Are flats or clipless pedals better? This is a question I see come up often — and what a polarizing topic it can be!
As usual the debate between flats or clipless pedals is often reduced to a binary one. But it doesn’t need to be. There’s plenty of space for both types of pedals depending on the scenario.
Some clipless fans think that flats are inefficient while some flats aficionados don’t believe that clipless aren’t necessary at all. Who’s right?
Well, it turns out they’re both right and they’re both wrong.
Some cyclists on clipless still believe that the the most efficient way to pedal is to pull up on the back stroke in order to “even out” the whole pedaling cycle, and you can’t do this on flats. It turns out this doesn’t work (here’s another article/video that explains a cycling exercise that CAn help your pedal stroke) which leads us to believe that clipless might not be as necessary as some think.
Some flats disciples point to a few small research studies that state that pedaling mechanics are similar whether a rider is on flats or clipless as proof that clipless pedals are superfluous and unnecessary. But the fact that nearly 100% of pro cyclists (in nearly all disciplines) still uses clipless is as good an indicator as any that there just may be something to this clipless pedal thing.
Conclusion: Flats can still be effective and useful for all types of riding, but for serious racing clipless pedals are likely the better bet. And clipless are not “required” for serious riding.