Switching to flats, is it worth it + what gear to get?

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  • Switching to flats, is it worth it + what gear to get?
  • Premier Icon Painey
    Subscriber

    I’m thinking of switching from SPD’s to flats on my 150mm full sus bike, which gets ridden in Wales/Surrey Hills/South Downs. So a bit of a mix there but whilst I’m reasonably handy at going fast downhill, I’m thinking of giving the flats a go for the types of trail that involve a bit more air time. Reds & Blacks at Bike Park Wales for example.

    Main reason being, I’ve never been that comfortable with big jumps and SPD’s. Whilst I freely appreciate that a skills course would help this more than anything else, what with family and work commitments, I’d struggle to find the time to fit one in. Hence considering the switch to flats to see what it’s like.

    I’ve narrowed it down to either some Saint or Superstar Nano pedals, which both seem pretty good and not likely to break the bank. Regarding shoes, I know all about the Five Ten’s but are they really essential or would other brands be just as good but noticeable cheeper? I’m thinking Shimano AM41’s/Teva Links etc.

    As it may potentially end up being just a brief experiment, I don’t want to chuck too much money at it so would love to hear your thoughts. Cheers

    Premier Icon weeksy
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    I found the sticky up middles on Nukeproof Electrons a bit weird at first.

    The teva Links are stiffer sole than my 5 10 freeriders, although a lot newer with less miles which may play a factor. They’re also warmer than the 5 10’s… but I prefer the 5 10’s.

    I certainly have no issues with the Links, apart from the laces that can reach the moon.

    mikewsmith
    Member

    Whilst I freely appreciate that a skills course would help this more than anything else, what with family and work commitments, I’d struggle to find the time to fit one in. Hence considering the switch to flats to see what it’s like.

    How much time do you plan to spend learning how to ride flats? You would probably be as good getting the flats and a skills course. Skip a couple of rides and work on stuff. Might sound harsh but swapping pedals won’t make technique appear.

    neilwheel
    Member

    The Saints seem to have bearing issues, from a number of posts on here, I have Nukeproof flats myself.

    I prefer Tevas, a bit lighter and more durable than the 5:10s, but not as sticky.

    As above, skip a ride and learn more skillz instead.

    funkrodent
    Member

    There’s going to be other commenters with way more experience/skills than me, but I’ll give you my two penn’orth.

    I much prefer riding with flats rather than being clipped in, like to be able to get my feet down quick if necessary. I also like the big, stable platform you get with flats. Conversely I accept that I have less pedal power, particularly on uphills.

    When it comes to jumps, things get a bit more tricky. One of the issues I find (and I definitely need a skills course, or two) is that I sometimes float off the pedals. My feet become disconnected (probably not absorbing the bike into me enough through the jump), this is pretty disconcerting when it comes to landing and has led to a few thrills and spills. Lots of people I know prefer clipless because they are always connected to the pedals, though jumping with flats encourages better technique. In short, you’ll be able to bail out easier with flats, but you may well find more need to do so as well!

    With regard to pedals the Superstar Nanos are great. grippy as hell, reasonably light and very robust. Great value for money. I’d also suggest just spending the extra money on the 5.10s. Worth every penny.

    Finally, take one of those days that you were going to go riding and invest it on a skills course. At least that’s what I keep intending to do.. 😉

    Premier Icon maxtorque
    Subscriber

    It’s well worth it imo. Riding well on flats is very different to riding well on SPDs and it definitely makes you concentrate harder on proper technique, which all goes to make your SPD riding better too!

    jambalaya
    Member

    I made the switch for similar reasons, plus the fact that the twist to unclip motion is really bad for my knees.

    I got Nukeproof Electrons plus 5:10 shoes which have proven to be a very good combination, my feet are very planted. The cheapest experiment is to get the pedals and wear some kind of outdoor shoes you already own as a trial.

    £200 with Jedi will be a better upgrade than new pedals and shoes (I did both and actually rode flats for the first time at my session with him FWIW)

    Saints don’t have the normal Shimano reliability, and aren’t that grippy, I’d avoid them to be honest.

    The Superstar/Nujeproof/Carboncycles/Moove pedals are decent.

    I always recommend Vaults as the best of the lot.

    Teva shoes are discontinued, so are a bargain if you can find a pair in your size. Hibike or Bike24 in Germany have Danny MacAwskill 5:10s for 49 Euro at the moment too.

    rocketman
    Member

    What about some Crank Bros Mallets? They’re the closest thing I’ve tried to magnetic pedals, quite a bit different to SPDs

    Premier Icon maxtorque
    Subscriber

    btw, if like me, you’d been riding on SPDs for ages, be warned, when you first put the flats on, you’ll struggle to just ride the bike at all, and the slightest bump or hope will feel impossible!

    (spend time on them, get you technique nailed and never look back mind!)

    jedi
    Member

    Foot position is critical. Or your feet will lose contact

    Premier Icon weeksy
    Subscriber

    jedi – Member

    Foot position is critical. Or your feet will lose contact

    does make me smile when I think of how quickly/easily you get your feet right when showing jumps. I seem to pedal forward and pick it up on the next revolution, you do the reverse and put it on from horizontal. Your way seems better… but I can’t manage yours very well.

    Premier Icon convert
    Subscriber

    Foot position is critical. Or your feet will lose contact

    Hi Tony!

    This is so true. Before I went to Tony for the day when I rode flats I put my foot on the same place as I do when riding with clips…..and have scars down my left shin to prove it. Tony moved my feet (and altered the position of my brake levers) and all that is now a thing of the past. Somehow never worked it out for myself!

    Premier Icon convert
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    double post

    Premier Icon tomd
    Subscriber

    I’ve got Superstar nanos and pair of Specialized Bennies that replaced a set of dead & warrantied Saints (bushing issues). Both the Nanos and Bennies have been really good, although I prefer the Bennies some reason. I normally just ride with outdoorsy type shoes, although the grip with 5:10s is crazy.

    ndthornton
    Member

    I use SPDs on my lightweight hardtail but I hate getting airborne with them as occasionally they unclip in flight which is not a pleasant experience.

    With flats it means you cant be lazy and rely on clips – which means when you learn how to do it – you always stay stuck

    Treat each jump like a bunny hop (kick your toes back) and all is well

    ralexd
    Member

    I’ve used Superstar Nanos and found them to be a very good pedal for the price. They were reliable and spun freely until i sold them on.
    I use Vaults now and will stay on Vaults, they are lovely.
    Bargain option could be, a set of Wellgo V8 copies and skate shoes 🙂

    ralexd
    Member

    Oh aye, and 510s’, no contest. Very comfy shoe/boot for riding and pushing. They get wet very easily though, just show them a puddle and they’re soaking.

    digga
    Member

    I’ve run both the pedals you list and liked them, but for a beginner I reckon the Superstar nano might give more confidence.

    Ultimately, having tried Teva and 5:10s, I’d only ever bother with the latter, but decent flat pedals will work okayish with running trainers (preferably old, because they will get shredded) to try the concept.

    I used to run clipless, but a fast OTB accident where the clips didn’t release put me off them for life. Swapping was hard work, but I was committed to it and am far more confident and enjoy riding more, somehow.

    All horses for courses and all that, but I would recommend at least trying. This site has some useful and interesting stuff: http://www.bikejames.com/strength-training/barefoot-pedaling-flat-pedals/

    doris5000
    Member

    i switched to flats c.1996 and never went back.

    ok, that was probably in part because my Onza clipless pedals were so poor, (they were titanium and everything) but i just found that flats made everything so much more relaxed and fun. One of the best riding decisions i ever made – made me realise that it should be about how enjoyable the ride is, not what sort of time i’m posting!

    creamegg
    Member

    5:10’s slightly better than AM41’s for grip but are bloody awful in the winter and take forever to dry out.

    AM41’s grippy enough, just not as grippy as the 5:10’s but are better all rounders, especially in winter IMO

    Premier Icon Painey
    Subscriber

    Thanks for the input so far.

    What I tend to do with big jumps is find my feet, when clipped in, affecting the position of the bike in the air. I don’t consciously do anything to it but it often leads to the bike leaning over slightly, which leads to very sketchy landings! I’m usually OK with getting my body in the right position and have never had any face-plants as such.

    I’ve always gone with making sure you drop your wrists as you take off, if that makes sense. That and slightly push the bars away from you with the palms of your hand. Nothing drastic as it should be nice and smooth. Going back to when I was a teenager (39yrs old now) I was pretty adept at jumping on a BMX so don’t know what’s happened as I’ve gotten older!

    It’s with that in mind that I’m thinking going back to flat pedals might be worth exploring. I’ve had my SPD’s unclip in mid air too which explains the scars on the inside of my shins above the ankle. I use the large platform SPD’s favoured by DH riders, can’t remember what they’re called.

    Hoping to be able to practice this in the new year before another trip back to BPW and maybe some downhill races (which I’ve always been worried about doing because of being rubbish at jumps).

    jedi
    Member

    sounds like you pull with your dominant foot to create a twist

    Premier Icon chief1409
    Subscriber

    I made the same transition to flats this summer AFTER a weekend in Morzine 🙄 – that week basically proved to me that i should give it a go.

    First ride was absolutely horrible. I couldn’t even pedal. Kept lifting my feet off the pedals at the top of the pedal stroke. Couldn’t get my feet in the right position at all. First small air – feet completely left the pedals and nearly wiped out.

    Since then every ride has got better and better and now i love them and would struggle to go back unless i was doing a XC ride (which i don’t often do). I’m now attempting more and more really technical descent obstacles as i know i can dab easily.

    As for climbing, that took a bit of getting used to, but i think I’ve now adapted my pedal stroke to where it needs to be (feels right to me anyway). I’m one of the fittest in the groups i ride with (not a high standard though) so even though I’m probably not as quick up the way as i would be with clipless I’m still at or near the front. Means I’ve got slightly less time waiting on the others and getting cold!

    I’ve got DMR Vaults and Five Ten Sam Hill Impact VXi shoes. Neither are cheap, but reviews of the pedals are generally very good and the shoes are insanely sticky and probably the most comfortable cycling shoes I’ve ever had. Not sure about why post above says they are rubbish in the winter – i find them nice and warm. They do take a while to dry out but for me that’s not a huge concern.

    Go for it! And get a skills day too. If you don’t like them you can always sell them on to minimise cost impact.

    Van Halen
    Member

    a switch to flats may gain you better technique but there will be a learning curve associated with it.

    in reality if you need to put a foot down on landing a decent sized jump either with flats or clips you are pretty much **** in terms of crashing. if you are going really big flats give opportunty to bail. for most mortals the jumps really arnt big enough for classy bails, or if they are maybe you should be on flats.

    i struggled to jump following a switch to clips but once i realised to not stress about being clipped in i was fine. That said i do ride flats as well so i guess i get the benefits of both.

    in terms of kit get a concave pedal and flat shoes. if you always ride in minging wet you might want to upgrade to 510s but you might just take the benefits of the flats technique to spds. i do.

    I’m hedging my bets at the moment with Five Ten Maltese Falcons + Mallet DH pedals so I have the option to clip in or ride as flats. Been trying the latter recently but think I prefer being clipped in overall. I’ve always found Mallets to be very easy to clip out quickly for a dab, especially when the cleats are a bit worn.

    Premier Icon Andy R
    Subscriber

    I’ve been riding with spd’s ever since they came out but as I was going to be out in Greece for ten weeks this autumn and had plenty of rocky, steppy, kalderimi riding in mind I thought that as I was sending my Alpitude out there I’d throw a pair of flat pedals in the box as well and give them a go….

    So I did, and gained some hefty gouges in my left shin for my trouble which, according to my wife “looked horrible” but strangely never really hurt. This was, of course, as a result of me not paying attention and getting sloppy with my technique on some stuff I’d ridden dozens of times before.
    However, when I was paying proper attention to foot positioning and weight distribution (ie when I was riding the more technical stuff) I found that my riding somehow seemed more controlled and that I felt more “in” the bike, if that makes any sense. I did find climbing more difficult at first and for long climbs I reckon I’d always prefer spd’s.

    Now I’m back in the grim north I’ll mostly be riding my singlespeed through the winter,(the Alpitude has stayed out in Greece) so unfortunately won’t get much, if any, flat pedal practice in. I’m an old dog anyway, so it’s probably far too late for me to learn new tricks…

    Premier Icon mtbguiding
    Subscriber

    My tuppence’

    Been riding clipless for 25 years… ouch…

    But decided to try flats properly for the first time this autumn after a couple of really nasty falls on technical climbs where I just couldn’t unclip and ended up ribs/hips/thighs first into jagged bed rock.

    I bought Nukeproof Neutrons and Shimano AM41 which looked like the cheapest way I was going to get some useful kit that would give me a fair chance.

    I also promised myself 10 rides before I made a decision.

    Well 8 in and I had already decided. And I don’t think I will ever go back. Am faster everywhere than I was, am more confident in super nadgery techie stuff, and am still happy in the air.

    It’s been an absolute revelation and the only downside I can see is that I am still wearing shin pads everywhere and will want to stop that eventually.

    And I don’t think I’m losing on the climbing either. And I’m also a member of the dark side so still do a lot of climbing clipped in and am finding it easy enough to swap from one to the other (there are many much bigger differences)

    There’s been a bit of research done in the last few years that suggests that clipping in doesn’t in fact improve pedalling efficiency at all. And that pulling up any more than just relieving the negative force on the pedal is actually very inefficient.

    I discussed this with a top bike fitter a few weeks ago and he was of the same opinion.

    For further info see

    The Flat Pedal Revolution Manifesto: How to Improve Your Riding With Flat Pedals

    and also

    http://www.globalcyclingnetwork.com/videos/sec-features/what-is-the-most-efficient-pedalling-style-we-test-flat-vs-clipless-pedals-gcn-does-science/

    But do a bit more googling and you’ll find other stuff too.

    Give it a go – or in fact give it 10 goes – reckon you’ll be hooked…

    enfht
    Member

    Don’t waste money on mtb-specific shoes.

    “Stcky” soles are only necessary if you believe the sales & marketing BS.

    Any flat soled trainers are fine, whichever is cheapest.

    Premier Icon ceepers
    Subscriber

    i always ride flats on my FS and swap between flats and spd’s on my hardtail. there’s a noticeble trade off using flats on the hardtail in terms of keeping the power down over bumpy ground and sometimes in keeping your momentum on technical climbs. with heels dipped and feet locked in i dont find any advantage to spd’s descending even on the hardtail, on the FS the suspension does enough work to negate most of the difference for me everywhere.

    I do really like the looser feel of flats especially when it’s muddy (which is when i tend to stick them back on the hardtail) and im a bit of a sam hill fanboi so…..

    Ive got am41’s which are grippy enough, comfy and pretty good for wet winte wear although i know that 5’10s are supposed to be grippier. I used skate shoes before but the am41’s seem to have the right balance of feel and pedalling stiffness.

    Pedals wise i really rate vaults, spendy but excellent. I have an old pair of V8’s which are cheap and have been fine. I think the new verson of the v12 looks good and is a similar shape to the vault but half the price.

    it will feel very weird at first but as posted above, it somehow feels better once you’ve “got it”

    Premier Icon Painey
    Subscriber

    sounds like you pull with your dominant foot to create a twist

    Pretty much one of the theories I had, and hence my thinking behind flats possibly helping?

    Must admit I don’t consciously pull up and certainly don’t need to for bunny hops etc. One thing I am aware of is it that long-term, it would benefit from having an expert watch what I’m doing wrong.

    jedi
    Member

    maybe you’re timing is out or you are pulling up to take off. lots of variables. try the foot with pedal mid foot

    Premier Icon Painey
    Subscriber

    There’s been a bit of research done in the last few years that suggests that clipping in doesn’t in fact improve pedalling efficiency at all. And that pulling up any more than just relieving the negative force on the pedal is actually very inefficient.

    Generally speaking I only ever make a real effort to pull up when pedalling on the road bike. Never felt the need to on either of my mountain bikes.

    I’ll check out those links too, thanks for that.

    digga
    Member

    Was spectating on an awkward drop-off on a DH mate’s race event I was riding in. The run in and out of the drop were both rooty, mating it tricky, but even allowing for that, I was amazed/appalled at how many seemingly confident riders were binning it there – the common denominator seeming to be pulling-up rather than pushing the bike foward and[/b] pulling up slightly wonky at that, making the bike hit the rooty landing with lock on. We all know it’s best not to turn on roots…

    Premier Icon richmtb
    Subscriber

    Its good to be able to ride in both.

    If you don’t feel comfortable riding flats then learning this skill is a good thing.

    I was an exclusively SPD rider for about ten years. After a skills course I decided to give flats ago. It really gives you a new slant on riding, particularly on how you place and use your foot position.

    I’m still faster on SPDs but I’m probably a better rider because of learning to ride flats too.

    ndthornton
    Member

    Don’t waste money on mtb-specific shoes.

    “Stcky” soles are only necessary if you believe the sales & marketing BS.

    They are stiffer as well though which is better for pedaling
    ..and are also thicker in the sole which I find more comfortable for a long days riding
    ..and offer a bit more protection from cold/wet/impacts than normal trainers
    ..and they last longer too

    All minor things but add up to a worthwhile investment I reckon.

    Any flat soled trainers are fine, whichever is cheapest.

    Ordinary trainers are invariably too flexible in the sole to be good for pedalling. Bike specific shoes are miles better for the job in hand.

    Ordinary trainers are invariably too flexible in the sole to be good for pedalling.

    Why do they need to be stiff if you using a large flat pedal made of metal?

    Why do they need to be stiff if you using a large flat pedal made of metal?

    Because there is still an edge under your instep where your foot goes from on the pedal to in fresh air which you can easily feel and it causes a lot of people to get achy feet after a while.

    There’s honestly a really big improvement in comfort and grip from normal skateshoes to something like 5:10s.

    digga
    Member

    As a cheap way of ‘trying’ flats, I’d still say you don’t have to go to the expense of new shoes. It’s not ideal, but it might provide enough initial information for the OP to make his mind up.

    I know people who ride both XC and DH on flats who have never owned a ‘proper’ pair of mtb-specific shoes.

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