Clipless Pedals Vs Flat Pedals – Which Is Faster?

– Many moons ago,

we went into the laboratory
at Bath University

to find out any difference in efficiency

between flat and clipless pedals.

And to our surprise,

there was hardly any difference at all.

– So why are we bothering to use them?

I mean, surely there’s
gotta be some benefits

to clipless pedals.

So we have come to the real world,

or at least the paradise
that is Alta Badia,

to find out what it feels like

to go back to riding a
bike like we did as kids,

with flat pedals and cool shoes.

– [Matt] Dan, are you really
gonna use those shoes?

– Yeah, got flat pedals on.

Gotta have cool shoes on don’t ya?

And these are pretty cool.

(funky electronic music)

– [Matt] Our laboratory
testing involved Si riding

at a steady state for
10 minutes at a time.

So let’s start with something
completely different.


Surely there will be a significant
difference in peak power

when you can’t pull up
on the pedal stroke.

– [Dan] Or is there?

Let’s find out.

We are each going to do
five maximum effort sprints

and analyse peak three second power

and five second power for each one.

The numbers should tell their own story,

but we’re also going to be
talking about subjective feeling.

(funky electronic music)

Well, I think it’s safe to say

Matt put his all into that last sprint

judging by the noises he was producing.

I am personally really hoping

that the flat pedals are
reducing my maximum power output.

Because Matt beat me in all five.

Results to come later.

– Okay, it’s time for the first sprint

back on clipless pedals.

Hopefully, I’ll be back to my former self

in terms of sprint numbers,
we’ll wait and see.

Certainly feels better
to be solidly in again.

All right, here we go.

(funky electronic music)



Right, three seconds and 1139,

way above the flat pedals.

More importantly, better than Matt.

Let’s do it again.

(funky electronic music)

– Right, next up, let’s do a climb.

We are going to do a 10 minute segment

of the Passo Valparola each,
measure power and heart rate

and compare the two.

But again, also talk about
any difference in feeling

between the two petal systems.

(upbeat music)

– So Dan, we’re just
over seven minutes in.

How’s it feeling on the flat?

– Well first up, 300 watts
is feeling quite hard.

– Yeah.

– I’ve got a feeling that has
nothing to do with my pedals.

I mean, surprisingly,

there’s a load of grip on these.

More than I was expecting.

You really can still swing your foot back,

at the bottom of the pedal stroke,

and over the top.

Even though obviously you can’t pull up.

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I mean, you can feel it’s different,

but it certainly doesn’t feel as alien

as it did for sprinting.

– Sure.

(upbeat music)

– Three, two, one, lap.

Oh, it’s hard.
– Yeah.

(upbeat music)

Okay, it’s now my turn on the flats

and straightaway it’s worth mentioning

we haven’t actually
adjusted our saddle height.

And I reckon there’s about a
centimetre or two difference

in stack height but over 10 minutes,

it shouldn’t be affecting
us too dramatically.

But foot placement, straightaway
is absolutely crucial.

(upbeat music)

(crowd cheering over music)

– All right 50 seconds
and our 10 minutes is up.

About the same average power so far.

– Cool.

– Steep, this bit, isn’t it?

– My legs are hurting more
this time up, so far Dan.

(crowd cheering over upbeat music)

We’re going to finish in
exactly the same place.

Two, one.

Okay it’s time for the fun bit now.

The descent.

Let’s see how these babies
feel down some hairpin bends.

– I love descending.

But, Dan, you need a lid on mate.

You can’t descend
– Yeah, I’ve got one

– But I’ve see this on Red Bull TV.

If you’ve got flat pedals and
really cool shoes like this,

you need to use one of these.

– A full face helmet?

– Yeah.

– With Lycra?

(Dan grunting)

– Whose is this?

They’ve got a small head.

– No you’ve got just a massive head.

(Dan grunting)

(rock music)

– [Dan] So if some downhill
mountain bikers prefer

the freedom that flat pedal give them,

could they be of any benefit to us

on road descents?

Well it is going to be
a hard one to quantify,

but what we’re going to
do is a couple of descents

of the Valparola and see how it feels.

(rock music)

– Ow.

(Matt laughing)

(rock music)

– Let’s carve some tarmac.

(rock music)


(rock music)

– Right, the results are in,

in terms of power numbers, et cetera.

We’re also going to be
talking about how we felt.

So for the sprints at the start,

Matt you had a 15% greater power

when you were using
clipless versus the flats,

which is quite a big difference
I think you might say.

I had a 30% difference.
– Wow.

– Which is an immense amount
– No way.

– Yeah. But I could tell
right from the very first time

at which I kicked using
the clipless pedals

that I had so much more power there.

I obviously used the pulling up stroke

when I kick into sprint,

perhaps slightly more than you.

But it just goes to show you

why BMX’s downhill mountain bike

is now generally preferred
to use clipless pedals

for that sprint from the starter house.

– Definitely, I mean
I had a bit of trouble

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getting my foot in the right position.

Normally, on clipless pedals

your feet are dialled in,

you don’t even have to think about it.

But my thought process

was thinking about positions of my feet

and also, because I couldn’t
pull up in the sprint,

I was recruiting my
thighs a lot more as well.

So I felt like I was using
my thighs like pistons

rather than kind of pedalling in circles,

like I’m kind of use to.

So it didn’t feel too bad,

but it definitely felt different.

There was a certain level of compromise,

I just didn’t feel like I
was getting the power down

as I would have done with the clips.

– Yeah, you really had to concentrate.

We’re obviously used to
using clipless pedals now,

but even though I was
consciously concentrating

on not pulling up,

there were still a couple of occasions

when I sprinted flat out

where I could feel that my foot moved

because I was pulling it up slightly.

One of my feet came off
of the back end as well.


And then next we did the climb

and for that we tried to
average about 300 watts.

Or I did, and you just rode next to me.

When I had the flats, you had the clipless

we averaged 303 watts for me, you had 315.

I got a bit excited when I put
the clipless pedals back on

and networthed 305 watt
average, only two watts above

and you had, of course, running 318 watts,

so you were three watts above.

The climbing, I didn’t notice

much of a difference certainly

as I did on the sprint.

I’m still more comfortable, for sure,

using the clipless pedals.

It does feel like, when
you’re able to pull up,

it does spread the load
of that 300 watt power

over far more muscle groups

and when you’ve just got flats

and you’re only able to push down.

– Yeah I tend to agree.

I found that my thighs
were getting fatigued,

although my heart rate
was pretty much the same,

I felt more of an ache in my thighs.

Less recruitment of the calf muscles

than I normally would on clipless pedals.

And, the most interesting I found

was when I was riding out of the saddle,

I felt that I almost
like peddling squares,

again, similar to sprinting
when you’re out of the saddle,

couldn’t pull up at all,

so although I was delivering the power,

it was for far less of the pedal stroke,

so it was almost like
pedalling and bottoming out,

so I didn’t particularly like
climbing out of the saddle,

but sat down wasn’t too bad,

although I tended to just
recruit one muscle group.

– Yeah.

Neither of us, though,

had a difference in heart
rate for the two runs

which is quite interesting,

quite similar to what
we found in laboratory

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all those years ago.

I did find that there’s

quite a lot of grip on those pedals,

although you can’t pull up,

you can sort of push through the top

and scrape through the
bottom of the pedal stroke

but I think that was down to my cool shoes

as much as the pedals.

And finally the descent,

which we didn’t take any numbers for.

That was purely subjective feeling.

I was concentrating more on the fact

that I had a full-face helmet on.

Perhaps I should have used a normal one.

It did give me a greater sense of safety,

bit like the difference between

wearing a seatbelt in
a car and not, I’d say.

– Yeah, well, I felt the
same in terms of the helmet

but the pedals themselves,

the couple of corners
when we banked it over,

I think you experienced this as well,

where I actually clipped the pedals

’cause they’re far wider.

And actually, on one of the corners

that I didn’t quite get right,

I was able to take my foot out

like a speedway rider as well,

so not a lot of difference

but just subtle nuances in terms of

your positions on the pedals

because accelerating out of
some of the hairpin bends,

my feet moved which is a
little bit disconcerting

so, again, I preferred
descending on clipless.

– Yeah, as you said they are wider

so you are much more easily
able to hit them on the floor

which could be quite dangerous.

And I think going back to the sprints,

you could feel that
there was as much power

when you sprinted outside of the corners

to get back up to speed.

So I would say on descent,

I’m gonna be faster on clipless.

– [Matt] Same here.

– Right, well I don’t think either of us

are going to be swapping
out our clipless pedals

for these, which as you can see,

we’ve taken off our bikes pretty quickly

after that experiment.

You could certainly get
around a sportive with them

but I definitely think it is going to be

more efficient overall,

to be using clipless pedals on a road bike

and probably for most
mountain bike situations too,

although I’ll leave that to GMBN.

Right, if you haven’t yet subscribed

to the Global Cycling Network,

you can do so by clicking on the globe.

If you’d like to buy a
camelback GCN water bottle,

head to

and now coming up, are a couple of videos

fairly related to what
we’ve been talking about.

Just down here is how to
choose clipless pedals.

Or, for the original
clips versus flat pedals,

with laboratory conditions
with Si Richardson and you

as a pundit, click just down here.


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