Flat pedals vs. clips: Looking for data

Yo lee,

Where is the actual performance data for situational power output for clipless and flats? I have run across some articles on the web but nuthin super scientific.
You sound like you have seen some solid numbers. Do tell…

All the Best,


Hey Bruce,

Thanks for writing. I sometimes wonder how your riding has been since our clinic in Crested Butte, what, three years ago?

Anyway …

Real numbers are hard to find. The studies are all road-focused, on indoor trainers, which leaves out many variables important to us MTBers. This is an area I obsess over often; I dearly want a power meter so I can conduct studies of my own. Lee Likes Science dot com!

In the mean time …

Our friend Greg Romero coached Jill Kintner and Mike Day to their Olympic BMX medals. Greg is my source for training and sprinting technique in the upcoming book Pro BMX Skills. Let’s call Greg the world’s leading authority on training and sprint technique for BMX.

Greg believes strongly in the power of the downstroke. He believes athletes should focus almost exclusively on pushing down on the pedals. He says worrying about the rest of the stroke actually inhibits your power. Think what you like, but Greg has data!

Greg Romero’s experiment

Rider: 17-year-old Expert BMX racer

Bike: Road bike with an SRM Professional Power Meter, 172.5mm cranks, 50.5-inch gear

Protocol: Stand-start sprint in the drops for five full cranks (the average distance to the first jump on a BMX track)

Round 1: 4 sprints focusing on the downstroke

Round 2: 4 sprints with the same downstroke, but focusing on using the upstroke

Round 3: 4 sprints with flat pedals

The results:

Variable Peak power Peak cadence Max. speed
Clipped in – Downstroke 1,426 watts 122 rpm 19.2 mph
Clipped in – Upstroke 1,241 watts 108 rpm 17.9 mph
Flat pedals 1,165 watts 118 rpm 18.2 mph

There are a zillion variables, so this isn’t perfect science, but:

– Clips produce more power than flats. Greg says that’s not because you’re “pedaling circles,” but because clips control your feet and let you focus on a more powerful downstroke.

– A good stroke on flats is faster than an awkward stroke clipped in.

This area is fascinating to me, and I hope to someday develop solid numbers.

Read Greg’s article here.

The human factor is huge — especially off road. If you like clips, rock ’em. If you prefer flats, rock those.

Looking for a power-meter sponsor … 🙂

— Lee

BTW: Go out and do five pedal strokes from a dead stop. Do you hit 19 mph? I’ll bet not!

7 replies
  1. Chris says:

    Bruce, Lee, (How’s your kung fu?)

    I’m always getting flack for riding in flats from guys saying “You are losing power!” but am I losing power across the rev range or just at the top end?

    For me, it seems like it might be akin to the ‘fast cornering tire versus fast rolling tire’ situation: gotta look at the entire picture, not just one aspect. Q. How often to I put down ALL my power? A. As rarely as possible!

  2. leelikesbikes says:

    >> Q. How often to I put down ALL my power? A. As rarely as possible!


    From what I’ve seen, a smooth pedaler is most aided by clips at very low rpm. Off the line, you can actually pull up on the pedals. Once you get spinning, the upstroke seems to matter less and less. If you’re a smooth pedaler.

    The Rather Mighty Curtis Keene, pro DH racer, tried clips for a couple years but went back to flats for all riding, including XC and road. He says he’s just plain faster with flats.

  3. Pete says:

    What about for longer xc rides- do you think having clips helps in terms of endurance in that you can “rest” certain muscles by using others pulling up on the pedal?
    I love flats but clips seem to help on the xc rides but it might be in my head.

  4. leelikesbikes says:

    I always ride XC in clips. Did so yesterday for 2 hours.

    I think they help in a lot of ways: 1) reduce your mental overhead; your feet are attached; no need to think about them, 2) extra control, both in the pulling sense and the rotational sense 3) more power in those high-torque, pull-on-the pedals moments …

  5. Matt says:

    I had the chance to speak with Brian Lopes after the Ray’s MTB Inside Out contest which he won earlier this winter about this topic. He said he ran one run with flats and another with clips and he was within a fraction of a second…now that’s Brian but it leads me to believe if there were a significant advantage to either, his times should have been different…

  6. Bruce says:

    Lots to think about here, I can always count on you Lee.
    My Riding is going very well, I am trying to train for freeracing right now and I might benefit from some clinic action soon.

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