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Bikepackers: flat pedals or SPD clips?

Old 08-21-23, 09:34 AM
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Bikepackers: flat pedals or SPD clips?

If you have experience doing multi-day bikepacking trips with flat pedals, and also some with SPD (or any clips, frankly), and can share your first-hand experience and comparison of the pros/cons of each, I would be greatful to hear from you.
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Old 08-21-23, 10:48 AM
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I started touring with SPD, but now use flats. Benefits of flats are that I can wear better fitting shoes for all day comfort, I can get off the bike and walk around right away, and I do not have to bring two pairs of shoes. Benefits of SPD: Possibly a slight performance gain, more connected to the bike (a plus, except when needing a quick foot down or get-off).
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Old 08-21-23, 10:53 AM
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have both.. Look Geo Trekking.
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Old 08-21-23, 11:09 AM
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Originally Posted by rbrides
If you have experience doing multi-day bikepacking trips with flat pedals, and also some with SPD (or any clips, frankly), and can share your first-hand experience and comparison of the pros/cons of each, I would be greatful to hear from you.
Bike touring, not bikepacking experience.

I use SPD cleats for almost all of my bike touring.

But, there have been times when I chose to use something else on a platform pedal. Those consist of:
  • Bike shoes were soaked, I wanted to give them a rest and dry out, rode with platform pedals for a day..
  • Very difficult terrain where I might have to get my feet on the ground fast, being cleated in could cause a delay and I might hit the ground.
  • Going to the camp store or showers from the campsite where the shower building or camp store is farther than I care to walk.
Bike touring, I typically carry a spare pair of shoes like trail runners or hiking shoes to use in the campsite. And I always bring ones that have a stiff enough sole that I would be happy to ride all day in those shoes instead of bike shoes.

The example below is from a day where I wore hiking shoes all day instead of cleated shoes, as I knew that this was going to be a rough road. When you see a rock in the road that is smaller than a tennis ball, so you do not bother trying to steer around it, that tells you what the road was like.



About 8 years ago I wrote up a comparison of Shimano A530 pedals and M324 pedals, as those were the primary pedals used for touring that had platform on one side, cleats on the other. The posting has not been updated, A530 pedals are out of production and several new competing models are now available, so this thread is not really valid any more. I am only citing this link to give you an idea of what I considered in comparing them, if you are interested in this type of pedal.
Comparing Shimano M324 and A530 Pedals

Since I wrote that, I have gained an appreciation for Shimano pedals that can be repaired with a Shimano TL - PD40 tool. The tool only costs a few dollars, but it allows you to open up the bearings to add more grease. If I was buying new pedals now, I would prioritize pedals that can use that tool to access the bearings. There are several youtube videos that describe how to use the tool. The A530 pedals (discontinued) use it, I have re-greased the three pairs I have of those pedals.
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Old 08-21-23, 11:39 AM
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I have done most of my touring with flat pedals and toe clips.

Some of this is because I was touring this way prior to widespread adoption of SPD. However, I also like having a pair of shoes I ride in and then also walk around town.

SPD was an improvement over toe clips in terms of tighter placement of the feet while also being easier for most to get out of the pedals. So I'm not sure I'd recommend them to someone starting today.

I do have one bike set up with two-sided pedals: SPD on one side and flat on the other.
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Old 08-21-23, 01:25 PM
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Just a few minutes ago I switched my pedals to the flat/spd Shimano PD-M324's, had a heck of time removing the previous pedals. The pedals come with Multi-Release Cleats "Featuring a 13-degree clip-out angle and multi-release functionality that allows you to clip out of your pedals by twisting your foot in either direction or by lifting and twisting your heel, these cleats make it easy to quickly get out of your pedals when the need arises." I'll use these at first, though I've also bought the regular cleats.

I've used the same shape pedals with toe clips forever, but decided to give MTB-SPD shoes a try (Shimano AM503).

I'd read that the PD-M324's were heavy, but they're not noticeably heavier than what I had before.

Now to learn how to unclip. I fell once with my toe clips jumping a sidewalk, losing my balance, and falling sideways onto a wire garbage bin. Doctor said I probably cracked a couple of ribs, hurt like hell.
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Old 08-21-23, 03:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Paul_P
Just a few minutes ago I switched my pedals to the flat/spd Shimano PD-M324's, had a heck of time removing the previous pedals. The pedals come with Multi-Release Cleats "Featuring a 13-degree clip-out angle and multi-release functionality that allows you to clip out of your pedals by twisting your foot in either direction or by lifting and twisting your heel, these cleats make it easy to quickly get out of your pedals when the need arises." I'll use these at first, though I've also bought the regular cleats.

I've used the same shape pedals with toe clips forever, but decided to give MTB-SPD shoes a try (Shimano AM503).

I'd read that the PD-M324's were heavy, but they're not noticeably heavier than what I had before.

Now to learn how to unclip. I fell once with my toe clips jumping a sidewalk, losing my balance, and falling sideways onto a wire garbage bin. Doctor said I probably cracked a couple of ribs, hurt like hell.
I had been warned that I should expect to fall when trying cleats (or clipless). The first time I rode with them, I repeatedly clipped in and uncleated maybe a dozen times before I stopped to try to develop the muscle memory.

And to try to force myself to be careful, I intentionally decided to uncleat with my left foot about 30 feet before I stopped, whenever I was going to stop, and hang my foot down as I was stopping.

Never fell because I was cleated in, but on some difficult off road terrain, I came very close several times. Then bought the right kind of pedal so I did not have to be cleated in, could use the other side of the pedal when on that type of terrain.
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Old 08-21-23, 04:32 PM
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There have been plenty of discussions on this topic. My advice is to determine what kind of shoe you want to wear while touring, and get the appropriate pedal. I'm a minimalist packer, so the very thought of an extra pair of shoes makes me cringe!

If you don't plan on doing much walking (museums, towns and trails), you'll have little need for walking shoes. My tours (and daily riding, for that matter) include a lot of walking--I often ride to a trailhead to go hiking--so for me it's flat pedals and trail shoes. And I use Superfeet inserts for hiking, which actually help on the pedals.

On one bike I have old school toe clips, another has pinned flat pedals, and frankly I don't notice any difference. I've never trained to be a competitive cyclist.
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Old 08-21-23, 05:03 PM
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I also have old school clips that are not attached at present. Either way, I can wear the shoes or sandals I prefer. No land speed records of interest.
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Old 08-21-23, 10:13 PM
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I go platform for versatility. I can wear any kind of footwear, even flip flops. I also like that I can move my foot around the pedal on long rides.
I prefer composite (nylon) pedals with plastic grips such as the Raceface Ride
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Old 08-22-23, 05:55 AM
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I don't know if its my mountain biking history where I also use SPD's exclusively, but I find SPD's to be much quicker when it comes to getting the foot on the ground than with flats. With SPD clipless you need one axis of movement and the foot shoots off to the side whereas with spiked flats you need at least two axis of movement (up and to the side) in order to get the foot off. I've been saved from many a nasty scrape by how quickly I can get my feet off the pedals with clipless.

Personally I go for clipless every time. For all day comfort I find being attached to the bike much nicer. My second pair of shoes are minimalist running shoes which weigh next to nothing so not much of a weight or space penalty there.
Clipless isn't more efficient nor does it give more power. I find clipless to be more of a fit improvement given the use of the correct shoes. If you have good well fitting cycling shoes with a stiff sole and a supportive insole which locks your foot in place you can use the whole foot as a pedaling platform. This in turn helps immensely with saddle stability which in turn helps with torso stability. Of course the more aggressive the riding position the more relevant all this is. With an upright riding position in matters not. With a roady or XC mountain bikey position it matters a lot.

If you want the whole foot as a pedalin platform with flats you'll need some pretty stiff shoes (B/C class hiking shoes minimum) which are then going to be quite heavy and hot for all day riding.
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Old 08-22-23, 07:17 AM
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Great info folks! I appreciate you sharing your real-world experiences. I've been bikepacking with SPDs for several years now and, on my most recent trip, I had a fall that hurt like hell! I couldn't get unclipped to get my foot down fast enought to stay up. I beleive flats would have enabled me to do so. But I wanted to hear of your experiences and advice. Thank you! I'm going for 3 days in Sept and will give flats a try.


Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN
I had been warned that I should expect to fall when trying cleats (or clipless). The first time I rode with them, I repeatedly clipped in and uncleated maybe a dozen times before I stopped to try to develop the muscle memory.

And to try to force myself to be careful, I intentionally decided to uncleat with my left foot about 30 feet before I stopped, whenever I was going to stop, and hang my foot down as I was stopping.

Never fell because I was cleated in, but on some difficult off road terrain, I came very close several times. Then bought the right kind of pedal so I did not have to be cleated in, could use the other side of the pedal when on that type of terrain.
Originally Posted by andrewclaus
There have been plenty of discussions on this topic. My advice is to determine what kind of shoe you want to wear while touring, and get the appropriate pedal. I'm a minimalist packer, so the very thought of an extra pair of shoes makes me cringe!

If you don't plan on doing much walking (museums, towns and trails), you'll have little need for walking shoes. My tours (and daily riding, for that matter) include a lot of walking--I often ride to a trailhead to go hiking--so for me it's flat pedals and trail shoes. And I use Superfeet inserts for hiking, which actually help on the pedals.

On one bike I have old school toe clips, another has pinned flat pedals, and frankly I don't notice any difference. I've never trained to be a competitive cyclist.
Originally Posted by Chuck Naill
I also have old school clips that are not attached at present. Either way, I can wear the shoes or sandals I prefer. No land speed records of interest.
Originally Posted by MarcusT
I go platform for versatility. I can wear any kind of footwear, even flip flops. I also like that I can move my foot around the pedal on long rides.
I prefer composite (nylon) pedals with plastic grips such as the Raceface Ride
Originally Posted by elcruxio
I don't know if its my mountain biking history where I also use SPD's exclusively, but I find SPD's to be much quicker when it comes to getting the foot on the ground than with flats. With SPD clipless you need one axis of movement and the foot shoots off to the side whereas with spiked flats you need at least two axis of movement (up and to the side) in order to get the foot off. I've been saved from many a nasty scrape by how quickly I can get my feet off the pedals with clipless.

Personally I go for clipless every time. For all day comfort I find being attached to the bike much nicer. My second pair of shoes are minimalist running shoes which weigh next to nothing so not much of a weight or space penalty there.
Clipless isn't more efficient nor does it give more power. I find clipless to be more of a fit improvement given the use of the correct shoes. If you have good well fitting cycling shoes with a stiff sole and a supportive insole which locks your foot in place you can use the whole foot as a pedaling platform. This in turn helps immensely with saddle stability which in turn helps with torso stability. Of course the more aggressive the riding position the more relevant all this is. With an upright riding position in matters not. With a roady or XC mountain bikey position it matters a lot.

If you want the whole foot as a pedalin platform with flats you'll need some pretty stiff shoes (B/C class hiking shoes minimum) which are then going to be quite heavy and hot for all day riding.
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Old 08-22-23, 07:30 AM
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I've been clipless for quite a while now but my next bike will have platform pedals. Will be interesting to see the difference.
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Old 08-22-23, 12:48 PM
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I use platforms on everything except my recumbent trike. I use dual sided (SPD and flat) pedals on my trike to prevent possible leg suck from slipping off the pedal. Even then, I wear relatively loose fitting keen sandals that give me the ability to move my foot around a little, or add socks if itís cold.

I prefer platforms as it gives me more flexibility in foot position over the course of a long days riding, preventing hot spots.
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Old 08-22-23, 08:35 PM
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Originally Posted by rbrides
....multi-day bikepacking trips with flat pedals,....
bikepacking? do you mean cycle touring in general, or specifically frame bags/no racks on rough single-track?

for my anecdotal data point, standard touring only: 2-bag/4-bag/trailer, on and off road. touring shoes (road and mtb styles) with stiffened soles, flats with pins and toe-clips. straps not tightened down. i prefer shoes stiff enough for cycling, but flexible enough for kilometer-long hikes to waterfalls, with no clacking noise from clips when visiting museums and cathedrals.

usually carry a cheap pair of flip-flops for showers in $3 truckstop motels and for wading across streams, and a light pair of sandals for moseying around towns in the evenings, allowing bike shoes to air out.
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Old 08-23-23, 06:17 AM
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I use clipless exclusively. They may be Shimano…nothing fancier than an M520…or some other brand but I’ve never had an issue getting out of one even with bogged down on a single track climb. You don’t have to screw the things down as tight as they will go. Mine are almost always tightened no more than 3 or 4 “clicks” from the weakest setting. There are 4 clicks per turn of the screw and probably 10 threads on the screw so you can see that they are fairly lightly attached.

By the way, not being able to get out of the pedal can be a benefit. Just like with your arms, it is best to keep all the breakable bits attached to the bike in the event of a crash. Sticking anything out to “catch yourself” usually only results in physics attempting to break off those bits sticking out. Best to stay attached to the bike and just ride it down.
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Old 08-23-23, 02:33 PM
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Quill pedals with them cages for me. Loose straps when I was touring, tight with skinny shoes when I was just riding hard for training. A smooth skinny riding shoe let's you pretty much emulate a clipless pedal performance.

Honestly the difference should be negligible from a practical disappoint but huge on the personal preference department. See which you like and go with that.
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Old 08-23-23, 03:35 PM
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Plenty of clipless vs flat videos. Find one that agrees with what you want to believe! Not sure how applicable this power & speed video is to touring; if my power numbers are in the troposphere, this cat's numbers are in the exosphere:


Probably the biggest thing I took away from this is: it's not the pedals, it's the shoe/pedal 'system'.

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Old 08-23-23, 07:31 PM
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I tried out my new (and first) cycling shoes today, Shimano AM503's. They are unbelievably comfortable to walk in. I took a chance having only read a couple of reviews, but didn't expect this level of comfort. I could walk all day in them. I was afraid the price would be that they were too flexible on the pedals, but they're not at all.

I went for a 70km / 45 mile ride today to adjust the cleats and PD-M324 pedals and get used to them and clipping in and out. I rode a while at first on the platform side noting where my foot was most comfortable. This, I thought, was an advantage to combination pedals because you can see the best spot and then just adjust the other side to be the same. Well, that doesn't work because there was no way to adjust the cleat to give me what I wanted. In particular, the cleats at their limit position force my feet closer to the bike than is natural. I was worried that my knees wouldn't like that and at first did feel them complain a bit, but after a while I more or less got used to it.

My idea was to stop in a park and adjust everything there, so didn't intend to clip in before that. However, at one intersection, the light changed and I took off, but my right foot clipped in by itself. I knew that all I had to do was kick my heel out and it would unclip, except it didn't, and wouldn't. I had to quickly figure out how to stop on the other side of the road and be absolutely certain to be on the side of the free foot. Even stopped I had a hard time getting my foot free and hurt my ankle a bit in the process. I decided to do the adjustments at the next possible spot.

Turns out the pedals come preadjusted pretty stiff, but once backed off sufficiently they're pretty easy to get used to, especially coming from using toe clips and straps since those also required a bit of forethought before stopping, though not exactly the same movement. It's nice having the choice between flat and clip, but you have to be careful to properly select the one you want, which isn't always quick and easy to do and if you're not careful you can clip in when you don't want to.
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Old 08-23-23, 10:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Paul_P
I tried out my new (and first) cycling shoes today, Shimano AM503's. They are unbelievably comfortable to walk in. I took a chance having only read a couple of reviews, but didn't expect this level of comfort. I could walk all day in them. I was afraid the price would be that they were too flexible on the pedals, but they're not at all.

I went for a 70km / 45 mile ride today to adjust the cleats and PD-M324 pedals and get used to them and clipping in and out. I rode a while at first on the platform side noting where my foot was most comfortable. This, I thought, was an advantage to combination pedals because you can see the best spot and then just adjust the other side to be the same. Well, that doesn't work because there was no way to adjust the cleat to give me what I wanted. In particular, the cleats at their limit position force my feet closer to the bike than is natural. I was worried that my knees wouldn't like that and at first did feel them complain a bit, but after a while I more or less got used to it.

My idea was to stop in a park and adjust everything there, so didn't intend to clip in before that. However, at one intersection, the light changed and I took off, but my right foot clipped in by itself. I knew that all I had to do was kick my heel out and it would unclip, except it didn't, and wouldn't. I had to quickly figure out how to stop on the other side of the road and be absolutely certain to be on the side of the free foot. Even stopped I had a hard time getting my foot free and hurt my ankle a bit in the process. I decided to do the adjustments at the next possible spot.

Turns out the pedals come preadjusted pretty stiff, but once backed off sufficiently they're pretty easy to get used to, especially coming from using toe clips and straps since those also required a bit of forethought before stopping, though not exactly the same movement. It's nice having the choice between flat and clip, but you have to be careful to properly select the one you want, which isn't always quick and easy to do and if you're not careful you can clip in when you don't want to.
My pedal cleat adjustments are adjusted almost as loose as they can get. I like my cleats fairly far aft.

If you have fenders on your bike, you can have toe overlap with the fenders, all of my 700c bikes that have fenders have toe overlap. I got used to it.

Check your cleat bolts in a few weeks to make sure they are still tight. And a month after that, check again. And again next spring. The plastic sole of the shoe deforms slightly and the cleat bolts need to be re-tightened to compensate for that. Some day, you will lose a cleat bolt and you will suddenly have a shoe that does not want to disconnect from the pedal. Hopefully you do not crash. I started using removable threadlocker on my cleat bolts, I am less likely to lose a bolt that way. I also bring a spare cleat bolt on tours.
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Old 08-24-23, 01:56 PM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN
Some day, you will lose a cleat bolt and you will suddenly have a shoe that does not want to disconnect from the pedal. Hopefully you do not crash. I started using removable threadlocker on my cleat bolts, I am less likely to lose a bolt that way. I also bring a spare cleat bolt on tours.
I think this is what may have happened yesterday since I hadn't completely tightened the bolts, not intending to using the cleats before adjusting. Good to be aware that it might happen again if I'm not vigilant.

Edit: I just checked the bolts and they did indeed need a bit of retightening, so thanks for the heads up.

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Old 08-24-23, 03:18 PM
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I like the Shimano platform/SPD combination "Clickr" pedals. Two sided like the M324s but without the steel cages, less painful on your shins should you bang them when walking the bike.


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Old 08-24-23, 04:33 PM
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Originally Posted by BobG
...less painful on your shins should you bang them when walking the bike.

Here's a pro tip for walking a loaded touring bike up a hill: quick release pedals.

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Old 08-24-23, 05:36 PM
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Originally Posted by tcs
Here's a pro tip for walking a loaded touring bike up a hill: quick release pedals.
I was already thinking about a spacer since my shoes bring my feet closer to the bike than I'm used to, but these may do that and be removable as well.

Oh, I see that you have to replace the entire pedal. That'll have to wait.

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Old 08-24-23, 08:03 PM
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Originally Posted by Paul_P
I was already thinking about a spacer since my shoes bring my feet closer to the bike than I'm used to, but these may do that and be removable as well.

Oh, I see that you have to replace the entire pedal. That'll have to wait.
Those look like the MKS quick release pedals. Common on folding bikes. I have a similar pair on my folder with toe clips.
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