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Flat Pedals For Recreational Mountain Biking. More Fun In 2021

Mountain biking is about going out onto the trail and having yourself a good time while exercising. For many of us we have no intention of racing and getting a Strava KOM is about as likely as winning the lottery. If your not racing then use flat pedals for recreational mountain biking. Why clip into your pedals and have all the pains such as falling over on climbs when you’re out there trying to have fun. Falling over and hitting your knees and elbows on roots and rocks isn’t fun.

I see really really serious riders (most of them racers) frequently recommend clipless pedals to new riders on Facebook groups and other forums. If your not going to race, this is a giant mistake that will make riding less fun. For recreational mountain bikers who are not racing you are better off investing in a good set of flat pedals and flat shoes.

What is the difference between flat and clipless pedals?

Flat pedals are the typical generic pedal you’ve seen on most bikes since you were a kid. They are a flat platform that you push on and stand on with your feet. Not all flat pedals are created equal or are suitabled for mountain biking.

five ten mountain bike shoe

raceface chester pedal

Clipless pedals are an oxymoron. Clipless pedals such as SPD’s have a spring loaded clip that you click a clip into that is screwed to the bottom of your shoes. You are clipped into your pedal when riding.

shimano spd shoe and pedal
shimano SPD pedal

Why is recreational mountain biking more fun with flat pedals?

You remove the risk of falling over due to being unable to clip out of clipless pedals. It gives you that dose of confidence to try that really huge log or rock pile or skinny.

Shoes meant for flat pedals are much better for regular walking so when you feel like stopping for that after bike beer you don’t need to change shoes. Clipless pedal cleats are also very awkward to drive with.

Do you get any less good of a workout when you remove a couple percent of potential pedaling efficiency? No. Not at all. Working slightly harder makes you slightly stronger.

Will you really fall over because you can’t get your foot unclipped?

When riding clipless pedals will you fall over because you can’t get your feet unclipped? Yes!! You will definetely fall over due to being unable to unclip sometimes. It will happen at the worst times possible. You can and will knock your knees and elbows and other sensitive parts into roots and rocks on the side of the trail when you fall over.

Why I started riding clipless way back when

When I started riding clipless, mountain bike pedals that came on bikes were mostly molded plastic and were really easy to slip your feet off of while riding with sneakers. Clipless pedals back then made the ride more enjoyable. Slipping off your pedal and nutting yourself on your saddle isn’t fun.

I used them right up until 2 summers ago. I was out for a ride and fell over again trying to get over a log pile and whacked my knee into a root again. It hurt again. It hurt for a few days again. Why is this fun when things hurt? What do I gain from riding clipless pedals? I don’t race, have never raced and never intend to. There are much better options available now for mountain bike flat pedals and shoes.

group of mountain bikers on a trail

Why I started riding flats and will never go back to clipless

Falling due to being unable to unclip has accounted for at least 90% of the mountain bike falls I’ve ever had.

I went on Ebay and found a cheap set of Flat Shoes from Giro. Then I bought some Raceface Chester Pedals. I haven’t had a fall because of being stuck in the pedals since then.

I enjoy mountain biking a ton more now that I don’t worry about whether or not I can get out of my pedals in time trying to ride over this rock pile or log pile. I just go for it now knowing if I get stuck I won’t fall over.

There may be some loss in efficiency due to riding flats because you can’t pull up on the pedals with your feet. Most of us don’t anyways. I do use Strava for my own personal knowledge. I’m still the guy riding around midway up the list on times.

Do shoes made for flat pedals help keep your feet from slipping off the pedal?

Shoes designed for pedaling on flat pedals have much much better grip with the pedal than normal sneakers or other shoes do. Most flat pedals meant for mountain biking have small metal studs sticking up from the surface to help with grip. Most shoes meant for mountain biking with flat pedals have a bottom surface pattern that the studs can stick into.

When riding once you press your foot into the pedal they actually stick so well it’s difficult to adjust your foot on the pedal. You may have to lift your foot off the pedal to adjust it. There may be a lot of efficiency lost to clipless pedals when you are using smooth plastic flat pedals and regular sneakers. If your riding with flat pedals with metal studs and flat shoes the loss has to be very little.

flat shoe bottom tread

raceface chester pedal close up

Flat Pedal Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Your not attached to the pedal
  • They work with any shoe
  • You won’t fall over from not being able to unclick
  • No risk of falling due to being stuck in pedal on technical obstacles or steep climbs

Cons

  • Lost efficiency from not being attached to pedal
  • Your feet can slip off of the pedal while riding

Clipless Pedal Pros and Cons

Pros

  • More efficient pedaling.
  • Your feet can’t slip off the pedals while riding

Cons

  • You will fall over because you can’t unclip your feet in time
  • Most clipless shoes are uncomfortable for walking around while not riding

Shoes and Flat pedals for recreational mountain biking

Below are some gear recommendations for recreational mountain bikers that include popular and well proven gear. I personally use RaceFace Chester Pedals and Giro Flat shoes. I plan on replacing the shoes with Five Ten Freeriders when they wear out sometime soon. I have used the RaceFace Chester pedals for a few years now and they are holding up very well. I expect to get many more years out of them.

Flat Pedal Recommendations

Editors Choice

Race Face Chester Pedal

Top Pick

Crankbrothers Stamp Flat Pedal

Top Pick

OneUp Components Composite Pedal

Flat Shoe Recommendations

Editors Choice

Five Ten Men’s Freerider MTB Bike Shoes

Top Pick

Giro Chamber Mens Cycling Shoes

Top Pick

SHIMANO SH-GR7 Cycling Shoe – Men’s

I hope you have a good experience mountain biking like I have had using flat pedals and shoes. To have more fun choose flat pedals for recreational mountain biking.

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selfie for info block

About the author

My name is Doug Ryan. I am an outdoors enthusiast always looking forward to my next adventure. I spend as much time skiing, biking, and paddleboarding as I can. I decided to start Endless Rush Outdoors as a way to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for all things outdoor adventures and to help other people have as much fun as me.

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