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EDITORIAL

The 365 Day Flat Pedal Challenge

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major (Unless Noted)
Date Sep 13, 2021
Reading time

Ryan Leech(ing)

I've seen him perform on many occasions, but I've also had the privilege to experience Ryan Leech a couple of times in real life mountain biking situations. One time I *GASP* heard him use blue language at a trail day, on IMBY in Port Moody to be exact. To be fair, our mutual friend Stephen Seagull did offer everyone there a beer except him. It turns out trials riding surfer yogis like beer too. Another time, I watched him do amazing Ryan Leech things all the way up the steep pitches to another Seagull project, the Full Pull, where he technical-climbed the pants off of every clipped in rider there and then grinned the whole way back down.

Even when he's not challenging everyone to try riding flat pedals for 30 days, or now "twelve targeted trail rides," he's doing it every time he rides, with a big smile and endless style. It's like the way a picture of some 300 year old yoga master folding themselves into a human pretzel always gives me the urge to go home and stretch my way-too-stiff back.

Back then, and for a couple of decades before, I rode clip-in aka clipless pedals and that was it. When Ryan suggested I give flat pedals a try for thirty days, I agreed right away as long as he would try the same with clipping in. I wasn't trying to be a total dick. My brief dabbling with flats in the early 00s proved that I was quite useless at them compared to all the nifty things I could do with my pedals attached to my shoes. I've long loved the thrill of conquering a technical uphill section, and clipping in made a huge difference.

Cover Photo: Deniz Merdano

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Flat pedals may not win medals much anymore, but saying they're more fun will trigger some riders faster than any debate this side of meat v. motor power. Smile: Ryan Leech

I certainly never set out to ditch my clip-in pedals, or even to get semi decent at riding flats. My full time flat pedal journey started with an injury sustained while trail building in 2018: I slipped, sat on my own foot, and then slid down a muddy slope while holding a big log. The sound was almost as gross as the feeling and the swelling was very aggressive.

Within a couple of days, I could put all my weight on my foot without any issue and pedal a bike around just like before, but the twisting motion needed to disengage a clipped in foot from the pedal was impossible, even with the light action of my Mallet DH pedals. I spent the bulk of that summer riding flats, even on my single speed.

It really wasn't long before I was back to riding clipped in most of the time. I missed the boost on climbs more than anything but by then I was having enough fun on flat pedals that I kept spending a decent amount of time on them. Not really enough to continue to grow my skills, or to train out my bad habits from years of riding clipless, but in some situations they were inarguably more fun.

Giro Latch Shoe NSMB AndrewM (21).JPG

Coming from clipping in, folks usually assume they'll want the stickiest-soled shoe they can find, like a Five Ten Freeride Pro's Stealth S1 dotty or the Tack rubber on the brand new Giro Latch.

Leatt DBX 2 NSMB AndrewM (3).JPG

Personally, I like to combine the grip of a tenacious pedal like the proven OneUp Composite or new NSB Daemon with a more durable, textured sole like the one on these Leatt 2.0 shoes.

EGO

I regularly consider going back to clipping in, for example every time I walk a two-step of severe switchbacks before the uphill log ride on the R&R Climb or when I get dropped by someone I used to be able to pace up a single track climb. I was getting near close to cleaning R&R 50% of the time on my single speed with cleats but on flats, I'm batting a big fat zero.

I've also had to switch to lower gearing in order to handle some of the climbs that I want to consistently get to the top of. It makes me a bit slower in other situations, and especially on gravel or pavement. I shouldn't really care, as I've been having more fun riding since I switched to flats full time, but I'm just as flawed as the next person and apparently can't help comparing myself to past-me and long-time riding friends.

It's a challenge I face in the mirror every time I have a sub-par ride or get my socks blown off. One, don't blame the bike. Two, make time to get fitter. Three, are you still having more fun overall on flat pedals? Absolutely. I'm riding looser, more confidently, trying new features, and hiking back up to hit stuff a second time. Not being in a hurry, even on days when I'm shredding (for me anyway) is awesome.

OneUp Composite Pedal NSMB AndrewM.JPG

Three different shapes from four Sea-To-Sky based companies that are all great: 1) OneUp's convex flat pedals with their skinny, sharp, pins and generous platform are my favourite high value option with tons of grip.

NSB Daemon Pedal NSMB AndrewM.JPG

2) I've been riding the NSB Daemon for a while now. They're a premium, nearly 100% made in BC concave option with excellent traction and support.

Squidworx Pedal NSMB AndrewM (2).JPG

3) The Squidworx, like my much loved Kona WahWah 2 composite pedals, have a flat body.

The only legitimate reasons I would go back to clipping in are injury management (what coaxed me to try flats initially) or some sort of race situation when a few seconds of time really matter, and I'm hoping to avoid either situation in the infinite future.

An Entire Year

I know now that at least for me, doing 12 rides or 30 days on flat pedals would have never been enough to truly convert me. And while I didn't set out to do a 365-day flat pedal challenge, the mix of fun and convenience just kept me on the path. On top of having more fun on all but the jankiest downhill sections, I really feel like my riding skills are constantly improving.

Another big factor has been riding with my tiny mountain biker because there is a lot of track stand practice involved in the experience. I'm getting pretty damn good at stopping, standing, and restarting at various points on the trail (various points usually meaning right in the middle of steep inclines or descents). There are times when I need to run to decouple her from a rabid mountain bike attack or to provide that psychological or physical cushion when she is trying a new technical section, and the cleat-less shoes are great for that too.

ProTaper 76mm Riser Bar NSMB AndrewM (12).JPG

My mountain bike in September 2020. Flat pedals, 120mm fork, and a 3" riser bar. My current build isn't dissimilar but I'm running narrower rubber, a lighter fork, and a 45mm rise, 16° backswept, bar instead.

I've been asked if I'll be switching to clip-in pedals as part of myCanyon Lux review and the truth is I doubt it. I still have a lovely pair of 'enhanced stance' Eggbeaters that would be a perfect partner for the future-of-XC-racing chassis but the bike is actually proving to be very fun on terrain it obviously wasn't intended for, with flat pedals, and it already climbs more efficiently than all but a few full suspension bikes I've ridden, so really what's the point?

I guess if I did the Strava thing I could clip in, swap on some 2.4" Aspens, and then use it to set some personal bests on climbs. But just like I choose to run inserts and a bit beefier tires on my personal rig to avoid flats (something I'm really playing around with at the moment) I don't have any interest in making the Lux less fun or resilient on the way back down. So for now, it's flat pedals.

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Half-wheelin', sh*t talkin', and climbing greasy logs on flats in my beloved GR7 shoes (RIP). It's been a great year on flats. Photo: Deniz Merdano

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Many changes in the last year. I miss my pad fit bucket lid and I still don't love riding in knee pads, but the platform pedals are here to stay. Photo: Deniz Merdano

It's not that I have any fundamental dislike for clip-in pedals, or that I think they're a racing only product, and I'm not telling anyone to make the switch. I know some riders who are very happy to switch between clipless and cleat-less pedals on a regular basis, others who have multiple bikes set up one way or another, and more who just choose to ride clipped in. Some of those clipped in riders may be trying to win their group ride and some may simply want to avoid really sucking, which I certainly had to contend with while learning to ride flats. I'm still working on getting my front wheel euro-turns half as good as they were with my feet attached to my bike.

But if you are looking to inject a little fun into your favourite activity, or chasing a new challenge, or managing an injury, or even looking to simplify mountain biking, with or without a kid, then flats may be for you. Just be aware that, if you're anything like me, 12 rides or 30 days probably isn't even scratching the surface on adapting how you ride to our challenging local trails.

It's mountain biking, do whatever makes you happy.

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Comments

Losifer
+5 Andrew Major IslandLife ElGenerale kcy4130 Tremeer023
Carlos Matutes  - Sept. 12, 2021, 9:52 p.m.

I had a bad injury (hit & run on my commute home from the shop) a couple weeks shy of 5 years ago. With the resulting TBI, I used flat pedals to try and gain some confidence getting back on the bike.

I stayed on flats until last summer, when the frustration of not cleaning a couple of technical climbs hurt my ego enough to put some Time pedals on my bike.

A few weeks ago, I was teaching a beginner clinic and put platforms back on, and realized how nice it was to let go of that ego need.

My wife and I will be setting out for a year of living and working on the road, and I think I may leave the clipless pedals in storage…

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Carlos Matutes
Andrew Major  - Sept. 12, 2021, 11:31 p.m.

Sounds like you might have a 365-Day Flat Pedal Challenge coming up as well then? If you do go for it, I'd love to hear how it goes. 

I don't see myself going back to clips with the exception of my urge to do a few local races. Even then, it's not like pedals are going to make any notable difference to my results so I'll probably just have at it on my flats. Then again, until recently I never would have believed I'd go cleat-less, so what do I know?!

Reply

fartymarty
+3 Andrew Major Beau Miller Derek Baker
fartymarty  - Sept. 13, 2021, 2:09 a.m.

Darn it, I've just switched back to clips on both bikes after a good few months on...  

I'm a serial swapper so it wont be long until the flats are back on.  Plus winter is coming and flats are the obvious choice.

I do tend to prefer clips on the HT - more so I can keep pedalling on bumpier terrain and not worry about my feet - altho that's probably just bad technique.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Andy Eunson
Andrew Major  - Sept. 13, 2021, 7:49 a.m.

Winter it’s such a comparatively awesome experience. The amount of energy I spent choosing socks, sealing cleats, and just generally trying to keep my feet warm with pedal plates screwed to the bottom while being water cooled.

Between flat shoes, Esker wool insoles, and waterproof socks for the truly heinous days, I’m so much more comfortable.

Reply

andy-eunson
+1 Andrew Major
Andy Eunson  - Sept. 13, 2021, 12:54 p.m.

That’s why I run them in fall and spring and occasionally in summer. Plastic, sorry, composite pedals and 5.ten free rider pro with wool or waterproof socks is the way to go. It’s funny how many people refuse to try one style or the other without really trying them. I’ve been on clips or toe clips and straps for off road since 1983. But I made a more concerted effort to use the flats for longer periods of time than before. Flats for me are like doing ski drills. It forces one to ride better. Flats still suck on technical climbs though.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Beau Miller
Andrew Major  - Sept. 13, 2021, 2:47 p.m.

I’m getting pretty okay but agree, clip-in pedals make technical climbs easier and, for me, sometimes simply doable. 

And yes, my riding has improved generally since I started focussing on them.

Reply

rcybak
+1 Beau Miller
rcybak  - Sept. 14, 2021, 2:02 p.m.

It's exactly that--the technical climbs that will never have me go to flats. I remember vividly when the first Shimano clipless pedals came out, and I bought them immediately, after suffering through toe clips, double strap toe clips, those flip plates. I even used road clipless on my mountain bike for a few rides. Anyway, for me, sometimes the climb is the best part of the ride.

Reply

andrewbikeguide
+2 Andrew Major Beau Miller
AndrewR  - Sept. 14, 2021, 8:02 a.m.

Blivet Quillo boots for the cold and snowy days

Shimano MW7 for the less cold days

There are no issues with cold wet feet riding with clip pedals in autumn/ winter - only poor equipment choices.

Columbia Fairbanks Omniheat for the ultimate (light) warm, water proof flat pedal boot that you can still feel the pedal through (and hike well when off the pedals).

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 14, 2021, 2:44 p.m.

I’ve ridden quite a few different wet weather clip-in shoe options - with pants to limit the water-in-the-top-factor and for our cold-from-wet but not really cold environment none of them worked better for me than just running flats. 

WM series from Shimano is pretty decent for the must-clip rider though.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 14, 2021, 2:44 p.m.

This comment has been removed.

otagoboy
+2 Andrew Major Derek Baker
otagoboy  - Sept. 13, 2021, 3:46 a.m.

I swap between flats and clips multiple times every week. The flats are best for when it’s really slippery or gnarly and I might have to quickly dab or abandon ship completely. The clips are for when it’s drier, faster and a yard sale is less likely. I’d probably stick with flats all the time if they didn’t gouge big divots out of my shins every month or two when my “judgement” gets ahead of my talent.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 13, 2021, 7:51 a.m.

I’m amazed how many folks can easily switch back and fourth. I was doing okay but would still have weird moments where my brain was trying to execute as if the opposite pedal option was in play.

Reply

Hollytron
0 Andrew Major Beau Miller
Hollytron  - Sept. 13, 2021, 9:08 a.m.

I move my feet around too much now that Ive ridden flats for 4 or so years. I tried some clip in pedals again last year for one ride and could not deal as I was twisting out when cornering (scary).

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Beau Miller
Andrew Major  - Sept. 13, 2021, 12:10 p.m.

What pedals did you try? I find my cleats set all the way back in a pair of Egg Beaters (I prefer the Mallet DH version) provides a lot of movement without accidental disengagement.

Reply

DancingWithMyself
+2 Andrew Major Velocipedestrian
DancingWithMyself  - Sept. 13, 2021, 3:46 a.m.

If you’ve never spent at least a year on flats, doing so is almost certainly the single best thing you can do for your riding skills. When people ask about flats, I always offer to keep their spd or other clip-in pedals and refuse to give them back for an agreed upon period of time.  There are definitely going to be some frustrating rides starting out and lots of temptation to switch back.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+2 DancingWithMyself AndrewR
Andrew Major  - Sept. 13, 2021, 7:54 a.m.

Hahaha.

I have a friend who used the freeze his credit card in a block of ice as way to control impulse spending. 

Your post had me imaging some of my friends, who love flats until they are worried about losing a group ride, sitting at their work benches with a heat guns trying to free their SPD pedals so they could shave a minute off the No Quarter climb.

Reply

Vikb
+8 TristanC Guillaume Désy Martin ElGenerale Skooks goose8 rolly Tremeer023 Doug M. Beau Miller
Vik Banerjee  - Sept. 13, 2021, 4:18 a.m.

I'm working on a 20 year Flat Pedal Challenge myself. ;-) Made it to year #12 so far. I spent a decade+ on clipless before that. Zero desire to go back. I'm faster then ever and riding better in technical sections. That's comparing a 50+ me to my 20-40-ish self.

Good luck with the challenge Andrew.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+2 Vik Banerjee Doug M.
Andrew Major  - Sept. 13, 2021, 7:55 a.m.

You’re in that #fasteratfifty crowd eh? Cheers Vik!

Reply

martin
+1 Andrew Major Vik Banerjee Beau Miller
Martin  - Sept. 13, 2021, 9:56 a.m.

Just completed the 20 year flat pedal challenge too and I have no plans to go back to clipless. I rode them from '96-99 because it was the cool thing to do, but then I started racing downhill and felt better on flats (with hiking shoes of course!). 

Then feeling like having a little newness, I bought clipless pedals for my mtb in 2012 and sold them a few months after. Then I bought a pair for my commuter/road bike 5 years ago and sold them last year. I just like to be able to wear whichever shoes I feel like wearing when I'm commuting or riding on the road and I didn't feel like it gave me that much more in my riding "experience". 

Flat pedal shoes are so much more comfortable than clipless shoes (the ones I've had weren't high-end) and feel more "natural" to me. Weirdly, it was riding technical climbs that I didn't like on the clipless. I was always affraid that I couldn't unclip and fall, so many times I stopped and walked up on climbs that I would clear on flats. To each their own thought!

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Beau Miller
Andrew Major  - Sept. 13, 2021, 12:13 p.m.

It's funny how much perception plays a role. There are some punchy moves that I'm very wary of on flats because I don't have that extra little 'pull up' factor to save myself if I don't quite have the juice to get up them, whereas on flats if I stall out I'm jumping for it.

Reply

TristanC
+2 Lev Andrew Major Vik Banerjee Beau Miller
TristanC  - Sept. 13, 2021, 4:53 a.m.

I only started mountain biking three or four years ago, coming from a touring background. I ran clipless for the first two years, but then got a nagging knee pain that seemed to come from the lack of float or the foot positioning or something. Now all my bikes have flats, my knees feel great, and I don't miss clipless one bit. I don't buy there's a difference in power, run whatever works for you.

It's worth it for the confused looks when I roll out of a 250-mile ride on flats, too - like it's some kind of superhuman feat to keep your feet on the pedals for that long.

I also enjoy the comically large Pedaling Innovations Catalysts; I've got those on my mountain/fat & gravel bikes, and Race Face Chesters on the commuter.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+2 taprider Beau Miller
Andrew Major  - Sept. 13, 2021, 7:58 a.m.

I have enough time on both types of pedal, climbing technical terrain, multi or single speeded, that I can confidently say that I can generate more instant-power clipped into my pedals. 

I don’t think that’s controversial, it just makes sense as you can push and pull at the same time?

Doesn’t stop me loving flats but there’s a reason you aren’t going to see them on an XC World Cup stage (or at a BMX race - even the little kids clip in).

Reply

TristanC
+1 Andrew Major
TristanC  - Sept. 13, 2021, 12:11 p.m.

I thought part of clipless lore was that you aren't supposed to pull up on them? But if you think you have more power, great! I personally haven't noticed a difference. But I am also at a point physically or terrain-wise where pedal-type is not the limiting factor in riding something vs. not riding something.

Plus, it's easier to get off and sprint up the hill in flat pedal shoes :P

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 TristanC
Andrew Major  - Sept. 13, 2021, 12:16 p.m.

Certainly, while you're just spinning out there's no 'pull up' factor but when you're standing grinding up a climb or executing a technical uphill thrust absolutely you're pulling up on the cleats/pedals and it absolutely makes a difference. How often and how much of a difference depends on where you ride of course.

Reply

ackshunW
+1 Andrew Major
ackshunW  - Sept. 14, 2021, 5:46 a.m.

For sure in the Singlespeed sense, struggling up the last steep bit of a tough climb, clipped in definitely absolutely lets you convert more flailing body motion to forward bike motion. 

I think droppers are part of the flat-pedal renaissance, because in my opinion, there’s no way to do a (even slightly janky) trail ride on a hardtail with the post up. 

On the other hand, I got to the top of my technical game (especially slow speed tech) clipped in on my rigid SS with a rigid post. Without having fork dive working against you, even steep descents and rock rolls were totally ok, safe in the knowledge my feet wouldn’t go popping off. (For reeaally steep or extended stuff, sure stop & lower the post. But 99% of the time..)

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 14, 2021, 7:35 a.m.

Droppers deserve a ton of credit for sure. High-posting with flat pedals on technical terrain sucks. I’ll even drop the post a bit for some technical climbs.

To be fair, pre-dropper even with clips I used to lower my post “an inch for fun” in tech on my duallie and often just ride my #1FG with the seat down.

So I probably could have got along okay with flats.

ackshunW
+2 Andrew Major Velocipedestrian
ackshunW  - Sept. 14, 2021, 10:52 a.m.

Oh for sure, now with my dropper seat height is “textbook” at full up. Back in the old days, choosing the right off-road seat height was much more.....nuanced :)

rwalters
+2 Andrew Major DancingWithMyself
Ryan Walters  - Sept. 13, 2021, 7:33 a.m.

One side benefit that I appreciate from exclusively riding flats is that you are forced to really pay attention to what your suspension is doing. If you want to ride really fast in rough terrain on flat pedals - your suspension must be really dialed. Clips allow you to be a bit lazy.

I really have more fun in all situations on flats, but I know I could ride a bit quicker on clips. If I were still racing seriously - I'd likely be on clipless pedals, simply because it's one less thing to worry about as your body is near full exhaustion, hanging on for dear life at the end of a race.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+2 Andy Eunson Ryan Walters
Andrew Major  - Sept. 13, 2021, 8 a.m.

Absolutely agree. And body positioning in a huge way - I had to relearn riding a hardtail because of how often my feet came off at first. 

I do find that I like my rebound slower with flats than clips so it’s also a bit pedal specific, at least in my mind, v. just better or worse.

Reply

rwalters
+4 Andrew Major Dogl0rd Skooks mikeynets
Ryan Walters  - Sept. 13, 2021, 8:07 a.m.

I also keep a mental note of crashes and "near misses" that happen to me while riding. And while I'm sure there are some scenarios where clips might have saved the day, I am certain that the vast majority of my slip-ups would have had worse outcomes on clips. I can't speak for everyone, but I'm far more comfortable and confident pushing limits on flats.

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Dogl0rd
+1 ElBrendo
Dogl0rd  - Sept. 13, 2021, 1:38 p.m.

I am terrified of clipless otb

Reply

Timmigrant
0
Tim Coleman  - Sept. 16, 2021, 11:36 p.m.

Watching Friday Fails videos I think there are a lot more crashes caused by flat pedals than caused by clipless pedals. That might be because more beginner riders are on flats. But I see a lot of folks losing a foot on a jump or little lift, and having a crash as a result. Finding a crash caused by clipless pedals is much more rare. I'm hard pressed to think of many crashes that were worse when riding with clips.

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rwalters
0
Ryan Walters  - Sept. 17, 2021, 9:41 a.m.

Riding bikes is hard!

Reply

oldmanbike
+3 Andrew Major blackhat Skooks
OldManBike  - Sept. 13, 2021, 8:06 a.m.

A nicely written, thought-provoking piece as Andrew's usually are.

I've been on SPDs for decades and suspect I'll never switch, even though the majority of people I ride with are on flat pedals. So much of what I find most fun and satisfying about riding just feels diminished for me on flats. Being the one who gets up a techy climb, trading haymakers at the front of the group ride, clearing a big-ass log. And, not to get all woo woo over it, but for me being clipped in really does give me a feeling of body/machine connection that I miss on flats.

Riding clips has kept me from persisting at learning to wheelie and manual, because off the back is the one direction that unclipping isn't automatic and those falls aren't fun. And I'd probably be a little more stubborn with skinnies if I were on flats, too. But for me those trade-offs are easily worth it, and it doesn't feel like I'm sacrificing any fun/loose/confident ride enjoyment. So these days snow rides are the only time I consistently switch to flats, because then the benefits of clips are reduced even when cleats aren't packed up.

But mountain biking is a long journey, and who knows what 5 or 10 years from now will bring.

Reply

DancingWithMyself
+3 Andrew Major OldManBike Velocipedestrian
DancingWithMyself  - Sept. 13, 2021, 5:22 p.m.

I rode clipped in for a long time.  Now if I switch back to being clipped-in I feel way LESS connected to both the bike and the trail.  All the slop in the cleat-pedal interface feels so vague and unsatisfying.  Can’t stand it.

Reply

craw
+3 Andy Eunson Cooper Quinn Todd Hellinga
Cr4w  - Sept. 13, 2021, 8:07 a.m.

I've ridden flats and clipless on an off for 20+ years and like them both. They both have pluses and minuses and I generally prefer the  balance of traits of being clipped in - which is really only possible because my shoes have a really long cleat slot. I think it's weird when people express a very strong opinion about one or the other without being proficient in both.

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velocipedestrian
+1 Andrew Major
Velocipedestrian  - Sept. 13, 2021, 5:05 p.m.

What shoes?

After a year on flats, and enjoying the better body position and technique benefits I put my clips back on... Turns out the cleat slot is at least 10mm too short for my new foot position. (Shimano AM9)

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 13, 2021, 7:19 p.m.

Big, big fan of the Bontrager Rally shoes for this reason. When I was going back and forth my cleats just kept moving rearward.

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skyler
+2 Andrew Major Tjaard Breeuwer
Skyler  - Sept. 13, 2021, 9 a.m.

Ah, so that's why I've almost never cleaned R&R climb! It's my damn pedals!

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 13, 2021, 12:20 p.m.

HAHAHAHA, totally!

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jamesb
+1 Andrew Major
jamesb  - Sept. 13, 2021, 9:09 a.m.

Can you recommend a shoe that has a wider forefoot and toe box?  I would love to give flats a long term go but struggle with  shoes currently available, at least the few that I have tried.  For clip in shoes, I use Lakes that offer a wide option...perfect for my "duck foot" shaped feet.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 14, 2021, 2:40 p.m.

The regular Freerider (not the Pro) from Adidas/Five Ten is considered to be one of the most generous-volume options. The new Giro Latch is also quite roomy. 

If you’re in Canada, Five Ten is going through a change in distributor AND the general Covid tomfuckery so their inventory has been brutal. Hopefully with QBP stepping in the selection is much better.

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wishiwereriding
+1 Andrew Major
John Keiffer  - Sept. 13, 2021, 10:02 a.m.

I've been on flats for quite a few years now. I ride them on my gravelish bike too. They let me to move my foot farther forward than clips would usually ever allow. I'd say on 70% of my rides I think about clipping back in at least once. However, it's just a momentary thought to which I won't really listen to. I could use some new shoes though...

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 13, 2021, 7:21 p.m.

There are lots of clip-in shoe options now like the Bontrager Rally or Crankbrothers that have significantly more rearward cleat positions than us traditional. These became a must for me when I was going back and forth.

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HollyBoni
+3 Andrew Major ElGenerale Skooks
HollyBoni  - Sept. 13, 2021, 10:29 a.m.

I just switched back to flats about two months ago and i'm absolutely loving life. I rode clipless for a good while but I struggled with toe pain and numbness. I went through several pedals, several shoes, tried expensive insoles, played around with cleat placement, but I couldn't get rid of the issue.
When I switched to flats, I was immediately comfortable. I just did a 5 hour ride this weekend, and I didn't think about my foot/shoes once. Sooooo nice!

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AndrewMajor
+1 Ryan Walters
Andrew Major  - Sept. 14, 2021, 7:38 a.m.

I don’t think you can oversell the simplicity just-get-on-and-ride factor.

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skooks
+3 Andrew Major Dogl0rd goose8
Skooks  - Sept. 13, 2021, 10:35 a.m.

I am also on the 20+ year flat pedal challenge. They are absolutely more fun *for me*, and that's really all that matters. I rode toe clips then cleats for a number of years, and always run cleats on my road bike so I do have some experience with them. I don't believe flats hold be back in any situation, and when I fail to make a difficult climb (R&R) I don't blame the pedals! #flatsforlife

Reply

GiveitsomeWelly
0
Karl Fitzpatrick  - Sept. 13, 2021, 1:30 p.m.

I've been on flats for the last  12 years with a dark period of trying racing in clips for a season. 

I get knee pain with spds and bought Time Speciale 8s that I use on my rigid single speed for tamer trails and tech climbs. 

Just got some of those One Up Composites and was worried about the concave shape but they're great. 

My ego doesn't make me worried about not keeping up with 'the group'. I love what clips offer in the climbs and I can go faster in the rough on my hardtail but flats also keep me 'switched on' and feel safer for whenever i get ejected.

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GiveitsomeWelly
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Karl Fitzpatrick  - Sept. 13, 2021, 1:30 p.m.

This comment has been removed.

Bondseye
+1 Andrew Major
Kevin Bond  - Sept. 13, 2021, 1:44 p.m.

I’m running flats on my full suspension and clipped in on my hardtail. I’ve tried running flats several times on my hardtail and I always get bounced off.

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syncro
+1 Skooks
Mark  - Sept. 13, 2021, 1:58 p.m.

I ride mostly clipped in, but will switch between clips and flats depending on the bike. There's pros and cons for both, and sometimes what seems like a con can actually be a pro depending on how one wants to look at it. From a fun or personal preference perspective there's no debate to be won, it's simply what works well for the individual. From a performance perspective, I think clips have the edge most of the time. When asking what's best, this is one of those questions that can't be answered definitively as it's such an individual thing. So yeah, do what makes you happy.

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ElGenerale
+1 Andrew Major
ElGenerale  - Sept. 13, 2021, 2:15 p.m.

I'm a fan of flats at this point, primarily for the on the fly micro adjustments. When switching over, I experienced quickly the technical benefits of dropping the heels, and since then I rare get bucked off the pedals. I didn't realize how often I'd be driving pedals with toes pointed downwards, but flats fixed that right quick.

One huge plus for cleats: If you're prone to twisting ankles, they're great for a quick recovery. I used to play a lot of basketball, and when I'd land awkwardly and get a significant sprain, I'd be off the court and the bike for several weeks at a time, hoping to avoid another tweak while oh so slowly healing. In 2003 I was spending ~equal time on trails and courts, and started riding SPDs. Missing the cardio of both, I decided to go for a ride just a few days after a good sprain. Two days later my ankle was strong and stable, and I was back playing basketball and riding good riders within a week. The same situation played out a half dozen more times, with the same recuperation results, and I attribute the quick recovery to the unique combination of getting the good work that pedaling provides without the potential to roll the ankle again (assuming I was careful when starting and stopping, and didn't ride where I might dab on a round rock).

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earleb
+1 Andrew Major
earle.b  - Sept. 13, 2021, 4:18 p.m.

I did the first 16 years exclusively on clips. My first 3-4 years on the Shore on clips, then wanted to get better at jumping so in 2009 decided that bike park and shuttles were for flats and pedaling was for clips. Did the back n forth for a couple seasons then it was just back to all clips for everything. 

The last two seasons have seen a return to flats when riding with the kiddos. Track stand skills on flats are currently at an all time high. 

I don't feel like I gained any "newer betterer" skills with the time on flats, but I did fail at more tech climbs. I find when clipped in I'll grunt it out further up a gnarly climb while on flats it's "meh walk it, no rush dude" as soon a climb gets challenging.

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GiveitsomeWelly
+1 Andrew Major
Karl Fitzpatrick  - Sept. 13, 2021, 11:58 p.m.

Interestingly in my head, clips tell me "well, I'm here, locked into my bike" and the extra finesse/grunt I get while climbing in clips ends up as a plus too.

Flats make me braver though so they win every time unless it's relatively tame and I'm just getting in the kms.

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Dude@
+3 Andrew Major Velocipedestrian DancingWithMyself
Dude@  - Sept. 13, 2021, 6:20 p.m.

I switched to flats almost 15 years ago, and I became a better bike rider. At first it really sucked, but then the magic happens. You have to flow with the bike much more - it is symbiotic relationship between you and the bike - weighting and unweighting in parallel. It is awesome! It brings out the best in mountain biking, in my biased opinion.

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Tjaardbreeuwer
+1 JVP
Tjaard Breeuwer  - Sept. 13, 2021, 6:58 p.m.

I feel the opposite. If I am clipped in, I am not going to give steep or hard uphill move a go, because I’m afraid that I’ll stall out, and tip over, forcing me to bail by jumping backwards or sideways off the bike.

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Squint
+1 Andrew Major
Squint  - Sept. 13, 2021, 8:34 p.m.

I switched to flats about a year ago after 25+ years clipped in (actually to do Ryan's wheelie lessons) probably going to keep going back and forth. 

Most people I talk to are scared of not being able to get out of clipless if they need to, but I can count on one hand the number of times that's screwed me. And it's far less than the number of times in the past year my foot has come off the flats (but that's mostly a learning curve). 

They each have their bonuses; yes clips are better for climbing, I am reminded every time my foot flips off my flats as I push across the top of the stroke. And the fervent desire to not have to clip back in on a sketchy section has taught me how to push out of stalls, and stay on the bike when otherwise I might have dabbed. 

Flats definitely win for sessioning a new sketchy section, or uphill starts, and I'm done cleaning packed mud and snow out of cleats. There's something freeing about being able to move my feet around, which I enjoy. 

Each have made me a better rider in different ways. Both are monumentally better than toe clips.

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rolly
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rolly  - Sept. 15, 2021, 7 a.m.

Smiling as I look at that pic of Ryan on my bike.  I won it last year from him.  He met up with me for the hand off and couldn't be nicer.  Great guy. Great bike.  

Ryan, if you happen to read this - thank you!!!

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thaaad
+3 Andrew Major Velocipedestrian DancingWithMyself
thaaad  - Sept. 13, 2021, 10:05 p.m.

Ok. Fuck it. I've been on clipless for like 20 fucking years. I tried a year of flats and only felt "ok" on them.

Next ride I'm putting flats on my bike and they're staying on until I'm confident on them.

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AndrewMajor
+1 thaaad
Andrew Major  - Sept. 14, 2021, 7:40 a.m.

Hahahaha. Are you signing up for 30-days or the full 365?!

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thaaad
+2 Andrew Major Velocipedestrian
thaaad  - Sept. 14, 2021, 11:51 a.m.

Who knows, but they're staying on until I feel great on them. Could be a week (lol) could be a year.

I am hoping this will help me overcome my largest riding weakness which is jumping, since I think this weakness stems from fear of being unable to ditch the bike in the air if things go... poorly.

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AndrewMajor
+1 thaaad
Andrew Major  - Sept. 14, 2021, 2:36 p.m.

Hahaha. I hope it’s a mostly great experience!

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thaaad
+2 Velocipedestrian DancingWithMyself
thaaad  - Sept. 14, 2021, 8:06 p.m.

I got some DMR Vaults and some Freerider Pros, wish me luck!

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lance-h
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lance-h  - Sept. 18, 2021, 8:40 p.m.

I’m a flats for life guy and this is my fav combo

lance-h
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lance-h  - Sept. 18, 2021, 8:40 p.m.

I’m a flats for life guy and this is my fav combo

rolly
+1 Andrew Major
rolly  - Sept. 15, 2021, 8:40 a.m.

It took me about 3-4 rides to get to the point of not having my feet lift off my pedals.  Once there things really improved.  The confidence of tackling difficult terrain ramped up.  I also find it great to move my feet around a bit so that I don't get repetitive use injuries around my knees.  As soon as I feel a bit of a twinge, I just adjust with a slight change in foot position and I'm good to go.  

The only downside I've found to flats is the occasional pop off on tech climbs. But I'll gladly make that tradeoff for the tech climb crashes.

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thaaad
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thaaad  - Sept. 15, 2021, 7:23 p.m.

I spent about a year on flats around 2015/16 with good shoes and pedals and never felt as good as I do on clips, which doesn't surprise me considering I've been riding clips since the mid 90's lol

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LAT
+1 Andrew Major
LAT  - Sept. 14, 2021, 8:35 a.m.

i moved from clips and straps to clipless and stayed that way for a loooong time until i bought a fat bike and fitted some CB Stamps.

when the summer arrived i mindlessly moved the pedals to my mountain bike and since then i’ve ridden flats. 

i can’t remember when it actually happened, perhaps 3 or 4 years ago.  i like it. it feels more natural and i enjoyed learning how to use them (to my standard, at least).

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cheapondirt
+2 Velocipedestrian Kerry Williams
cheapondirt  - Sept. 14, 2021, 6:32 p.m.

It surprises me how many people ride clips instead of flats by default. Seems to me like the logical progression should go from "I enjoy this activity except the part where I slide off the pedals" to buying decent flat pedals, and then bike-specific flat pedal shoes as the necessity becomes more evident. (Two of my friends are in stage 2, moving toward stage 3 of that process right now.)

Please don't tell me about the superiority or advantages of clipless, I'm really enjoying riding bikes essentially the same way as I did when I was five years old!

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velocipedestrian
+5 Andrew Major Louif75 DancingWithMyself cheapondirt Kerry Williams
Velocipedestrian  - Sept. 15, 2021, 1:14 a.m.

Stick with the flats. Unless you're racing, succes is measured in smiles per hour.

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AndrewMajor
+1 cheapondirt
Andrew Major  - Sept. 15, 2021, 2:49 p.m.

Grins for the wins!

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Louif75
+2 Andrew Major Kerry Williams
Louif75  - Sept. 15, 2021, 2:33 p.m.

I've switched to flat pedals in a trip with my buddies to Sedona in 2015, first run was a 42km loop and I was completely bonked after but totaly conviced that was the way to go... 2021 and a trip to BC with the same buddies and everybody but one guy, were using flat pedals. Guess we're getting older and looking for more fun than results...

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AndrewMajor
+2 Louif75 Kerry Williams
Andrew Major  - Sept. 15, 2021, 2:48 p.m.

Hilariously, I have two buddies who are on the cleats all the time these days because they’re getting older a d are worried about getting dropped.

I think that’s what I like the most about this piece, and by that mean these comments. Goes to show you what a massive role personal experiences and personal preference play in bike setup when folks use the same arguments for/against totally different products (like flats v. clips)

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OLDF150
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Kerry Williams  - Sept. 16, 2021, 11:56 a.m.

This article really speaks to me Andrew.  Being 52 this year and on my 2nd tibial plateau fracture in 2 years, I was in need of flat pedal useage after the first one. I ended up enjoying it so much, along with a gym membership that allowed me to keep up with most of my riding group, that I didn't plan on going back to clipping in. But, I kept the enduro type bike and pushed the limits a bit too far and am now recouping from the 2nd tpf.  so, now I've decided I need to be more XC in my riding style, and was wondering, do people ride flats on XC bikes? I want to, but would the community allow it, LOL? My plan is to ditch the enduro bike for something closer to XC (eliminate the send temptation) and stick with the flats. Glad to hear I won't be the only person doing this combo! Thanks again for a great article.

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Timmigrant
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Tim Coleman  - Sept. 16, 2021, 11:43 p.m.

I'm the opposite. I learned how to ride on flats, which I think taught me many good habits riding wise. But transitioned to clips when I was racing downhill. I've dabbled going back to flats a few times, and had trips where my bag got lost and had to ride a few days on flats. I want to love riding on flats again, and you look cooler @thedumpsters with flats. But for me clips are way more fun. I like not worrying about my feet on the pedals, I like the float of the shoe on the pedal when cornering, and I like the connected feeling to the bike through really rough sections. I feel like I get less foot fatigue with the generally stiffer soles in clipless shoes as well. But I like that people like flats, and have a ton of respect for good riders on flat pedals.

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OLDF150
+1 Tim Coleman
Kerry Williams  - Sept. 17, 2021, 8:25 a.m.

I hear ya there Tim, and the last time I used flats for an extended period of time(about 7 or 8 years ago), I had those same issues and ended up going back to clips until I broke my leg.  I don't know if shoes are better, or if its the HIIT training I do throughout the week, but I don't have any of those issues any more, so the flats are my go to.  @thedumpsters I change shoes, even being on flats.  Must be an old clip shoe habit, LOL.  I do sometimes miss that locked in feeling though.  Defintiely just a matter of what works for each person.  It's awesome that we all can find what works for our individual quirks these days.

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lance-h
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lance-h  - Sept. 18, 2021, 8:43 p.m.

People on the regular “comment” on my flat pedals. At my ripe age of 34 people call me old school for it. At very least its a bonus I can wear the same shoes to rides and the arpre’s and be comfy…

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Brigham_Rupp
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Brigham_Rupp  - Sept. 19, 2021, 6:09 p.m.

Fun to hear everyone's stories about their pedals. I've been riding for 25 years and have never clipped in even once so I have no idea what I'm missing. Everyone I ride with clips in, and they are a pretty strong group of riders (I'd say top ten percent in terms of pace up and downhill according to the all-knowing Strava). I came to MTB as a teenager from street BMX and skateboarding, and was initially drawn to dirt jump/freeride/DH so that's probably part of why I never cared to clip in. But at this point I regularly do 2-4000 foot climbs and haven't ever noticed any overall advantage they have over me from clipping in.

My favorite thing about flats? Being able to grab a soda at the gas station after a ride without sounding like I'm walking around in tap shoes!

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