Speak to anyone on the trails and they will tell you with certainty that flat pedals are less efficient than clipping in. But is this true, or is it just MTB Bro-Science?
As a committed flat pedal rider and coach, I wanted to find out for sure, so with a sample size of just 1, I conducted an experiment. Take 10 minutes to watch and see the results for yourself.
Clips = My Trail Bike
Clips = cooler
Slippers = coolest
Flip flops = legendary
Bare feet = God
p.s. I used flats for years
I rode SPD’s many many moons ago before swapping to flats. I’ve dabbled in clips from time to time but can’t get in with them. I think you loose a lot of feedback like in corners when you drop the outside foot. In those situations the float feels unnatural to me.
Feel get blown off on my hardtail. So clips.
Not an issue on a full sus though. So run flats
Here . Hard tail - transition PBJ in long with Kona was wahs , BMX - fit Mike Aitken - with some shitty plastic oddysey ( they suck ) and yeah my big bike - Bronson Large 2019 cleats all the way
Besides, it's actually pretty easy to put your foot on a flat pedals in pretty damn close to the same spot every time. It's not accurate to a tenth of a mm, but it's more than perfect enough for most people. And if it's not perfect, or you need to tweak it for _any_ reason, it's just as easy to move your foot slightly if you want to.
Sure "clipless" /might/ give you more watts in certain situations, and you may feel more connected and secure. That being said on a mountain bike I've always preferred to be able to move my feet around on the pedal, be it in the air or on the ground. The feeling of being attached to the bike just always felt unnatural to me.
The rest of my body has 100% of its energy going into the task at hand rather than tryna keep my feet in the right place.
Exactly. I rode flats for DH for years, found that slightly repositioning each time my feet moved on the bike meant that I could very well come into a section with my foot not quite on the pedal, but still gripping enough that it’s hard to reposition. With clips, either I’m out of the pedal or I’m clipped in and have my foot centred, there’s no halfway option so I can concentrate less on foot position and more on the trail.
Im just as fast(slow ;-) ),less cold feet at winter,and most important, I focus more on the basic techniques.
Now I'm waiting for my steel hardtail frame to arrive,to replace my carbon full sus,so that I can be even less effective- and have more fun!
Then on flats I notice it keeps you honest in terms of technique and body position. It’s easier to get flow into because you don’t have a choice. May not be able to bail yourself out of lost momentum by pedaling, so don’t give up any speed. Then that translates over to clips as well and makes you better
I rode clipped in for years and switched four years ago to flats for a winter because I was riding around too many features (yup, scared). After about 4-6 rides of adjustment, it was ended up being better for my riding. Very occasionally I will slip a bit on tech climbs (very occasionally). Maybe two or three slips downhill in four years (maybe). There's just no incentive for me to switch back to clipped in. My knees are much happier too.
Comfort and efficiency have nothing to do with eachother.
2) Riding a mountain bike is very dynamic, and having the option to change positions depending on what your doing is a good thing. You simply can not change your foot placement clipped in. I count that as a disadvantage. It’s like how road bikers have different hand positions. How could that be a bad thing?
3) comfort and efficiency have nothing to do with each other? How do you figure?
As for the perfect squat, there is no "perfect" movement ever, but there are definitely wrong ways to do it, and your example was a squat that will give you all sorts of injury and pain over time. You are comparing things you dont know anything about. Ride whatever pedals you want, just keep your feet planted and squat through your heels, knees out, tight core.
I guess you missed my point on the road bike hand positions, so sorry for my lack of clarity. They drop into the hooks to get more aero, but the hoods are the default, and the flats are more for a comfortable break. What they are doing dictates which position is optimal (and that was my only point). Again riding is dynamic and we climb, descend, stand, sit, corner, jump, and do various other maneuvers. I reject that the same position on the pedal is optimal is all of those very different cases. I also reposition my hands on the grips and my butt on the saddle depending on what I'm doing.>> Being able to reposition on contact points seems like an advantage to me.
I'm not trying to fight that flats are faster, I just wanted to point out they may have advantages. I'll quote myself here: "the advantage to flats that could make it more efficient is the ability to freely position your feet." that was all I was saying.
Finally, you are right that I know nothing about squats. So sorry if that analogy broke down. Get lit, not fit. Come ride and bring both pedals and shoes and we can race, I keep spds around for times like these. thanks for the good discussion.
Cannot compare to Sam Hill is a silly argument. Who knows how many outstanding or even legendary riders (like Sam) would be riding today if everyone wasn't thought same old "clips are better" lie the minute they start riding.
@mtbikemccoy: It takes some time both for the shoe to break in and for you to get used to them, that issue goes away pretty quickly ime.
The Pedaling Technique of Elite Endurance Cyclists: Changes With Increasing Workload at Constant Cadence was published in the International Journal of Sport Biometrics 7:29-53, 1991. Conclusion: no efficiency gains:
"...while torque during the upstroke did reduce the total positive work required during the downstroke, it did not contribute significantly to the external work done because 98.6% and 96.3% of the total work done at the low and high workloads, respectively, was done during the downstroke."
This is echoed in Physiological and biochemical determinants of elite endurance cycling performance published in the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 23:93-107, 1991. There are numerous graphs showing that pedal force is only exerted between the top and bottom of the downstroke, represented by a very sharp parabola spiking at 90 degrees from vertical.
His test is more isolated so it should be more reliable, but at the same time it doesn't include real life effects.
I've been testing this myself last year on a gravel lap I very regularly ride in the Belgian Ardennes. I rode the same 20km lap once per day for several days in a row, while switching between flat and clip less pedals every day, while always trying to beat my own record.
Worth noting I come from flat pedals and wanted to find out if and how much faster I become by switching to clip less.
What I've noticed on the Strava segments:
- There was no difference in speed on flat segments.
- There was no difference in speed on descents (only on one high speed one with some techy parts where I felt less comfortable being clipped in).
- While sprinting up climbs I was averagely about 15% faster on clipless pedals.
Basically this confirmed other tests I've watched, which mentioned that at a normal pace it doesn't make a difference, only in sprints or climbs as you have a higher maximum power output. The downside of the higher maximum output is of course that it will actually cost you more energy when you climb faster or sprint faster.
In the end I sticked to clipless pedals, as my laps were definitely a bit faster with these. My whole point of riding gravel is touring / exploring new places, so if I gain in average speed it means i can cover more distance in one day.
When I grab my XC bike, I'm back on flats though. I come from a freeride background and I care more about having fun and pushing it to the limits on the technical descents than to be fast on the climbs.
My perspective on this is that I'm a flat pedal rider who's been riding flats for many years on my mountain bike. I also cross-train road bike, and had been on flats for years there, as well. However, I switched to clipless on my road bike last year during the summer. Initially, I had the same reaction: I noticed very little difference in speed, efficiency, strava times, etc on clipless. However, after riding clipless more and more, I noticed that I got much better at engaging different muscles during the entire crank revolution, and I eventually started to see pretty drastic changes in certain types of pedaling situations.
So yeah, I'd love to see this test performed again by someone who spends equal time with either type of pedal system.
My clips (which I don't ride anymore) are much thicker than my flats, so I'm not sure how that would relate to less pedal strikes...
And how do you know the clips put you in the perfect position? Plus its damn useful to be able to sometimes _not_ put your foot in the perfect position.
Or maybe people have tried flats coz all the cool freeride kids use flats.......
You're going to be a "better" rider if you're mentally comfortable. It really makes no difference in terms of cool.
Guess what...bike riding began as a means of transport. None of it is cool....but F$%ck is it fun. It is easily my most favorite thing to do.
Just my 2 cents, if you're happy and confident you're gonna have more gun as opposed to being stressed about your pedal choice
flats, especially those with a big platform, allow me to have my feet farther out towards the edges of the pedal, allowing me to get more "toe out, heel in" than i could on almost every clipless pedal on market.
I imagine learning flats later on is really tough. I guess it is only worth the effort if you really want to do it and are motivated to make the switch. Sounds like you are going pretty well clipped in so keep on sending it. Or maybe learn flats in the winter when things are slower and less flat out?
I dont lose grip on flats but you really can tell the difference when clipped in. Biggest thing (and Rachel Atherton said it on last video) is just the extra control you get. Just feels nice. To me when doing steep climbs clipped in , feels like you an extra gear. I know that's anecdotal.
People say get good on flats first but thats bollocks its like saying get good on a fully rigid singlespeed first. Its just different no better or worse. Ride what you are comfy with and get good.
Also, when you look at the tech we have at our disposal on a modern mountain bike, its crazy that to solve the pedal slip issue we have to have specific soft rubber shoes and plates of metal with gigantic spikes protruding whereas on the other hand we have neat, elegant solution to the problem in the form of amazingly manufactured SPD or CB pedals and mechanisms.
I relearnt with clips.
If you only ever ride clips why do you need flat pedal technique? You need clip technique. Learning flats doesnt necessarily translate if you then switch to clips as its such a different feel on the bike.
There is a snobbishness saying you can only learn to ride properly with flats.(i did) but i don't think its true.
And if you're confident on clips jumps , basic trials etc are no prob clipped in. A lot of people are just scared to commit.
Obviously if all you do is ride dirt jumps or trials it doesn't apply
Having good pedal skills is huge because you don't want to rely on the clips. You wouldn't tell a new skier to go out with their bindings set to the highest tension. That comes later after then develop technique. So why would you want to start with the least flexible and limiting pedal set up on a bike?
Just because a solution is elegant doesn't mean it's better. Besides, I don't see clips as elegant, I see them as a convoluted solution for a non-existent problem, and causing more deficits (limited foot placement, limited foot movement, over-reliance) than benefits (perceived but not actual efficiency increase).
@just6979, you're having a bad day dude. Hope tomorrow is better.
@just6979: Seriously man, we need to get you two things: 1) a video series so we can learn from the world's fastest flat pedal rider (Sam Hill would like the tips) and 2) a life so you don't have to spend hours on Pinkbike sending angry messages about clipless pedals.
When I want to try tricks and some trial flat is the answer, but I won't never ever ride my DH bike without clipless.
Plus with the super adjustable last models you can have the best of both worlds.
And by the way, there's no point for another youtube video made in the backyard... I guess there are plenty of scientific studies about power efficiency of flat/clipless pedals for those who are really interested in.
I love the feeling on downhill, but when doing tech climbs something in my mind freaks out that I can’t unclip in time so I ride those bits unclipped like a chode. I feel a bit more efficient clipped in.
He's my hero
Also, I’d like to see the same study of yours but with MTB vs. road, but excellent job anyway!
I'm always clipless: bike park, skatepark, trail, you name it. I did ride flats the other day when I forgot my clipless shoes and it was a tremendous (stability) leg muscle workout. I recommend it for cross-training. There's no exception to the control I feel on clipless. Think about the fact that you hold the bars, you don't rest your hands on top of them. Your videos have a way of hitting home which is good, and I know you said you're new to this visit thing in your last video. I would like to see more key information, (like this test in the trails) and (in the last video reminding people in the flow position to still have a slight bend in their knee) I think you're going to get through to a lot of people brother.
Cheers good job!
Clips are just an option, and probably not even the best or most appropriate for many riders, but are presented as _the_ next step and something you have to learn and earn (through pain?), while flats are presented as something just for crazy kids doing flips and something for new riders to deal with while they earn their clips (even though learning flats has actual skill benefits and doesn't potentially create any bad habits)
Me... I switch back & forth on my Megatower and usually end up riding flats for the winter & clips in the summer. My XC bike is all clips all the time.
As well the idea that immediate peak power will slow you down on the trail is a bit questionable. Industry 9 has made immediate response one of their core design features.
You're shooting arrows and painting the bullseyes around them.
I used to be a member at the Peak Center for human performance in Ottawa, Ontario, and they have a special test bike that measures how efficient your pedal stroke is, and whether one leg is stronger than the other, and pretty much every other stat under the sun.
You cannot pull up with as much power on the up stroke with flats versus clip less pedals because there was a group of us that tested that very scenario.
The other thing this guy does not mention, is the fact that I dont care how good you are, you will never get your left & right feet lined up on flat pedals, as far as where your foot is on a flat pedal, impossible. They will always be all over the place which will be hard on your knees in the long run.
Everyone talks about Sam Hill, who rides on flats. People forget that he started out as a down hill Pro racer, who graduated to EWS racing, and just kept the flat pedals along the way. He is a great rider without any doubts, but he is the only one that uses flat pedals. 100% of the Cross country Pro's use clip less, 95% of the down hill Pro's use clip less as well including Aaron Gwyn and all the top racers.
Hey mate, I am very aware that this is not conclusive or representative of MTB, but it is still interesting. I am planning a part 2 out on the trails......
@MTB-Strength-Factory : This.
Good vid! I was wondering how the flats handle the techy steeps, rocky areas where you need to put power into the bike and float the back end to clear stuff with different weight transfers etc...?
The one thing we don’t have on our local trails is long downhill sections. I very much dislike clips for that stuff cuz I like to flat foot my pedals (axle almost at mid foot). It’s less tiring since it takes the strain off your calves, and fires your quads/hammies.
I rode the Whole Enchilada back in October and opted for flats. I would’ve been miserable in clips.
With all this said, there have been a lot of flat pedal riders (from my anecdotal experience) that have started riding our trails and ultimately switched to clips. Clips tend to prevail here.
In the end, I don’t think one is specifically better than the other, but I think pedal style application depend on terrain and activity. If I rode front range CO. or North Van all the time, I’d most certainly run flats, but here, it’s just different.
What's next anyway. Mx clips? Why don't those guys use them. No climbing obviously but gnarly terrain. They keep their boots on with no stealth rubber or spiked pedals. That's good enough for me. And Sammy obviously. Flattts all the way.
Flats are definitely more fun as they make bailing out easier + they kinda force you into some good habits. But where I always felt the clips had a huge advantage was when doing explosive accelerations, there you clearly feel the extra power generated from pushing and pulling on those pedals. Pretty clear imo why probably every bmx racer in the world rides with clips.
Compare watts, speed, & biometrics like HR, O2 sat, etc. can also be taken.
Doing this on a stationary bike is useless. This is bro science to the max because you never ever ride like this. There are no controls, the sample size is 1, this is literally meaningless from a scientific perspective.
Thanks for the video!
Clips are far better in high speed rough terrain, my feet aren't destroyed from my toes naturally trying to curl around the pedals after a hard DH ride on clips,
I am a bit more comfortable leaning the bike further over in flats (appreciating that I normally ride clips now so I'm not very inclined to take my feet off the pedals until I'm actually crashing),
shins are less likely to get wrecked in clips,
clips are a pain the the arse if you want to just go for a hoon then the pub,
repositioning feet constantly is annoying,
I find a set of DX clips and decent Shimano shoes work fine for me, but I need far more expensive flats / shoes (now, used probably be cheaper for flats/shoes) for similar performance.
I have only ridden 5.10 Freeriders impacts recently and would prefer something with less flex, even if it is a bastard to walk around in - that's not why I buy riding shoes. Maybe you can get stiffer soles I feel like I'd be happier on flats with a plastic insert so they almost can't bend then stealth rubber sole.
Comparing HR at different watts on a short course on a stationary bike is hardly a valid test. SPD's aren't an advantage for some masher for 5 minutes. If there is an advantage, it would be a few percent but those few percent are the difference between first and 10th in a pro field.
Also, if you ever talk to someone who rides with only one arm (one of my colleagues lost his arm in an accident) they will tell you that SPD's turn your pedals into a second "handlebar."
I like the fact that Ben puts a lot of thought into how to get the most out of your biking but this video certainly has a significant bias. He really seems to want the flats to be just as good. Unfortunately, they probably aren't and that's why most pro's don't use them.
I rode spd’s for decades.
Then I became the 50-something guy that is out there on a 20-something-year-old bike in road kit, thinking he knew something that the young punks didn’t.
I was wrong.
I saw I was headed for Curmudgeon status and said F that.
Upgraded my whole scene. Enduro bike, baggies, full face helmet, pads, Fanny Pack (OK I had one on the 90’s like everybody else), and yes, flats.
Just rode a 20-mile 3200’ gain singletrack loop on a bike that I know weighs over 30 pounds, but I don’t know exactly because I swore I would never weigh it, because THATS NOT THE POINT, and it took about 3:38, because for some reason I still care about time.
Felt no ‘loss of efficiency.’
If anything flats are MORE efficient, simply because there’s less faffing about. Get on, get off, no big deal.
Fun to see my thoughts echoed by someone else.
For downhill I would argue that if you do 100 runs on both types and have been ridng both extensively and dont feel scared or hampered by either you most likely will find that
1 Flats have the biggest variance in times but most likely the fastest run.
2 Clips have very consistent fast times but not that "super run".
So Clips are good for racing since there you need to not only lay down a fast run but it has to be "that" run. So Clips with a more consistent average will be better to get "that" run as fast as possible.
It also depends alot on if you ride a hardtail or fs, smaller chatter really gets annoying on a hardtail if you ride flats. When you are knackered and need to pedal through some rocks Clips are way way more easy to just continue pedaling with.
The overall difference between the types for the average Joe is probably negible compared to him actually praticing more on one type and improve his overall ability.
Torque * RPM = Power
Power out / Power in = efficiency
I ride clipless because of usefulness: stability and acceleration. As mentioned during the video, power build-up is faster on clipless. When climbing steep technical stuff, this is what you need.: higher torque at lower RPM. You get more power so more acceleration. And sometimes an heart attack.
Bike James has covered a lot of this Too, and James adds a little more context which matters.
Depending on what you’re trying to do, James feels flat pedals offer a lot of benefit.
First, ride whatever you like. This is not about “right or wrong” or “better or worse”. It’s about Pros’s and Con’s. And I will say that when I talk about flat pedals, I mean GOOD flat pedals with sharp pins and a full-flat soled like a 5:10 or Shimano.
As an instructor, I started on flats last year after 20 years on spd’s so that I could understand my clients better. Now I ride flats most of the time. Here is my blog post for those who are interested (update soon):
I will try to add a few points for consideration to this discussion:
1. Flat shoes are more comfortable. Modern thin, wide, flat pedals offer a lot of area to push on when you pedals and most riders don’t need overly stiff shoes for good performance. Many flat shoes have added width and softer materials making them way more comfortable for all-day riding. For the average recreational rider this is a plus.
2. Flats are safer. When you crash, get bumped around, try to learn how to wheelie and manual. Flat pedals make it easier to put your feet down on ground, especially if you loop out backwards while trying to manual. When you crash and your clips don’t release, you risk injury in your joints and feet. They are simply safer.
3. Flats promote better pressure control and bike preloading. Riders who are clipped in will always “hop” when executing wheel lifts and jumps. I’m not saying this is entirely bad, but most riders need to learn good techniques to compress and preload suspension through the cranks using primarily their legs.
4. Flats change and improve timing skills. Timing is the pinnacle of the MTB skills pyramid. (bit.ly/PMBIA-Skills-Pyramid) Refining your skills on flats will help you to more fully develop skills and maneuvers without resorting to secondary moves like lifting with your legs instead of preloading. Learning to ratchet your pedals to get your power foot ready at 1pm is a good skill for many rides to practice. On clipless pedals, you can often get away with poor timing on a step up by pulling your pedal up using your shoes, but ideally you know more than one way to recover in that situation.
5. Flats allow for great range of motion. Maximizing your balance to be stable on the bike requires lateral, horizontal and vertical motion. Cornering like a pro requires rotational movement. When you are clipped in, you have less range of movement. Not necessarily a problem, but more movement can be a better thing. For example, to create substantial rational pressure it is helpful to actual rotate your feet on the pedals to increase your lateral movement.
6. Clipless pedals ARE more efficient. Contrary to legend, pulling up with your calves does not increase pedal power. Creating strong power comes primarily from your quads, and maximizing this physical motion is the key to a strong pedal stroke. This is exactly the same for flats and clipless pedals. BUT, as was pointed out in the video, maintaining stable foot placement at super high cadence is a skill on flat pedals and takes some level of effort and control. Clipless pedals allow experienced riders to relax some muscles during the pedal stroke, which saves some amount of energy and can allow for active muscle recovery. Don’t misunderstand this benefit; I would argue that most riders DO NOT have a good pedal stroke, and clipless laziness makes it worse, not better.
7. Clipless pedals can save your ass. Sometimes being locked in is a good thing. I find clipless pedals have saved me from crashing after some poorly timed jumps, missed step-ups and tall log hops. These days I usually run the springs at mid range and not too tight. While clipless pedals feel very secure to some riders, being locked on your pedals should not be mistaken for improved stability. Stability comes from the ability to manage the forces exerted on you and your bike from the trail, using movement of your body and the bike to counter the instability.
Both types of pedals exist because each offers something better, sometimes, for some people. The main challenge with this type of analysis is that it doesn’t take into account the very diverse nature of MTB riding and different rider requirements. Some people ride flat, smooth trails, some people DH on crazy rough stuff. The necessary, efficient and optimum techniques are different and there is some variability in required skills and techniques. A 15 second 1500 watt sprint at 120pm is not very common on the trail. Riding at 95% FTP is a good target for XC racers, but most recreational “Enduro” riders probably don’t even hit 75% FTP when they ride.
If you want to understand the WHY about torque, cadence and pedalling, start here:
I’m short flat orientated moving to clips may not make huge differences due to riding style, however clip riders loosing the ability to pull up would (in theory) make a huge differance?
I ride flats 98% of the time. I don't think there is any difference in power I can put down to the wheels. I mean, I'm still the same person putting the power down either way. I just find flats more comfortable because I can reposition my feet for different terrain or to use slightly different muscles on longer rides.
Plus there is nothing scarier to me than unclipping mid air. I could never get my SPDs cranked down tight enough, so those got moved over to my gravel crusher. 5.10s and some grippy pedals are my go-to.
That's the problem. You shouldn't have to crank them down, that's just a crutch to overcome clips inherent flaws for off-road riding. Even riders with great jump technique can still come out of clips in the air because clips are too limiting. Your feet want to twist and wiggle as you put body language into the bike and clips don't allow that, they just unclip instead. See Levy's mention of the same in podcast ep 7 or 8.
There are times when I have installed clipless pedals for one-off XC rides, because I had spent a few years riding clipless a long time ago. It totally sucked, sure you can pull the bike up but that micro bit of loose float lacks the surety of pins. For pedal strokes, the muscles that pull up are small in comparison to quads/glutes, they don't help much and are easily overwhelmed. For pounding out the power over a long day you just have to rely on the big muscles.
Sprinting on a stationary bike with flats? Gotta have the resistance WAY up because with any bit of underpowered spin your foot will lose contact with the pedal. Absolutely, done it many times at the gym. Because the bike/pedal path is invariable you have to adjust your technique where your upper body provides motion and adjustment, which is the opposite to a real bike.
There's really no question about its superiority in the long run.
=using your positioning and legs properly
=pre loading for jumps correctly.