Mountain Bike Pedals Flat vs Clipless: The Big Debate

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You’ve gone through the painstaking task of choosing a mountain bike that suits your needs and budget. And then you discover that there is more than one type of pedal for your mountain bike! How do you choose? And is one better than the other?

Clipless vs. flat mountain bike pedals have caused many debates in the biking community, with many on the fence as to which type of pedal is truly the best. Join us as we investigate the options, look at the pros and cons of each, and try to answer the question: Which pedals are better, flat or clipless?

Choosing Pedals that Work for You

Two of the most popular mountain bike pedals are flat and clipless pedals. While both serve the same function to propel your bike forwards over rocky mountain paths and trails, there are vast differences between the two that can have you scratching your head and wondering if one is better than the other.

Before choosing a set of pedals for your mountain bike, it is important to ask yourself three simple questions.

  • Which pedals are the most comfortable?
  • What kind of mountain biking do I want to do?
  • Why do I do mountain biking?

While the last question seems like it could force you into justifying mountain biking to yourself, it serves to establish what your goals are. Do you mountain bike for recreational purposes? Do you wish to take part in mountain biking challenges or competitions? The answers to these questions greatly influence the pedals you choose and how much cash you have to spend on your mountain bike pedals.

Mountain Bike Pedals Flat vs Clipless: The Ins and Outs of Mountain Bike Pedals

Flat and clipless pedals have vast differences, and your choice of which pedal you are more likely to purchase and use comes down to personal preference. To help you with your decision-making process, we will do the hard work for you and compare the two in terms of their design, ease of use, cost, and, of course, the positive and negative aspects.

So settle into your saddle, grab that water bottle to stay hydrated, and join us as we look at flat pedals vs. clipless mountain bike pedals in more detail.

Flat Pedals

Flat pedals are exactly as their name suggests – flat. With no clips to hold your shoe in place, these pedals can be paired with any cycling shoe and have studs to keep your foot from slipping off the pedal while you are using it to navigate a mountain path.

The most common material used to manufacture flat pedals is aluminum alloy. This material is light, pretty durable, and can be replaced easily at less cost than other pedals. Let’s look at all the positives and negatives of flat pedals to understand their popularity and favorability.

The Pros of Flat Pedals for Mountain Bikes

Flat pedals are popular for several reasons. Here are the pros of using flat pedals on your mountain bike:

Pro #1: Less risk of serious injury when falling

While clipless pedals have clips to keep your shoe in place, flat pedals do not, allowing you to get both on and off your bike easier and disengage your foot from the pedal should you fall. Being able to get off the bike easily can also have the advantage of stabilizing the bike before it hits the ground.

Pro #2: Adjustable foot positioning

With nothing to hold your foot in place, flat pedals allow you to move your feet around and re-adjust them as you see fit. Perhaps you are going up a slight incline and would like to use the front of your foot to propel the bike forwards more easily. The adjustability also reduces rider fatigue and allows you to transfer the strain to a different part of the foot.

Pro #3: Great for beginners

Flat pedals are easy to use and are great for beginner riders who need to get used to their mountain bike and the rough terrain of a mountain path.

The Cons of Flat Pedals for Mountain Bikes

Here are a few of the negative characteristics of flat pedals:

Con #1: Foot positioning

While the fact that you can adjust the positioning of your feet better with flat pedals is a pro, it can also be a con in that your foot can slip off the pedal at any time. This can result in a nasty scrape on your shins and, depending on what type of material your pedal is made from, can cause scarring.

Con #2: Less power

Clipless pedals allow you to clip your shoe to the pedal, allowing you more power behind every pedal. With flat pedals, you are solely responsible for the push and release motion. This results in less power as you cannot pull the pedal back up.

Con #3: Stability

Flat pedals do not offer the best stability over extremely rough terrains. There is a risk of falling and injury when you do not have full control over the stability of your mountain bike.

Bicycle clipless pedals

Clipless Pedals

Clipless pedals are also popular choices for your mountain bike. These pedals are great for pro riders or those with more skill on rocky mountain paths, as they have learned to control their movements and mountain bike to ensure their safety.

Clipless pedals allow the rider to clip their foot into the pedal, keeping it snug and in place. While this can seem a bit risky, some swear by clipless pedals. Most commonly made from aluminum alloy, they are available in a range of composite materials to perfectly match your needs and budget.

Let’s assess the performance of clipless pedals by looking at their pros and cons.

The Pros of Clipless Pedals for Mountain Bikes

Here are the pros of clipless pedals for your mountain bike:

Pro #1: More power

Unlike their flat counterparts, clipless pedals give you extra power to control both the push and pull motion in each pedal you take. This can result in more speed and power as you navigate different paths and trails.

Pro #2: Stability

Having your feet securely fastened to the pedal gives you more stability on your mountain bike, as you have both the power and the safety behind every pedaling motion. Clipless pedals keep your foot in place, reducing the risk of your foot slipping.

Pro #3: More air

Clipless pedals allow you to get more air and raise your bike higher when you jump off a slope. There is no need to worry about the placement of your feet as they are clipped securely in place.

The Cons of Clipless Pedals for Mountain Bikes

Unfortunately, there are always negative aspects that need to be considered when reviewing a product. Here are the cons of clipless pedals for your mountain bike:

Con #1: The clips

Having your feet clipped into the pedals is both an advantage and a disadvantage. While you have more power, you cannot remove your feet from the pedals in case of a fall. This can result in injury and damage to your bike if you cannot get your feet out of the clips in time to catch your bike or stop the fall.

Con #2: Less ability to learn new techniques

Clipless pedals allow you to get more air from jumps, but this can also put you at a serious disadvantage as you will not learn to control foot placement and achieve higher jumps while your feet are clipped into the pedals.


While it would be great to look at flat and clipless pedals and crown an overall winner, choosing the best pedals for your mountain bike is very much based on your personal preference. Clipless and flat pedals are excellent for durability and have many strong points. But the decision of which you will use should be based on which pedal type matches your needs and your riding style.

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