At Dirt School, we're often asked why we recommend riders use flat pedals to improve their technique. Today, our Head Coach, Andy explains our reasons behind this and answers the questions we're commonly asked...
What is the Difference Between Flat and Clipless Pedals?
Flat Pedals are the most commonly used pedals, and are what we recommend to riders on our mountain bike skills coaching sessions. They can be used with normal trainers if you’re just starting out, but are best used with a specific flat pedal shoe. The sole of a mountain bike specific flat pedal shoe is designed to grip into the pins on the pedal and stop your foot from slipping off, but trainers are absolutely fine too to get you started.
Pictured above: One Up Components Aluminium Flat MTB pedals in store
The other type of pedals are 'clipless'. The biggest difference with clipless pedals is that you are attached to the pedal via a ‘cleat’ in your shoe. These require specific clipless shoes and cleats to match the pedal you are using. These are generally great for racing as they offer a better power transfer through the pedals and can offer extra confidence that your foot isn’t going to move around when descending rough terrain. The disadvantage however, is that they take a while to get used to until you build up the muscle memory to clip in and out quickly when required, and it’s easy to develop bad habits such as pulling the bike over slippery roots rather than using the ground on the way towards it for grip.
Pictured above: A Shimano Clipless pedal
Why Flat Pedals?
Flat pedals are a great way to learn to ride your bike with good technique, it’s not about being able to get your feet on and off quickly, it’s a great way to learn to weight and unweight the bike, which in turn means you can link the grippy parts of the trail together and not worry about the slippery stuff.
Will My Feet Come Off?
It's a valid concern, but if you start your mountain biking journey on flat pedals and learn to master the correct neutral body position, then no - your feet shouldn't come off your pedals. We can help you with this on our Getting Started or Trail Craft courses.
If you’ve ridden with your feet clipped in for years then the first time you ride some flat pedals off road your feet will most likely be all over the place. This is because, whether you realise it or not, you’ve become reliant on your feet being stuck to the pedals. Take away the sure-footed ‘snap’ of being attached to your bike and yes, your feet might feel a little unsteady at first.
What’s the Point in Riding Flat Pedals?
It’s really to do with how a rider controls their bike when it’s off the ground. This could be flying off a fast drop, or getting some air off a tabletop jump. It could even be just unweighting your bike over some slippery roots. In all of these situations a bad habit of being clipped in is that you pull up on the pedals to clear the ground.
What Should I Do?
A much better way of controlling your bike in any of these places is to create heavy areas on the trail before you’ve left the ground. Come into an obstacle and get close to your bike. You’re going to need that bend in your arms and legs to push off the trail with. As you come up on the last place you’ll have contact with, straighten your legs so that you create a powerful drive away from the trail. The extra pressure of you driving your weight away from the ground will create stability meaning when you do take off you can enjoy more time in the air, more stability, and a softer landing on the other side. You’ll be controlling the trail by being heavy in the right places - NOT by lifting your bike over the things you want to avoid.
Will My Shins Survive?
If you want to keep your shins intact and improve your technique, then the best thing you can invest in is a good pair of flat pedals and a good pair of dedicated flat pedal riding shoes. The difference that both of these will make might take you by surprise. When you stand up on the pedals with all your weight going through them it should feel like your feet won’t budge on the pins at all. You don’t have to spend a fortune either. Companies like OneUp make a robust aluminium flat pedal, but also have a much cheaper composite plastic version that some riders even prefer. Either one will give you the confidence to remain stuck to the platform.
What’s The Secret Then?
There are three secrets to using a flat pedal properly. The first is to ride with your feet a little further forward on the platform so that the ball of your foot nudges up against the leading pins on the platform and your toes all hang off the front. The second is to drop your heels and keep your weight going through the pedals with confident straight legs. Obviously you can bend your legs as and when you need to, but always return to a confident straight leg when pushing. This will keep your feet heavy on the pins and your shoes attached. And finally - scoop with your back foot. Whichever foot you trail with should have the flexibility in the ankle so that you can point your toes down and push back when you want to go light over something. This will ensure your feet don’t just lift off the pedals when you jump or bunnyhop.
Dirt School are open again from July 15th - if you'd like to work on your riding this summer come and see us on one of our day courses. We're offering full refunds if we have to postpone anything due to covid-19 too, so you can book with confidence that you won't be losing out if there's any unexpected changes!