SRAM vs. Shimano, Fox vs. Rockshox, aluminum vs. carbon, these are all things we mountain bikers find to disagree about. One topic though that I hear come up maybe even more than all of these is clips vs. flats. I can’t tell you how many YouTube videos I’ve seen doing clips vs flats time trials, power tests and conversion stories. I’m not going to share anything scientific here. I’m not even going to try to convince you that flats are best. In this piece I simply want to share the advantages that I have found to riding flats over the years.
One word though before I get into things. When I am talking about riding with flats, I am not talking about tennis shoes and plastic demo pedals. I am talking about investing in a good pair of bike specific flats like the FiveTen Freerider. And also investing in a decent pair of flat pedals with metal, adjustable pins, such as the Imrider Polyamide Flat Pedal.
My wife and I are fortunate to be about the same size humans, so we can share bikes very easily. Flat pedals make this extra easy. There’s no adjusting tension or anything like that. Also whenever i share bikes with beginner bikers I don’t have to swap pedals for them.
As a dad of 3, sometimes 30 minutes is all the time I have to sneak in a ride. Since I wear my FiveTens as everyday footwear, I can literally grab a bike and ride. The same is true for getting ready at the trailhead and leaving afterwards. No footwear changes needed.
Now you can argue this point both ways. Some will say that being clipped in means you don’t need to worry about your feet bouncing off the pedals. In my opinion though I would much rather be able to stick a foot out quickly to save a fall.
Some would call me crazy and have raced a few xc races in flats. At the lower levels of xc racing I’ve been amazed to see at least one rider in each race simply tip over because they could not track-stand for a pile up on the trail or maneuver around an obstacle. I’ve always been left thinking they’d probably be better off on flats.
I also find that I am probably more willing to try new skills and tricks riding on flats. Again, being able to press the eject button and walk / stumble away from a crash is a big benefit.
Living in a metro area means that sometimes my mountain bike rides will include a stop at a store, coffee shop, or even running a quick errand. Not clacking around in clipless pedals, along with having normal looking biking clothing, helps me “fit in” in those settings.
How about you? Why do you ride flats or clips? I’d love to hear your reasoning in the comments below.