The majority of my riding over the past few years has been on the roads. I’ve recently gotten a used hardtail mountain bike and did my first couple of trail rides on it. I threw on some shimano spd mtb pedals that I had laying around for my first few rides. I was falling frequently when I’d get stuck going uphill on a rock or root, or take a bad line and end up off track.
My bike handling isn’t great(obviously), but I was curious if I’d be better served by switching to flat pedals while I get comfortable on the trails or if it’s better to stick with the clipless pedals and keep at it and take my lumps?
I guess the rule of thumb is that you learn on flat pedals on MTB so you learn proper bunny hop technique and line choice, also being able to put a foot down on tricky sections if you need to.
In saying that it’s so hard to give up that extra wattage!!
Start with flats and get comfortable on the bike when hitting technical features and if the need arises then you can always change to SPD’s.
I would recommend a decent flat pedal and shoe so you have good grip.
I reckon you ought to stick with the spds, just practise clicking in and out of them when you’re in non-techy sections. Maybe you’re bailing a bit too early knowing (thinking) that you can’t unclip in a hurry and that’s contributing to your stalling on the uphills? Can you reduce the release tension in your pedals, that might help a bit too.
Added benefit of flats is they’ll force you to weight the bike properly and keep you from lifting with your feet. As mentioned, get decent pedals and good shoes and you’ll have a much better time on flats.
I recently got back on an MTB and went for flats just to mix things up. It took a few weeks to get used to them and find the right foot position and body weighting to not get bucked of on rough descents. Totally worth it though.
Added, added benefit, they make mtb seem more like riding a BMX as a kid. Helps let any “go fast” ego about speed and efficiency go. I’m a dyed in the wool roadie and need all the help I can get.
That sounds about on par for being new to mountain biking We have all been there. Ditching the clipless pedals was a game-changer for me, boosting my fun factor and confidence over technical terrain by quite a bit. I never went back, even doing 100 mile mtb races and long bikepacking trips on flats (no hot spots on the feet ad being able to hike a bike over anything is great). I’m sure if I was ever in the pointy end of such races I might feel pressure to re-adapt to clipless, but since I’m gaining so much more by training and boosting my FTP and losing weight than I am by switching pedal systems, they have stuck. I honestly don’t notice any difference in my power with either pedal system.
Couple of tips though - Good pedals have good pins and those pins have quite the “bite” when you bobble on the trail or hike a bike and whack your shin. You’ll learn how to avoid that with time. But to start off you may want to get some light duty shin guards, like a g-form or similar. Also get used to a more mid-foot position rather than ball of the foot position.
Anyway, summary, flats are fun, power loss may be a little overstated, (i.e. not a concern if you’re not at a level where you’re looking for marginal gains) and no tipping over due to not getting unlatched in time is priceless.
I’m still riding the hybrid “thing” I mentioned in this thread, with sections on the rough/steep trails I described:
I’ve been using some Crank Brothers Double Shot pedals that I had - clips on one side, flat on the other - but they’ve not been ideal for this usage. Being under-geared and under-tractioned on the bike, stall outs are not uncommon, and I suspect it’d be a lot easier/enjoyable/safer(!) if I could dab a foot down more quickly than having to rapidly unclip (& sometimes fail and tumble over…). Indeed, this “fear” of stall-outs and tumbles has prevented me attacking some sections and often has me just baling out earlier as a precaution, which isn’t ideal.
As a result I decided to change the pedal/shoe combo and move to flats: I’ve bought some Five Ten Trailcross shoes for this hike-a-biking, and ordered some some HT PA03A flat pedals to use with them.
I know next to nothing about off-road/MTB, but from when I rode bikes as a kid and other stuff I’ve read now, I’m assuming I’ll end up using much more of a mid-foot position with flat pedals than I would’ve done when clipped in.
So, once I fit these flat pedals, (and depending on their platform height vs. the old Crank Brother pedals), am I likely to need to reduce the seat height a bit to accommodate using more of a mid-foot pedal position much of the time? Or what?
I recently bought a hardtail MTB to ride with my young son, makes zero sense to be clipped in when riding with him as I need to be on and off the bike quicker in case a “situation” arises. Our riding is not technical or fast yet.
But aside from that, my thought was to remain on flats as I felt it would seem more fun, I’ve done a few rides on terrain that I don’t think my skillset is quite happy with yet but it was such a blast. Trainers (sneakers) on, no computer out front, just zig zagging here and there and playing around.
If the old clips vs. flats debate arises, I will add my $.02…
My son is 17 and I bought him a MTB recently. Given all that I have learned in my life about riding/racing mountain bikes I put him on flats.
It’s actually pretty astonishing how well a human interacts with a bike naturally when allowed to move and flow untethered to the bike. Clips add ankle rigidity and impinge hip and core rotation. Eliminating that allows you to corner more naturally rather than being locked into the bike.
Watching him naturally set up in corners is awesome and even if he goes to clips at some point in the future, learning on flats establishes the foundation for a lifetime of good riding technique. He has learned to jump and move the bike in the air on flats with an awareness of his foot and ankle position/rotation at a level I will probably never get it to given my clipless bad habits.
As for seat height, I think the length of the spikes on the flats and the type of sole on your shoe will matter more than the position your foot resides on the pedal. Definitely easy to adjust out on the trail however if you start a bit high and are not enjoying yourself.
Well, the pedal/shoe combo worked very well on my resurrected Frankentrail bike - monstrous levels of traction from the Five Ten shoes to the flat pedal pins, akin to being clipped in, despite it being “a little bit muddy”…
Had a few “moments” when I tried to twist my ankle to “unclip” (20 years of muscle memory at work…) only to find the pins held my shoe like it was locked tight - had to relearn lifting my foot up to get them off the pedals.
NB didn’t raise or lower the seat at all - seemed fine as it was.
Get Faster with TrainerRoad
Sign up and download the app to start training. Available on iOS, Android, Windows and Mac devices.
Ask a Cycling Coach Podcast
This is the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. Listen to the latest episode and more.
We Are Here to Help!
Browse hundreds of articles in our Support Center or contact our world-class support team to get back on track.