The clipless pedal powerhouse has a challenger, and you can call it a comeback: Flat pedals are back.
It’s all about freedom and control. Crankbrothers took the opportunity to release its Stamp pedals at Interbike 2018, in large part because they make a lot of sense for beginner and intermediate riders. For starters, it’s easier to pull a foot off the pedals in a high-speed corner when the rider isn’t clipped in. And flat pedals are now a lot lighter than they used to be. When compared to clipless pedals, flat pedals also tend to be far less expensive, or at least they can be.
Flat pedals can also work as an educational tool. If you’ve ridden clipless pedals long enough, you know you can simply pull up on them to get you and your bike over an obstacle. Switching back to flat pedals forces a rider to learn how to actually bunny-hop in a controlled manner, without the clipped-in crutch.
That’s perhaps why you might find cyclocross coaches recommending flat pedals for young racers. It’s vital for cyclocrossers to be able to bunny-hop confidently, and properly. Learning the real technique means positioning your feet properly, and managing your bicycle’s weight. Flat pedals force a rider to do exactly that, without allowing clipless pedals to pick up the slack.
As a result of this resurgence, footwear brands are newly invested in flat-soled shoes. It’s even spawned some new companies, including Ride Concepts, which debuted its line of both clipless and flat shoes that incorporate 3DO material into the insoles and ankles for added protection on the trails. 3D0 flexes and feels soft to the touch, but the material immediately hardens upon impact.
But it’s probably not time to chuck your clipless pedals just yet. Most mountain bike pros are still using clipless pedals for stability and power transfer. And for everyday riders, clipless pedals still have a host of advantages, the least of which is power transfer on climbs. (Your local trails don’t have lift service, do they?) They also keep your feet from slipping off your pedals on bumpy terrain.
If you’re the type who likes to kick a leg out in high-speed corners, or if you’re not yet confident on your clipless pedals, flats are certainly a good option.
Fortunately, it’s easy enough to swap out pedals and give flats a try. You’ll be able to find a comfortable, natural position on the pedals, though you’ll also have to pay close attention to your pedal stroke to ensure you’re not lifting your shoe’s soles off the pedal platform. (One could argue this is both an advantage and a disadvantage.) It’s a good way to learn more about your biomechanics, and your shortcomings as a dirt rider.