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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 06-16-22, 05:15 AM
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I also agree that clipless pedals is an idiotic name...they should have been called strapless or cageless...anything but clipless
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Old 06-16-22, 05:47 AM
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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 11ó34t, should give me ~40% of extra torque.
I regularly ride both clipless and flat pedals on different bikes. I use clipless for road and flats off-road. I don't find any obvious performance advantage from clipless, I just like the secure locked-in feel when road riding. Having tried both I prefer flats on my mountain bike and have no trouble with high cadence. I probably spin more on my mtb than I do on my road bike. As for pulling up on clipless pedals, that's just a dead horse that people relentlessly flog.
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Old 06-16-22, 05:58 AM
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one thing to be aware of if you use clipless pedals - and run and/or have issues with shins ('shin splints', ischemia, etc)

you can tax your shins a bit more when using clipless pedals - especially if you ride with your saddle set relatively high

if you are a frequent runner you then could be more susceptible to shin and related problems

(again - can / could - many triathletes and similar log a zillion miles training with clipless pedals and long distance running with little / no issues)
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Old 06-16-22, 06:25 AM
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To the OP, something that hasn't been mentioned yet is that flat vs. clipless does not have to be an either/or decision. I ride with SPD equipped shoes on all my bikes, road included. However, on my MTB and soon on my gravel bike I use a pedal that is flat with pins on one side, SPD clipless on the other. You can decide at any moment which will work better for you right then. I find climbing to be easier and more comfortable "locked in", but sometimes starting, especially on a grade, is much easier with the flats.

Eric
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Old 06-16-22, 06:55 AM
  #55  
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Originally Posted by exercion View Post
To the OP, something that hasn't been mentioned yet is that flat vs. clipless does not have to be an either/or decision. I ride with SPD equipped shoes on all my bikes, road included. However, on my MTB and soon on my gravel bike I use a pedal that is flat with pins on one side, SPD clipless on the other. You can decide at any moment which will work better for you right then. I find climbing to be easier and more comfortable "locked in", but sometimes starting, especially on a grade, is much easier with the flats.

Eric
Have those on one of our hybrids (pic attached)

(but so far only use the flats - have not seen my shoes with spd cleats in 20+ years)

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Old 06-16-22, 08:41 AM
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Originally Posted by alexk_il View Post
There will be a clean experiment soon that involves a die hard flat pedal cyclist (i.e. myself) learning to use half toe clips. Not sure if anyone will be able to draw any conclusions from it, but I will share the results. I guess it will take time for me to adjust to the new technique, might take a few weeks.
Won't make a noticeable difference. The only way to test foot retention is to experience it, i.e. rat trap pedals, clips and straps. When I stop, I always put my right foot down. So on the left side, I tighten the strap down and thread the strap through the buckle, nice and neat. On the right side, in town I'd leave the strap loose, but out on the road I'd pull up on it so it was tight. To stop, I'd reach down and touch the buckle so it was loose and easy to pull my foot out. I used the tennies of the day, but anyway something with soft soles so the rat traps bite into the sole. If you can pull your foot out, it's not foot retention.

Makes a lot of difference. On hard seated accelerations, I push and pull all the way around the circle. Hill sprints, I pull up hard. Riding normally, I pull back at the bottom and about 30į up the backstroke. At the top, I push forward. Those hamstrings don't have to be just along for the ride. Mine are maybe bigger than my quads. OOS, I like to ride in the drops with my toes pointed down. I don't pull up normally, but I do pull my foot over the top. One gets used to being able to do anything with one's feet, no problem.

Something like this: https://www.amazon.com/MKS-180920202.../dp/B001GSSNH2
Note the rollers at the top of the toe strap buckles in the package.
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Old 06-16-22, 11:59 AM
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Originally Posted by t2p View Post
one thing to be aware of if you use clipless pedals - and run and/or have issues with shins ('shin splints', ischemia, etc)

you can tax your shins a bit more when using clipless pedals - especially if you ride with your saddle set relatively high

if you are a frequent runner you then could be more susceptible to shin and related problems

(again - can / could - many triathletes and similar log a zillion miles training with clipless pedals and long distance running with little / no issues)
I do exercises for my tibialis to prevent shin splints; I use SPD pedals and I run and I do a lot of jumping...no problems with shin splints, because I've built them up.

Here's an example of Tibialis raises, but I also do them with weights. (45-second video)

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Old 06-16-22, 05:10 PM
  #58  
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Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
Those hamstrings don't have to be just along for the ride. Mine are maybe bigger than my quads.
I seriously doubt it. Leg press vs leg curl is a no contest. Hamstrings are simply not designed to be lifting big loads. Quads on the other hand are pretty awesome at pushing down.
You must have seen the studies of pro cyclists pedal strokes and how none of them generate any significant power on the upstroke at their optimal cadence.
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Old 06-16-22, 07:57 PM
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Originally Posted by PeteHski View Post
I seriously doubt it. Leg press vs leg curl is a no contest. Hamstrings are simply not designed to be lifting big loads. Quads on the other hand are pretty awesome at pushing down.
You must have seen the studies of pro cyclists pedal strokes and how none of them generate any significant power on the upstroke at their optimal cadence.
No, of course not on the "upstroke" because that's done by the relatively weak hip flexors. I work my hip flexors at the gym, but they still aren't much. The hammies are for pulling back at the bottom and then another ~30į before they become ineffective. No reason to stop producing power just because your feet hit BDC. The coordination necessary to keep force normal to the crank also prevents bouncing in the saddle. Anything one can do to decrease the load on the quad main drivers makes them last longer at the same power. At moderate power, I can switch back and forth between quads and hams to rest the one that's worse off. I have trouble comparing myself to a 30 y.o. pro with the talents of one in 10,000 riders. I don't understand why that even comes up, 50+ forum no less.

I just got off my rollers, 15'@105%, 56rpm, but I had a long cool-down, so not that pumped.
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Old 06-17-22, 04:05 AM
  #60  
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Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
No, of course not on the "upstroke" because that's done by the relatively weak hip flexors. I work my hip flexors at the gym, but they still aren't much. The hammies are for pulling back at the bottom and then another ~30į before they become ineffective. No reason to stop producing power just because your feet hit BDC. The coordination necessary to keep force normal to the crank also prevents bouncing in the saddle. Anything one can do to decrease the load on the quad main drivers makes them last longer at the same power. At moderate power, I can switch back and forth between quads and hams to rest the one that's worse off. I have trouble comparing myself to a 30 y.o. pro with the talents of one in 10,000 riders. I don't understand why that even comes up, 50+ forum no less.
I just got off my rollers, 15'@105%, 56rpm, but I had a long cool-down, so not that pumped.
I think it's valid to compare pedal stroke with pros. They have exactly the same anatomy and kinematics as everyone else, just different power and endurance levels. What really sets them apart from ordinary people is their vast cardio engines.

I've noted that the old-school foot scraping technique seems to be gradually losing favour, although still with very mixed views from modern coaches/riders. Actively pulling on the up stroke seems to be almost universally regarded as poor technique even at very low cadence - with the notable exception of standing start track sprints, which I don't think is relevant here. One study noted that amateur riders tend to pull more on their pedals when climbing out of the saddle than pro riders, which I thought was interesting. I don't think it attempted to reason why that would be the case. To be honest I don't over-think it when I'm riding, but my feet don't lift up off my flat pedals when I'm climbing out of the saddle on my mountain bike, so I guess I don't tend to pull up naturally. It's not like I don't climb steep gradients either. Our local UK terrain is full of 25%+ sharp climbs, both on and off-road.

Edit: Just a thought on the pulling up when climbing at very low cadence. Maybe the trend toward lower compact gearing on road bikes has made it much less likely to find yourself forced into doing it.

There's obviously a fair degree of personal preference involved in all this too and technique varies with cadence. I was watching the classic film Stars and Water Carriers and it reminded me how much of a "masher" Merckx was compared to many of his smooth pedalling contemporaries.

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Old 06-17-22, 10:41 AM
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Originally Posted by PeteHski View Post
I think it's valid to compare pedal stroke with pros. They have exactly the same anatomy and kinematics as everyone else, just different power and endurance levels. What really sets them apart from ordinary people is their vast cardio engines.

I've noted that the old-school foot scraping technique seems to be gradually losing favour, although still with very mixed views from modern coaches/riders. Actively pulling on the up stroke seems to be almost universally regarded as poor technique even at very low cadence - with the notable exception of standing start track sprints, which I don't think is relevant here. One study noted that amateur riders tend to pull more on their pedals when climbing out of the saddle than pro riders, which I thought was interesting. I don't think it attempted to reason why that would be the case. To be honest I don't over-think it when I'm riding, but my feet don't lift up off my flat pedals when I'm climbing out of the saddle on my mountain bike, so I guess I don't tend to pull up naturally. It's not like I don't climb steep gradients either. Our local UK terrain is full of 25%+ sharp climbs, both on and off-road.

Edit: Just a thought on the pulling up when climbing at very low cadence. Maybe the trend toward lower compact gearing on road bikes has made it much less likely to find yourself forced into doing it.

There's obviously a fair degree of personal preference involved in all this too and technique varies with cadence. I was watching the classic film Stars and Water Carriers and it reminded me how much of a "masher" Merckx was compared to many of his smooth pedalling contemporaries.
Aerobic ability, pros, and Merckx: Aerobic ability involves a lot more than lungs and RBCs. Scientists are just now beginning to understand the chemical underpinnings of repeated muscle contractions. IME, endless experimentation with different foods, techniques, and training methods is the way to go. Not only are each of us different, but we are also different from the person we used to be.

A good example in this exchange is that I used to be able to pull up so hard hill sprinting that I could beat everyone in my riding group. Now It works better pulling up less and I'm a lot slower. Those muscles just don't fire like they used to. I'm missing a good 200 watts. I mostly have been riding the tandem outdoors, hardly ever my single, so I don't practice that skill. We get better as what we do and less good at what we don't do, accepting that as some sort of external guidance, when in reality it's all internal. We get better as what we train to do, no great surprise.
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Old 06-17-22, 10:58 AM
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Originally Posted by work4bike View Post
I also agree that clipless pedals is an idiotic name...they should have been called strapless or cageless...anything but clipless
They're called clipless because the "cage" is called a toe clip.
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Old 06-17-22, 11:07 AM
  #63  
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Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
A good example in this exchange is that I used to be able to pull up so hard hill sprinting that I could beat everyone in my riding group.
I could sprint pretty good into my mid fifties. I could stand up and hammer those pedals at a reasonably high rpm. Don't think I ever could have done it with flats and I hated toe clips and straps.
Here is me @220 pounds and about 53 years old.
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Old 06-17-22, 03:12 PM
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Originally Posted by big john View Post
They're called clipless because the "cage" is called a toe clip.
There you go...another idiotic name...they should have been called cages...who are all these idiots naming bike parts
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Old 06-17-22, 04:08 PM
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Originally Posted by work4bike View Post
There you go...another idiotic name...they should have been called cages...who are all these idiots naming bike parts
I worked as a mechanic at new car dealers and some of the names of parts are ridiculous. Sometimes it has a different name in the service document than in the parts catalog.
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Old 06-22-22, 08:58 PM
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I grew up racing with toe clips and leather shoes with a metal cleat on bottom of wooden soles. You "clipped" in. That's what we had before "clipless". Before I started racing back in the 70's, I just used tennis shoes on flat pedals. I did my first century on a Peugeot U08 and the pedals it came with, without toeclips. I was an extremely excellent climber. Once I started racing and used toeclips I became an exceptional climber.

Now some 50 years later I'm still using toe clips. I use MKS touring pedals and athletic shoes that have ridged soles, which sorta replace the wooden sole shoes with a metal cleat from days past. For steep climbs I pull the clips tight and my feet never come out. For easy rolling hills and normal rides I never bother to tighten the straps. Works great for me. And when I get off bike and walk around I don't look so goofy lol
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Old 06-25-22, 06:05 PM
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Iím trying out toe clips again after about five years of only riding platform pedals. Put some some old MTB pedals from DiamondBack, think MKS Esprit, on the road bike. I got some leather Zefal straps like I used to use and XL size MKS toe clips.

Only one ride so far, but I did notice a few things:

1) Thereís less to mind when using foot retention.

2) Itís easier to spin fast.

3) Itís easier to do seated climbs in a challenging gear.

At this point, I think Iíll keep riding with the toe clips on this bike but leave platform pedals on the MTB.

Otto
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Old 06-26-22, 01:47 PM
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There is also the option of using a lower gear on the hills. The effort expended is a function of intensity and duration and lower intensity and longer duration will be less stressful on your body and its ability to provide fuel for your muscles. In less you are racing or doing a time trial there is no significant gain with higher intensity when riding or exercising. With all our devices to track how fast we are going we get caught up in the numbers and it interferes with the recreational aspects of our rides.

On the road I have used toe clips or clipless pedals for more than 50 years and I would never use flat pedals unless to commute short distances. On dirt I use flat pedals and they are wider than by road pedals and I use very grippy Five Ten bike shoes. I like the greater range of movement with the flat pedals on my mountain bikes.
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Old 07-01-22, 05:46 AM
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I remember having a conversation of disagreement with a rider back in the early 90's. He was instructing us how to pull up on the backstroke and myself along with another guy were disagreeing with him on using that technique arguing that it was inefficient and the leg needs a rest on the backstroke. We explained pulling back, but not up was the correct way to go about it. The only time pulling up was good form was in hard accelerations.

This is still my view and this technique has served me well. For the casual cyclist it is nonsense to even think about it, but for those of us that have nothing better to think about, it is a worthy conversation!
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Old 07-01-22, 09:09 AM
  #70  
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Moderation note.

Please get back on topic. Thank you.
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Old 07-03-22, 05:20 AM
  #71  
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Status update

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this thread. I thought it was a simple question that would be easy to answer. It did trigger a discussion that sent me back to do more learning.

So, this is what I believe I learned, hope I got it right.
  • Pulling up with clips/clipless pedals is considered a bad technique by professionals unless used for short competitive sprints and climbs.
  • Clips/Clipless have benefits of stabilizing foot on a pedal and can make cycling a bit more efficient
  • Getting a proper low gears on a bike is going to help more than switching between flats and SPDs.

So, I started to work on setting my bike with 42/26t + 11-42t (see my other posts). I have also tried out cheap clips on my flats.

Here are my personal and highly subjective conclusions:
  • The foot is more stable on the pedal now, I like it.
  • Pulling pedals up on short climbs makes it a bit easier, though I still get tired on longer climbs. A subjective feeling - 5-10% easier, definitely not by half.
  • The clips somehow fix the direction of where my foot points. Feels strange and awkward compared to my original unrestricted foot position. Will see how it feels on long runs.
  • Getting foot into the clip while moving is a challenge yet. The weight of the clip points it down and back and it takes me quite a few attempts to slide in. Hope will get better with practice.
Will keep them for a while, I kind of like them once I get the bike properly rolling.
​​

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Old 07-03-22, 08:13 AM
  #72  
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Originally Posted by alexk_il View Post
  • The clips somehow fix the direction of where my foot points. Feels strange and awkward compared to my original unrestricted foot position. Will see how it feels on long runs.

​​
My feet toe-out and when I started using toe clips many years ago I had to drill and modify them so they didn't force my foot to point straight ahead. I mounted the clip to the outside of the pedal and bent the cage so it didn't put so much pressure on the top of my big feet.

I hated toe clips and straps and was happy to make the switch to clipless in the late 80s. This took a lot of experimentation and I ended up using 1" pedal extenders and a cleat shim on the right side. I had drilled shoes and moved cleats and snapped off pedals but it was worth it to get away from clips and straps.
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Old 07-03-22, 10:08 AM
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huge improvement when I moved from toe clips / straps to SPD pedals on MTB and Look (etc) pedals on road bike

made the move to SPD for off road last - was concerned about riding in the slow technical sections - but proved not be a problem even when picking through slow tight technical sections with rocks etc

never had knee pain - but did have some issues with shin pain when seat height was a bit too high at a time when I was running often

can't imagine completing long tough road rides without dedicated road shoes and look pedals cleats / pedals or similar

I did keep flat pedals and flat shoes for riding around and near the house and when we would ride at vacation spots etc

these days most of my riding is casual and I'm on flat pedals and shoes
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