Mountain Bike Flat Pedals vs Clipless – Which Pedals Are Right For You?

If you ever find yourself around a crowd of mountain bikers, you may encounter several topics that are quite often discussed. Without a doubt, one of the most popular topics of discussion is the mountain bike flat pedals vs. clipless argument.

It’s a passionate discussion with a lot of pros and cons on each side, and that is why there is no clear-cut choice.

For that purpose, let us take a comprehensive look at all the factors you need to take into consideration, together with advantages and disadvantages of both flat pedal and clipless(SPD). This way, you’ll be able to decide on your own which option is best suited for you.

Consider Your Cycling Background

This might not seem that relevant at first, but your cycling background will have a significant impact on which type of pedals will be better suited for your style.

If for example, you are starting out with mountain biking after being a road cyclist, you’ll naturally be more inclined to use clipless mountain bike pedals as you’ll already be accustomed and comfortable with them.

If on the other hand you’re a BMX enthusiast, you’ll likely want to stick to the flat pedals you have been using so far. For beginner cyclists, the flat pedals are also the preferred choice statistically, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t start directly with SPD if that is your choice.

Mountain Bike Flat Pedals vs Clipless

Let us now take a closer look at the two options while analyzing all the pros and cons to give you the complete picture.

Advantages Of Using Flat Pedals – Disadvantages Of Using Clipless


Yes, walking! When you ride, you’ll find spots where you simply have to carry your mountain bike over as you simply can’t ride over everything. If you encounter a big log or an extra rocky patch that you simply can’t ride over, you’ll have to dismount and carry your bike across.

Flat pedal shoes are simply more comfortable and have better bicycle grip for such a situation, so you’ll deal with these segments a lot faster if you’re not clipped in Clipless shoes have a piece of slippery metal underneath that can make it harder for you to deal with this issue.

Bailing Out

Say you’re riding through a forest, everything seems fine until you get to a downhill area that looks harder than what you could expect to handle on your bike.

When using flat pedals, bailing out is a lot easier if you suddenly reach a tough section as you can simply put a foot down quickly and stop.

Fast Corners

When you ride fast, you may feel the need to put a foot down when making a corner, for extra balance and confidence, which is easier done with bike pedals.

Starting Steep

If you’ve stopped right before a steep climb to catch your breath before you take it on, you’ll find it a lot easier to climb using flat pedals.


Crashes are going to happen sometimes. There isn’t a biker in the world who hasn’t crashed, and you will to. When you’re clipped in, it’s a bit more dangerous, especially if you fall over the front.

It’s also worth noting that there are certain situations where you can altogether avoid a crash at the last second by putting your foot down quickly, so flat pedals work better in this scenario.

Skill Development

Once you get the hang of riding clipless, you may become a bit lazy with actually pushing yourself in tougher spots. With flat pedals however you’ll have to be focused at all times, which means you’ll better develop your biking skills in the process.


Flat pedals are simply better in muddy conditions, especially for more inexperienced riders.

Mountain Bike Flat Pedals vs Clipless Comparision on YouTube: 

Advantages Of Using Clipless / Disadvantages Of Using Flats

Bouncing Off

When going over rough bumpy terrain, you’ll struggle a bit more not to have your feet bounce off the pedals if you are using flats. Sure, the pins on flat pedals can offer decent stability, but they won’t be as stable as when clipped in.

Narrow Spots

Clipless pedals aren’t as wide as flats. This might not seem that important, but when you’re going through extra tight spaces, a few inches less in width could help you a great deal. In similar spots with flats you might actually get stuck, have to dismount and carry the bike around.

Pedaling Efficiency

If you get really good flats with really good flat pedal shoes you’ll still do well with pedaling, but nothing is truly as efficient as being clipped in. You’ll use less energy than you would have to use with flats.

Wheel Precision And Lift

When clipped in you’ll find that hopping over bumps is a lot easier, as you’ll have better wheel precision. You can easily correct your course, avoid getting hung up or stuck, and have more lift with hardtail mountain bike.

High-Quality Footwear

You’ll find really good shoes for flat pedals, but none compare to the technology, look and feel of shoes for clipless.

Confidence In The Air

Usually, when mountain biking you’ll come over segments you can jump over. It doesn’t even have to be a big jump. When you are clipped in, you’ll simply feel a lot more confident and in control.

Easy To Adjust

You can play around with the pedal grip and mechanism tension to better clip you in until you are perfectly comfortable.

Bottom Line

As you can see, there are many factors you can take into consideration when trying to make this important decision.

In the end, the mountain bike flat pedals vs. clipless debate are one you should decide for yourself. Make sure to try both options alternatively and pick whichever you prefer best.

It would be a wise choice to try both options thoroughly, however, if you feel much more comfortable with one or the other right off the bat, feel free to focus on that one.

A lot of riders ride clipless. Others ride flats. Others constantly switch between them. Which type of rider will you be?