In his own words – One rider’s experience with trying flat pedals.

Sometimes the best person to tell you the story about how flats can change your perspective and improve your mountain biking isn’t me. I realize that I’ve become a bit of a controversial figure in this debate and some people think I have an agenda against clipless pedals and so nothing I say can really be trusted.

If you are really interesting in being a better rider, my only question after reading unbiased feedback like this is why wouldn’t you try flat pedals?

That’s why I love to get and share feedback from other riders about their experience with trying flat pedals. While some people will always be sceptical, I like to think that when other riders use terms like “funnest ride ever” and “rode stuff I’ve always walked” to describe their first few rides on flats it motivates someone else out there to give them a shot.

And while I have gotten a lot of great feedback like this over the years I’ve never gotten quite the detailed feedback that has showed up on my blog over the last few weeks. A long time clipless pedal rider decided to not only take the plunge but also to document his experience in comments section of one of my blog posts, something that hadn’t happened before. I get a lot of one-off comments from riders but rarely do I hear back from them more than once so this was pretty cool to see.

As great as it was for me to see, though, I also realized that not a lot of other people would come across his story. So I decided to put his comments together into a blog post so that other riders who were curious about the process could get an unbiased look his struggles and progression with flat pedals and the lessons he has taken away from them so far.

I’ve been riding clipless for over twenty years now….. but at some point, out of curiosity, I decided to try platforms.

I got the goods, set them aside, and being a little lazy and not motivated enough I forgot ….. and then, out of blue, on one of the rides I shredded my clipless shoe – so off the pair went for the warranty repair (Fizik). Not wanting to idle, I suddenly remembered the platforms and the shoes sitting on my shelf – installed, went on to try the set up – one ride so far, Today.

I’m sure I will get used to it after a while, but going flats after clipless was probably as weird as going clipless after the years of platforms. Honestly, I was worrying about slipping a lot (which did not materialize) but I was never worrying about not being able to unclip before.
Here is my two cents to the discussion, as objective as I can do after only one ride on proper platform pedals:

I agree, that most of the power comes from the rider’s strength and technique, so it felt really OK. Pulling up (clipless) in a seated position is an illusion and complete BS, however once you get up of your seat, the initial pull gives a lot of exploding force…. the time will show if I can substitute for it on flats.
Platforms kept me “on my toes” most of the time, leaving no room for sloppiness. Climbing steep stuff while seated was at equal if not slightly better due to the fact that I had to force my feet more to the pedals to keep a non slipping contact with them. On the downhill they were definitely more comfortable but again, required more attentiveness to stay put. At least for a newbie.

One thing about clipless that has not been mentioned here – your foot is always in the correct position as in the case of the flats it needed numerous adjustments at times, but this will most likely improve with time.

For easy XC it is difficult to beat clipless, since you can’t slip from the pedals and you can toss the bike any way you want during the furious climbs, and the unclipping is never an issue.

The advantage decreases the second you need to take your foot down and brake the slide a little or when you come to a standstill on an extremely steep technical rocky climb when the combination of forces makes uclipping virtually impossible (these are the only times – not many – I ended making a contacts with terra firma)

Will come back in a while with my further impressions. So far – I can agree on a draw in the battle of the pedals, with a personal preference of clipless due to the life long experience.



6 days passed, 5 more rides.

On the second day my feet went numb from all the tension and effort during my routine ride. This could not be right, I was thinking, so after getting back, I looked again at my post here and realized, that in fact, contrary to what I wrote, I was not a newbie to the flat pedals, whereas I was a newcomer to the world of clipless 27 years ago.

Like every one else, I started on a single speed and the issue of foot to pedal contact never even appeared as a possible problem. So when I went to bed I accessed my “Time Machine” and overrode all of the habits of being hard wired to the pedals.

Next day (day three) I went out totally relaxed and it all came together – I was able to ride hard like before. I also found some extra stickiness in my Canadian rubber (Sombrios) and I can report with all honesty, that like with any glue, I simply needed a little more time for the strong bond to develop. Now, after almost a week (6 rides) I do not think about the pedals anymore – no slipping of any kind or adhesion drama – toes down while climbing off the seat, and a little down when descending.

In the meantime my replacement clipless shoes are on the way back, (newer and improved model,) but I already decided to extend the lease on my flats. Next week I will be trying the technical single tracks to see how I will do in the sections I typically walk due to the steepness and rock obstacles.

Clipless pedals are faster.

Platforms are fun and liberating, you ride your bike without any suspenders and your technique does not go down the sewer. And you grin like a child again!

I will return one more time with a final personal verdict.
Still a tie, but the preferences are shifting.
(which wasn’t really expected.)


Update 2

(possibly not the last one ….)

The clipless shoes came back – beautiful, and I couldn’t be any happier, I swapped the pedals back to my XTR Race clipless and went on my regular training ride (out and back: 7km 6%-10% grade up and then additional 4-5km way more steep, ridiculously at times.) Pure joy of speed, extra torque, smooth cadence, and extra pull….of which I did notice none this time – weird, it felt, like I continued to do exactly what I was doing on platforms and the whole “smoothness” of clipless did not happen. Everything felt – well, meh…… and all of it only after two weeks……

My new shoes therefor went on the shelf in the garage and my “Origin8 Ultim8 Slimline Platform Pedals” (same weight as Shimanos – 310gr) returned to my HT 29-er Titanium all XTR bike. Last week I tried some more technical stuff and felt decisively more in control, a thing three weeks ago I would call a heresy – so it is rather a shocking development.

What happened, is, that the flat pedals injected “freshness” into my mountain biking – after additional week I came within 5 seconds of my best times on clipless and concluded, that short of professional racing I would not need to be attached. Well, I do not race…….

So, cutting the straps liberated me and made me more aware of the bike. My pedaling – contrary to what’s being said on the Internet in regards of platforms – is now much smoother.

Yes, clipless set up is faster, and whoever thinks otherwise is in denial, but for a non professional rider the difference is minimal. It is actually so small, that it can be ignored. You loose some, you gain some, and it is all a draw. The fabricated science is bullshit, however the pros prefer clipless, especially on the road.

For now, I’m sticking with my new flats, probably I will keep coming back to clipless to stay relevant, but for everyday fun I choose now to go hand in hand with my bike instead of being handcuffed to it. Long way coming…..

The Luxury of Dirt (not my slogan)


So there you have it, a look at what happens for most riders when they give flats a good, honest try. Invest in a good pair of pedals and shoes, commit to 4 weeks of only riding flat pedals and odds are you’ll find that not only can you ride much faster on flats than you were led to believe but that you’ll be a better rider for it, able to apply an improved pedal stroke and skills to flats or clipless pedals.

If you are really interesting in being a better rider, my only question after reading unbiased feedback like this is why wouldn’t you try flat pedals?

Until next time…

Ride Strong,

James Wilson

MTB Strength Training Systems

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