Briones Shorttrack

When it comes to building a touring bike there are so many things that are taken as fact; steel frame, high range of gears, quick wicking clothing, but some gear parts are debated. It seems that clipless pedals are one of these things that falls on both sides. I have seen a good deal of “ways to improve riding” or “how to prepare for a bike tour” promote clipless pedals, but I’m going to go ahead and say that these are less than ideal for bike touring.

Casual SPDs were becoming the rage when I first began riding, with Chrome exploding everywhere and other companies finally following in their wake (Teva, Five-Ten, and Vans now all have their own casual clipless pedals). I started with rat cages, but after destroying many metal cages I have taken the plunge into full on flat pedals and could not be happier.

Monster Check on the Presidio
Surly Cross Check rocking Wellgo MG-1s

The tides seem to be turning away from clipless toward flat pedals on touring cyclists, with the rise of casual touring promoted by Rivendell and hike and bike bikepacking as promoted by Cass Gilbert. And here is the real reason why flats are more superior than clipless pedals, they are multifunctional. For anyone who has ever packed for an extended bike tour knows that having multi use items is extremely useful as it saves space and weight, yet people still believe in clipless pedals and off the bike shoes/sandals, when one pair of sneakers functions for both. For me, bike touring is about exploration, and exploring off the bike is half the fun, from incredible day hikes, to museum walks, to unplanned games of soccer, not skating everywhere is fantastic.

Another tenant that the flat pedal fulfills is the keep it simple stupid attitude, an attitude I shortly picked up from Surly upon purchase of my Cross-Check. As an example, I remember being a few days north of San Francisco last summer when I met a couple traveling the coast and it was about this point that one of their touring pedal cleats was so torn up from being walked on over rocks, curbs, pavement, what have you, that they could no longer clip in and needed to limp by on a small platform to get to San Francisco to replace their cleats. Another example comes from an old article from Urban Velo magazine that I found, in which these avid cycle tourists cited the tool or piece that they’d never leave without again and it was consistently pedal bolts. When you go flat, that’s one less tool and one less headache.

Big Trees Trail
Another shot with the white MTB pedals.

“But what about the power increases!” well, that’s mostly a myth. There may be small gains, but nothing extremely major. People are bound to believe that being clipped in allows you to pull up on the upstroke, which is actually wrong. The only benefit may be that you are less fatigued because you don’t have to worry as much with foot position but with grippy shoes and grippy pedals this is not an issue whatsoever.

One of the greatest gains that have come from the switch to platform pedals over rat cages is learning better bike ability. I had never known how to bunny hop and was completely dumbfounded by the process, I kept trying to pull up the rear wheel with my feet, which is dead wrong. Flat pedals have taught me better weight balance on the bike and now I’m having a blast throwing my rear wheel wherever I want it, be it mountain biking, hopping curbs, or bike poloing. For performance, flats reign king in my bike.

Tilden Tree, Bench, Bike

What do you ride? Flats, clipless, cages? Why? What are the benefits and disadvantages?

Further reading: Riv Bike on clipless v. flats.

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