Clipless or Flat Mountain Bike Pedals: Which One Is Better?

clipless or flat mountain bike pedals

For something that you would be riding on for hours on end, you want to make sure that every part of your mountain bike meets your needs and preferences.

Among the most important considerations is the pedal.

It is one of the three contact points where the bike and your body meet.

And, as such, you want to be able to have a certain level of control on it so that you can propel the bike forward without any issues.

To ensure an enjoyable ride up the mountains, choose either clipless or flat mountain bike pedals.

No idea how one differs from the other? We’ve got that covered for you.

Clipless or Flat Mountain Bike Pedals

For many, bike pedals are all the same. All you need to do is to pedal hard and fast for the bike to move forward, right?

While that may be enough for cycling around the neighborhood, mountain biking requires more than just speed.

Among many other things, your riding performance is affected by the type of pedal you use.

Before we get into the debate to find out which is better between flat pedals vs clipless pedals, let’s talk about the basics first.

What Are Clipless Pedals?

Clipless pedals work by putting a small plastic or metal cleat on the sole of your shoes. It will then connect to the spring-loaded clips on the pedal.

When you come to think of it, this might be a bit confusing for some since the pedal still has a “clip.”

It is called “clipless” because of the absence of the cage-like toe clips.

Most traditional bikes have this kind of pedal, which is quite problematic because it makes it impossible to jump out of the bike in case of accidents.

So, what do you get from using clipless pedals?

Benefits of Clipless Pedals

To gain a more in-depth understanding of what clipless bike pedals can do for you, here are its most incredible advantages:

  • Better Control of the Bike

Clipless pedals allow you to feel more attached to your bike, giving you precise control when pedaling.

Since the cleats are connected to the sole of your shoes, you won’t experience the feeling of losing the pedal, especially when the roads are rough and bumpy.

You can also focus more on the handlebars instead of worrying about your foot on the pedal.

  • Easier Pedaling on Rough Terrain

Clipless pedals are more comfortable and much easier to use when riding through bumps, rocks, and roots.

Cycling on bumpy roads increases the risks of your foot slipping from the pedal, resulting in an injury or accident.

By using clipless pedals, you can prevent this from happening altogether.

Basically, you don’t have to drop your heels when cycling on rough or steep terrains, as the clips will help you maintain traction.

  • Better Rear Wheel Control

If you are a beginner wanting to lift or slide the rear wheel (as most professionals do), clipless pedals can help you achieve this easily.

Since your feet are both clipped in, you can raise the rear wheel or slide it whenever you want without your feet leaving the pedal.

You have to remember that these maneuvers take years of practice to perfect. However, you can practice with a clipless pedal without hurting yourself in the process.

  •  Easier to Train at Higher Cadence

Cadence is the number of pedal revolutions made by a cyclist per minute. If you do bike racing, training your cadence is a must.

Many cyclists train their cadence to improve their speed, and using a clipless pedal will help you improve on this area efficiently.

Since your feet are both clipped on the pedal, you can do perfect pedaling. Training with this type of pedal lets you easily find the ideal posture to pedal faster.

facts between clipless or flat mountain bike pedals

Disadvantages of Clipless Pedals

Like all things, using clipless pedals come with setbacks, too. Here are the most obvious ones:

  • Improper Setup of Cleats May Lead to Injury

It is very common for people who use clipless pedals to get injuries.

To lower your risks of one, always remember that your feet are directly attached to the pedals.

This means that you have to make sure that you set the cleats properly.

  • Takes Time to Switch to a New Pedal

When you’ve been using a clipless pedal for a long time, it will take time to fully switch to a different type of pedal.

Your feet are already used to the cleats, so you might find it hard to transition.

  • You Can’t Jump Out of Your Bike To Save Yourself

Accidents happen when cycling, and there’s no way to prevent them from happening completely.

Even if you are fully geared up and protected, you could still hurt yourself, especially if you cannot jump out of your bike before an accident.

No matter how fast your reflexes are, if you cannot remove the cleat and jump out of the bike, you will still experience the full extent of the accident.

  • Thicker Pedals or Shoes

It would be very uncomfortable to ride a bike if you are too high from the ground.

Thicker pedals and shoes can have a significant effect on your center of gravity.

This means that every mm added to the pedal or shoe will make it harder for you to maintain your balance.

What Are Flat Pedals?

This type of pedal is the most common type you usually find on smaller bikes. It is most often seen on kids’ bikes, too.

Flat pedals offer a wider surface to provide more support on your shoes. They are more versatile and allow you to move your feet freely while pedaling.

Benefits of Flat Bike Pedals

Do you think this might be the right kind of bike pedal for you?

To help you decide, here are reasons why it’s better than clipless pedals:

  • No Cleats

This is probably the best advantage you can get from using flat pedals vs clipless.

Since there is no cleat, you don’t need to worry about setting them up, and you can move your feet freely on the pedal.

If you feel uncomfortable with the position of your feet, you can quickly adjust them. And if your feet feel tired, you can lift them from the pedal, as well.

  • Use Any Shoe

With flat pedals, you get the freedom to use any kind of shoe while cycling. You can even wear slippers if you want.

However, make sure you use a shoe with sufficient traction to hold onto the flat pedals so that your feet won’t slip as you ride.

  • Thin

Modern flat pedals are very thin, which means your center of gravity is lower. As a result, it will be easier to move around and balance the bike.

  • Easy to Dismount

Since you are not connected directly to the bike, you can dismount anytime you want.

If you want to jump out of the bike in case of an emergency, you don’t need to worry about removing your foot from the cleat. You can just lift it and jump out.

  • Learning Core Skills

For bike enthusiasts and people who want to become professional riders, spending time using a flat pedal to learn core skills is a must.

Before switching to a clipless pedal, you should know how to do a front-wheel lift, side-hop, rear-wheel slide, J-hop, and more with a flat pedal.

Successfully learning all these core skills means you will have already mastered how to properly position your body on your bike.

With these skills up your sleeve, using a clipless pedal will surely improve how well you ride.

Disadvantages of Flat Pedals

Similar to clipless pedals, there are also drawbacks to using flat pedals.

  • Pedal Slip

Every cyclist who had used a flat pedal before probably experienced a pedal slip one or two times.

This is a very common occurrence, especially when speeding up on the highway. It can also happen when pedaling on rough and bumpy roads.

Pedal slips can lead to injury. The pedal might scrape your leg, resulting in a long, painful wound.

If you get really unlucky and got into a serious accident, it might even break your leg.

  • Less Control on the Rear Wheel

If you’re new to mountain biking and don’t know how to control the rear wheel properly, you will have lower accuracy.

Some situations would require you to control the rear wheel, as it could either slam on a rock or shoot into a small hole in the ground.

During these situations, clipless pedals are better since you can freely move the rear wheel anywhere you want.

  • Hard to Maintain High Cadence

If you are a bike racer, it is not a good idea to use a flat pedal during a race.

As mentioned, pedal slips happen, and they almost always do whenever you are speeding up.

The chances of slipping on the road or meeting an accident are higher with a flat pedal.

  • Harder to Master Core Skills

It is indeed beneficial for riders to learn the core skills with a flat pedal.

However, it is also a fact that it would take time to master these techniques while using this type of pedal.

difference between clipless or flat mountain bike pedals

Are Clipless Pedals Better Than Flat Pedals?

Let’s put an end to the mountain bike flat pedals vs clipless debate by helping you understand when and where to use a specific pedal.

Both of these pedals are amazing, but you need to know the best time to use them.

If you look closely at clipless pedals, you would easily claim that it is a much better choice than flat pedals because of its remarkable features.

There are a few disadvantages, especially on safety, but it is still manageable.

Flat pedals are the best choice for people who want to improve their biking skills. You will be a more versatile cyclist if you can properly use a flat pedal.

Also, you can use almost any type of pedal if you can master the core skills while using a flat pedal.

For beginners, opt for a clipless pedal since it is easier to use.

Are Clipless Pedals Better for Mountain Biking?

Yes, clipless pedals are the best choice for mountain biking.

When riding down mountain trails, the road is always rough and the terrain is uneven, so it is better to use a clipless pedal for safety purposes.

It is also more convenient to use because you won’t experience any slips while pedaling.

Your feet are firmly pressing on the pedal, so you can easily maneuver the bike.

Moreover, you gain better control of the bike because it would feel like your pedal and your feet are connected.

What Type of Pedals Are Best for Mountain Biking?

Clipless pedals are the best for mountain biking, but the final decision would still depend on the user.

If you plan to go mountain biking, it is better to consider your skill level when choosing the type of pedal to use.

Professional riders can rely on flat pedals to work for them and make their rides more efficient.

On the other hand, beginners are advised to start with clipless pedals and train themselves with a flat pedal.

Should I Ride Clipless or Flats?

You are free to choose whatever floats your boat because choosing a pedal should depend on your own preference.

If you want to go mountain biking even without proper training, you can start with clipless pedals.

This type of pedal will help you go through even the most challenging terrain without any hassle.

On the other hand, if you plan to train yourself and focus on versatility, flat pedals would be your best choice.

You have to remember that if you master a flat pedal, it would be easier to transition to other pedal types in the future.

You can also apply the core skills you’ve learned from it with other pedals.

Mountain Bike Flat Pedals vs Clipless

Choosing clipless or flat mountain bike pedals should be done based on your preference.

These two pedals come with their own sets of benefits and disadvantages.

Pick one depending on the type of cycling you want to do and your overall skill level.

In the end, the most important thing to keep in mind is to choose a high-quality pedal.

Regardless if you choose clipless or flat, make sure you invest in a pedal that can see you through several rides.

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