While clipless pedals tend to be the choice of most serious cyclists, especially in road cycling, flat pedals have plenty of advantages too, and shouldn’t be rejected out of hand.

When weighing up clipless pedals vs flats, there’s plenty to consider. Clipless pedals provide better pedaling efficiency and keep your foot secure, but flat pedals are cheaper, more versatile, and easier to use for beginners.

To help you make a decision about which pedal style is better suited to your riding, we’ll be covering:

Credit: BikeTips Staff

    What Are Clipless Pedals?

    Despite the name, clipless pedals use cleats on the bottom of a cycling shoe to securely attach your foot to the pedal.

    The “clipless” name was originally used to differentiate them from old-school pedals with toe clips and straps that were popular until the 1980s.

    There are many types of clipless pedals, such as SPD for mountain biking and SPD-SL for road cycling. Clipless pedals are incredibly popular, and many cyclists upgrade to them for a better bike fit and more efficient power transfer. 

    How To Use Clipless Pedals

    Using clipless pedals is quite simple, although they might initially seem intimidating. I recommend starting by using them when against the wall or on a turbo trainer if you have one. 

    The first step is to get the shoe’s cleat and put it above the pedal. Then, push down onto the pedal until you hear it click in.

    Then, to remove the cleat from the pedal, you need to push your heel away from the bike. 

    It’s good to start by spending 30 minutes just in a controlled environment practicing clipping and unclipping. At traffic lights, it is easy to forget when you’re new to clipless pedals and your foot gets stuck.

    Pros Of Clipless Pedals

    Clipless pedals come with a huge amount of advantages and some disadvantages. There’s a reason why you wouldn’t often catch a professional cyclist without them. 

    • Increase Pedaling Efficiency
    • Can Help Reduce Injuries
    • Better Power Transfer
    • Stops Feet Slipping Out The Pedals
    • They Let You Use Cycling Shoes 

    Cons Of Clipless Pedals

    • Clipping And Unclipping Takes Time To Get Used To
    • It’s Difficult To Walk In Some Clip In Shoes
    • Cleats Often Require Setting Up To Match Your Body

    What Are Flat Pedals?

    A flat bicycle pedal.
    © Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

    Flat pedals are what you generally find on a beginner bike when you buy it new. They are designed to be ridden with any normal walking or running shoe and are the most convenient option when it comes to cycling. 

    Flat pedals offer a wide platform, and although they might be quite basic, they are favored by many mountain bikers who might race downhill or go into enduro events. Using a high-quality flat pedal makes a big difference when it comes to rough conditions.

    With flat pedals, the metal versions are much better than the plastic ones. For extra grip, go for flat pedals with lots of little notches on to help grip your foot. 

    Pros Of Flat Pedals

    • Can Be Used With Any Shoes
    • Don’t Need To Worry About Clipping In And Out
    • They Don’t Need Setting Up
    • Can Put A Foot Down Quickly When Needed

    Cons Of Clipless Pedals

    • Less Efficient Than Clipless
    • They Don’t Fit Your Foot In Place
    • Can’t Be Used With Clipless Shoes

    Factors To Consider When Choosing Pedals

    Now for the exciting part of clipless pedals vs flats. We are going to discuss the factors that you need to be thinking about when it comes to choosing either clipless or flat pedals. 

    What Footwear Do You Want To Wear?

    Cycling shoes for SPD and SPD-SL Pedals.
    © Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

    The biggest factor when it comes to choosing pedals is the footwear that you want to wear when cycling. If you want to wear normal flat shoes, you will need flat pedals. This makes flat pedals a more convenient choice for city bikes, for example.

    If you want to wear cycling shoes, you will need the correct clipless pedals to match them. You will typically use either SPD, SPD-SL, Look Keo, or Speedplay. These are the most popular options. 

    What Type Of Riding Do You Plan To Do?

    Depending on the riding you want to do will heavily affect the pedals that you might want to use. If I am road riding, I will use a clipless pedal as it just makes it much easier, and the power transfer is so much better when climbing. 

    If I were going to be commuting, I would prefer a flat pedal. It saves me from needing to carry an extra set of shoes, and also, riding in towns and cities is much easier because I will generally be stopping all the time at traffic lights.

    Does Performance Matter?

    When it comes to performance, a lot of cyclists are able to perform so much better using clipless pedals. Being connected to the bike and having the ability to not just push the pedals down but control them upwards go a long way. 

    Using flat pedals does make it more difficult to feel more connected to the bike. In road cycling it would make riding much more challenging, especially in a competitive situation. In some disciplines, such as downhill mountain biking, then flat could perform much better. 

    Do You Have A Budget?

    If you’re cycling on a budget, then you will find that flat pedals are generally much cheaper than clipless pedals.

    Not only are they cheaper to buy, but also you can wear them with shoes that you already have. The cost of a good pair of flat pedals would be around $20 to $30.

    Clipless pedals cost a little more. Firstly, the pedals themselves are much more expensive. Then you need cleats to attach to them, and finally shoes as well. You can easily spend around $50 to $150 on a clipless pedal setup.

    Do You Get Injuries?

    If you keep getting injuries, then the choice of pedals and shoes can make a big difference. If you are using clipless pedals, they need to be set up correctly. If not, this is going to cause problems.

    The first solution is to have a bike fit, but if that doesn’t work, you could change your pedals.

    Flat pedals are much more forgiving on the knees, and it’s not rare to even see some long-distance cyclists change out pedals if they are struggling with their knees or foot comfort. Lachlan Morton has done this in one of his ultra challenges. 

    A cycling shoe which can do both SPD and SPD-SL cleats.
    © Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

    Clipless Pedals Vs Flats: Which Is For You?

    When it comes to choosing between clipless and flat pedals, it really comes down to personal preference. There’s no right or wrong answer, and it’s important to understand you should equip your bike how it suits you best. 

    I find that for road cycling, gravel riding, and anything competitive, clipless pedals make a noticeable difference to performance. Not only are they usually lighter, but they transfer power much better. 

    Flat pedals could be a better option if you are planning to use your bike for mountain biking, commuting, or just riding to the shop. They are much more convenient and great if you use a bike for more transport than leisure. 

    The Best Of Both Worlds: Flat Vs Clipless Pedals

    If you are looking for a solution to having both flat and clipless pedals, look no further than a double pedal. On one side, you have an SPD clip, and on the other, you have a flat pedal.

    The Shimano PD-EH500 is a great example of a pedal that can do both. One side is a typical pedal you might see on a mountain bike, and the other side has the SPD clipless system. Although these pedals are fantastic, they do come with some disadvantages. 

    Firstly, they are quite heavy, and secondly, they can be difficult to clip in. Unlike a normal pedal, which is fairly straightforward to clip in, you must ensure you are on the correct side.

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