It’s a question a lot of bikers ask: Should I “upgrade” to clipless pedals? When you’ve been biking for a year or so and you’re looking for the next so-called performance boost, you can’t help but think of clipless pedals.
The pros use them. Your “serious” biker friends swear by them. Heck, you might be the only guy in your squad whose bike still doesn’t have them. But should you give in to the peer pressure and temptation? Or should you keep your hard earned money for more important purchases like a case of Cerveza Sagada or round trip tickets to Batanes?
My personal take on this is there are pros and cons to going clipless, and it really depends on the kind of riding you want to do.
But you say: aren’t clipless pedals more efficient? Don’t you get more power from clipless by being able to pull up on the pedals instead of just pushing down on them?
Son, I’m sorry to tell you but those goddamn experts at GCN with computers and fancy equipment have already busted that as a load of bullshit. The much vaunted ‘clipless efficiency’ is marginal, at best, because leg muscles just don’t work that way. And in the GCN test, flats actually emerged slightly more efficient.
Perhaps it’s because clipless pedals are more efficient in another sense–they save you the trouble of thinking about proper foot positioning. Once you’re clipped in, that’s it. This is great when you’re doing long climbs like Shotgun where you just want to keep spinning your cranks.
Clipless pedals also keep your feet attached to the pedals, which is also great when you’re in a Tour De France-style sprint where you’re grinding gears like a maniac and your foot may suddenly slip off. Having your feet firmly attached to your pedals is also great when you’re going downhill fast on a rock garden where your feet may get jackhammered off the pedals.
So clipless pedals are great for those things, but that doesn’t mean that flat pedals suck. You ever noticed how all those Red Bull athletes still use flats to accomplish all that freeride-ninjutsu? Ever noticed how Danny MacAskill uses flats?
The great thing about flat pedals is, ironically, they allow your feet to move more freely. If you need to suddenly put your foot down on the ground, you just put your foot down, no need to unclip. Switchbacks and hairpin curves? Tripod turn? No problem.
This could also be a lifesaver in situations where the terrain gets dangerous like when you’re biking near the edge of a cliff. But it’s also great for executing tricks on your bike.
While I personally wouldn’t want to be using flat pedals in a sprint, flats can be just as good as clipless in rocky downhills.
Good flat pedals with a wide platform, plenty of traction pins coupled with shoes with sticky soles like the Five-Tens are exceptionally good for downhills. But you also need to practice proper technique like dropping your heels and positioning your feet. If you know your technique, flat pedals win medals, as they say.
So it really depends on the type of riding you want to do. If you plan to join races and tackle long climbs, clipless pedals are worth considering. If you’re more of a “soul biker” who is in it for the fun of being outdoors and maybe doing a few tricks, you’ll get by on flats.
Last year, after being a flat pedal mountain bike loyalist for several years, I finally gave in to the temptation and bought clipless pedals and shoes for my Frankenbike. I envisioned my hybrid road bike as a long distance road and gravel machine, and from experience I knew that clipless pedals were better at this application than flats.
On the fireroads and singletracks of the Sierra Madre, I would prefer clipless pedals. On the more technical trails of the Cordillera which involve a lot of hiking as well as fast downhills, I would prefer a combo of flat pedals and Five Tens.
Since I’m not completely sold on either, I choose the best of both worlds: my bikes use hybrid clipless/flat systems. On my Frankenbike I use the Shimano PD-A530 pedals which are clipless on one side and flat on the other. On my MTB I use the Exustar E-PM820 which is also hybrid but offers a wider platform.
How about you? Which do you prefer?