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Old 09-03-17, 11:43 PM   #1
johngwheeler
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MTB newbie: flat pedals, toe clips or SPDs?

I have some experience with road bikes and am going to "dip a toe in the water" of the MTB world. I've been given an old Gary Fisher MTB that came without pedals and was wondering what pedal system is recommended for the newbie MTB rider?

I'm used to Shimano SPD pedals & shoes, which is what I use on my commuter (CX bike) and also my endurance road bike (although I'll probably change to Speedplay pedals on the latter).

I have some flat pedals with toe-clips that came with my road bike and I've fitted these to the MTB as a temporary measure, but it's frankly quite a performance to get my large feet into them, even on the road, and I could see this being quite problematic on a trail.

So what is the usual recommendation for a new rider: flat pedals, SPDs, or persevere with the toe-clips?

If go the flat pedal route, should I be looking for an all metal construction or would anything do? I have some cheap flats that I bought as spares, but these have a lot of plastic on them, and I'd worry that they wouldn't survive any rough stuff.

Thanks!
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Old 09-04-17, 12:55 AM   #2
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Depends on your type of riding. If you are going to be freeing up a set of SPD anyway, might as well start there.

Flats favor riding where your feet are on and off the pedals. Downhill, jumps, drop offs, slides, stunts, difficult for the sake of being difficult, thrashing.

Cross country or trail riding favor more power production and peak torque, so SPD. Being locked in may feel more secure, or more trapped. But the latter goes away quick as you realize you are not falling all the time.

In spite of my BMX background, personally I never wanted to ride a MTB without my feet attached. So I started with clips and straps, and bought SPD as soon as they came out.
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Old 09-04-17, 01:34 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by catgita View Post
Depends on your type of riding. If you are going to be freeing up a set of SPD anyway, might as well start there.

Flats favor riding where your feet are on and off the pedals. Downhill, jumps, drop offs, slides, stunts, difficult for the sake of being difficult, thrashing.

Cross country or trail riding favor more power production and peak torque, so SPD. Being locked in may feel more secure, or more trapped. But the latter goes away quick as you realize you are not falling all the time.

In spite of my BMX background, personally I never wanted to ride a MTB without my feet attached. So I started with clips and straps, and bought SPD as soon as they came out.
Thanks for the reply. I may well end up using the SPDs as I'm already pretty comfortable riding in stop-start urban traffic with them. I did try riding my CX bike on a trail (with SPDs) and found I had to unclip in a hurry a few times, where I'd misjudged an obstacle and stopped suddenly. It's this situation (where I lose balance) that gives me pause for thought about whether flats would be better for technical terrain, where I'm having to pick my way around obstacles. My skill level on an MTB is definitely "novice" at the moment.

I imagine that old-style toe straps are probably the worst solution because it's pretty hard to get your feet out if you are falling at an awkward angle. In most cases, the SPDs will unclip if you're tipping over and you pull your foot to stabilise yourself - I'm not sure a toe clip would necessarily release my foot.
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Old 09-04-17, 01:48 AM   #4
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I'll preface this by saying that I've never used clipless and have no experience with them whatsoever. The only time I've ever used clips is when riding someone else's bike that has them on, and even then it was merely around a parking lot riding around in circles.

That said, I'd suggest going with what ever you're most comfortable with. Since you're familiar with clipless, if you're confident in your ability to unclip in hairy situations, then I'd say start with those. If not, then go with flats.

With plastic flat pedals, the only real worries or concerns with them, IMO, would be the type of plastic they're made with and whether there's a high risk of pedal strikes on the trails you ride. If they're cheap like the ones that often come on kids' bikes or department store bikes, then they'll get destroyed pretty easily. If they're pretty good quality like the ones DMR makes, then they should last you a good while.
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Old 09-04-17, 08:46 AM   #5
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I only ride MTN when in area not safe or suitable for road bikes. My thoughts on feet connected to pedals: can still do one legged drills, climbing is easier when I can get power pulling up, accidents more likely on MTN and I like having feet attached, stop and go more frequent on MTN so frequent disconnecting can be a problem, I think constant adjustable foot position is easier on knees, transitioning from road to MTN rides means same skills and habits - I don't have to think which bike I am on.
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Old 09-04-17, 03:50 PM   #6
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i ride clipless on my road bike and gravel bike, but I ride flat pedals with pins on my mountain bikes. That's just what I prefer.
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Old 09-05-17, 06:13 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by johngwheeler View Post
If go the flat pedal route, should I be looking for an all metal construction or would anything do? I have some cheap flats that I bought as spares, but these have a lot of plastic on them, and I'd worry that they wouldn't survive any rough stuff.
Make sure you get a set with aggressive and metal pins. Those, and flat-soled shoes. Then your shoes will stick, and you'll be golden. Pedal material doesn't matter so much. The pins matter. You want metal pins and a decent-quality pedal body.

Race Face's Chester model is a very nice, nylon (I think) option with good metal pins. Fantastic value for the money.

Avoid anything with molded in plastic pins. Those will just slip and shred your shins. Especially the cheaper models.

As far as choosing between clip-in and flats, that's a hotly-debated preference item. Go with what makes you feel comfortable on the bike. Ignore the rest of us .
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Old 09-05-17, 10:24 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Pendergast View Post
i ride clipless on my road bike and gravel bike, but I ride flat pedals with pins on my mountain bikes. That's just what I prefer.
I agree, except that I gave up clipless for road riding too and now use a Campy style road pedal.
For MTB there's lots of choices. I ride Shimano Saints. My wife rides a nylon Raceface model with pins. It is holding up much better than I expected.
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Old 09-05-17, 08:24 PM   #9
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I vote flats with good shoes! Ryan Leech is a huge ambassador that for the majority of off road riders, this is the way to go.
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Old 09-06-17, 10:35 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Mountain Mitch View Post
I agree, except that I gave up clipless for road riding too and now use a Campy style road pedal.
For MTB there's lots of choices. I ride Shimano Saints. My wife rides a nylon Raceface model with pins. It is holding up much better than I expected.
I agree with Pendergast as well, and only my Domane still has Speedplays. However, like you, I'm probably going to lose those as well. My first move in this direction came 2 years ago when I took Speedplays off my RockHopper. My second move was this year when I changed my mind about putting those Speedplays on a new/used BMC, my first full-suspension MTB.

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Old 09-06-17, 02:08 PM   #11
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I use Crank Brothers 5050 pedals with Merrell low tops.
Plenty of grip and all the freedom I need.
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Old 09-12-17, 08:02 AM   #12
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Shimano M324 pedals are SPD on one side and flats on the other so you can clip in when you want or just ride on the flats if you feel like it.
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Old 09-12-17, 08:58 AM   #13
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Shimano M324 pedals are SPD on one side and flats on the other so you can clip in when you want or just ride on the flats if you feel like it.
I have the similar Nashbar version and it is my default pedal when I am riding clipped. I like the choice but... The non clip side is not that good at all, specially with some styles of SPD shoes (like my M200). It works and is great to have but a bad non clipped in anything but a parking lot or smooth flat in my opinion. If I want a day of not being clipped in, I swap to my platforms and flats instead of using the double sides. I'm a default platform person so maybe I am just picky about my no clipped experience.

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Old 09-12-17, 11:17 AM   #14
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Flat pedals with pins or SPD with SH56 (multi-release) cleats. No toe-clips.
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Old 09-13-17, 02:20 PM   #15
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It's a huge personal preference thing. I would say that you need to make sure you're confident on the bike first. Get good at riding trails with out them. When you're confident you're ready for the switch you'll never go back. Clipless is the BOMB.COM. I basically hate riding without clips these days. It gives you SO MUCH MORE CONTROL. I sometimes put flats on for specific training but I love th feeling of having the bike a be a true extension of my body.
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Old 09-15-17, 07:39 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by catgita View Post

In spite of my BMX background, personally I never wanted to ride a MTB without my feet attached. So I started with clips and straps, and bought SPD as soon as they came out.
Yes SPD all the way here too. I had a fear at first that I couldn't unclip quickly enough if I stalled in soft sand, then one day it happened, and I fell slowly... Into soft sand
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Old 09-15-17, 07:41 AM   #17
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Shimano M324 pedals are SPD on one side and flats on the other so you can clip in when you want or just ride on the flats if you feel like it.
As a user yourself, how easy is it to get the pedal positioned right to clip in as you're riding along?
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Old 09-16-17, 12:45 PM   #18
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As a user yourself, how easy is it to get the pedal positioned right to clip in as you're riding along?
It will tend to rest with the clip on side down but it flips over to clip into with out any problem. It's really a not an issue for me.
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Old 09-17-17, 08:09 PM   #19
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Singletracks - My Journey from Flats to Clipless Pedals… and Back to Flats Again

Good read.

I disagree with @FuntivityColton about so much more control. I think it's different control. I wouldn't necessarily switch if you get comfortable with flats.
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Old 09-22-17, 08:53 AM   #20
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I basically hate riding without clips these days. It gives you SO MUCH MORE CONTROL.
That would depend on your skill level.

Experienced flat pedal riders have no issues with control. Folks who are clipless-only never learn proper bunny-hop technique, which translates into bad jumping technique.
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Old 09-27-17, 12:05 AM   #21
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...It gives you SO MUCH MORE CONTROL. I sometimes put flats on for specific training but I love th feeling of having the bike a be a true extension of my body.
I have to 2nd this. But it also depends on the terrain and discipline. I am mostly XC. If I were more downhill...I would have to consider flats a bit more.
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Old 10-04-17, 07:34 AM   #22
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Just my 2 cents like everyone....

On my older (97) Klein MTB, I've personally always been partial to the Richey Logic clipless pedals. Double sided, easy to adjust to your preference for clipping in/out of. Easy to clear dirt/mud out of them. And after a good number of miles, easy to break down and repack the bearings when needed.
This past season... came across a yellow set (more rare color) that were NOS. Couldn't pass them up as they match my bike.
Plus they've taken a lot of abuse from normal trail conditions, hitting rocks, logs, etc. and I've never broken a pair of them.
Wish they were still made, but they were popular enough back in the day that it's not hard to come across a good set even now.

As for platform.. the "footprint" dimensions of them while they're not a platform pedal, give you a big enough target to quickly clip back in while stopped and in motion. IMHO.

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Old 10-04-17, 02:17 PM   #23
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Interestingly enough, I find that bear trap styule or any agressively toothed pedals are best for me... somewhat of a middle ground between freedom to get my feet on and off the pedal with a bit more traction.
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Old 10-08-17, 02:30 PM   #24
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Having purchased my first mountain bike in the mid-1980s, I had always ridden with toe clips. I never fell in love (but did fall several times) with clipless pedals and at the age of 67 can't imagine starting now. My riding is strictly recreational and I prefer platform pedals with steel nubs for my off-road and rough road riding....

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