Pedals: Flats vs. clips for goofing off

Dear Lee,
I’m not racing, just riding the xc and dh up and down, roots, single track, dips, climbs, etc…Since it is not a race, is it better in your opinion to use Specialized Lo Pro Mag pedals and Five.Ten Impact shoes instead of the Shimano clipless???

My DX clipless with platforms seem to be hitting every root and I used to ride cages in the old days anyway, I do like being cliped in and not worrying about a foot slipping off the pedal though, so are the sticky shoes and lo pro mag pedals safer and a better ride for not racing, just having fun???

Very few riders are as flowy (or fast) as Elliott Hoover. He always rocks flats.

Hey Jay,

You’re actually asking a few questions:

1. Which are better, clips or flats?

That’s a matter of personal style. Fast downhillers go either way. Fast XCers all clip in. If you want to cover trail quickly, it’s hard to beat clips. If you want to have fun and feel free, flats are awesome.

The best riders are very fast and very flowy on both types of pedals (Curtis Keene comes to mind). Since you’re not in a hurry, I think flats will work fine.

2. How good are high-end flat pedals and sticky shoes?

Very good. Five.Ten Impacts and Lo Pro Mags are a very good combination. Those shoes are so sticky, if you want to adjust your feet you have to lift them off the pedals. I ride Impacts and flat pedals (frequently Lo Pro Mags) for 90 percent of my rides, even on the road.

That said, when I clip in for racing and trail riding, I feel like a super hero.

3. How can I stop clipping pedals?

Lo Pro Mags have a much lower profile than Shimano 636s, but they are a lot wider. I think they’re equally likely to clip roots and rocks. See the chart below.

The best way to avoid clipping pedals is to stop pedaling in the rough sections. Instead, focus on pumping.

Read these:
Flat pedals on the big bike
Benefits of flat pedals
Drops: Staying on flat pedals
Rocking the flats
Flat pedals for a beginner

I did this insanely nerdy chart with an old review of the Lo Pro Mags:

Pedal Thickness
crank to edge
Lo Pro Mag 20/17mm 106mm
Atomlab Aircorp 24/20mm 108mm
Truvativ Holzfeller 21 outside/17 center (concave) 110mm
S&M Bikes 30/30mm 110mm
Cheap “XS” 27/27mm 123mm
Shimano 636 clipless 35/21mm 91mm

Oh yeah Baby!

16 replies
  1. John Hauer says:

    Unless I’m racing xc I always run flats now. As a junior racingh, I always clipped in in all events. I would train and race and do everything but dirtjump in clips. When i made the jump from junior to pro I switched to flats. I started to trail ride and do long xc rides in flats. I figured it would be better to put the hours in on what mattered, not to gain a stronger pedal stroke for the short term. I noticed the same thing he mentioned in his email. I was avoiding alot more of the roots and rocks then when i was clipped in. I found i would ride more natural and casual and it was easier to make adjustments in my pedal stroke and riding style. so unless there is a gate i have to try and snap or a xc race. its flats forever in my book. If your just riding for fun, you cant beat flats!

  2. Chris says:

    Now that I no longer race XC I only clip in during Winter road-ride training. And now I only ride for fun (or train hard to have more fun on fun rides).

    My fifteen year hunt for the perfect shoe stopped when I bought my 5.10 Impacts. I swear I get a few more degress of power at the beginning and end of the downstroke than other shoes.

    As for pedals, I love rocks, I buy cheapish pedals, smash the hell out of them and buy new ones. I don’t care about hitting them. And cheap pedals break/bend before expensive cranks (remember really strong pedals can bend a cheap crank). Plus when I clip, bang or scrape them there is no “Oh no! My pedals!” thoughts, I just keep on riding.

  3. Curtis says:

    If you’re good at riding clips, you can clip in and out just as fast as someone with flats can take their foot on or off.

    If you really really want to ride clips, bolt some pedals down to a board and practice clipping in and out for a few hours while you’re at work/doing homework or whatever.

    The great thing about clips is that you never have to adjust your feet. You’re always in your most optimum position for comfort, power, and control.

  4. leelikesbikes says:

    I know Curtis and John personally. They are both great riders, and they make great points.

    See? It’s a matter of personal style.

  5. Chris says:

    I like to adjust my foot position (using flats). I can wing a foot in dicey balancing situations. I can use the front of my foot for standing up on for power moves. When there is a heinous slow grind I can put the pedal in the arch of my foot, give my calves a rest, and just grunt up with quads and hamstrings.

    Lee, good work on the Compar-O-Tron. It really shows a difference! I’m up for a new set soon, so I’ll take pencil, pad and rule with me.

  6. Zack says:

    i used to ride flats for everything, but i’ve found that i have more control over the bike in rougher situations when i’m riding clips. it sucks when you’re pinning it down a steep section and then hitting heavy ruts or braking bumps at a high enough speed to bounce your feet off the pedals. i still ride flats on occasion, like in extra muddy conditions when i need to be able to stick my feet out quick in case of sudden slipping. i also always jump in flats. i can see flats being outstanding and comparable to clips in most situations if you had 5.10s, but i haven’t treated myself to a pair of those yet, so for now i’m sticking to clips.

  7. leelikesbikes says:

    I’ve been riding flats exclusively for at least five weeks.

    Today I rode rock XC on Enduro with clips. It felt amazing! I had so much control; I felt like I could put the bike anywhere.

    Yeah five weeks on a BMX bike with flats, then hop onto a DH-equipped Enduro. Yum!!!!

  8. Daniel says:

    Shimano makes a couple of flat pedal shoes that are both great. The sole still has a form of sticky rubber that is more durable than the 5.10 shoes. The tread patter is very grippy and the sole is very stiff for pedaling. I am running shimanos because they have a much narrower sole that fits onto pedals better. The 5.10s are super wide. If you have feet larger than size 10 I would strongly consider the shimanos.

  9. jimmy says:

    I use to ride clipless. I ride flats for everything now. To me flats gives you immediate feedback if you are doing something wrong. (ride through rough stuff and slipping off the pedals) I try to ride same rough stuff and concentrate on keeping my foot from slipping. Guess what I’m smoother when I don’t slip. Smoother equals faster 🙂

    Oh yeah, Sam Hill rocks on flats with 5.10s. He’s proven that flats can be fast.

  10. Walt says:

    Coming off your pedals in mid-air and landing with your full weight on your butt/tailbone to your seat really sux. In my opinion, the minor inconvience of clipless far outweighs the danger of flats for downhill riding. And clipless are the only way to go if you have to occationally pedal your rig up hills. Clips are a must for all mountain riding. But flats are way better for trials stuff and if your ride dirt jumps a lot.

  11. Chris says:

    Walt, on behalf (I hope) of all the other all-mountain riding, XC racing, downhilling, dirt jumping, trials riding, roadie-passing, epic-mountain-pass-riding and technical-hill and double-black-diamond-cleaning flats riders, please, come to the Dark Side. Bring 5.10s with you.

    When you learn the ways of The Force, your feet won’t slip. In the air, down the hill, in the rocks or roots, up the chutes, in the mud, in the rain, in the snow.

    I started off as a triathlete, then roadie, then XC racer. I rode clipless like there was no other choice. Then Darth Vader the Downhiller and his black Full-Face Helmet showed me The Dark Side. And I’m staying here.

  12. jimmy says:

    “When you learn the ways of The Force, your feet won’t slip. In the air, down the hill, in the rocks or roots, up the chutes, in the mud, in the rain, in the snow.”

    That’s exactly my point. With clipless you can’t tell if you’re doing something wrong so you don’t learn. With flats any separation from the flats means you’re going one way and the bike is going the other way. If you ride clipless that means you’re going slower and don’t know.

    Put on your blast shield helmet and trust the force.

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