Flat pedals for longer gravel rides?

(always) put your cleats as far back as possible. Make sure your saddle is not too high so you pedal with a level foot as much as possible, so not pointing your toes down. This alone can make a huge difference.
Perhaps consider a SPD + platform pedal, you get a bit more stability that way but still have SPD.

Short term- try moving your SPD cleat rearward

Also try loosening up your shoes. Cycling shoes don’t need to be super tight and they don’t have much padding inside. It’s easy to get your toes screwed up because your midfoot adjustment is pushing on one of the bones.


My first bike fit had the cleats all the way up and the shoes were fine for a year until the toe pain flared up on a hot day this summer. I had another bike fit a month ago and the fitter slammed the cleats all the way back. This didn’t solve the issue on longer rides unfortunately.

In the full rearward position, the cleat is behind the ball of my foot and I think that may have caused the hot spot?

I have 2 boas on my shoes and have a hard time finding the sweet spot…too tight and the toe pain appears, too loose and I get a hot spot right above the cleat.

Thanks for the tips!!

Hot spot? That might be because the cleat bolts are too long maybe? Otherwise hotspots are from the sole being too flimsy at the cleat.

Boas - these allow you to way over tighten and focus that tightness on a very small spot. Try it with just the boas lightly tensioned. The ankle one should keep your foot from sliding forward and the mid one should keep the foot from moving sideways- that’s it.

Maybe also play with your arch support

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I’ve been riding flat pedals exclusively for at least 5 years now after a good 20yrs on clipless. While I’m primarily a mountain biker I do a lot of road and gravel as well.

My reasons were mostly for bike handling - I realized spd’s had introduced a lot of bad habits for me as they let you get away with poor on bike positioning, pulling up on cleats when bunny hopping and worse pedalling mechanics. In flats, if you do these things you get immediate feedback when your feet come off. That’s obviously a drawback as well for flats.

I also suffered from foot pain & numb feet with spd’s and that went away completely for me with the flats which is why I now use them on the road and gravel as well full time. Sore uncomfortable feet really detract from the joy of riding.

Personally, I use Pedalling Innovations flat pedals on all my bikes. They have a longer platform and give your foot more support especially if you choose to use a more mid-foot position, which I personally prefer. If you go that route, you’ll likely need to drop your saddle a bit as well as scooch it forward a bit. I have used smaller flats and I find my feet get more tired than with the larger platform. Nothing like the discomfort of the spd’s but I missed the bigger platform for sure.

For 5 Tens, get one of their lighter models. I use the Freerider pros but I’d love to try some of the newer ones for road/gravel like the Trailcross. Shoes like the Impacts are boat anchors. I’d only use them for DH.

Quick mention of the negatives of flat pedals: there is a learning curve to using them and your feet will come off at times you don’t want them to (happens less and less as you improve and far less likely for road/gravel); your foot doesn’t go to exactly the same spot every time and adjusting position can be a bit of a pain as the sticky shoes really do work (this has never led to any riding induced pain or repetitive use injury - flats let your body adjust as you need to and I think makes it less of a risk than with spd’s which lock you into a pretty fixed position); if your feet come off and your shins hit the pedals, you’ll have some scars for life (I wear shin pads now for almost every MTB even though my feet rarely come off now); heavier; probably slight efficiency loss (I don’t believe it’s much though and definitely not more than what you lose from discomfort and getting off your bike).

Last comment is wrt pedalling technique - use all the TR pedalling drills. The only one I couldn’t do effectively was true one leg pedalling. For those I kept both feet on the pedals and let one leg just go limp and go along for the ride. The drills will show you that you can still be active all the way through the pedalling stroke even the 9-12 a clock portion. While your feet aren’t pulling on the pedal, you are getting your foot out of the way so the other foot isn’t pushing against your trailing foot. Even for spd, that is the main point of the exercise as you don’t generate any real power pulling on your cleats at that position.

Good luck - hope you enjoy the flat pedals and it leads to pain free riding.

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What SPD pedals are you using? Before I went SPD-SL’s I did 100s of miles with SPD’s and a touring pedals ( PD-A600 (shimano.com)). The pedals were light and had a decent cage. They are single sided though so I’ve went recently with double sided Richie Comp Trail pedals for my gravel bike ( Ritchey Comp Trail / Mountain Bike Pedals (ritcheylogic.com) ). I’m still to do substantial miles on then though.

Edit the only problem I find with flats is when you stop if you push off with one dominant foot the pedals may not be in the position to do so, its easy to raise that pedal/foot with SPD’s and the like (I’m hesitant to call them clipless :joy:)

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With FiveTen shoes and studded flat pedals, you can do this. Just kick your foot forward and the crank will go up however far you wish. The pedal/shoe really seems to stick together except for one-foot pedaling as mentioned earlier.


I’ve been using Shimano XT M8120…I figured the bigger cage would give a boarder platform when riding. I’m not sure how much these actually help compared to regular SPD’s.

@jfranci3 I’m using the bolts that come with the cleats…not sure how to tell if they’re too long. I have some Bontrager SPD shoes on the way that are 12 out of 14 on their stiffness scale. Hopefully that helps but I’m open to trying anything and everything at this point!!

@Phat_Tony Thanks for the tips!! I wear a 14 US or 48/49 Euro so those pedals look down right amazing.

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Something with a cage can help to disperse the load, as oppose to plain spuds which definitely won’t help. But you are using something like that already so that’s not the issue, maybe its over tightened boas which someone says. They maybe don’t feel tight at first but after your foot starts to swell maybe you need to readjust :thinking:

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Lol, that reminds me of another issue but it more user error. The last time I had hired a mtb with spiked pedals. I got round without whacking my shins. Great I thought, then someone pointed out my calves were bleeding a fair bit. I hadn’t once whacked my shins and my calves weren’t bruised or sore but I had perfectly perforated them with the spikes :rofl:


That’s something that happens to me alot. Most of the time, it’s at regroup points, and I’m off my bike, leaning on it, and because I wiggle around alot and can’t really stay put, I end up hitting my shins all the time. It’s annoying as hell, but I can’t seem to fix that problem.

I also went the other, started with flats, and only came into cleats in my later years. I’ve got so many holes in my legs, some of them from real hits on the gnar…usually accompanied by me getting launched off the bike too. Strikes on the calf, yep.


I have been running SpeedPlay pedals on my gravel bike. They are still easy to walk in for the hike-a-bike sections are comfortable for longer rides. I also found a sole insert for shoe helps as well.

I don’t think trying flat pedals is going to hurt you at all, but have you considered just getting some new SPD shoes?

This is the challenge!! I’m a 48 or 49 (technically 49 D per a Brannock device) and the 49 Giros cause the massive pain. My Fiziks were slight wider it seems but just too short at a 48. I’ve ordered 8-10 pairs online and many seem OK just walking around the house, but I won’t know of they cause pain until I’m 40-60 miles into a ride.

I figured flats would allow me to play with foot positions…after all flats and sandals worked for Lachlan Morton.

Five Ten are too small so I’m back to the drawing board!

If you’re going to go flats, 5.10s are THE shoe - everything else is 2nd tier (or worse) for traction and stiffness.

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I kinda explained the anatomy behind why you want flat pedals in this other TR thread. It will likely fix your problem. With shoes that are ventilated, and have a big toe box, it will most likely fix your problem.

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Now just trying to find the right shoes. Thank you!!!

I have seen gravel riders using flat pedals with really massive pedal platforms…probably >5 inches long? Asked about it and the rider said it was very easy to get a quick foot down, the pedal really spread pressure out over his foot, having a large stiff pedal platform made it unnecessary to use a stiff shoe so walking/hike-a-bike was no prob, and it was MUCH easier to squirm the foot around and avoid hot spots.

It was a much more reasoned response than I expected. Never tried that type of pedal but a lot of what he said made sense to me.


my flat-pedal shoe of choice is a pair of nike metcons that i already had for gym use. stiff enough (intended for weightlifting) and plenty grippy. not cheap if they’re new, but if you’ve already got a pair (or something similar) they’re worth a go

Yeah, these guys helped pioneer the “big flatty” trend and there is something there for some riders. Other brands followed and some offer multiple sizes (usually 2) of flat pedals to suit feet size and/or preference.

You can also dig into the different shapes from flat, to convex, or concave (some with combinations of each) to really dial in the feel and grip you want. It’s almost more choice than clipless when you see those shapes and then get into adjustable pins too. LOTS of options that come from the pedals and then shoes on top of it all.

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