Is It Ok To Use Flat Pedals On A Road Bike?

Is It Ok To Use Flat Pedals On A Road Bike?

As someone who has ridden both clipless and flat pedals extensively, I can understand the pros and cons of each and why you might consider flats for your road bike.

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at whether it’s okay to use flat pedals on a road bike.

I’ll share my personal experience and recommendations, as well as the perspectives of professional cyclists.

By the end, you’ll have all the information you need to decide if flats are right for your riding style and goals.

There’s no definitive right or wrong answer here – both clipless and flat pedals have their benefits.

It comes down to personal preference and what works best for your unique needs.

Let’s explore!

Can I Use Flat Pedals On A Road Bike?

The short answer is yes, you absolutely can use flat pedals on a road bike if you want to!

While clipless pedals are more common, flats are a viable option for road cycling.

Flat pedals allow you to wear any type of shoes, making them super convenient and comfortable.

They also give you the freedom to position your foot wherever you want on the pedal.

This can make flats ideal for stop-and-go city riding, climbing technical sections, or anytime you need to quickly dab a foot down.

The main downside to flats is that they don’t provide the same pedaling efficiency as clipless.

Without your foot attached directly to the pedal, you lose some power transfer on the upstroke.

However, this difference is relatively minor for most riders.

Flats also carry a higher risk of your foot slipping off the pedal.

Ultimately, flats can work quite well on a road bike, as long as you get a good pair with proper traction and grip.

High-quality platforms like RaceFace Chester or Crankbrothers Stamp pedals provide stability for longer road rides.

You may just need to be a bit more careful when sprinting or climbing out of the saddle.

So don’t feel like you have to use clipless pedals! Flats can be a great option for road riding at any level.

Focus on finding a high quality flat pedal that fits your riding needs and goals.

Can I use MTB flat pedals on a road bike?

Using mountain bike (MTB) style flat pedals on a road bike is also perfectly fine!

The wider platform and grippy pins found on MTB flats provide ample stability for road riding.

Brands like Crankbrothers Stamp or Race Face Chester are popular with roadies and mountain bikers alike.

In fact, some riders actually prefer the feel of a nice wide MTB flat pedal over traditional narrow road pedal bodies.

The additional platform size helps distribute pressure more evenly across your foot for greater comfort.

The pins also provide traction to keep your foot planted securely on long climbs or sprints.

The only downside is that MTB flats are often a bit heavier than road specific options.

But we’re talking a few extra grams at most – likely not noticeable out on the road.

Anecdotally, I’ve ridden Chester pedals for years on my road and gravel bikes with no issues.

So if you already have a favorite pair of quality MTB flats, feel free to throw them on your road bike too.

The stability, grip, and comfort will translate over nicely. No need to invest in a separate set of road specific flats if you don’t want to.

Do Pros Use Flat Pedals?

While clipless pedals dominate the pro cycling peloton, there are some professional riders who choose flats even for road racing.

US cyclist Ted King is known for riding flats in events like the Leadville 100 MTB race and even on some pro road stages.

For him, the ability to rapidly reposition his foot on the pedal is valuable when racing over variable terrain.

Cyclo-cross racers also frequently opt for flats over clipless pedals.

The need to quickly dismount and remount the bike makes flats the pragmatic choice for fast CX racing.

Mountain bike pros like Maes and Nino Schurter also rely on flats for the technical downhill and obstacle-heavy courses.

So while flats are not yet commonplace among road pros, there are elite racers across disciplines who prefer them for certain types of events or conditions.

Flats do seem to be gaining some acceptance even among the most competitive riders.

At the amateur or enthusiast level, plenty of experienced road cyclists train and compete on flat pedals without issue.

Don’t feel like you must ride clipless just because the pros do most of the time.

Pick the pedal system that enables you to ride your best!

Are Road Pedals Better?

This is a difficult question to answer definitively, as both road pedals and flats have pros and cons that lend themselves better to certain riding styles and preferences.

Ultimately whether road pedals are “betterdepends on your goals and needs as a cyclist.

Road specific clipless pedals do provide some potential advantages that explain their popularity:

More Direct Power Transfer And Pedaling Efficiency

Road-specific clipless pedals provide a more direct transfer of power to the pedal and marginally better pedaling efficiency compared to flats.

Ability to pull up during pedal strokes

Clipless pedals allow you to pull up during the pedal stroke for increased power output, but this requires practice to perfect the technique.

Keeps foot securely in place

Clipless pedals keep your foot firmly secured to the pedal for better stability when climbing or sprinting out of the saddle.

Wide Variety of road-specific shoes

There is a wide selection of road specific cycling shoes optimized for comfort and performance with clipless cleats.

Lots of entry-level options

Major brands like Shimano and Look offer many budget-friendly entry level clipless pedals and shoes.

Clips into pedals almost automatically

Clipless pedals allow you to engage and disengage from the pedal quickly with practice, convenient for frequent stop/start riding.

However, flats also have some compelling benefits:

Freedom To Reposition Foot

Flat pedals allow you to reposition your foot and place weight on the pedal as needed, which can be helpful on technical terrain.

Ability To Rapidly Dab Foot Down

Flats allow you to quickly dab a foot down for balance at slow speeds since your feet are not attached to the pedal.

Wider Variety Of Shoe Choices

Flat pedals accommodate a wider variety of shoe options including casual sneakers, with no need for special cycling shoes.

Encourages Better Pedaling Technique

Riding flats encourages proper pedaling technique by forcing you to only push down, without the pulling up “crutch”.

Easy On/Off

Flat pedals allow easy on/off without fussing with any cleats or clips, convenient for casual city riding.

So in many ways, there is no clear winner between road pedals and flats – the “better” option depends on the riding you intend to do and your personal preferences.

Try out both and see what pedal system you naturally gravitate towards!

Clipless vs. Flat Pedals Efficiency

This is an area of longstanding debate in the cycling world – which pedal system, clipless or flats, is more efficient?

Let’s break down what the research and experts say:

  • Multiple studies have found a ~5% power and efficiency advantage with clipless pedals versus flats in lab tests.
    This is attributed to the ability to pull up during the upstroke.
  • However, other studies found minimal differences when pedaling technique was controlled and test subjects were well-practiced with flats.
    Suggesting much of the efficiency gain with clipless pedals comes from technique changes.
  • Pedaling in circles with proper form minimizes efficiency differences between flats and clipless. Flats may encourage better technique by forcing you to only push, not pull.
  • Efficiency also depends on the rider. Novices tend to benefit more from clipless pedals initially.
    But experienced cyclists can pedal just as efficiently on flats.
  • Fitness gains come from consistent training over time, regardless of pedal system.
    Flats won’t prohibit performance improvements.

So while clipless may provide a slight efficiency advantage on paper, real world results are much more nuanced.

Proper pedaling technique matters more than your pedal choice for most cyclists.

Focus on fitness and enjoyment rather than marginal efficiency gains!

Final Thoughts

After reviewing the facts, I believe flats can certainly be a viable and practical option for road riding.

While clipless pedals still dominate, flats offer some unique advantages for certain cycling disciplines and situations.

I suggest newcomers to road cycling try out both types of pedal systems before committing to either long term.

Find what allows you to ride most comfortably and in control based on your local terrain and riding style.

Don’t feel pressured to use clipless pedals just because they’re popular.

For casual riding, commuting, or trips involving hiking or walking off the bike, flats make a lot of practical sense too.

You can easily walk around in normal shoes when needed.

Hopefully, this overview gives you more confidence to experiment with flats on your road bike, without worrying if it’s “okay” or not.

Flats work just fine for many riders out there. Ride what allows you to feel your best on the bike!

Let me know if you have any other questions.

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Joey B. Ramsey
Passionate cyclist, father, and blogger.
I've been riding bikes since childhood and enjoy sharing my knowledge with fellow cycling enthusiasts.
My diverse bike collection allows me to write reviews and advice based on personal experience with various bikes and accessories.
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