Clips vs Flats | Which Pedals Are More Efficient For XC?
Articles Blog

Clips vs Flats | Which Pedals Are More Efficient For XC?

October 9, 2019


– Okay, so in this video today, I’m riding a cross country bike,
and I’m gonna do one lap on my clipless pedals I normally ride my cross country bike on. Then again on flat pedals to see the difference
in pedalling efficiency. (electronic music) ‘Kay, so the course I’m
riding today is pretty mellow. Lot of hard packed cross
country style trails, but also a couple of pretty punchy climbs where I’m gonna have
to put the power down. On my bike, I’ve got a power metre. I’m wearing a heart rate monitor. So all that information’s gonna go to my computer up on the stand. It’s gonna tell me how hard I’m working, how much power I’m putting
through the pedals, but also lots of detailed information on things like smoothness. So I’m trying to ride two
really consistent laps with how much effort I’m putting in. And be able to go back to the Dirt Shed have a look at the
stats to see if there is any difference between flats and clips. ‘Kay, so lap one on the clipless pedals. I’ve done a quick warm-up. I’ve done a bit of a cycling lap, so let’s see what I can
do on clipless pedals. (electronic music) ‘Kay, so lap one done on the clips. Felt good, felt normal. I always ride cross country
on clipless pedals now. So, time to put the flats on. Doesn’t feel right sticking
some big pedals like this on a carbon 29er, but let’s give it a whirl. (electronic music) Okay, so we’re back in the shed to have a look at some results, but first thing we’ll say is, obviously, all cross country
pro racers run clipless pedals, so there must be a good
reason for that, eh? So let’s look at the times on flat pedals. I did the 6.3 kilometre lap in 18 minutes and 32 seconds. On clips, I did it in 17 minutes 56. So, faster on clips. However, you’re looking
at the heart rate results, it does look like I worked
that bit harder on clips. So that doesn’t really sort of mean that clips were more efficient, I don’t think, which means I probably didn’t
pace it quite the same. But I think the actual interesting thing is when you come to the
cadence and the power. So definitely the cadence, had a slightly higher cadence on clips. But, they’re much less spiky, so it felt like I kept a
much more consistent cadence as on the flat pedals. It’s much more spiky, so I put loads of pedal spins in and then I coast for a
second and then again. Same with the power. The power curve is much more consistent, so much less spiky. So I think that is the
biggest difference really. Yes, it does look like I
was working slightly harder ’cause my heart rate was
slightly higher on average on the clips. But, I definitely, that’s
what it feels like for me. With the clipless pedals on, I feel like I’m just spinning a much more consistent race, and I’m not just having to just sprint and then coast. So, what’s the conclusion? I think from this relatively
short task, should I say, I definitely think that clipless pedals are slightly more efficient. And for me, it definitely feels that way, especially trying to ride a carbon 29er. They’re quite a harsh ride, so on flat pedals, I was bouncing around all over shop, having to
readjust my feet quite a lot. Whereas on the clips, it just felt normal, felt good. Felt like I could spin
the pedals really well. Also, after the test, I
actually did a max power test. And on the flat pedals, I
got quite a weedy 920 watts. On the clips, I got 1173 watts. So a big difference there, 250 watts in max power difference. Okay, so we’ve done a few
of these videos in the past. We’ve done clips versus flats in the lab, where we really didn’t
see much difference. And then on a downhill
bike where the flats came out on top. So this is the first
time we’ve actually seen clips take a bit of a lead. I think the next video we need to do is a marathon version of this, so 50k. That’s where I think we’ll
really see a difference. If you wanna subscribe to
GMBN, click on this logo here. And for clips versus flats in the lab, click up there. And on the downhill bike, down there. Give us a thumbs up if
you like this video, and leave some comments down below for the next scientific
video you’d like to see.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. clips and flats are both great in their own way. but coming from a bmx racers perspective I would never go back to flats

  2. Please do a vid comparing slower vs faster rebound on fork for the same trail.. I've heard that faster rebound makes you faster in technical sections and i would like to know if it is really true.

  3. I use clip and I noticed that while riding long distances the push and pull motion helps way more with speed and for me personally it gives me more control over my bike plz comment back on what you think should I rather use flats for my races I race u/14 laps and I want more speed and skill to win cause so far I've been second every time

  4. This was actually a scientific experiment! Well done, guys!
    I have to admit I was expecting to watch a comparison between Blake riding his DH bike up a hill on flat pedals and Neil doing a chainless lap at the bike park on his XC bike. I was pleasantly surprised!

  5. At least this test was made with the same bike, not like the one with dropper vs. fix seatpost 😀
    Nice job, guys!

  6. why not do the test and try to be withing a few seconds, because with such a big difference the test isnt really valid

  7. Um…why are they called clipless?Doesn't "less" suggest something without…so without clips?Should they be clip-in pedals,maybe?

  8. I'm racing xc in flats and it seems like I can keep pace fine until I get to a steep climb or a sprint finish. I just don't feel like I have as much power to out put

  9. Another reason it probably showed that you were working harder with the clips was because instead of only being able to push down on the pedals you can pull up on them aswell.

  10. 100 thumbs for the title. no clipless mentioned! i almost thought you guys were going to ban the clipless stuff. but unfortunately…….

  11. Had a hard crash today on my trail 🙁 ripped my Shimano XT both sides completly out… front tire also broken in half and my fork has now only one leg… im so sad now… rip biking for a bit. Gotta buy myself some new parts, i freaking loved my bike more than my car…

  12. Hi, nice comparision, BUT: you use the words clips, clipless and flats. I guess clipless and flats is the same?

  13. Conclusion is yr knees are buggered in 20years time!
    I have switched between both for years, racing using clips and often riding flats for fun and general riding or free riding DH fun.
    Note: I switched off Shimano Spds to Times in late 90s and then Crank Bros Egg beaters for most of that time since!

    I'm having to use flats now pretty much all the time now as I just get too much discomfort in clips, Always pretty good with cockpit setup!

    Imo what's missing from this as usual is for the every day rider what is best! 99% of people aren't racers! Are they better off on flats same with bike type what is best for them to learn proper technique in so they develop good base level skills, confidence in and pedal techniques are very important once you get into higher grade level trails that modern FS bikes can take riders too esp in a bike park or where shuttles are!

    Flats are better for this, just switch back now and again and see how sloppy your own technique has become while being in clips for awhile.
    Clips are more efficient p, but it also takes a bit of time to fix that technique on flats again, it takes a while to smooth out your pedal technique if you have ridden clips for awhile, it's a skill, footwear for flats is also very important, as is pedal type for the shoe, for performance and security on the flat pedal !but for the average rider is that difference worth it, clips vs flats!

    Sam Hill ftw..

  14. Episode 203 on flats vs clips and it turns out clips are more efficient but flats are more fun who da thunk it

  15. Is spandex and flat pedals considered weird?  Not that I care what anyone else thinks…ok maybe a little bit.

  16. Of course clips work better for the "Dirt Roadie" course…. I wear clips for road, but Flats for trails….. if being KOM on Strava is your life goal, then you better clip in I guess. I will enjoy the trail while you pass me 😜

  17. I think you should done 3 or more runs apiece for more consistent data, and used 3 or more different riders for a larger sample base. There was still useful data, but the one run a shot leaves a lot to debate.

  18. I note that shoes were changed too. wearing the same shoes would have been a better test condition but was the northwave shoe not able to use the flats? clips not recessed? shoes definitely a big factor imho

  19. Great! What about the crankbrothers doubleshots? Are they a good option for the weekend Trail rider?

  20. You always ride clipless, so when you rode flats you didn't know how to peddle.
    There for clipless is better?

    Just because the pro's are doing something doesn't mean its right, or scientific. eg "cupping therapy for swimmers"

  21. If Neil prefers clipless wouldn't it be good to see how the results compare to someone like Blake, who prefers flats? More tests equals more accurate results! Love the videos GMBN guys, keep up the killer content.

  22. Oooh I would love it if you did this again but with the Catalyst pedals from Pedaling Innovations, I just ordered a pair because everything seems to support their claims but no one actually has measured it against another flat pedal or clipless in a test like you just did in this video.

    Otherwise I might do my own test with them on Zwift since they come with a 30 day return policy.

  23. The results indicated that you were using more energy when clipped in. This makes sense when you think about how you are engaging extra muscle groups to pull on the upstroke, which is a very unnatural way to use those muscles and why new clipless riders cannot sustain the upstroke for very long.

    So the efficiently is always less because you are using more energy to power those extra muscle groups. I guess training with clipless lets you strengthen those extra muscle groups and allows you to smooth out the power stroke but it can't ever be less effort than flats because you have to power more muscles in an unnatural movement.

    The percieved gains for clipless come when those upstroke muscles are strong enough to keep going which gives you more 'theoretical potential" power because you have more muscles involved. But having to provide more energy to power the unnatural movement means you need to be a stronger rider to be able to burn the extra effort in the lest efficient upstroke movement.

    Alternatively you can put that extra energy/effort into a more natural downward pushing force on flats is why flats are more efficient.

  24. Thanks for this video and can't wait for the marathon version. For me, I ride everything on clips, my Camber but also my carbon hardtail. I also do races and marathons on them and I can't say I'm slower than the clips riders.

  25. I'm not afraid to admit I ride flats on my enduro bike for the simple reason that I just don't feel safe clipped into my mtb!
    I have a road bike, a commuter bike for work and I race CX; all those on clipless.

  26. Is using a Hydration Pack more efficient than just using 2 water bottles for an XC race? or Is it okay to carry the weight of the bag on your back just so you can sip water without taking your hands off the bike ?

  27. Hi Neil @GMBN, can you do a review of the different Power Meters available for mountain biking? Single sided vs double sided etc. In the meantime what do you think of the Rotor PM you had fitted to your hardtail? Thanks Paul

  28. was running flats for years. changed to clipless after xmas but recently changed back to flats. now I have decent flats and shoes. I don't think I'd move back unless for a long xc ride. I feel I can be more aggressive on the flats.

  29. I'm a little surprised he felt like he was bouncing around on those pedals. I've never really been a clipless guy. I ride similar flats on my XC/trail rides and I feel like I'm glued down solid.

  30. You went 3% faster while using 7% more power (energy) on clips or at Normalized power about 3% more energy for 3% more speed. Nothing conclusive, but a slight edge to flats if you ask me. I'm just using math for that: no opinions.

  31. Looks like most of that ride was down hill. I bet there would be a big difference if you were going up hill,doing long climbs, and quick accelerations, like real XC riding and racing.

  32. You should try tilting your pedals/feet downward on the flats, that will give you the vertical pull, getting that bit more power.

  33. And what about the difference in technical sections? Can you talk about it? I feel very hard to keep cadence on technical climbs if running flats.

  34. that was very good Neil. I Wonder if you could let us download the files. we could see the differences of power delivered to the bike in different conditions. Also let us know if you have your max on flats. if the pedal allowed you to deliver more power even getting you more tired then I should start riding clippless again 🙁

  35. if efficiency is the name of the game, multiplying power x time should give you energy. So, flats consumed you 178Wx18.53×60=197.9Kj of energy to complete the course.
    on clippless, you consumed 191×17.93×60=205.5Kj of energy. flats was indeed more efficient because it made the same course with less energy.

    on the other hand, f1 cars are not efficient!!!

    looking at what you body felt, which is normalized power, flats consumed 18.53x60x227=252.4Kj. clipless consumed 17.93x60x235=230Kj. so your work perception was in favour of clipless being more efficient.

    is it valid for everyone? can't tell. but maybe the smoothing of the pedal stroke made the difference. and Neil likes the clipless so his body is used to it.

    if gmbn sends me a power meter, I can run some tracks on flats and clipless and give the comparison for a true flat guy! guaranteed to send the power meter back later.

  36. On any future videos of this nature, would you please display the graph that depicts the 'spikes' and smoothness of your power output? I just thought seeing it would help us understand. Thanks!

  37. The results were really as I was expecting. I don't think it's necessarily about the relative efficiency but clipless pedals allow you to work harder on steep hills or rougher pedally terrain, where with flats you'd either get bounced off or not be able to pull up on the pedal if you were really honking up a short climb.

    Still flats for me though, I'm not racing.

  38. I think clips gain better result bcs when you drove the flats you were kind of tired from driving on clips.

  39. It is really nice to see some XC vids by GMBN. When I started to follow your channel a few months ago it lacked XC tips and topics. And by the way. Neil, are you going to take part in some XC races in the future. I mean some occasional starts, just like you used to do in case of enduro when you hit Andes Pacifico?

  40. In a marathon, if those higher heart rates are consistently there for the clips, then I suspect flats will be a bit easier over a great distance

  41. Here is my two cents worth:I've been riding seriously for the last 3 years or so, mostly mountain biking here in NW Arkansas, which actually has become a hub for mountain biking. This year I began XC racing in the AMBCS and I made podium once and 2 fourth place finishes on my flats. I saw that most of the competitors were using clips and began to wonder about advantages and disadvantages. I had some experience with clips on road bikes where its definitely a must, but always had my doubts on mountain biking. A few weeks ago I had to buy some parts for my bike and in order to get free shipping and a discount I had to spend about $30 more, so I bought me some SLX clipless pedals. I raced at Slaughter Pen still with my flats b/c that's how I practiced and got beat out of the podium by 2 seconds. Slaughter Pen Jam is the largest XC race in the state and Cat 3 Men 30-39 had 25 participants so it was pretty competitive. I'll say 4th is pretty good for an amateur like me lol. I got to the point with my flats that I did not have to pull out my feet even on rocky trails and windy areas, but occasionally I would lose my spin,  so I decided it was time to try my clips. Just yesterday I went to try my clips at my usual trail where it's fairly rocky and technical with approximately 1500 feet of climbing in 17 miles. Not the hardest or easiest trail, but it's a good workout. With my flats I would do 3 loops in about 1 hour and 45 minutes, with usually trying to do at least one lap in about 33 minutes. I did this fairly consistently and my times fluctuated depending on weather and traffic, but I got to a point where I was not noticeably improving. Yesterday with my clips, my first time with clips on a mountain bike, I absolutely crushed my personal records on this trail. I had two laps where I was under 32 minutes, and what normally took me 1 hour 45 mins, only took 1 hour 37 minutes. It may not seem like much to some, but this is the difference between podium or no podium and I'm trying to get podium! Keep in mind that this was my first time wearing clips on a mountain bike so I think I can only get better. At first I was a bit hesitant, but once I got more confidence, I did not miss a beat. I felt great and my feet did not feet uncomfortable like in a road bike because I constantly shift and stand on my mountain bike.So here is a few notes:- Clips are not for everyone, I believe you must get to a point where you a very comfortable shifting your weight on flats and not have to pull out. Only after several years on flats did I feel comfortable making the switch.  – I've also read the literature on flats vs. clipless. I can tell you that I tested my clips in a trail that is rocky and technical, and I ride fairly aggressive. I've seen the proof with one ride and it's an easy decision now.- On climbs, where sometimes I would lose my spin b/c of rocks or other obstacles, on clips I was rolling over everything since I did not worry about losing my footing.- It might be true that I was using the same or higher AVERAGE power than on my flats, but I felt more consistent. For example, let's say on my flats I go about 60% effort for normal riding, but on climbs I have to exert a lot more effort to keep rolling. On my clips, I might be going 65% for normal riding, but on climbs and technical sections I felt I did not have to exert myself that much more. In other words, you might use less total power on flats, but it you have sections where you get winded faster, obviously your times might not be faster. So this is where I feel where clips have an advantage, more consistent effort.- I was one of those guys that said would never ride clips on a mountain bike and yet here I am. Again, they are not for everyone and you should master flats before making the switch.- I did feel more conservative on downhill sections, but I think with time I will get more comfortable. – I improved a minute over my previous personal best of 33 minutes for a lap, which included multiple pedestrian slow downs and stops. Improved 8 minutes over what normally took 1 hour 45 minutes. This equates to about a 3% improvement in time. Bottom line: The fact that I don't have to worry about losing my spin on climbs and technical sections makes this worth it. For me going forward as I continue in XC racing, it completely makes sense to use clips. I thought it would take me several rides just to even get acclimated, but here I am rambling after the first ride. I can only get better right??

  42. lots of newbies are afraid of clipless pedals anyways and this video is super confusing and would inspire amateurs stick to flats…. my personal opinion that it's much safer to ride clipless downhill as well as up super technical uphill 'cause clipless pedals keep you and a bike as a whole. clipping out will eventually become your instinct. I would still recommend keeping flats for learning bunny hops and manuals.

  43. Pro x-country =Clipless
    Pro Enduro=Clipless
    Pro dh= Clipless
    Hmm.

    I've just bought flat shoes, and I've got to say, it's rubbish by comparison to clipping in. I use flats to go to the shops, that's it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *