Flat pedals for enduro racing?

Hey Lee!

What do you think about using flat pedals for high level XC and Enduro DH racing? I have been a clipless guy for years but have recently made the switch back and have found that I prefer flats, mostly because they are just more fun. It seems like everyone (literally) racing expert level Enduro is on clips. Do you think it’s possible to be competitive on flats?

Thanks. -Markus

Hey Markus,

Maybe it’s possible to compete in high-level Enduro on flat pedals, but you’ll be making a hard event even harder.

Mark Weir says:

I’m not a pro XC or Enduro racer, so I asked international badass Mark Weir about riding flats for Enduro. He said:

• All of the top guys are clipped in.

• While some courses are so gnar he wishes for flat pedals, it’s more important to be able to lay down big power run after run. That’s a lot easier clipped in.

• The top guys — Nico, Jerome, Fabien — all have a super smooth, feet-up style. Flat pedals would give them no advantage.

I think:

• If you’re racing pro, you better be just as skilled and even more powerful than the other guys. Curtis Keene has been running at the front of some big endurance downhills — battling with another flat pedaler Chris Kovarik — but both of those guys are more skilled and powerful than us.

• If you’re racing expert, and you are a great bike handler and pedaler, you might be able to get by.

• Forget about running flats for high level XC, unless you are a total monster. No, forget that too, because all those guys are monsters.

• According to my tests, I’m making the same power on the road and trainer with flats as I did with clips. The real advantage comes on rough terrain. Clips give me a greater degree of control, and they help me hammer the pedals while the bike is bouncing around. Also: Clips help me stay connected when I’m tired.

• Even though I ride flats all the time — even for road — I usually clip in for racing. When I’m fully pinned, I don’t want to be thinking about my feet. I was clipped in for 20 years, and clipping in still helps me focus less on dainty smoothness and more on angry violence.

• I tend to be too analytical and careful. Anything that helps me get out of my head makes me faster. In some situations, that means clips. In others, it means flats.

Bottom line:

If you are happy and confident on flats, rock ’em. For many skilled/fit non-pro riders, confidence is the limiting factor.

Ideally you’ll feel great on all pedals, then pick the best tool for the job.

Rip it!


Planning to clip in at Sea Otter DS — on a 29er!

Know more. Have more fun!

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22 replies
  1. Joshua says:

    Well, that sounds like decent advice, but how about this? Just try both! Find a course that mimics your race courses and time yourself on flats and then with clips. Should be pretty clear after that.

  2. Aussie Chris says:

    Due to an old knee injury and preference, I race flats for XC and Enduro (though in Australia ‘enduros’ are 50km plus, not the lift-assisted multi-superD legs in Europe). I manage to get on the podium every now and then (sometimes outright, sometimes Masters), though that depends on who turns up on the day.

    Clips are better putting the power down, but there is little advantage in a race that last 8 hours because a wise competitor is all about energy conservation.

    In the ‘short’ XC races of an hour or so, I go ‘okay’, but I can’t be bothered getting a pure XC race bike, which I think would see me higher up the results than switching to clips.

    On a technical course flats are an advantage to me, but on races that are mostly fireroad – I wish I was clipped.

  3. Chris Q says:

    Ride and race the setup that you have the most fun on. Do you list mountain bike racer as the number one source of income on your tax return? Would you be unable to pay your mortgage if you didn’t clip in? As long as I keep answering No to both of those questions, I’ll keep racing XC on flats and I won’t worry about trivial things like pedals. I’ll spend my time worrying about strength, fitness and technique instead.

  4. Mike says:

    Andrea Bruno, the Italian national champ rides flats and it seems to work for him. He admits however that everyone else rides clipped in.

  5. Walt says:

    Another way to look at it is whether you have health insurance or not… like so many Americans who don’t. If you don’t have it, (like myself) forget about clipping in. You can bail so much easier on flats. That split second it takes to unlock out makes all the difference. clip-in pedals have destroyed so many knees and caused so many tibula/fibula breaks it’s just not worth the risk unless you are a pro level racer with good health insurance. I find that in a lot of crashes (as I too rode clips for many years) that it is the bike that hurts you more than the ground. Since I switched to flats, I’ve been able get away from the bike and many times still be on my feet.

  6. leelikesbikes says:

    Great point on safety. If a particular setup reduces your injuries, that’s a great reason to run it.

    If I didn’t have health insurance, I wouldn’t be racing at all. I’d probably be even more careful in my everyday riding, too.

  7. James Manchester says:

    Been on flats for about a month. I can’t imagine going back to clips. Learning proper pedal technique(thanks to Lee and Brian’s book)I don’t notice any difference in climbing. In fact I find I can try climbing difficult section more often because I don’t have to worry about getting unclipped if I can’t make it. Technical descents are way more fun.

    I did a stupid amount of research before I chose a pedal. I am using Spank Spike pedals and have nothing but good things to say about them.

  8. leelikesbikes says:

    Those Spank Spikes look good. Much like my Point One Racing Podiums, but with pins in the middle. I’ll bet those middle pins improve your connection, especially with non-sticky soles.

  9. James Manchester says:

    I chose the pedals with pins in the middle based on James Wilson’s recommendations. I have 510 Impact shoes and they do stick like glue. They stick so well it has taken a little getting used to.

    I saw in one of your posts that you are planning a trip to Austin,TX and will possibly doing a skills clinic for the general public. Is that true and if so how do I get in?

  10. chance says:

    I would agree that most pro’s ride clips but there are others that don’t some have been mentioned but sam hill is another.
    another point that keeps getting thrown around is that clips help you put down the power? I guess I just don’t understand this… they may give you more efficency especially when getting tired and when seated… but really should your pedal stroke change when riding clips or flats? I would say no and if it doesn’t then there should be no power advantage and if you are standing most of the time, like one would in a DH enduro or super d your power comes from your lead foot your/ down stroke and not from any form of pulling up and when pulling up you are using much smaller and weaker muscles, so even then I don’t see the benefit and I have yet to find any one that has put any cold hard scientific facts up to point that there is any huge advantage of riding clips over flats. James Wilson has put of tons of article about the myths and cons of clips, most is opinion so take it for what it’s worth but he has quoted studies showing the oposite of the common idea that clips make more power…ect and even mentioned that for many years the most powerful pedal stroke ever recorded was on flats by a BMX rider, so I don’t know. check um out bikejames.com

    yes you do have the feel of more controle and possible effeciency gains but I think the pros use them more because they were the big thing when they started, they are use to them and they are most comfortable doing so and if you are most comfy with flats rock the heck out of them!
    I have rode both, raced both and prefer flats. I ride with more confidence which equals faster speed but I’m not racing super long XC races but do go on long rides and have no issue keeping up with riders rocking clips! good luck with your races

  11. leelikesbikes says:

    • Yes, the current top enduro racers are older and came up in the age of clip-in pedals. The best pedals for anyone are the ones they know best. We’ll can expect Sam Hill stay stay on flats when he turns 30 and switches to Enduro.

    • I have data regarding the flat vs. clips power question. I will post more details separately (wait, have I done this already?), but basically: 1) I’ve seen no clipped advantage at high rpm. 2) Clips do offer an advantage at low rpm, when you can pull up. Coach Greg Romero has tested 5-crank BMX starts, and he shows a clear advantage to clip-in pedals. In the real world, yesterday I did a long, techy climb on my Enduro with flats. When I got balled up in the rocks, I missed the ability to pull.

  12. chance says:

    Thanks again Lee for your quick answer! I do recall seeing your blog post about your test but it was a test of yourself and not a full scientific study, so one must take it for what it is worth. I’m not sure about Greg’s test but again if it didn’t have multiple people in the study and done as a double blind test where they people weren’t aware of the actual reason for the study it wouldn’t hold much water in the scientific community. As if a person was told we are testing if clips or flats put out more power they can focus to a point on the pedal stroke that will benifit the out come they want, pulling up as hard as they can or pushing down as hard as they can but that is really hear nor there when talking about an enduro race. Also you wouldn’t really want to be thinking of pulling up would you? that would take away from your trail consentration..? or at least I would think so.
    As you just stated you didn’t see an advantage when spinning and to my understanding an enduro has minimal to no climbing. So wouldn’t the person be moving at higher speed most of the time which would take out that 5 crank advantage Greg’s test found?
    If it was a dual slolam, 4x or bmx I supose that advantage is pretty great for the whole shot.
    Again, I think it comes down to preferance and riding style.

  13. Guthrie says:

    I ride clips and I was wondering what would be the difference in running a stiff soled clipless shoe vs something like the shimano SH-AM45? I am looking for a super versatile shoe to ride 30+ miles with a few hike a bikes to racing super D stuff. A couple shoes I am looking at is the Shimano AM45 or something similar to the specialized Rime shoe. The rime is a bit expensive, I want to stay around $90.00. Any suggestions?

  14. leelikesbikes says:

    The dirt-roadie shoes are optimized for pedaling efficiency. The Shimano DX/Rime style feels better for general adventures.

    Price points on those shoes are not comparable!

    The Shimano DX ($90) is a proven classic with DHers who pedal.

    The Specialized Rime ($175) looks like a more refined approach: a serious pedaling shoe with a hiking sole. It looks so good I just bought a pair!

  15. Guthrie says:

    Thanks for the response lee! I am currently enjoying your book for the third time and it stays close by to refresh my memory of how bad I suck, but I def like the general adventures and climb up to get the the DH stuff. I am going to go that route. $90.00 seems more reasonable since I just got a stumpy evo for Christmas.. Then again the Rime does look like a rad shoe, I may need to convince the wife I NEED a pair to go with my bike.

  16. leelikesbikes says:


    I am wearing my new Rimes right now in my office. You know, they are optimized specifically for the Stumpy EVO. Just check the color!

    When I was wearing the $285 Specialized Pro MTB shoes almost every day for commuting, coaching, XC and serious DH, I got about two years out of each pair. Conservatively that’s 500 rides. Not a bad fun-to-dollar ratio.

  17. Guthrie says:

    That is a great selling point! This will aid in my case of NEEDING the new and BEST shoe for my bike riding.

    Thanks for the help Lee!

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