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Flats Vs Clips: Help collect the evidence

Flats Vs Clips: Help collect the evidence


The benefits and drawbacks of flats and clipped pedals are a much discussed issue within mountain biking. The Centre for Sports Engineering Research at Sheffield Hallam University are undertaking a research project to compare the pedalling technique and the power output of flat and clipped pedal in an attempt to bring some further evidence to the argument.

We are currently recruiting participants for the study who are regular racers at either Elite or Expert level in downhill or Enduro. The participants need to be available in Sheffield for the testing over two days on either the 25th and 27th Feb or the 4th and 6th March where they will be required to undertake a multistage sprint test on an ergometer. This will be in the form of five 5 second maximal sprints with a rest period in between each sprint. An introduction to the equipment and procedure will be given on the first day of testing.

Data will be obtained from the output of the Ergometer which gives power output and pedal force measurements for the duration of the test. A camera system will also be used to track the lower limbs throughout each rotation. To aid the tracking of the hip, knee and ankle small markers will be placed on the joints. All equipment will be provided by the University including pedals and shoes. Subjects will need to bring in their own bikes to enable setup of the ergometer.

If you are available on the dates in Sheffield and would like to be part of the study please contact Tom Duncan directly on b0025413@my.shu.ac.uk


  1. Javi


  2. willysnow

    Be very interesting to see the results of this

  3. Machete

    I’m stuck in the the middle at the minute. Always ridden flats for DH, jumping, BMX and general arsing about but thought it was about time I learned how to clip in.
    I love the added power, traction and stability of SPD’s but I’ve lost the bottle to hit steep and tech trails flat out.
    When I switch back to flats I get my confidence back but feel like I have a serious lack of cranking power over rough ground and up the climbs.

  4. Neil

    Are 5 second sprints really the most relevant way of testing? I would have thought longer duration intervals would have related better to the real thing?

  5. What

    Seriously? This debate is very very old now, it’s only people on flats who seem keep the question going.
    Surely there are more interesting things going on in the sport.
    Get over it!!!!

  6. Rusty Wouters

    The benefits of flats versus clipless pedals should not be measured with intervals sprints. Pedal power isn’t what flats are about at all. People who use flat aren’t wearing skin suits looking for the biggest hill to climb! Using flats is about CONTROL and CONFIDENCE. Nothing more. For someone using flats to dirt jump (for example), being able to switch to a mid-arch stance for a big landing is crucial. You don’t want to tear an Achilles or something. Being able to augment your stance on a mountain is essential to technical riding. If you’re testing pedal power for flats… You’ve missed the point all together….

    1. twittwootwiggy

      Kudos, Well Argued.

    2. dejean

      Wot he said.
      I used flats for years, until i found that i don’t put a foot out too often. On very rough sections clippers give me more control as my feet don’t travel all over the flat pedals, but clippers just suck at engaging. I always need to catch up when my unclipped mates are long gone before i engaged both cleats. Only yesterday in the snow the whole system was full of ice, blocking an easy entry. No need to monitor my limbs as they were simply hacking away on the spds to clear the trapped ice

    3. DHZ

      Boom goes the dynamite. Floating over a rough root section instead of having to press down on the pedals allows you to carry much more speed and not worry about getting bounced of the pedals. Its all about control.

  7. lee

    You may have noticed this test is for DH riders and gravity enduro types.
    So in terms of pedaling, its pretty important, no one mentioned DJing, the study is not about DJing. The idea is, is Kovaric missing out by running flats on the pedaling sections, is Minnaar gaining the few seconds because he’s clipped in. This study is an attempt to answer this questions. How often do you need to spring for more than 5 seconds on a Dh race?
    Seriously guys why the hate, our sport needs more science and less BS.

    1. Eoin

      Yes and no in my opinion. Sure more science is definitely needed, but as said above clips vs flats has never been about power. I genuinely believe the max output of stand up power pedalling is not much different from flats to clips. The differences for downhill riding are down to pedalling in the rough/ not coming unstuck, arguably better precision (clips) and looser riding/ feeling safer (flats). The choice is down to riding style and so innately personal I am not sure there is a scientific test that can determine which is better. Maybe clips are better for the majority of riders, and to build their skills, but on the other hand I dont believe Kovarick, Hill, Blenki and Brendog could get to where they got clipped in (well… maybe Hill could have).

      1. Mr B

        Somebody call Sheffield Hallm, Eoin ‘genuinely believe the max output of stand up power pedalling is not much different from flats to clips’ Why waste your money on scientific research when we have some random’s genuien belief, I mean that’s all you need surely?

      2. Eoin

        Your eloquent rebuttal has changed my beliefs. I now can not wait to hear how clips help you generate 4% more power. If it is statistically significant, I will therefore have to switch from flats which I have only been riding the last 6 years and thereby guarantee my 1st world cup podium. Thanks to science, we can base our decision on a single variable. Science be praised. Wow debating is easy when you just act like a sarcastic c*nt.

      3. Mr B

        Thanks, I didn’t consider my rebuttal to be eloquent but if you say so then I appreciate the compliment.

      4. Mr B

        Seriously though, everyone here is telling them that this isn’t worthwhile because having an indication of the gains in power offered by clips isn’t the whole picture. That is clearlly 100% true, but then the article never claimed or suggested that was the point. Surely adding a small amount of quantative information to the discusion can only be a good thing even if it doesn’t interest you.

      5. Eoin

        Agreed. Isn’t it nicer when we all get along :)

    2. twittwootwiggy

      Because we feel it’s Rider to rider. ‘Minnaar’ Maybe losing speed in jumps and landing because of been clipped in.
      There is no point checking what a sprint is like alone.
      I was encourage to buy a Dirt Jumper (Rather than £££ on a third CX frame / a DH/ Enduro frame) To run on flats. It’s harder to shift your weight in clips, but Flats are a way to boost confidence in corning, drift lines and landing. Where is the test to study Jumping/ landing distance?
      Joint Fatigue? Absorption? Difference in falling impact?
      The difference in leaning out to retain grip while turning down a muddy slope?
      These are the impacts in Down Hill And Enduro that are effected when wearing ‘either, or’.
      GUIEO, depending on your peddle style. I wore Solomon – Speed Cross2 Trainers for years and they have super long spiky grip, I still wear them on my AM/DH Bike. Though i wear Poth High-tops [£30] more regular than my 5|10 [£79]for Dirt Jumping/ Recreational rides (Both have level absorbing soles)
      but that’s mostly vanity! “Spent £80 on these, don’t want to ruin them”. :-)

  8. alex

    The answer is obvious; clips provide better power transmission and better pedaling technique. However I guess the study can’t look at more subjective variables.

  9. JC

    Let it go guys. This is old to say the least. Which is faster? To some people, whatever the fastest rider at the time use.

    Kovarik/Rennie= Flats
    Hill = Flats
    Rider x 2014/5 = Flats

    Use what suits you, end of.

    1. PedOakley

      Its kinda conclusive that out of the 5 guys that have won the most world cups and champs, only one of them runs flats though

    2. alex

      The study isn’t looking at which is faster it is a study “to compare the pedaling technique and the power output of flat and clipped pedal”.

      Which is clearly clipless otherwise cyclists would use flat pedals. Nice to get some real numbers though.

  10. James Wilson

    Glad to see this being looked at but I see one potential problem. Clipless pedals allow you to get away with bad pedlaing technique and habits, like pulling up on the backstroke instead of focusing on a strong push with the lead leg. If you get someone who has never learned to pedal properly because they switched to clipless too early and you observe a power decrease on flats, is it because of the pedals or the bad technique that got exposed by the pedals?

    Just something to keep in mind. BTW, all of the past DH world champs may have raced on clipless but they can all still rip on flats, which isn’t what most riders in clipless can claim…

    1. bedders

      Glad someone brought this up, thanks James. I think the rest of the debate is pretty meaningless as most people already know the answer, and does it make much of a difference in the big scheme of things. I use both, depending on terrain, weather but having ridden clips pretty much from the start, I struggle with some aspects of flats – getting the back wheel up and sore ankles. In other words my poor technique is exposed, but….I do enjoy the riding come what may…

  11. ronin

    as a race-free rider i subscribe to the system that gives me bigger cahones or the illusion thereof.

  12. Pessimist

    Read the text kids….

    “The Centre for Sports Engineering Research at Sheffield Hallam University are undertaking a research project to compare the pedalling technique and the power output of flat and clipped pedals”

    Not fucking Dirt Jumping…

  13. Jack

    It seems the research doesn’t need to be done now thanks to all the key board scientists and your conclusions seem flawless I’m going to take my left pedal off now and swap it for a clip in so i can be in both worlds

    1. Leon

      Didn’t some 4x racer years ago actually run one clip and one flat to get around some stupid rule that was enforced at some event ?

    2. alex

      http://www.cycleops.com/cycleops-university/athletes-cu.html There is already information out there if you have the inclination to look. It is fairly well understood in cycling so I don’t see how it would be massively different in the world of enduro / dh racing. I would guess that it is the other factors which you can’t measure empirically that can give benefits to flat pedal riders above clipless riders. But I am no expert and I guess the study is interesting. Is that a better answer for you Jack? Did you get out of bed on the wrong side yesterday?

  14. Vapor

    In comparing the pedaling technique and power output i would expect to find no difference between clips and flats. However, the people tested really need to be equally skilled with clips and flats. The ultimate test would include riders such as Brian Lopes who can assuredly master a sprint on either pedal system. The testers providing pedals and shoes is not going to give the most accurate results. I imagine they mean to standardize, but the neuromuscular adaptation to one’s own chosen equipment is what should be tested. Some will adapt better than others to the standardized equipment. The ergometer is also not going to help the test. A real bike moves in 3D when pedaling; the ergometer is fixed in at least some manner. Rollers would be at least a bit better, and the caliber of riders tested should be capable of sprinting on rollers. I like science and tests, so I wish them well, but ‘m skeptical before they even started.

    The idea that clips can generate more power will someday fall by the wayside. Clips hold your feet in place and there can be advantages to that for a few reasons, but increasing power is not one of them.

  15. Siress

    What does a rider have to do with determining something about the pedals? They’re going to “compare the pedalling[sic] technique and the power output” of a pedal which can be pushed and pulled to one that can only be pushed…considering the muscle mass and counter weight involved, I’d guess about 5-10% increase in power, but what’s the point? Is this really the most important thing these scientists and engineers could be doing? Gezz…

    1. Vapor

      Ok, so consider whatever mass, take that mass and bolt it in the form of a weight to the cleat on your clip in shoe. See how many reps of pulling that weight up are possible. Realize that 1 hour @ 90 rpm is 5400 reps.

  16. lee

    ” I’d guess about 5-10% increase in power,”

    lol. no we all know, Tom dont bother…..

  17. Oz

    Why are clips are faster for dh? Well you just have to watch slow mo’s of the top clipped in riders going through slippy, rough, rock sections. The bike makes shapes it shouldn’t whilst the rider can adjust his/her body position to remain balanced and in complete control. Such body positions would not be possible on flat pedals as compromises in weight placement and body position must be made just to keep feet on pedals. Only a handful of riders have mastered flat pedal technique and made it work for them at the top of the sport. There are many variables to discuss when comparing flats to clips (conditions, style of track, steepness of track, etc) I don’t think pedalling power is particularly relevant to downhill. It will be interesting to see some actual figures for the power difference, just out of curiosity. As for efficiency, that’s a question that doesn’t need answering, otherwise all the top road teams would be rinding flats.

  18. Dangerous

    There’s only one way to find out……..FFFFFIIIIIGGGGGHHHHTTT!

  19. ronin

    will the testing include kids and clown wheels as variables also? that may cloud the 5 sec maximal sprint thing.

  20. james

    James its actually ‘strapless’ not ‘clipless’

  21. Craig B

    Look, ignorance is bliss. Don’t go fucking around with my (ignorant) beliefs or I won’t have an excuse anymore.
    Could not give a toss about the real science behind this one in a DH/DJ environment as this affects, in reality, circa a few hundred riders in the world…. And I am guessing none of them have thrown their hat into this discussion board above. 😉

  22. Scientist

    Surely we can’t reach a scientific conclusion without testing toe straps with Reebok Classics too. In my opinion they provide the best compromise between flats and SPD’s.

  23. Dangerous

    Can we argue what’s best between HP and Ketchup next week……………………………each to their own, pointless discussion!

    1. Craig B

      Now that is one of the real issues out there…

  24. john


    Clearly using power grips and toe clips is the ultimate combo of using a flat pedal with some five tens. You can also pedal harder.

  25. hmmmmmmm

    This looks good but surely the pedalling technique will also vary over rougher terrain… and your studying on smooth terrain…

  26. Damian

    Ratboy recently made the transition at Fort Bill to race on clips.
    Ask him……

    Accelerating out of the blocks i dont think there is much in it, technique is down to the individual.
    I move my feet around on my flats all the time to suit me and what im riding.
    That is all

  27. guideo

    ive been thinking of switching to clips on my dh bike as I hate it during a rough section when my feet are shook off the pedals and im gripping on with the end of my heel/toe. Can’t decide. Itll save me having to buy new flat shoes as well for £80 plus


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