride over obstacles like rocks, potholes, and bumps. When the trail becomes difficult, they won’t slide or bounce off.

» You can also read my post: Pros and Cons » Chain vs Belt Drive Bicycles

Increased Foot Comfort

Compared to traditional athletic shoes, clipless shoes are typically stiffer. Instead of placing all of your weight on the ball of your foot, these stiff shoes evenly disperse it around your entire foot. 

Furthermore, rigid shoes stop foot flex. Riding without a shoe helps to relieve foot pain and weariness after a long day of riding.

Enhances Riding Concentration 

With clipless pedals, you can ride more quickly. Your feet may periodically want to lift off the pedals or move around when you’re riding swiftly.

You’ll slow down and lose your rhythm if this happens. Here, your feet stay precisely where you want them to with the help of clipless pedals. Instead of keeping your feet in place, you might concentrate more on your cadence.

Cons of Clipless Pedals

Chance of Injury

Injury from clipless pedals is possible if your bike and cleats are not properly adjusted. Your hips and knees could be gravely harmed by this.

Knee pain is unquestionably the sign of inadequately adjusted clipless pedals.

Contrarily, there is no need to concern yourself over this too much as you’ll notice such changes quite fast since you’ll start hurting either during the ride or right after. 

More Expensive

Clipless riding is more expensive because special pedals, cleats, and shoes are required. Comparably, flat pedals cost around 2-3 times cheaper than clipless pedals. 

The price range for a decent flat pedal pair is $35–$70. The price range for clipless shoes is $60–$120.

Riding on flat pedals removes the requirement for this expense because you may wear any shoes you already own.

This extra cost is most likely connected to development, research, and production. Clipless devices are more complicated than flat pedals.

Higher Learning Curve

Riding clipless requires some getting used to. At first, it seems incredibly strange and even a little scary to attach yourself to the bike. 

Tip: What you can do is to allow your body to acquire some muscle memory and acclimatize to the new riding style. Sooner than you think, you should be feeling very secure while riding a clipless bike. 

Also, to ride safely and comfortably, the cleats must be set up and adjusted to the exact specifications required. 

Hence, if you don’t know what you’re doing, this may need a lot of trial and error. Setting up cleats has a modest learning curve. You might want to seek assistance from a bike store while just getting started.

Lack of Parts Availability

In developing nations, it is tougher to find clipless equipment. If a part breaks or goes missing when you’re touring in a far-flung area of the world, it may be difficult to acquire a replacement.

For new equipment, you would have to await shipping or visit the closest capital city to make your purchase. 

Pro-Tip: Use clipless pedals that are flat on one side, and bring a few extra cleats and bolts when touring.

» I have also written this post, about: How Much is a New Bike Tire — (Cost of Replacing Tires)

Additional Footwear Required

You must purchase and wear specialized footwear to use the clipless method. This implies that wearing sandals or running shoes will prevent you from simply mounting your bike.

Walking in clipless shoes is uncomfortable. Clipless shoes aren’t the best if you frequently have to walk your bike or if you intend to walk around in your cycling shoes when off the bike. 

The fact that cleats can damage floors is another issue. You don’t want to walk around in your cycling shoes on someone’s hardwood floors. Removing the cleats is one option, but it takes time.

The Burden of Extra Components

Because riding clipless makes your setup more complex, more components could break. Maintaining and storing spare components is now another concern you must deal with.

For instance, a bolt could vanish, or a cleat could shatter. This might be really annoying if you’re out in the middle of nowhere.

Pros of Flat Pedals

Less Danger of Injury

Since you have the ability to do so in an emergency circumstance, you are less likely to trip or lose your balance with flat pedals.

No thought is required to unclip. This significantly lowers the risk of falling.

A mishap won’t be as bad with flat pedals.

The danger of injury is lower with flat pedals because, unlike with clipless pedals, you can’t accidentally injure your knees or joints by misaligning your foot on the pedal. 

When you place your foot in an awkward posture, you automatically modify it to avoid pain and discomfort.

Less Expensive

Riding on flat pedals saves money because you won’t have to purchase specialized pedals, cleats, or shoes. 

You can purchase an inexpensive pair of flat pedals from any bike shop for a few dollars. You may travel while wearing your present shoes.

No Extra Adjustment Required

You don’t need to adjust or set up cleats while using flat pedals since your body will naturally put your foot in a cozy and healthy posture.

You won’t have to get off your bike and tinker with your cleats anymore.

Universal Repair and Availability

Anywhere in the world, including the most distant areas, you may purchase a pair of flat pedals. Every bike shop has them in stock.

This makes obtaining a replacement simple and speeds up your return to driving.

No Additional Footwear Required

Any pair of shoes, boots, or sandals that you own are acceptable; special footwear is not necessary.

If all you want to do is ride your bike to the store, this is practical. If you ride in the cold, boots help keep your feet toasty. 

Excellent for Beginners and New Learners

Flat pedals are preferable for learning good technique; if you’re just starting, use them. 

There are a few bike control techniques that are better learned on flat pedals since they inspire more self-assurance and reduce the risk of injury. 

» Read my blog post: Why Bike Seats are Uncomfortable?

Cons of Flat Pedals

Low Level of Control

Less control is provided by flat pedals, making it more challenging to raise your wheel or jump over an obstacle. 

For instance, you might need to move your back tire 3 inches to the right to avoid a rut in the track that you can see coming up. By lifting or sliding your wheel with clipless pedals, you can move it pretty effortlessly. 

With flat pedals, obstructions just cannot be avoided as quickly and precisely.

Less Efficient

With flat pedals, you can’t apply as much power because your feet aren’t always in the right place to generate optimum power. 

This becomes much more apparent when attempting to accelerate quickly or climbing a steep hill. 

With flat pedals, you can’t move as quickly because your average speed will be a little bit slower due to the diminished power. A clipless system can cause you to go at an average speed that is 1 mile per hour slower while you are on tour.

Note: Even with flat pedals, you may match the performance of a clipless bike with practice and strong technique. Some bikers even claim that flat pedals increase power.

Lower Cadence

Flat pedals make it more difficult to sustain a high cadence, which is why relatively few road cyclists today use them. 

The average RPM for bikers is around 60. Professional cyclists operate at 80–100 RPM

Even if you slow down or make a mistake when using flat pedals at a high cadence, your flat pedals could still move more quickly than your legs.

This slows you down and disrupts your entire pedaling rhythm. When you’re weary, you often start putting unrhythmic pressure on the pedals. 

Difficult To Apply Techniques

Flat pedals make it more difficult to achieve some skills and techniques. For example, it takes a lot of time and practice to learn core skills like hops, drifts, skids, and wheel lifts. 

With flat pedals, the majority of these movements are more difficult.

Slippage

When riding in difficult or slick conditions, your feet may come off from flat pedals. Your feet might just rebound. As a result, you miss a stroke, which makes you slow down.

Additionally, when your foot slips off the pedal, it frequently hits your leg, cutting and bruising you. This may result in significant discomfort or maybe injury.

Less Stylish

Flat pedals are no longer in style. If you prefer to stay on top of the latest fashions, flat pedals are out of date. Some serious cyclists do take note of this sort of thing, 

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Conclusion

Unless you are a competitive cyclist, the choice between clipless and flats comes down to personal preference. 

By going clipless, you gain speed and efficiency; you forego functionality and liberty. I’ve discovered that most people that switch to clipless tend to continue with it.

I would say go for both when possible. You’ll slowly discover your ideal pedal type through repeated usage.

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