Beginners: Pros and cons of flat vs clipless pedals for mountain biking

Fight through opinion and get to the facts with our guide to the pros and cons of flat vs clipless pedals for mountain biking

One thing is sure in the discussion surrounding flat vs clipless pedals for mountain biking; there is a lot of opinion flying about, and most of it very strongly voiced and strongly made.

So in answer to the question; which is better, flats vs clipless pedals, the real answer is ‘whichever feels better for you’.

There are pros and cons on each side of flat vs clipless pedals for mountain biking, and some set-ups have advantages for particular types of riding, events or terrain.

The best way to find out is to try each out, if you can, and see what makes you feel more confident, comfortable and in control. Think about some of the following points;

  • Do you want to be able to put your feet down quickly if you get spooked by features on the trail?
  • Are you concerned your feet will slip or bounce off the pedals at crucial moments?
  • Will it help or hinder your technique?
  • What kind of terrain or riding will you be doing?

This flat vs clipless pedals for mountain biking decision isn’t immutable either. As you progress, you might change your mind as to which set-up suits you, or you might want different systems for different trips, rides or holidays. Lots of riders switch back and forth between clipless and flat systems frequently.

Flat vs Clipless Pedals: Pros and Cons

Which should you go for? These are the main advantages and disadvantages of both systems, together with some examples of when you might want to opt for them.

Flats – Pros

  • You can bail if you need too, getting off and away from the bike if things start to go a bit wrong.
  • They can help improve your technique, as you have to make sure your pedals are placed correctly for certain skills like bunny hops.
  • More feedback from the bike – you can feel the terrain.
  • You can adjust your foot position as you ride, for example putting them in a better position for descending
  • You don’t have to worry about clipping in before riding off

Flats – Cons

  • You can slip off the pedals eg on uphills or bumpy terrain
  • Nasty grazing if you catch your shin on the pins/pedals.

Good for…..

  • Steep downhills
  • Trying features for the first time
Flat pedal with pins, and shoes. Copyright Glemak and N0fX

Clipless – Pros

  • You feel ‘attached’ to the bike, which can mean smoother pedalling.
  • It makes pedalling a little bit more efficient (but not as much as many people say!)
  • You’re more likely to have good pedal position and technique when cornering.
  • It’s easier to ‘hop’ or lift your bike over features on the trail.
  • You don’t have to worry about your feet slipping off the pedals.

Clipless – Cons

  • It can be trickier to un-clip if you need to quickly.
  • Following on from that, the sideways fall that happens when you forget to unclip when stopping.

Good for….

  • Cross country riding
  • Relatively flat or undulating terrain
Clipless pedals and shoes for mountain biking. Copyright Papuass and Alastair McDermott

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