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Flat vs clipless pedals for uphill and cross-country cycling?

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Flat vs clipless pedals for uphill and cross-country cycling?

Old 06-04-22, 07:34 AM
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alexk_il
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Flat vs clipless pedals for uphill and cross-country cycling?

I've been using flat pedals all my life, never bothered with the extra efficiency of the clipless pedals. However for reasons beyond my comprehension the hills in my area just became a bit higher and more difficult to manage.

I wonder if the hustle of learning to cycle with clipless pedals will help me to be less tired while cycling uphills? The theory says I should be able to engage the pulling muscles in addition to pushing, however I am old enough to know that the reality isn't always as we expect it to be.

Also, I am using my hybrid bike both for commuting and occasional recreational fun on rough and sometimes slippery paths in parks and forests. Are clipless pedals good for that too?

A noob here, please be gentle. 😁
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Old 06-04-22, 07:44 AM
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big john
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I've used clipless for everything for more than 30 years so I have no idea how flat pedals feel but I don't know if they would help you. I have done long, climbing mountain bike rides with a guy who used flats and 1 of the women I ride off road with also uses flats and they both seem to do fine.
I can't think of anyone I've ridden with using flats on the road. I'm sure the people who drop me would still drop me if they switched to flats.

Clipless might help with your spin. I can't swear to the pulling up thing. I mean, I think I do it but lots of forum experts say it doesn't work. You might just have to try clipless. I recommend mtb style if you do.
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Old 06-04-22, 07:56 AM
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work4bike
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I've been commuting since the mid-80's and started using clipless pedals in the mid-90's, I've even done several loaded tours thru the Appalachian mountains with them. I don't think they helped me that much climbing those steep mountains.

What I like about clipless pedals, is that I'm somewhat of a speed demon, probably because cycling is my primary form of transportation and I need to NOT spend so much time commuting. Also, since I ride in traffic a lot, there are times I need to do a quick sprint, based on road conditions and traffic. If I were to do this on flat pedals, my feet would constantly be slipping off -- I know this from experience. I realized this early on and started using the old-style cages, but eventually switched to SPD's and will never go back.

As for improving climbing, the best thing you can do is to start lifting weights. That's just not my opinion, there have been countless studies showing weight training improves cycling, despite many cyclist being dead-set against the idea of lifting.


P.S. The very first loaded tour I did thru the Appalachian mountains I did in the old-style cages and all others using clipless pedals. I don't recall any difference in performance of the pedals. However, I very much remember the pain of pushing those pedals up them steep hills.


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Old 06-04-22, 04:56 PM
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IDK ... I never could get my feet out of clipless pedals quickly enough, because (I think) shoes that gave me enough room in the toe box were loose in the heels. In any case, pinned flat pedals and Five Ten Freeriders (I think) allow me to do some pulling (by 'scraping my foot' around BDC) or at least taking the weight off the pedal on the opposite foot's downstroke.
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Old 06-05-22, 06:26 AM
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andrewclaus
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I think the overriding issue should be what shoes you like to wear. I do a lot of climbing, but since I usually go for hike after the climb I like to wear walking shoes. So flat pedals are my choice. The rest of my riding usually includes some kind of walking around, shopping or visiting. (I ride almost everywhere I go when I'm not walking.)

I used clipless for a decade or so late in the last century and early in this one. Messing around with another pair of shoes just wasn't worth the nominal gain of the clipless system. When my first pair of shoes with cleats wore out, I didn't want to replace them. I really couldn't notice a difference when I switched back to flats.

Certainly for XC touring, flats are excellent. Touring, at least my style, includes a lot of walking, visiting small-town museums etc.

If you like a little more stiffness in your walking shoes, you can add an insert like Superfeet.

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Old 06-05-22, 09:35 AM
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I have been commuting on and off since the days of steel toe clips, through SPDs, and finally settled on those cheap plastic toe cups. They keep my feet in the right place, I can pull up when needed and they are easy to get in and out of. And even my hiking boots fit in them.

Zefal Christophe Mountain Half Toe Clips from Amazon, about 10 bux.
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Old 06-05-22, 11:16 AM
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Iride01
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I never saw the need for clipless pedals until I started regularly exceeding 80 rpm on somewhat bumpy routes. Cleats just help keep my feet on the pedals. Especially for the times I'm at 110 to 120 rpm.

If those rpms aren't you, then you might not need clipless. I doubt you'd see any advantage of being able to pull up on the pedal over just pushing down more with the other when at slower rpm.
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Old 06-05-22, 12:27 PM
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Wildwood
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I need some foot retention for climbing. Also when spinning higher cadence. Much better efficiency.

Clipless for me for all road rides (for 30+ years). Clips and straps on some bikes for mixed surface rides.
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Old 06-06-22, 06:53 AM
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alexk_il
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Big thanks to everyone who replied. Learned a lot here, the bottom line for me that I might be disappointed if I expect a huge performance benefit from switching to clipless.

I might try the cheap clipped cages just for fun, but I think the main message on this thread is clear and I won't expect miracles. 😁

Other options I might consider in the future is to upgrade the gears for a better gear ratio. I am currently using 50/34T compact on the front and 11-32t on the rear. Haven't checked what's available for flat bars, remember seeing in the past something like 50t - ??? - 26t on the front and 11—34t, should give me ~40% of extra torque.

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Old 06-06-22, 07:41 AM
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pdlamb
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It would probably be easier and cheaper to change to a mountain compact crank, perhaps in the neighborhood of 44/26, than to go whole hog and go to a triple. Even with a triple, it'll take some effort to avoid those 52-42-30 monstrosities that still won't give you a decent low gear. (FWIW, I aim for a 20 gear inch low; you're about 50% higher than that right now.)

You may give up a bit of gearing range at the top end with the gearing change. And if you do approach 20 gear inch low gear, you're likely to increase your cadence. I'd approach this as one big change: change your crank, try out an inexpensive MTB clipless pedal, and get some shoes that'll fit. Learn to clip in and clip out, work to increase your cadence, and give it three months. If you really don't like it, put your platforms back on the bike and take the cleats off your new shoes.

Note that this may (not guaranteed) keep you from hurting your knees. If I try to climb a long, steep hill and let my cadence drop below 60-65 rpm, my knees tell me about it that night and sometimes the next day. With lower gearing, you can keep your spin up and avoid such problems. Note 2: if the road is really sketchy (steep and loose, for example), you can clip out as you approach that section and pedal on the instep of your feet. Especially as a clipless newby, that'll let you dab a foot down quickly if it becomes necessary.
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Old 06-06-22, 08:18 AM
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big john
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Originally Posted by alexk_il View Post
Big thanks to everyone who replied. Learned a lot here, the bottom line for me that I might be disappointed if I expect a huge performance benefit from switching to clipless.

I might try the cheap clipped cages just for fun, but I think the main message on this thread is clear and I won't expect miracles. 😁

Other options I might consider in the future is to upgrade the gears for a better gear ratio. I am currently using 50/34T compact on the front and 11-32t on the rear. Haven't checked what's available for flat bars, remember seeing in the past something like 50t - ??? - 26t on the front and 11—34t, should give me ~40% of extra torque.
To me, a 34x32 lower than what I have on my main bike. Do you feel like you need a lower gear? Are you riding climbs in dirt?
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Old 06-06-22, 10:10 AM
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alexk_il
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Originally Posted by big john View Post
To me, a 34x32 lower than what I have on my main bike. Do you feel like you need a lower gear? Are you riding climbs in dirt?
I can cycle to my office with my current groupset, however I feel tired and exhausted after all these hills. Don't mind doing this on weekends for fun, but being fresh in my office on 9am meetings is important. Also, progressively getting out of shape as I am getting older isn't helpful.
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Old 06-06-22, 10:18 AM
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I think it was the Global Cycling Network did a Flats vs. Clipless (SPD in this case) taste test. They found either worked equally well at getting the bike moving forward in all conditions, neither had an advantage over the other. So it really came down to whatever floats your boat.
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Old 06-06-22, 10:37 AM
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big john
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Originally Posted by alexk_il View Post
I can cycle to my office with my current groupset, however I feel tired and exhausted after all these hills. Don't mind doing this on weekends for fun, but being fresh in my office on 9am meetings is important. Also, progressively getting out of shape as I am getting older isn't helpful.
Sounds like an e-bike would make your commute easier! I have no perspective on your situation because I don't know what kind of hills you are talking about or your level of fitness, etc. I'm 68 and 200 pounds and whenever I climb anything I sweat and work hard. I never (rarely) rode to work but I generally climb at least 3000 feet on a 60ish mile ride. If I had to do any significant climbing going to work I would be a sweaty mess when I got there. Happy to be retired now.
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Old 06-06-22, 12:13 PM
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e-bike might be the thing. Though for me, I grew up riding in a pretty flat part of the state on 30 and 40 some odd pound bicycles. Never a issue until I moved to a part of the state where the terrain is constantly rolling.

Two things help me climb without being worn out at the end of the ride. A relatively light bike, and being able to spin 80 RPM as a matter of course whether going up hill or any other time.

Even when I recently went from a 22.5 pound bike to a <18 pound bike, I actually would be riding and then start wondering where those hill were that use to give me trouble on the other bike. And my new bike only had a low of 36/30 where the previous bike had a lower 36/32. Weight makes a big difference in rolling terrain and hills.
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Old 06-06-22, 12:20 PM
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I'm also one of those who has used clipless for 30 years. Once I got confident on dirt with them, I would get nervous at the thought of not having myself attached to the bike. Early on, I did experiment with some half-pedal flats that let you have SPD on one side, and plastic bear traps or whatever on the other. Even did a NORBA race on those! But then I knocked one off on a rock, and rode with one for a while. Eventually just took it off when I got lighter SPDs.

In terms of pulling up, I sometimes consciously try to keep my heels down when pedaling on the upstroke. It feels good, but it may be more a matter of good spinning form. I love spinning.

I have a rack and 1.5" slicks on my old 90s StumpJumper, and use it for everything from commuting to light dirt to touring.
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Old 06-07-22, 04:57 AM
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Originally Posted by big john View Post
Sounds like an e-bike would make your commute easier! I have no perspective on your situation because I don't know what kind of hills you are talking about or your level of fitness, etc.
Thanks.

During the last year I progressed from not being allowed to walk for more than 5 minutes to being able to cycle for an hour while being well within the cardio exercise heart range. I could probably double it without too much of a drama, so I'm not as bad I thought I am. I can definitely cycle or push my bike uphills without a drama, just prefer to feel fresh after my rides.

Yeah, e-bike is an option, avoided it 10 years ago because of the stupid UK laws crippling the ebike top speed to the laughable snail pace. Also didn't like the ebike resistance with the motor being not used. It affected all motor hubs except Bafang's that unfortunately had a durability problem due to plastic (teflon?) internal gears. Will definitely have to do my research on modern ebike tech available today.

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Old 06-07-22, 07:20 AM
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big john
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Originally Posted by alexk_il View Post
Thanks.

During the last year I progressed from not being allowed to walk for more than 5 minutes to being able to cycle for an hour while being well within the cardio exercise heart range. I could probably double it without too much of a drama, so I'm not as bad I thought I am.
You've done quite well for yourself!
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Old 06-07-22, 08:40 AM
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What got me to switch to clipless for good was commuting in a sharrow on the outer lane of a very busy road (2-3 lanes each way) with people trying to share that lane with me as I went down a hill at 40+ mph and my foot slipped off the pedal. Tight quarters, high (to me at the time) speed, on a road with questionable pavement, and I was looking down trying to find my pedal and thinking, I've got to find a way to get more locked in. So, it wasn't a climb that convinced me, it was a descent.
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Old 06-07-22, 09:11 AM
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Originally Posted by alexk_il View Post
I wonder if the hustle of learning to cycle with clipless pedals will help me to be less tired while cycling uphills?
I doubt it, but you might like them anyway
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Old 06-07-22, 09:23 AM
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clipless road pedals and lightweight / stiff carbon sole road shoes can be a great combination for climbing and distance

but they are not for everyone - and I would not recommend them for commuting

( plus the $$$ cost )
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Old 06-07-22, 10:22 AM
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I have ridden clipless almost exclusively since the late 80s, except for a short time as a courier in a big city and, more recently, off road riding with my new fat bike.

Two things I noticed: there doesn't appear to be a major loss of efficiency using BMX-style flats vs. clipless, and off road riding is much easier with clipless because your feet don't get bounced off the pedals.
Last time I was trail riding I was able to clear almost every obstacle and trail feature on more technical trails, but on faster downhills my feet got bounced off a couple times and made for a few hair-raising moments. I tried clipless on my fat bike but the wide Q-factor put weird pressure on my knees so I reinstalled the flats.
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Old 06-07-22, 01:16 PM
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fwiw - 1/2 clips, aka mini clips, can be pretty useful. just enough foot retention, to keep the feet in place. of my 3 bikes, 1 (road) has cleated pedals/shoes, 1 (MTB) has flats & the 3rd (hybrid) has mini clips. good for family vacations & biking in sandals
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Old 06-07-22, 07:56 PM
  #24  
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For the most efficient riding you need to “pedal in circles.” You can ride faster and with more endurance using all the muscles in your legs. Being able to pull through the bottom of your stroke and pull upwards utilizes muscles used in walking and running. Expect to have a few falls while getting used to clipless pedals or clips and straps. I don’t have any bikes now with flat pedals.
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Old 06-08-22, 06:56 AM
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In case your next question is, what are the best types of pedals to choose? see previous posts on that. Just below, is a post on flat pedals which I posted as I finally switched my older bikes from the original steel pedals to modern flat pedals. Very happy I made the switch.

In regards to the original question above, I would say it depends on the kind of rides you do. I ride throughout the week with 3 types of pedals, depending on where the ride is going.
A casual ride to get a cup of coffee equals the flat pedal bikes.
A semi casual ride that will get my heart beating but might involve a stop for coffee or a little walk, the steel toe clips.
Only go clipless with Shimano SPD pedals when I'm heading out for a longer ride on open roads where I don't have to stop much or clip in an out of. As mentioned in a previous post, that twisting motion of clipping in and out can be hard on the knees.
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