Why you should be training with flat pedals

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Flat pedals aren’t only for kids. All mountain bikers can benefit from riding with them. (Photo: Specialized)
Flat pedals aren’t only for kids. All mountain bikers can benefit from riding with them. (Photo: Specialized)
  • Confidence comes from knowing you can put your foot down.
  • Skills acquired on flats translate to clipless pedals.
  • Flat pedals force you to learn better mountain bike riding technique. 

Novice mountain bikers are encouraged to rapidly transition to clipless pedals with cleats, which might not be the ideal technique trajectory. 

Inexperienced riders on clipless pedals often spend their first rides falling over and trying to work out the exact angle to extract their foot from a clipless pedal. 

It has happened to all of us, even the pros have had those moments where they just couldn’t get unclipped in time, triggering the most embarrassing of all slow-speed cycling falls. 

There is no denying that clipless pedals offer more efficiency, allowing for a more effective and circular pedal stroke. If you’re a road rider, then there’s no real reason to ride anything else, but for mountain biking, flat pedals could be worth trying out. And not only if you are a newbie rider. 

Flat pedals have their place in continual mountain bike skills development. Many riders, intimidated by a tricky climb littered with rocks, will immediately unclip and walk, instead of attempting to ride up a challenging section of trail. 

Those that do try a technical climb and fall, because they can’t unclip, take a huge confidence knock, diminishing their appetite for learning to master technical terrain on their mountain bike. Flat pedals allow for a rider to get a stabilizing foot down on the terrain quickly and easily, without fear of awkwardly falling over.

Flat pedals force you to learn better mountain bik
Flat pedals force you to learn better mountain bike riding technique. (Photo: Ride Concepts)

Skill necessities

Being able to bunny hop properly without cleats might not sound like something you would ever need to learn, but it is. It teaches correct body position, bike control and feel. It is a skill that translates into real value on the trail, allowing you to better control the bike and more speed, whilst expertly dodging obstacles. 

Developing your cornering skills is another area where flat pedals will improve your speed and confidence. You can push harder into corners, knowing that you can dab a foot if needed, which will showcase just how much traction you have when leaning the bike over in a corner. 

Carrying more corner speed means that you’ll enjoy the downhill flow that all expert mountain bikers seem to have. 

Jumping might not be a must every mountain biker, but flat pedals do give you more options when it comes to foot position and also an easy bailout should things go awry on the landing. 

Pedal stroke improvements have also been noted as one of the major reasons to train with flat pedals too. It may sound illogical, as clipless pedals allow you to push and pull the pedals, but when you take away that reliance, you are forced to focus on getting as much out of every pedal stroke as possible. 

After a few rides on flats you’ll find your clipped-in pedal technique will improve thanks to greater pedal stroke technique awareness, when you transition back to a conventional cleated pedal set-up. 

Another benefit of flat pedal riding is shoe placement. You can move your foot on the pedal to find a position where control and comfort are perfect. 

Like anything in mountain biking, there are also debits with flat pedal riding. The problem is being bounced off the pedals in rocky or bumpy terrain. If you’re a light rider this is hard to overcome but if you are heavier than 80kg, and getting bounced off the pedals, it could be more of a technique issue, remedies by dropping your heels.

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The right shoes are important. (Photo: Specialized)

The right flats (and shoes)

Before you go back into your garage and start trying to find those cheap plastic flat pedals that came with your first bike, not just any flat pedal will do. 

A set of decent flat pedals will probably set you back between R500 to R1000 and while you’re at it, you’re probably going to need a matching set of riding shoes. Trail running shoes or skateboarding sneakers are not appropriate and will undo the potential progression in technique that is on offer, with the flat pedal riding experience. 

Flat pedals and matching riding shoes might not be the latest lightweight carbon-fibre component, but the improvement in riding technique will be notable. And not only for novices. 

Even experienced mountain bikers can benefit from occasionally spending a few rides refamiliarizing with flat pedal technique. Think of it as another way of getting faster, like buying a training plan, only the extra performance comes with a lot less sweat.   

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