Benefits of flat pedals

Question: Should I practice with flat pedals? Answer: Yes.

Hi Lee,

I bought your book and like it a lot. I’m going to pick some skills I’d like to learn and give them some practice.

My question is regarding pedals. Should I just put flats on my Coiler and do all my practice with them? I understand so much can be done with flats, but I’m very used to clipless and it seems scary to ride much less jump with flats.

Oh yeah, what kind of shoe is appropriate? Skate shoes?



It’s hard to rock this much body English and stay clipped in. Elliott at The Spring 2005 SuperFly DH Invitational Universe Championships.

Hey Ryan.

Glad you like the book.

If you can learn to ride with flats, it’ll definitely improve your riding. Here are a few ways:

Hopping and jumping

Clips let you cheat by pulling up. Not only does this limit your lift, it makes you suseptable to getting bucked. With flats you must generate upforce by first pushing down — and that’s the right way to do it. Also, in the air, flats force you to be lithe and let the bike flow its own path. Also good.

Overall smoothness

The key to staying on flat pedals is maintaining constant pressure on the pedals — and avoiding harsh hits. You basically have to keep your feet moving with your bike. This forces you to actively absorb round bumps and preload/unweight over square obstacles. If you’re doing these things, you will be riding smoothly.


In some situations — skinnies, jumps, national monuments — you’re more confident knowing you can drop a foot or abandon ship in an instant. In the book Brian suggests pushing the limits on flats, then racing in clips for ultimate pedaling speed and control. Curtis Keene has raced pro downhill with both flats and clips, and he now sticks with flats — he says he can push it harder in the corners. Clips vs. flats comes down to personal style, but ideally you can run either dependingon whether the party is formal or casual.

I ALWAYS ride trails and DH clipped in, but I made a big exception on the North Shore.

It’s the shoes

Skate shoes are the old standby. Once my buddy Jim and I were packing the face of a jump, and I said, “Check it out, this jump says Vans all over it.” Jim replied, “Yep, all the good ones do.”

Vans or Oakleys or Addidas all work fine. But let me tell you: The Five.Ten shoes with the climbing-rubber soles are amazing. They add so much control it’s almost like being clipped in. As a matter of fact, last year when I started running Specialized Lo Pro Mag pedals with Five.Ten Mountain Master shoes, my jumping abilities immediately went up two notches. I felt all the freedom of flats, with the control of clips. Amazing.

My shoes cost $85 at an outdoor store. Five.Ten makes another shoe, the Impact, specifically for bike riding. Man up and get sticky soles.

That’s it. Spend the winter on flat pedals, and by spring you’ll be a whole new rider.

— Lee (Go ahead: Ask me something

15 replies
  1. Ron Cook says:

    I disagree. The benefit of riding clipless pedals is power, spin and speed. I was the most dominant BMXer in Colorado in the 80’s. I then went into cycling and my coaches demanded that I learn how to pedal circles. Pedaling circles is the most efficient, power driven pedaling technique. I retired from cycling after 1992. Then this last year I decided to try mountain cross in Nathrop at the Chalk Creek Stampede. I was the guy in all black, on a cross country bike, who won every heat by a mile. Remember me? My lead was so huge by the second turn I was able to relax the rest of the race. The referee at the race stated that I turned the heads of the pros and if I had a mountain cross bike, no one could hang with me(implying the pros). Why am I so fast? Because, not only was I clipped in, I am trained to use full force all the way around the clock. Flat pedals are great for jumping, but not for speed. If you want to reach the finish line first, clip in and learn to pedal circles. You might not know who I am now, but you will after 2006. All master competitors better train their asses off, because I am going to sweep all the 4x races next year and then go pro the next year.

    I’d like to give a shout out to my old Boulder teamates Anton Villatoro and Colby Pearce.

    Also, Lee, you are so great for this sport. My wife Lyn and I love your book.

    Happy riding!

  2. leelikesbikes says:

    Hey Ron.

    Thanks for your note — and for the gauntlet. Any time, any place brother. Battling fierce dudes like you is good for the kung fu.

    No question: clips rule for pedaling. And also, the only way to master full-power pedaling is by practing full-power pedaling. If you aren’t snapping chains, it’s a rest day.

    Perhaps as an ex-pro superstud you forget how awkward and clip-dependent average riders are. I still believe most riders will benefit from time on flats. Learn how to REALLY ride your bike with flats, then clip in and KILL IT!

    Oh yeah, it’s already on for ’06 …

  3. Ron Cook says:

    Lets race tomorrow. Pikes Peak BMX. North end of the Springs. Or we can meet half way in Castle Rock and I’ll just drag race ya! I’m ready to race!!!!

  4. leelikesbikes says:


    Instead of “any time, any place” I should have said “as my schedule allows, close to Boulder unless it’s a weekend or holiday …”

    No way I can make that one, but it looks like I better get some gate practice somewhere!

  5. Steve Wentz says:

    Good comments Ron, but I think you missed the whole point. The rider asking the question was wondering if the flat pedals would help him improve on some of his riding skills, and you were talking about how good YOU were at racing 4X. That’s a bit different. From what Ryan said, he seems dependent on clips in jumping and some riding situations. Practicing the right way will help him out and give him more confidence when he does go back to clips for racing. That’s the bottom line. Being that you can beat all the pro’s easily, I’m sure you know how to jump the right way, practicing on flats will help Ryan do the same. Flats are useless you may say, but Brian Lopes won a European 4X round on flats this year. Not bad. Also, Mick Hannah only rides clips, even dirt jumping. The point is, everyone is different, but it never hurts to try out flats to gain some skills. Hooray for the trash talking, I would like to see the showdown between Lee an yourself. I’ve got my two cents to throw in as well…

    I seem to remember being more than 15 seconds ahead of your qualifying time at Nathrop, on what was for me a 32 second course. I’m sure you crashed though, maybe you wouldn’t have if you has some flats. 🙂

  6. Keith says:

    I train with flats and race with clips, depending on the track. You have to spin to win!! Using flats helps me smooth out my pedal stroke. On a 35m sprint I am 1 mph fast with clips than flats. However, on some tracks corner speed is more important. If you race 4x, investest in a stop watch and have someone time you with flats and clips. Actually having a stop watch is good for a determining what lines works best, i.e. jumping vs. manualing.

  7. Ron Cook says:

    Hey Steve. Your right, I did miss the whole point. I simply wanted to show I had some credentials and forgot my real point. Real point being: It was a bummer racing a decade on flats in BMX and then trying to learn the art of spinning circles. Incredible challenge. Every day on the flats, your one step behind on perfecting the perfect pedal stroke. It’s an art. Now as far as my challenge is concerned, I am amateur. My challenge goes out to all other amateur Master racers. As far as Nathrop was concerned, I was racing on a $300 pawn shop cross country bike. The xc carbon fiber bars snapped on me in qualifying. I then put my wives handlebars on, and zip tied grips to the bars. Then put on a show. I now have a mountain cross bike, that is stiff as hell, and I am confident I’ll be the main amateur to reckon with. Perhaps, Lee is planning on downgrading from pro? Then, it will be more challenging for me. I’m just letting you know now, you better put your AmFibs on and hit the jumps and the gym for multiple hours everyday, consistently, if your going to hang with me. 2006 will be my last year as amateur, and my best year as a bike racer.

  8. leelikesbikes says:

    No doubt you can make more power with clips, but as far as developing a good pedal stroke, I’m not so sure:

    – With clips your feet are led around a circle. It’s passive, and unless you drill each part of the stroke you won’t train the neuromuscular pathways (I think).

    – With flats you must actively follow the circle. I think this builds better motor habits.

    Learn to spin with flats, then really pin it with clips. I keep coming back to that.

    — — —

    Ron, I often think about dropping back to age group. I’m pretty outclassed in pro/semi, especially in 4X and slalom. But it would super uncool to drop back. I have more speed in me — I know it — and although this year I won’t get any wins — I’ll be STOKED with mid pack — *this* will be my best year as a bike racer.

    Why? Because my upgrade has forced me to see past wins and look within myself. I don’t want to be fast for a 37-year-old with asthma and a thyroid condition. I want to be fast, period. Or at least as fast as I can be.

    SO BRING IT!!!

  9. Keith says:


    I’ll be 38 next year and I have every intention of winning a semi-pro race. The fast twitch maybe slowing down a bit with age, but the top end speed and savage power just keep getting better with age. Oh are we still debating clips vs. flats? Racing is 90% mental, run what gives you the most confidants. Here is another tip – roller sprints. Get a good set of rollers, a bmx bike 20″, and a speedo. I set my 20″ up with slicks, a long seat post, these are done seated, and change up my gearing and crank arm length; I actually have couple of different bikes with different set ups. Warm up on the rollers for about 10-15 minutes then start the drill. Do max speed sprints for 5 -10 seconds, recover for 1-3 minutes and repeat. I do sets of 10. Here is the goal – an average Double AA pro can produce a max speed of 37 mph with a 44 x 16 gear. I do this drill with flats, it will teach you to spin circles. Safety note: Set the rollers up in an area with room to burn in on either side. Even the best of us fly off!!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Benefits of flat pedals […]

  2. […] these: Flat pedals on the big bike Benefits of flat pedals Drops: Staying on flat pedals Rocking the flats Flat pedals for a […]

  3. […] Benefits of flat pedals Drops: Staying on flat pedals Rocking the flats Flat pedals for a beginner […]

Comments are closed.