ExperiencePlus! Blog

Flat vs Clipless Pedals: What’s the deal?

Flat Pedals vs Clipless Pedals

To clip in or not to clip in, that is the question.

Before jumping into the great pedal debate, it might help to clarify this slightly backwards cycling terminology. A clipless riding system is actually the opposite of what it sounds, which is to say, riding clipless means your shoe (cleat) clips into your bicycle pedal, whereas a flat pedal is the standard bicycle pedal that is actually what it seems – a flat surface, compatible with any shoe.

Flat vs Clipless Pedals

Flat pedals:

Flat pedals are your ‘standard’ bike pedal with a flat surface and no interface to clip your shoe into it.

Sometimes flat pedals will include cages, but we won’t be going into cages in this article!

Clipless pedal systems:

2-hole cleat system: Two-bolt systems are a good place to start with clipless pedals and are commonly used by commuters, touring cyclists, and mountain bikers. You can walk easily in these shoes as they have recessed cleats and typically have some grip in the sole.

3-hole cleat system: Three- bolt systems are common among road riders.  They are more difficult to walk in (you hear cyclists clicking around) because the cleat protrudes from the bottom of the sole of your cycling shoe.

Considering Going Clipless

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to having a certain level of curiosity regarding if you really can notice a significant difference in speed after swapping from flat pedals to a clipless system. Do you really benefit that much more from clipping in, or do cyclists just like the clicking sound when they dismount and stroll into coffee shops for a mid-ride pick-me-up?  I have heard cyclists sing the praises of clipping in because it allows for a more efficient transfer of power as you pedal (you can both push and pull). I have also heard many tales of friends falling off their bikes because they forgot to un-clip at a stop sign. Seeing that I had always managed to keep up with my tried-and-true flat pedals, I saw no need to tempt fate and create my own stories of forgetting to un-clip and tipping over at a stop sign.

colombia shoe

Curiosity Meets Opportunity (and some serious climbing to prepare for.)

Opportunity finally collided with curiosity when I  received some new multi-platform pedals (flat on one side and clipless on the other) shortly before a cycling vacation in infamously ‘hilly’ Colombia. I figured with the many climbs in my near future, I’d give clipless a whirl in hopes of making the many climbs easier. Being my first venture into clipping-in I opted for multi-platform pedals. This provides the option to ride on a flat pedal if necessary. Before making my first commute to the ExperiencePlus! office as a clipless rider, I said a quick prayer to the cycling gods and braced myself for the likelihood that I might fall off my bike at the first stop sign I encountered.

I’m pleased to report after a a few seconds fuddling around to get the ‘feel’ for sliding my cleat into my pedal it was a seamless transition into riding clipless. Though there still might come a day when I forget to un-clip a tad too late, the ease with which I pedaled up hill and the power behind each stroke was indeed noticeable. How have I missed out on this for so long?!

I would recommend allowing yourself more than a single commute to work before riding clipless on a bike tour, however having returned safely from a week-long bike tour (and not a single fall) I will say that I climbed faster and felt like a strong rider as my legs and pedals become one seamless machine.

So yes, my name is Jessie and I’ve jumped on the clipless bandwagon. While personally I see the benefit of clipping in I still recommend riders choose whatever makes them most comfortable on a bike. But I will say, don’t let the fear of a little tumble detour you from gaining a little extra efficiency in your stroke.

Top Things to Remember When Trying Clipless

  • Try double-sided pedals first.
    • This will allow you the freedom to switch between being clipped in and riding on the flat side of the pedal as you make yourself more comfortable with the change.
  • Practice un-clipping while holding onto a fence/wall, etc.
    • Before your first ride hop on your bike next to a wall so that you can brace yourself and get a feel for engaging and disengaging your pedals.
  • Find a Safe Spot
    • Choose streets with low traffic or even find a grassy park for the first time you take a few laps with your clipless pedals.
  • Un-clip Before You Stop
    • As you get used to this new style of riding be sure to give yourself a little extra time to un-clip as you approach a stop.
  • If you start to fall, let yourself fall on your side – don’t put your arm out to stop you!
    • Most bike accidents end with a broken clavicle because people try to break their fall with an outstretched arm.