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Clipless Pedals Vs Flat Pedals | Which Is Faster?

Clipless Pedals VS Flat Pedals 2017

The guys over at Global Cycling Network (GCN) (Dan & Matt), did a rather interesting test where they compared Clipless Pedals vs Flat Pedals.  The tests GCN conducted were completely subjective based on rider feel and watt output, but it did give you an idea of the differences.

Clipless Pedals Vs Flat Pedals | Sprints

In the first test Dan and Matt compared Sprint max output for a hard 3-5 seconds burst.  They repeated the sprint sessions 5 times.  The results were that they found a significant advantage of having Clipless pedals during the sprints.

Clipless Pedals Vs Flat Pedals Sprint Test

Both Dan and Matt are clipless riders, so muscle adaptation could have played a major role in the difference between clipless pedals vs flat pedals.  From my own experience I have found I have more power through the up stroke being clipped in vs not clipped in.  You simply can’t pull up if you are not clipped in.

Dan and Matt didn’t mention this, but many of the top end road clipless shoes have stiff carbon soles that are designed to provide power.  I have to imagine their flat pedal shoes were a bit squishy and didn’t provide a stiff platform.

Clipless Pedals Vs Flat Pedals | Climb

The next test compared Dan and Matt climbing using Clipless Pedals vs Flat Pedals for 10 minutes trying to maintain 300 watts.

Clipless Pedals Vs Flat Pedals | Climb

Surprisingly both clipless pedal results and flat pedal results were essentially the same, although they were trying to maintain 300 watts.  Both Dan and Matt said they felt like they were working a bit harder using flat pedals, since less muscles were being recruited, which added more workload to the muscles that were being used.

I have found their results are similar to my experience when climbing.  Using Clipless pedals distributes the workload to more muscles groups, which helps to prevent fatigue.   I also find that when the incline increases and you stand you’re able to really pull up with Clipless pedals.  Like the first test, I have to imagine having a stiff sole road shoes helps increase power transfer to the pedals vs soft soles of flat shoes.

Clipless Pedals Vs Flat Pedals | Descents

On the descents both Dan and Matt felt clipless pedals out performed flat pedals in two main areas including corning and security.  They both felt that there was a bit of foot slippage using the flat pedals and since the pedals were wide, they actually did hit pavement with them on at least one corner.

From my experience you feel much more connected with the bike using clipless pedals and are able to react quicker by changing your stance on the bike.

Clipless Pedals Vs Flat Pedals | Bottom Line

I have been a clipless pedal rider now since the 80’s and I am quite certain my muscles have adapted to clipless pedal riding.  Making a switch to flat pedals, I am sure I would see a decrease in performance in the short term, but over time that decrease might be lessoned.  Still I believe clipless pedals to be superior to flat pedals, especially when it comes to the power transfer of stiff carbon soles to clipless pedals that can’t be replicated with flat pedals.

About The Author

Tom Crandall

Tom has been writing about photography, cycling, running and fitness since 1988, covering everything from the product reviews to the latest in fitness trends. Tom is the Editor-in-chief of,,,, and a few other publications, he began racing in college while getting an Information Resource Management degree at George Mason University. Based in the photography and cycling-crazed city of Austin, Texas, with his wife Kathleen and pug Olaf, Tom enjoys running, walking or riding most every day.

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