Flat VS Clipless Pedals – Comparison Guide


Used for numerous things – from cornering to climbing – pedals are one of the most important contact points on any bike. Two main types of pedals – clipless and flat pedals – exist in the market. Both have their pros and cons. While clipless pedals offer both efficiency and power, flat pedals feature maneuverability and ease of use. 

Comparing flat vs clipless pedals and considering which type will offer the most benefits for your type of riding is the easiest way to choose an ideal pedal. In this clipless vs flat pedals comparison guide, you will learn everything there is to know about the pedals. 

A Detailed Flat VS Clipless Pedals Comparison Guide 

For this clipless vs flat pedals comparison guide to offer you all the details you need, we will divide it into 2 major sections – one for the clipless pedals and the other for flat pedals. We will begin with the clipless pedals. 

Clipless Pedals 

Clipless pedals are the most popular option for riders who enjoy mountain biking. The term “clipless” is admittedly confusing considering that the rider actually “clips in” to the bike’s pedals – much like you would with a ski binding. The pedals were given the name “clipless” decades ago to differentiate them, at the time, from another type of pedals known as “toe clips”. 

Various designs of the clipless pedals are available, from minimalist and super lightweight designs featuring just an axle and the locking mechanism to more solidly built designs that feature extra cage around the mechanism for improved support and pedal protection. Unless low weight is a priority for you, a caged clipless pedal is better-suited for the rough and tumble off-road bikepacking trails

While different brands use varying locking mechanisms, most clipless pedals work by mounting a small metal or plastic cleat on the sole of your specially-designed cycling shoes. The cleat typically snaps on the face of the mountain bike pedals. The clipless pedals feature cleats with a three- or two-hole design. 

Some clipless pedals feature a spring-loaded mechanism on the body of the pedal that holds the cleat securely when the rider is pulling up and down on it but also allows the rider to release his/her foot when getting off the commuter bike or in the event of a crash. This release is achieved by rotating the heel outward to release the pedal’s mechanism. The kind of rotation and side to side movement needed to release the pedal is known as float and often varies for different designs. 

Clipless pedals offer a high level of control when executing moves like bunny hops, hopping over logs and when riding fast. Since the rider’s feet are connected directly to the pedal, the cyclist gets to enjoy much-improved efficiency. The connection means that your feet cannot move off the bike’s pedals unless you unclip – this means that you will be more secure when you are bouncing over rough terrain. 

It is worth noting that it can take some practice to get used to getting in and out of the clipless pedals. However, once you get the hang of it, the pedals should feel second to nature. 

Pros and Cons of Using Clipless Pedals

Part of comparing clipless vs flat pedals is understanding the benefits and limitations of the pedals. If you decide to use clipless pedals, you will get the following pros and cons. 

The Pros 
  • The pedals improve the pedaling efficiency 
  • The pedals make lifting and hopping the beginner mountain bike much easier 
  • The pedals hold the feet securely in place on rough terrain
 The Cons
  • Once clipped in, it is impossible to shift your foot 
  • Clipping in and out in a hurry tends to be tricky 
  • To protect your knees, the clipless pedals may require careful setup 

Flat Pedals 

Initially popular with BMX bikes, the flat pedals have caught on in downhill riding for mountain riders. This is because, as the rider is not connected to the pedal physically, it is easy to get off his/her bike in a hurry – this is extremely useful in the crash-prone world of gravity riding. 

Flat pedals are generally ideal for beginning riders. They are the ones that most riders have on their first bike. 

The majority of flat road bike pedals will have a large platform featuring an arrangement of pins to offer grip. The longer and broader the platform is, the more support the pedal will offer your feet – the trade-off, for this type of pedal is the ground clearance. 

When comparing flat vs clipless pedals, the manufacturing material is often important. The platform for flat pedals is usually manufactured using aluminum, although lighter and pricey materials such as magnesium are used sometimes. Much cheaper and featuring the ability to slide over obstacles more easily, reinforced plastics are becoming a popular material. 

Titanium – rather than steel axles – are often used as a lighter upgrade. Titanium, however, usually comes at a higher price. When investing in flat pedals, avoiding fragile, lightweight materials is often a good idea since the larger size of the pedals makes them more susceptible to a serious beating when riding. 

When comparing clipless vs flat pedals, most bike owners tend to worry about repairs. The best flat pedals allow replacement of the pins – this means that you won’t have to throw away your pedal just because the pins are bashed or bent. Longer pins offer more grip – these, however, can do more damage to you and your shins if you happen to slip off. 

Most flat pedals allow the rider to fine-tune both the placement and length of the pins. This allows the rider an ideal compromise between having the ability to reposition your feet on the pedal and outright grip. 

Beginning riders are often concerned with flat vs clipless pedals footwear. Although the flat pedals do not require their users to wear special biking wear (special shoes) on their feet, pairing them with flat pedal-specific shoes is always a good idea. These will have a broader and flatter sole usually made using extra-grippy rubber – this allows the pedal pins to grip hard. 

Pros and Cons of Using Flat Pedals 

Similar to the clipless pedals, flat pedals have their limitations and benefits. If you are comparing clipless vs flat pedals to determine which is better, the pros and cons below should help. 

The Pros 
  • The pedals do not clog up in muddy conditions 
  • They can improve riding confidence since you won’t be locked in place 
  • You can get your feet off to correct a slide, change position, or escape a crash
The Cons 
  • Your feet can bounce off on rough terrain 
  • To make the most of the pedals, you need good technique 
  • Pedaling is less efficient compared to the clipless design 



Q: Why Are Flat Pedals Better?


If you ride in competitive situations or you dress for mountain biking regularly, clipless pedals can make a big difference for you. In addition to offering a high level of control, the clipless pedals ensure that your feet do not bounce off the pedals as you apply power or when riding through bumps. This improves overall efficiency.

Q: Do I Really Need Clipless Pedals?


Clipless pedals are ideal for people who enjoy mountain biking and those who like bike racing. This is because the pedals keep your feet in place during bumpy rides and give you good control when riding fast. If, however, you do normal riding, flat pedals may be ideal for you.

Q: Should I Ride Clipless or Flats?


The type of pedal you choose will depend on your type of riding. Clipless pedals offer efficiency and power needed by mountain bikers while flat pedals offer both ease and maneuverability often needed by road riders.

Q: How Much Faster Do Clipless Pedals Make You?


Clipless pedals improve the pedaling efficiency, allowing the rider to put more power through his/her legs and feet into the bike’s drive train. This means more speed – on average, clipless pedals can improve your speed by over 30%.

Q: Do BMX Riders Use Clipless Pedals?


Using clipless pedals on BMX bikes is not recommended. Unless you are very experienced, you should stick to using flat pedals on your BMX bike – flat pedals make it much easier for you to slip your feet off to correct slides and save yourself from crashes.

Q: Do Most Mountain Bikers Use Clipless Pedals?


Clipless pedals feature numerous benefits for mountain bikers – this is why a significant number of these riders use them. In addition to offering control, clipless pedals improve efficiency and power transfer. This improves the rider’s speed.

Globo Surf Overview 

If you are thinking of getting new pedals for your college bike, comparing clipless vs flat pedals can help you make a good decision. In addition to comparing flat vs clipless pedals, you will have to decide on the type of riding you will be practicing most of the time. Above, we have taken a deeper look at both the clipless and flat pedals.

Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!