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The Benefits Of Using Clipless Vs Flat Pedals For Bicycling

Updated on August 27, 2012
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Liam Hallam is a sports science graduate. He is also a keen cyclist and a lover of the Derbyshire Dales and Peak District.

Why should you consider changing to clipless pedals?

Many cyclists entering the sport grew up riding bicycles with the traditional style flat pedals. Flat pedals offer a stable platform for the foot to be placed on while cycling with the benefits of being able to take your foot away from the pedal quickly for when you stop or in case of problems.

However as beginners edge towards the more performance related sides of cycling sees the use of clipless pedal systems such as Look Keo road pedals and Shinamo's SPD clipless pedal systems for Mountain Bikes. These pedal systems often make beginners very anxious to switch from the relative security of flat pedal systems.

This article looks at the advantages of switching to clipless cycling pedals vs flat pedals.

What are the benefits of clipless pedals vs flat pedals?
What are the benefits of clipless pedals vs flat pedals? | Source

The key benefits of switching to clipless cycling pedals

There are a large number of benefits to switching to a clipless cycling pedal system

  1. Improved pedalling efficiency
  2. Improved bicycle control
  3. Increased cycling power output
  4. Improved comfort over longer rides

Improved pedalling efficiency from clipless pedal systems

As a clipless cycling pedal keeps your foot connected with the pedal constantly you're in constant control of your pedal stroke. Every muscle used in the pedal stroke can be utilised to it's full potential to drive the bicycle forward.

Using a flat pedal means that the upstroke of your pedal stroke is neglected as your foot can pull up away from the pedal and become unattached. Using clips and straps on flat pedals helps to negate this effect however it doesn't make the action perfect unless you tighten the clips and straps so you're almost at the point of losing circulation in your toe-box.

Platform type pedals limit the use of the hamstring muscles and hip flexors in the 'up phase' of the pedal stroke.

Improved bicycle control from clipless pedal systems

The clip in nature of clipless cycling pedals improves the control of your bike by keeping you constantly attached to the bicycle. Your feet can't slip off a wet pedal so there's a lower chance of having an accident.

You will likely have heard lots of riders' anecdotes about the time they couldn't unclip from their clipless pedals. These are often rare, however it seems a rite of passage amongst cyclists as are mistakes learning any skill. The good thing is that very quickly you learn how to get your feet out of the pedals. Some pedal systems can also have the entry and access point adjusted so it's easier to unclip if you're dubious about using them.

If you're using platform pedals with toe-clips you also have the need to release the tension from the strap before you can remove your pedal which adds additional difficulty in reaching down to loosen the straps while you ride.

Clipless pedals can improve your cycling power output

Improve your cycling power output by investing in clipless cycling pedals
Improve your cycling power output by investing in clipless cycling pedals | Source

Increased cycling power output from clipless pedals vs flats

Having increased your effiency of pedalling by choosing clipless vs flat platform pedals you are instantly able to increase your cycling power output due to being able to utilize every possible cycling muscle within your leg for pedalling. Particularly your hamstrings and hip flexors which do a significant amount of work as part of the cycling pedals stroke. The glutes and hamstrings get the attention, however many people misunderstand the importance of the hamstrings and hip flexors whilst cycling.

Improved comfort over longer rides of clipless vs platform pedals with toe clips

Clipless pedals help to provide additional long distance comfort when compared to platform or flat pedals fitted with toe clips and straps as clipless pedal systems allow a degree of natural foot movement while pedalling in the form of 'float'. Flat pedals force the rider to constantly place pressure through the foot to hold it in one place. Whereas clips and straps force the foot to be held within one place continuously.

Great Shimano cycling pedals for beginners

Shimano PD-R540 SPD-SL Clipless Pedals; White
Shimano PD-R540 SPD-SL Clipless Pedals; White
Shimano's entry level road cycling pedal is great for beginners with a sensible level of float and a sensible price tag

Types of clipless pedals for beginners

If you're a beginner or looking to step up from flat pedals to clip in style cycling pedals you need to be aware that there are effectively two types of clipless cycling pedals

1. Road Cycle Cycling Pedals

Road cycling clipless pedals are usually single sided to save weight and often feature a wide thermoplastic cleat design to provide solid contact with the pedal for a reassuring pedalling action.

2. Mountain Bike Style Cycling Pedals

Mountain biking often features double sided clipless pedals which allow the user two options for ease of pedal access. The double sided nature also allows water and mud to pass through the pedal to ensure it doesn't get clogged up.


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