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  1. #1
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    Old Question: Platform vs. clipless pedal (specific trail: Saratoga Gap, Demo)

    I am still relatively new to mountain biking. I have been on and off for a while and my total trail mileage is really less than maybe 200 miles. (For the record, I run about 20 miles per week and running is my main thing.)

    I use a pair of Forte platform pedal + Five Ten downhill shoes. But on the trails near South Bay (Saratoga Gap/Long Ridge/Monte Belle, and Demo) I mostly (>95%) see you guys use clipless.

    I have read a lot about this Platform pedal vs. clipless comparison and it seems that the clipless does not improve efficiency much. So I am wondering why you guys use clipless.

    For me, rocking with platforms gives me more confidence in trying new/more challenging stuffs. So care to share your story how you begin using the clipless? Or did you guys start biking with clipless? How do you bail out when crash suddenly becomes imminent with only split-second to spare? I ask in this forum because if I post it in the general ones, people will usually say "it depends on your specific trails blahblahblah". So let's talk about the trails just around here. Thanks!


    I am constantly coming to these near-crash or crash situations that I think if I am with clipless I will probably break a bone or two. For example, there is one section in Saratoga Gap that after some fast section there suddenly appears a bunch of tree roots one after another in a descending order. I crashed twice there. Both times I kinda bail out unharmed. If I had a clipless I don't know what will happen when I flew over the bar with my feet still attaching to my bike. Another time at Long Ridge in one of those fire roads after the rain. There was some mud, not much. I didn't give much thoughts to those muddy spots and rode through them. I was a bit too fast and my bike suddenly slipped in the front out of the bright blue sky. No symptoms, the front end just slipped and I was out. (I have 2.35 up front but still). I am glad that I had flat pedals. I've been to Demo and rode down Braille also. Being a novice, I still tried a few jumps (I suck at those though) and I was having a blast. With clipless I will probably be overly-conservative.
    Last edited by lidation; 03-04-2013 at 11:11 PM.

  2. #2
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    Stick with the platforms, have fun! If you feel like trying out clipless down the line, do it...or don't. Doesn't much matter as long as you're having fun!

  3. #3
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    Honestly it's all about personal preference. I run both, but mostly run clips. I like the feel and the way I can position my feet on the pedal ( i.e. flatter and not heel down) for most of my riding. Do clips make your pedaling more 'efficient'? Most likely not, most of the power is delivered on the down-stroke (so I've read lately anyway). Don't worry about clips 'LOCKING' you in to your bike in the event of a crash. Your feet will easily release from the pedals, so as long as you don't have the clips set too tight. I run mine fairly loose so I can put an inside foot down through some turns moto-style and they work great. I suggest owning a pair of both flats and clips, and running either when the situation calls for it. Cheers
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  4. #4
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    I tried out clipless when I got the FB. I couldn't tell too much of a difference climbing wise, which is what I wanted. Part of this is because I don't ride them much. The issue I had was getting my foot out quickly, or even at all really. I don't know what it was, but I had no confidence that I could get my foot out and that really affected me mentally. I did like the control you have with being attached to the bike. I climb well enough in flats, and usually switched back to flats for DH when I climbed clipless so for now I just stick with those.

    Crank Bro's Mallet 2's with Minaar's is what I have btw. My biggest issue is feeling like I have to move my knee/foot in an awkward position to get it to release. I run clipless on the road bike and never had any issues, in fact I feel 100% confident on them. Give 'em a try though because only you will know for yourself. I know someone told me there are better pedals to start with that work better.
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  5. #5
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    This is a well-written question. I'm subscribed to hear the answers. I can write a novel but I would rather listen.

    The advice:
    "Ride what you like. It's all personal preference."
    Is the worst advice in history btw.

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  6. #6
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    People use ski bindings like clipless pedals. They "lock you in" and are "spring loaded" to keep you there. If you exceed the force, you get kicked out. You have more control over this with clipless pedals, but it's a similar setup IMO and makes the connection between the bike and the person more secure.

    Realize that those of us riding them have been practicing for a while. It's not the ability to release in a crash, that becomes second nature and a quick turn of our heel outside releases them, it's getting back in on steep slopes while going uphill that can be challenging. You get better ability to use your pedal stroke with the pedals, but some designs won't "click in" as easily, or you catch the wrong part of the pedal with the mechanism and it won't go in. Most modern pedals do much better in this than the older models, but still, it's usually more challenging to get back in after stopping on a steep uphill then it is to get out.

    This may blow your mind, but many of us feel far more secure, stable, and confident in very rough terrain with clipless compared to flats. If you are feeling less confident, like you want to be able to "bail out" easily, that's usually a sign that you lack the skills for the section completely and you will likely crash anyways. Not due to the pedals, but due to taking it too slow and not having enough gyroscopic stability. The people that want to "unclip" for the tough sections are usually the ones that crash on those sections, but that is the extreme and people can be stable and have fun on both flats and clipless.

    Look at the major DH riders, they use both flats AND clipless. At that level it's still personal preference. About the only place I would want flats is up high on a skinny or doing straight bmx dirt jumping. Otherwise, it's clipless for me at South Mountain, the gnarliest downhills, and everything else.
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  7. #7
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    I started with platforms because well, that's what we all grew up with. I realized that my feet would actually hurt after a long ride (20miles), and that my toes would often curl over the pedals a bit. Probably due to a soft sole.

    Anyhow, so I picked up a pair of shimano m520s (very affordable) and some Pearl Azumi shoes (X-Alp Enduro III) which look more like light hiking shoes than roadie shoes. A couple of observations:

    Climbing was much more efficient and foot pain went away. The sole is rock hard compared to my previous shoes.

    Going over "chatty" terrain is easier as my feet don't bounce around.

    I have "fallen over" quite a few times. This typically happens on a climb when it's pretty steep and I run outta gas or hit some sand and spin out. I have toppled over when my chain popped off and I didn't realize it, and i came to a stand still and fell over. It's more embarrassing than anything else.

    I've got the tension pretty low, but I just can't get my feet out as quickly as I wish I could.

    If you're going clipless, go clipless, don't dabble in it a few times as you need to be able to get the motion down. Especially in an emergency. Whenever I've fallen, my feet have always come out so it's not like i've pulled the bike on top of me or something like that. Sometimes I proactively unclip.

    Try it for a season. It will take some getting used to, and you may not be riding the highly technical stuff right away in clips, but there's plenty of guys/gals around here riding up Rocky Ridge in clips.

  8. #8
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    Ride what you like.

    OP, seriously. You're a recreational rider, as am I. More efficiency, who cares, who exactly are you racing against that you need every bit of pedal efficiency? I ride platforms on my MTBs. I ride clipless on road. I'm not comfortable with clipless at all. It feels awkward and on technical climbs where I need to dab I tend to do the classic clipless fall. There's also a discussion like this every other day in the All-Mountain forum (of all places), and other sub-forums. Does this really need to be in NorCal?

    If you want to work on skills and techniques of skills (like cornering) and jumps, use platforms. Clipless can be a crutch for bad technique. People rely on the cleat to do jumps by pulling the bike up, holding the bike up in the air, and to keep you on the bike on technical sections where you might bounce off if you didn't use platforms correctly.

    Your crashes at the Gap have nothing to do with platform vs pedals. You crash because you have bad technique. Clipless kind of answers one part, you have to commit because it's not as easy to hop off the bike, and then you go OTB. Bad technique there is the primary answer, and that is shown by the OTB. Work on it. Work on it with platforms, partly for comfort of soul, but mostly to learn proper form and pedal technique for weight shifting. I will tell you, just from what you wrote, you don't know where the center of your bike is (in terms of balance), and you don't have a good attack position. Riding technical stuff is about remaining balanced, weight through the BB of the bike, and being down low. It's almost impossible to go OTB at the Gap once you have that down. Other areas, yes you still can, but not the Gap. When you learn proper technique, you can go faster more safely. You can also get more gnarly and have bigger crashes which break bones, but that's a different discussion.

    When learning clipless you will have lots of float (I do, and also keep the tension really low). That's a very bad combo for learning skills. It's fine for spinning, which is why I use it on road and the occassional fireroad or easy descent. You have too many things you have a skill deficit on. I would work on proper MTB skill first, and I would do it on platforms. That is what I did and am still doing. When you have skills down, and no longer need to practice, you can pick what ever you like....but you should take a look at what pros use in competition and also in practice. The DH and enduro guys may use clipless for every bit of efficiency in competition, but they have a big platform for support and to grip like a real platform pedal. They have the platform pedal expertise to use it properly and not accidentally unclip.

    I can understand going to clipless in competition, but in practice sessions you should rock platforms unless all you do is ride fireroads at Sierra Azul.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by IAmHolland View Post
    Ride what you like.

    OP, seriously. You're a recreational rider, as am I. More efficiency, who cares, who exactly are you racing against that you need every bit of pedal efficiency? I ride platforms on my MTBs. I ride clipless on road. I'm not comfortable with clipless at all. It feels awkward and on technical climbs where I need to dab I tend to do the classic clipless fall.
    For me it's the exact opposite. I came to MTB with 20+ years of riding road bikes with my feet attached to pedals. Riding w/o that feels weird and awkward and I never feel like I'm completely in control of the bike. Yeah, I'd probably be a better MTB rider if I went back and relearned how to do everything w/o clipless, but I'd rather just enjoy the time I have to ride.

    Clipping out w/o thinking about it just takes time and practice. I never feel like I can't get my foot down when I need it, but it wasn't always like that.

  10. #10
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    Awesome so far.

    I will share this: Trek Dirt Series (Women's) is probably the most awesome skills camp in the world. They have the best instructors and they have the most teachable students. Step 1 in the camp for all riding levels was:

    Leave your clipless pedals behind, install flats.

    Trek Dirt Series Womens Mountain Bike Camp Report | Mountain Bike Review
    (check the cool video in there).

    It is for this very reason that I, clipless rider for 15 years, switched to flat pedals last year. It took me about three months to get comfortable with them. But now I am a better rider. Flats are about 10% slower when climbing (that's 6 minutes on a one-hour climb) so I still switch around. But flats are more fun, enable learning and skills building.

    It is a struggle to learn flats and get physics back in your favor so commit to riding them 4-8 weeks exclusively if you want to give them a shot.

    fc
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  11. #11
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    I am a weirdo who races xc endurance races in flat pedals. I gave clipless pedals a try, and honestly, I could not get past the falling-and-hurting-yourself-all-the-time phase. The last straw was when I was riding in Moab on a very exposed ledge, and my clipless cleat wouldn't let me out until the very last minute. That day I bought flats and said to hell with it. I don't feel that clipless pedals give me much (if any) advantage on most of the trails I ride, personally. On the road, it's indispensable. As a noob, it's hard not to be swayed by the fact that most everyone you see is on clipless pedals. But I know a lot of die-hards who switched and are having more fun and seeing their skills improve as a result.

    It's a relatively recent thing that more people are looking into flats again, I think.
    There are lots of articles on Mountain Bike Strength and Cardio Training Tips and Programs.
    There are some excellent articles on betterride about both flats and clipless and how to get the most out of each:
    BetterRide Mountain Bike Skills Tips

    That being said, I'd like to hear the other side of the story, too!

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  12. #12
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    Thanks for sharing everybody!

    I started this thread because like what shredchic said "As a noob, it's hard not to be swayed by the fact that most everyone you see is on clipless pedals.".

    And it's good to know that even pros are using or are practicing on flat pedals like francois, shredchic mentioned.

    And in IAmHolland's post, you mentioned that "Your crashes at the Gap have nothing to do with platform vs pedals. You crash because you have bad technique. " Well, I guess so. My mentality on technical single track is that once things are not going right I will bail out just like fighterjet pilot ejecting away from their ride. Riding flat pedal gave me the option to bail out and this is probably two fold: on the one hand, I can probably learn better technique since I have more confidence; on the other hand, I might just learn a good technique in jumping out from my bike without being hurt -- I actually find myself more and more prepared for that already so this might not necessarily be a good thing skills-wise.

    For now I will probably stick with my flat pedal and not be swayed by the fact that the majority folks are with clipless. Need to work on the skillz. Speaking of that, is Dion going to start a new "monthly mountain bike technic" kinda thread?
    Last edited by lidation; 03-05-2013 at 10:14 AM.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by lidation View Post
    And in IAmHolland's post, you mentioned that "Your crashes at the Gap have nothing to do with platform vs pedals. You crash because you have bad technique. " Well, I guess so. My mentality on technical single track is that once things are not going right I will bail out just like fighterjet pilot ejecting away from their ride. Riding flat pedal gave me the option to bail out and this is probably two fold: on the one hand, I can probably learn better technique since I have more confidence; on the other hand, I might just learn a good technique in jumping out from my bike without being hurt -- I actually find myself more and more prepared for that already so this might not necessarily be a good thing skills-wise.
    Yes, you can bail out. But, as a fairly new rider who has progressed through technical descents and still working on technical climbs, more than half the battle is mental and skill preparation. Yoda said it best. You must unlearn what you have learned. Do, or do not, there is no try.



    Work on the skills in a parking lot and easy trails. When you ride harder stuff, don't think about bailing. That's just something that happens one way or another. If you think about bailing, you will fail.

  14. #14
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    I think IamHolland is correct in his assessment of your crashes (sorry!). I would recommend taking a class, watching some videos, and/or reading some skills books. I know that root section, and if you just relax with good form you'll roll right through it. Bailing out will just reinforce poor technique and bad habits. Riding with better riders and sessioning tough sections will boost your skills and your confidence (PM me if you ever want to ride).

    I started off hating clipless--the old problem of not being able to clip out "on command". But then I dumped the Crankbrothers pedals--I think they require a lot of ankle flexibility that I don't have--and got SPD XT/XTR's and have not looked back. I rarely race, but pretty much all the guys I ride with are younger and usually faster (plus I do the occasional 8+ hour ride), so efficiency/speed is a big deal for me. And for bunnyhopping, tail whips, little jumps, etc., it's just way more fun with clipless for me. It might be a crutch, but it's a fun crutch!

    Still, I'm going to give flats a shot at the BMX park and see if it helps my jumping, because I'm not confident at all hitting Demo-type jumps clipped in. Good luck!
    Last edited by dirtvert; 03-05-2013 at 10:12 AM.
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  15. #15
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    I run a dual sided pedal myself, so can choose flat or clipless. Since I ride pavement to/from the trails, I like the efficiency of clipless for that portion of the ride. Then when I get to the technical parts of the trail, I'll flip the pedals over and continue on with flats. I added some pins to a set of Shimano A530 pedals and they work quite well on the platform side. I don't ride a lot of the highly technical trails.

    I had never run clipless pedals until about 2 years ago when I got back into cycling. Prior to that I had only used toe clip type pedals with straps and I liked that combination as you could make the choice to leave the strap loose or tighten it down.

  16. #16
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    Bear Trap!

    I run SPD pedals on all my mountain bikes, but I do see the advantages of flat pedals for DH, dual slalom, dirt jumping, etc. One disadvantage I haven't heard mentioned yet is the risk of bear trapping, as I did goofing off in a parking lot with my brother's flat pedal DH bike. I guess that's why flat pedal folks usually wear shin guards.

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  17. #17
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    That haven't happened to me yet. Knock-on-wood. But I will be careful. I don't wear shinguards so once it happens it will be pretty nasty I believe. Actually in one of my Saratoga Gap crash, I went over the bar and my bike flew above my head and landed in front of me. At that moment I was thinking what if the bike landed on my back with those spiky pedals hitting my face......

    Quote Originally Posted by sactojesse View Post
    I run SPD pedals on all my mountain bikes, but I do see the advantages of flat pedals for DH, dual slalom, dirt jumping, etc. One disadvantage I haven't heard mentioned yet is the risk of bear trapping, as I did goofing off in a parking lot with my brother's flat pedal DH bike. I guess that's why flat pedal folks usually wear shin guards.

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  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by sactojesse View Post
    I run SPD pedals on all my mountain bikes, but I do see the advantages of flat pedals for DH, dual slalom, dirt jumping, etc. One disadvantage I haven't heard mentioned yet is the risk of bear trapping, as I did goofing off in a parking lot with my brother's flat pedal DH bike. I guess that's why flat pedal folks usually wear shin guards.

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    I wear armor all the time now. My shins look like those of a diseased person. I hope the scars fade. I might try some of that scar gone stuff.

  19. #19
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    Last time I rode clipless I was screwing around on the gravel fireroad at Arastradero picking up the rear wheel and tossing it about. Somehow I managed to unclip while doing this and threw my right foot into the front wheel/fork.

    And yes, shin pads are mandatory with flats especially with pins. I learned that when I was about 12.
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  20. #20
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    To me it depends where I'm going to go riding. I have 3 bikes a 29er hardtail and a 5in travel bike I run SPD on those 2 bike,I also have a 6in travel bike that I run flats on. I use the 6 incher at North Star and also rides in the Sierras. I like flats if I'm going to be doing a lot of hike a bike. Me personally I can climb better on SPD's as I can pull up on up stroke.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles50 View Post
    To me it depends where I'm going to go riding. I have 3 bikes a 29er hardtail and a 5in travel bike I run SPD on those 2 bike,I also have a 6in travel bike that I run flats on. I use the 6 incher at North Star and also rides in the Sierras. I like flats if I'm going to be doing a lot of hike a bike. Me personally I can climb better on SPD's as I can pull up on up stroke.
    I am also going to agree with this.
    My every day trail bike has clipless pedals( been riding them for about 8 years).
    My mess-around fun bike/ buddy bike has flat pedals.

    There are pro's and con's to each, one style will not make you a better rider on its own.

  22. #22
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    I've been riding for 15 years or so, and only switched to flats in the last year. I was totally comfortable riding clipless in everything, but started to feel constrained when riding spots like Demo. When clipped in, I just didn't feel like I could maneuver with complete freedom on the bike, and at least a few of my hard crashes were made worse by not being able to get my feet out while flying through the air.

    So, I decided to try flats, and I'll likely never go back. I lose maybe 10% efficiency on the climbs, but frankly if you're spinning properly, you shouldn't rely on clipless. A lot of people "pull up" when pedaling, which is metabolically less efficient than just pushing and following through. I also enjoy the downhills a lot more. I feel better hitting big jumps, taking sharp corners at higher speed, etc. I've also avoided several crashes where I was able to throw the bike away or run it out, which would have been difficult if I was attached to the bike.

    I do miss clipless when bombing moderately technical terrain at high speeds, but once you learn to point your heels down on flats, you really never find your foot coming off unless you want it to. I've banged my calf and shin twice, and did in fact wear SixSixOne shin guards when first switching to flats, but now I rarely if ever wear them, and have never come off the pedal.

    So, given my goal is to have as much fun and get seriously injured as little as possible, I'll be sticking with flats for the foreseeable future.

  23. #23
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    I think I know the fortes you are talking about. They are good pedals for the price and I used to have them.

    I run clipless only now; climbing in flats just feels weird for me now. I have not tried modern pins or super grippy five tens though. That and the fear of pins giving me hamburger shin are the only two real reasons I do. I first learnt on a pair of crank brother mallets which are basically flats with the option to clip in. Someone else mentioned these as well. A lot of world cup DH racers run these pedals. They are excellent all around except for the weight and you're not really losing much if you decide you hate clipless. If you're curious, I recommend getting these, they are reasonably priced compared to most flats and have good resale value if you decide you hate them. I don't know if SPDs or other brands are easier to learn on, it's what someone told me was the easiest and what I stuck with. I switched to candy sl because they are lighter and still provide a nice platform.

    I used to ride everything clipped in, but after spending the better part of last year in socal where they have much more rocky technical sections, I can attest it's much easier to learn proper technique and bike balance in flats, as Francis pointed out from the skills clinic tip. He is absolutely right that they are fun, and useful for skill building. Another example, when I first learnt to bunny hop, I would cheat and use terrible technique and just pull up with my feet and let the clipped pedals do the work, not using body position or weight shifting. You can't do that with flats. You have to learn to do it the right way. I am not saying I can hop more than a brick, but it's a very useful technique that I would never have learnt otherwise. Now if I could only learn how to manual properly.

    I do often unclip for rocky, loose sections and tight single track because I can perceive that I can shift my weight better. The candy sl (or 3 as they're called now) have enough of a platform that this is feasible. I slightly disagree with the other poster that said people who unclip for technical sections are the ones that go OTB. There are definitely sections I ride unclipped that I know I have no problem riding clipped because I've done it many many times clipped. it's about confidence, knowing I can lean the bike further, cary more speed through the sections, and have the ability to put in a quick dab if I need to. I think others will agree, faster is often safer. That and you can sweep the leg of a rude hiker unclipped.

  24. #24
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    Any ride where there is an extended period with uniform cadence, I seriously feel the lack of clip less. I run them on my own bikes all the time. When renting bikes, I will go flats.

    That said, two of my last three idiotic crashes (not even CHUMtacular) were due to old SPD cleats which have this awesome side effect, when they get older, of making sure you stay clipped in.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by francois View Post
    It is for this very reason that I, clipless rider for 15 years, switched to flat pedals last year. It took me about three months to get comfortable with them. But now I am a better rider. Flats are about 10% slower when climbing (that's 6 minutes on a one-hour climb) so I still switch around. But flats are more fun, enable learning and skills building.

    It is a struggle to learn flats and get physics back in your favor so commit to riding them 4-8 weeks exclusively if you want to give them a shot.

    fc
    I've been considering trying out flats for a very specific type of riding in SC (and/or pump track type riding)...but I find it hard to believe flats are preferable to clipless for good ole fashioned XC type riding.

    I like being connected to by bike. I think clipless pedals promote a good clean pedal stroke. I can't recall a time in the last 20 years of riding clipless pedals that they a) caused me to crash and b) made a crash worse because I didn't release. (And I run my SPD pedal release as tight as it goes.)

    Flats are probably better if you short a jump and have to eject.
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