The flat pedals vs clipless road bike tussle has been simmering for years and seemingly, each side has its own compelling reasons why it should carry the day.
Listen to this road bike pedals clipless enthusiast:
“For me, clipless is the secret and as road commuting is all about sprinting and regularly overtaking, they are a dream”.
And what about a flat pedals for road bikes user?
“It’s a simple answer: if you don’t fancy the bother of carrying extra shoes and prefer pedals you can get off easily, flats are superfine”
The question is:
Which way between the best road bike flat pedals and the best clipless road bike pedals?
Come with me and let’s see:
In a hurry and wish to make a purchase right away? Then check out the hottest road bike flat pedals and clipless pedals below.
Flat Pedals Vs Clipless Road Bike: Hottest Picks
Road Bike Flat Pedals
Rockbross Lightweight Flat Pedals: Bet Budget Choice
Origin8 Slimline Platform Pedals: Highest Performer
DMR V12 Road Bike Flat Pedal: Best Contemporary Pick
MEETLOCKS Bike Pedal: Most Heavy-Duty
Road Bike Clipless Pedals
SPD Classic Clipless Pedal : Best Classic SPD Clipless Pedal
Look Keo 2 Pedal: Best Look Clipless Pedal
Wellgo wpd-823 : Best Budget Choice
Crankbrothers Eggbeater 1: Best for Beginners
Speedplay Zero Cromoly Pedals: Highest Performer
What Are Clipless Pedals?
Clipless pedals comprise of special pedals, cleats, and a system to attach the soles of a dedicated clipless cycling shoe to the pedals.
So if you’re to go clipless, you’ll need first and foremost to choose the right clipless road bicycle pedals and invest in a compatible shoe.
Then it’s just a matter of stepping onto the pedals upon which they clip your feet securely to create a secure connection between the pedals and the foot.
The Cleat Systems In Clipless Pedals:
For the record, you can go for the 2-hole or 3-hole (three bolts) cleat systems.
- 2-hole systems
Here you have two recessed cleats (two bolts) giving the necessary grip in the under-sole.
They’re easier to walk in.
- 3-hole systems
These have three bolts for security with the cleats protruding from the under-sole.
They are a tad tougher to walk in than 2-bolts and you may even hear bikers clicking around when using them.
Flat road bike pedals are the regular bike pedals with a flat floor. The clipping system is absent.
The flat surface provides stability to support the feet adequately on both sides. These types of pedals work with normal shoes and are the pedals likely to come with your first bike.
Road Bike Flat Pedals Vs Clipless Road Bike Pedals: The Differences
As I mentioned earlier, each team has a whole army of fans pushing them on as they gun for victory. To make things easier, let’s see how the construction in each benefits a rider first…
Advantages of Going Clipless
I have met a lot of road cyclists praising the power of clipping in because it leads to an optimized transfer of power when pedaling (you see, when clipped it, both pushing and pulling becomes more efficient).
But there are other benefits of using clipless pedals for your commutes:
- They’re Extremely Comfortable
Comfort is clipless pedals second nature.
If you’ve ever tried to ride your road bicycle hard using the conventional flat pedals, you know how your feet will slip around meaning that you’re repositioning them every few moments.
Now, when your feet are firmly attached to clipless pedals, they always stay put regardless of the pedaling action.
This ultimately helps with handling on a road bike on your daily rides. This improved handling cuts across all clipless pedals including the best clipless pedals mtb.
- High Cadence
You’ll agree with me that it’s not that easy to maintain a high cadence (let’s say like 100rpm) even with the lightest road bike pedals.
The task is definitely harder with flats because it’s difficult to keep the feet in full contact with your best flat pedals for road bike during the complete revolution.
Yet, maintaining this level of performance is crucial to enjoying your road biking adventure. Now, the retention cleat system guarantees a rock-solid touch meaning you can hit your targets without over-exerting your body and brain.
- Less Fatiguing
With traditional platform pedals, you only have one section to apply more pressure during the rotation and that’s during the downstroke (of course, using the hamstrings). However, clipless pedals give you an opportunity to exert some pressure all-round the revolution using your core.
And even if you won’t get as much power as when on a downstroke, it means the hamstrings are getting some help and won’t tire that quickly.
Disadvantages of Going Clipless
I am also privy to numerous tales of bikers who have fallen off their road bikes because of forgetting to un-clip at stop signs or being a tad too late.
You will also need to haul some spare footwear in a backpack and that’s an inconvenience you don’t face with flats.
Advantages of Using Flat pedals
Riders who are loyal to clipless systems often claim that it’s impossible to engage in “serious” road biking without foot retention.
Those using flat pedals will counter by presenting the obvious favors from flats:
- Footwear Freedom
Unlike clipless, flat pedals work with almost any shoe and allow you infinite choices when we come to footwear.
- Riders Can Extricate Themselves
Seeing that there’s no unclipping required, flat pedals are easier to get off when the bike is doomed.
- No Training
A lot of beginners have problems learning how to get off the clips. On the other hand, flats are the easiest pedals and won’t need any special handling technique or shoes.
Better still, the more expensive flat pedals deliver greater strength and enhanced traction so they are absolutely safe.
- Problems With Flat pedals
Of course, the greatest accusation is the reduced efficiency vis-à-vis clipless pedals.
Again, there are those (mostly clipless advocates) who claim that flats are old school!
Types Of pedals: Flat Pedals vs Clipless Road Bike Pedals
The other prominent differences are in the types. Here is a comparison:
Different Types Of Road Bike Clipless Pedals
Clipless road bike pedals have continuously evolved and there are a couple of variations in binding systems, float, stability, and durability.
1. Shimano Road Bike Pedals
Coming from the industry behemoth Shimano, shimano road bike pedals include the road specific SPD-SL clipless pedals, arguably the most famous clipless road bike pedals today.
These pedals are indomitable for so many riders courtesy of their outstanding reliability, durability, functionality, affordability, and ready availability.
In short, they are the nearest to perfection clipless bike pedals come.
There are several types of shimano SPD-SL pedals including:
a) Shimano Wide Pedal Platform Clipless Pedals:
These have a wider pedal platform to boost foot/pedal stability. Their low profile platform also comes with an open design to provide easy access and the needed cleat adjustments to deliver maximum power transfer. The SPD-SL PD-R540 is one such pedal.
These were the first pedals to eliminate the previously used toe-clips to create a unified power transfer design.
The classic construction is highly rated for its incredible performance with more adventurous styles of cycling. This SPD Classic Clipless Pedal is regarded by many as one of the best spd pedals for road bike.
Most Shimano’s offers a variety of cleats to allow you to adjust the amount of float or lateral movements
While their original clipless pedals used a steel spring release setup, Look’s current high-end clipless have replaced the steel with the lighter carbon spar.
Look clipless pedals thus have a quicker and secure release/entry and a topmost power transfer.
The lower stack height and aero-dynamism have also made these pedals a favorite among many enthusiasts.
Look’s Keo cleats such as those used in the Look Keo 2 Pedal are also exceedingly resilient and offer float options from 0-6°.
Their only blame is that you can’t adjust the release tension.
3. Budget Clipless Pedals
I decided to include some extremely cost-effective options just in case you’re on a budget.
While carbon pedals are known to be best performers, they’re honestly pricey by all standards.
So, some manufacturers have resorted to make some still sufficiently good models for riders who won’t want to overspend on their first clipless pedals. Here you find pedals such as the Wellgo wpd-823 – a very respectable pedal with a pretty easy clip in/out built.
They’re not as supportive as some of the high-end crop but they nevertheless work.
The best road bike pedals for beginners have a system that is very supportive of those just starting out.
They have more contact points to allow you to easily clip-in coupled with a good release angle for quick clipping out.
Mostly adorn a predominately steel construction making them tough and long-lasting.
They’re however tweaked here and there not to be overweight. A good example would be the Crankbrothers Eggbeater 1 clipless pedal.
5. High Performance Clipless Pedals
These deliver a bleeding edge performance pedal system and target those who demand the very best road racing equipment.
This category of clipless bike pedals has been totally re-engineered for maximum weight reduction and uses some of the most exotic materials to make them lighter and faster.
I am speaking about pedals such as the Speedplay Zero Cromoly Clipless Pedals with its precise adjustments and an extra-large, stable pedaling platform.
You’ll even notice that some have locking mechanisms which do not rely on the usual spring tension for retention meaning unintended releases are virtually impossible.
Prices can, however, be scary.
Different Types Of Flat Pedals
Beginners to road cycling report feeling more relaxed riding without having their feet clipped in and may opt for flat pedals.
Now, just like for the clipless models, flat pedals come in varying designs each to fit specific occasions.
Most importantly, as far as this discussion is concerned, the classification this time is significantly different from the clipless categorization.
These employs molded materials with abrasive, coarse surfaces on both sides to help hold the footwear in place.
Some have reflectors on both the front and rear which, together with sharp edges offer a secure, safe pedaling.
Reassuringly, there are pins or teeth projecting from their surface to minimize the likelihood of slipping.
Others, for instance, the Rockbross Lightweight Flat Pedals have anti-skid nails on either side providing more secure hold for your feet.
That way, you won’t slip off even if faced with a muddy ride.
These are mostly competition-oriented and prioritize the features to help the user beat back other racers.
Just like conventional flatties, they have a good width and excellent grip to allow the rider to crank up the pressure as the chase heats up.
You’ll also notice their nicely-finished bodies, super-smooth sealed bearings, and beautiful axles.
Some, including the Origin8 Slimline Platform Pedals are available in multiple colors.
3. Contemporary Flat Pedals (Road bikes)
Some of the long-established flats, for example, the DMR V12 Road Bike Flat Pedal have been refined and are lately available in some interesting versions.
These latest releases are lighter than the classics but retains the broad platforms and shock-resistant properties of the older models.
They also have sleek, sealed bearing systems, are sturdier (have more replaceable pins) while the platforms are uniquely shaped to help the shoes stay put.
In most cases, the pins’ are height adjustable to improve traction and feel. The cast can be aluminum or be a lighter variety like magnesium or carbon.
This group of pedals is reinforced to support overweight people and is of the highest quality.
They thus have a sleek construction like ultra-sealed bearings, concave platform shapes, and market-leading axle durability.
Additionally, they have the greatest grip capacity.
To see what I mean, check out my favorite heavy duty flat pedal.
Ultimately, picking the winner from the flat pedals vs clipless road bike faceoff comes down to your preferences and what you feel comfortable using.
You riding style is also influential.
That being said, there are options if unsure of what will favor you. For example, consulting your friends could help you arrive at the right decision.
Alternatively, I am aware of riders who pick hybrid platform pedals.
These truly give you an awesome experience from both worlds by allowing you to ride either clipped or flat without sacrificing stability or comfort.
The flexibility is massive:
Are you headed for a distant commute? Clip in and pedal with maximum efficiency!
What if you’re headed to the other street for some quick lunch? Keep your flip flops on and bike on flats!
I like giving the Crankbrothers doubleshot hybrid as a good example of how hybrids can save you the headache of researching the two types of pedals.
Alex Mwangi is the creator of Outdoor Right and an outdoor enthusiast. During his free time he enjoys riding his road bike or traveling the world looking for his next adventure.