How to get more grip, control and power from your pedals, and the techniques you need if shifting over from clipless pedals
‘Flat pedals win medals’, or so the saying goes. While mountain bike flat pedals aren’t for everyone, they are incredibly popular with a lot of mountain bikers and for good reason; you can put your foot down when you need to, reposition the foot on the pedal, and not being attached to the bike is a definite plus when things start getting sketchy. Of course, it’s important that you get a set of great mountain bike pedals and some specific mountain bike shoes to go with them, but there’s no reason why flat pedals would compromise ride efficiency or your ability to pull killer tricks.
All you need to know are a few tips on finding the right pedals, customising the pins (more on those later), getting your foot placement just right, then its all about getting loose and putting it all together on the trail. So if you’re just getting started or looking to switch from clipless mountain bike pedals, this is just the guide you need.
Anatomy of a flat pedal
Mountain bike flat pedals consist of several main elements you need to know about. Firstly, you’ve got the platform which is the bit your foot will rest on. These can come in different sizes, shapes and thicknesses to suit different foot size and types of riding. They’re concave to provide better grip, and the amount by which they concave can vary.
Projecting out from the platform are what’s known as pins; these work with the grippy rubber of your mountain bike shoes to provide traction, helping you stick to the pedals. On budget pedals, these may be part of the pedal platform itself. On more expensive pedals, these will look like little flat-ended screws and you’ll need to screw them into the platform yourself. It’s fiddly, but it means you can put them where you want them, and even choose larger or smaller pins depending on how much traction you need.
The axle and axle bearings are what the pedals spin on and it’s this part that screws into the cranks on your bike. These vary in things like materials and thickness depending on the pedals purpose, cost, and design intention.
1. Choose the best flat pedal for your needs
First up, your choice of flat pedal is key. We recommend you go for model that’s thin, has a concave platform, is wide enough to accommodate your foot and provides options in terms of pin placement. Equally important is your choice of shoe — Five Ten shoes have been around for a while now, but they’re still top of the pile when it comes to sheer grip.
2. Set your pins up
Pin placement is down to personal preference, although we’d recommend at least one in each corner and think about omitting the centre pin at the front to save your shins. Some pedals, like the DMR Vault, give you the option of different types of pins, and the ability to reverse them for a different grip feel. Fewer pins can actually give you more grip, but you may find you have to be that bit more accurate with where you place your foot each time.
3. Move your feet to adapt to the trail
Because your foot isn’t fixed to the pedal you can move it around to aid balance and grip. When cornering or riding off-camber sections, you may find it useful to pivot your foot in the direction of travel to help fine-tune your weight on the bike and maximise grip.
4. Drop your heel
SPD-style pedals might appear to have one clear benefit when it comes to riding rougher sections — they literally keep your foot attached to the pedal — but using the right technique you can keep your feet firmly planted on flat pedals. All you need to do is drop your heels when riding a rough section, which also has the additional benefit of improving braking traction.
5. Stamp or dab your feet when you need to
When the trail gets really tricky, clipping in can be more of a hindrance than a help; if you are negotiating a steep chute, and have half your brain trying to work out whether to unclip or not, you’re asking for trouble!
With flat pedals it’s no problem to drop a leg, and dab or stamp a foot to the ground to give you a balance boost and not have to worry about trying to clip in again afterwards.
6. Foot out, flat out
Getting loose on a bike is such a fun feeling; letting the back end drift and dangling a foot off always leaves you feeling like a hero.
With flat pedals you’ll have way more confidence to push your cornering, and when things start getting rowdy, your feet are always free to dab and bring things back under control.