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There’s been an increasing number of riders who have made the switch to flat pedals on their gravel bikes. Flat pedals are great when riding off-road and can provide an interesting challenge when you’re in the middle of nowhere, but there are also some distinct disadvantages that you need to be aware of before ditching your clipless pedals completely.
Flat pedals can be helpful when riding over technical terrain or simply wanting more control over your bike when you’re out on an adventure ride. However, clipless pedals are preferred over flat pedals for tough terrain, as it improves the rider’s pedaling efficiency.
But do flat pedals work well on gravel bikes?
While the choice ultimately comes down to personal preference, there are some pros and cons to using flat pedals that cyclists should consider before making their decision.
Here are the pros and cons to help you decide if this setup will work for your next bike packing or cyclocross adventure!
What are Flat Pedals?
Also called MTB flat pedals, flat pedals have a broad platform with removable pins that allow shoes to grasp the pedals to keep your feet in position.
They are suitable for nearly every sports footwear, including boots, shoes, and sandals.
Gravel Bike Flat Pedals – Pros
Let’s find out why most cyclists prefer to have flat pedals on their gravel bikes when taking it off-roading or through rugged trails!
1. Freedom of Movement
If your feet are not connected to your pedals, you have more freedom and control over the ride and it’s far less of a hassle to smoothly dismount on a challenging feature or to put a foot down if you feel yourself slipping out on a turn.
Changing your foot placement while riding is a simple way to improve your balance and control.
If you’re going off-road and encountering obstacles, making tight bends, or descending steep slopes, you may easily lift your foot off a flat pedal and dab it down to gain traction.
All of this becomes ten times easier if your gravel bike is equipped with flat pedals!
2. Easier to Learn for Beginners
Flat pedals are preferred by many beginning cyclists because they allow you to experiment with different pedaling styles without feeling restricted by clipless pedals. Gravel biking requires a lot of footwork, and riding flats brings our focus to the feet rather than the hands.
The coaching maxim is “heavy feet, light hands.”
Instead of depending on being clipped in to keep the bike attached to us as we jump or go down declines, it might be safer to practice solid technique.
You’ll have more certainty while first beginning to bike, as well as when navigating turns, and slick or tricky stretches of the route.
3. No Need for an Extra Pair of Shoes
If you’ve ever ridden clipless pedals, one of its requirements is an extra pair of shoes that you have to keep if you plan on taking the bike through beaten paths or long runs.
However, flat pedals eliminate this problem completely, because it does not require a special kind of shoe ladder with cleats that make it uncomfortable to walk with. When riding through rough landscapes, you are expected to come across paths where you have to get off the bike and carry it.
If you have flat pedals, you can pair them with any pair of comfortable trainers that you own so you can easily walk on paths without losing balance.
4. Larger Platform, More Stability
One of the major reasons why most free riders and even professional off-road cyclists live by flat pedals is because they offer a wider base for increased strength and steadiness.
If you ever need to pump terrain, raise a wheel, or stomp on the pedals to generate force, you’ll appreciate the extra surface area that flat pedals give for your foot and shoe to push against.
With flat pedals, you will be more active on the bike, giving you a wider range of motion and better overall body alignment.
Gravel Bike Flat Pedals – Cons
Now that we know why flat pedals are becoming an increasingly popular choice among cyclists, here are a few important factors that give them a disadvantage over other pedaling systems!
1. Distraction while Riding
When you’re taking your gravel bike with flat pedals through muddy, dirt paths addled with slopes, turns, and bumps, you have to stay focused on the path instead of worrying about your foot’s position on the pedal.
Unlike clipless pedals, flat pedals do not offer this comfort for riders.
With flat pedals, more concentration is required to maintain regular foot placement.
If you lose your balance and your foot slips off the pedal or gets banged to the side, it might be difficult to bring it back into a comfortable riding position. Oftentimes these slopes and trails are wet, causing the feet to slip off of the pedals which can distract you from the actual path. (Source)
2. Risk of Injuries
As I mentioned earlier, your feet can unexpectedly come off the pedals.
If you don’t have enough time ( which you don’t in most cases) to react quickly and regain your position, you can end up with a crash or your shin will aggressively hit the spiky pin in the pedal which is extremely painful and can put you off your game easily!
Most unpaved roads and rocky inclines don’t offer riders enough space to fumble, so if you lose your foot placement and fall, do expect to receive some nasty scars and scrapes from the ride.
3. Reduced Efficiency
When you’re riding uphill through steep mountains, maximum power transfer and consistent foot placement are necessary so you can easily cover these parts of the trail.
However, with flat pedals, rugged terrain can make pedaling a little less effective and make it more difficult to power cycle since your feet will get banged around a bit.
Flat pedals can wear the rider out more easily as you apply more force than you would with clipless pedals, and you don’t get the desired power output.
If you frequently use clipless pedals and are switching to flat pedals, it can take some time to adjust because clipless pedals provide a secure energy transmission that is comfortable for most riders!
4. Difficult to Maintain a High Cadence
Flat pedals make it difficult to sustain a high cadence (the number of revolutions made by the pedal per minute), making this an important factor in why cyclists avoid flat pedals.
If you cycle rapidly with flat pedals and your legs slow down or you lose your footing, the pedals keep on moving quickly, disrupting your rhythm and slowing you down.
This eventually starts to wear you out and you cycle erratically. Under such conditions, there are greater chances that you will miss a stroke or slip from the pedal.
Flat Pedals vs. Clipless Pedals
|Provide flexibility to put your foot down for stability.
|Feet can easily fly off the pedals during riding.
|Easy to adjust and versatile with any kind of shoe.
|Good downstroke, terrible upstroke.
|More confidence for new learners to try various biking tricks.
|Elevated risk of injuries.
|Clipless pedals allow for more efficient pedaling.
|Clipless pedals require specific shoes, thus making them expensive.
|There is less strain on the knees while using clipless pedals.
|Clipless shoes are not practical to walk with.
|The foot remains connected to the pedal to provide optimal control.
|When first starting out, clipless pedals might be difficult to use correctly.
Best Flat Pedals for Gravel Bikes
Whether you’re cruising along on your road bike or gearing up for some gravel grinding on your mountain bike, flat pedals are an essential piece of equipment.
And while there are plenty of options out there, not all flat pedals are created equal, which makes it hard to know which one will be best for your particular biking needs.
Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with this list of top 3 flat pedals for gravel bikes that will give you a thrilling and comfortable ride!
Race Face Chester
Race Face Chester is the brand’s most popular flat pedal introduced so far, with up-and-coming features like 8 replaceable traction pins and color-coordinated pedals to add bling to your bike!
Strong and lightweight, this nylon composite pedal comes at a low price and is ready to rip up the path.
Other latest features include a concave body, removable traction pins, and a cro-mo enclosed axle. Nylon pedals have the advantages of being inexpensive to produce, resistant to scratches, and lightweight.
If you want to make the transition to flat pedals but don’t want to break the bank doing it, Chesters is a wonderful option! (Source)
The AE05 flat pedal from HT is a very affordable platform with excellent grip and surprisingly low weight. The pedal’s body is made of aluminum, and it uses a brand-new EVO+ bearing system to provide traction on any surface.
The 10 steel pins on either side of the platform provide the majority of the grip. All the way up, they thread to grab your soles for better handling, and you can thread new pins in from the back if you break any.
The pedal’s structure is significantly concave, so your foot can easily sit into it for a comfortable fit.
Crankbrothers Stamp 1 Large
Crank Brothers Stamp 1 is a size-specific pedal with a large platform and Hex traction pins for maximum grip (10 per side).
An MTB flat pedal of unrivaled quality, this model has a C Chromoly steel spindle, a premium bearing & double seal system, and an anodized aluminum body.
However, it might be challenging to differentiate the left from the right with Crank Brothers pedals. A little groove around the left pedal axle is the only distinguishing feature, so take care to avoid threading the pedals in the wrong direction. (Source)
What to Look for in a Gravel Bike Pedal?
The right gravel bike pedal is essential for any cyclist who wants to take on the toughest of rides. They’re designed to withstand the most punishing terrain and enable you to push yourself further and faster than you ever have before.
But what factors should you look for in a gravel bike pedal?
What makes one better than another?
Here are some of the main features to consider.
The heavier your bike is, the more weight you need to carry.
If you’re trying to get through a muddy trail, you don’t want to be carrying around too much extra weight.
A heavy platform will make pedaling difficult, and the added weight will make the ride a strenuous chore instead of a comfortable experience for the rider!
The main purpose of the gravel bike pedal is to handle the weight and provide traction while riding on rough terrain.
Make sure the pedals you purchase for your bike are sturdy enough to withstand normal use without wearing out quickly. You don’t want them breaking down on you in the middle of a ride!
The type of material used for the construction of your gravel bike pedal will determine how durable it is and how long it will last before needing replacement parts.
You should make sure that whatever material you choose for your pedals can handle being ridden down many different types of trails without breaking or cracking apart from vibrations from hitting rocks or roots in the ground.
It’s important to choose a high-quality pedal that’s designed for dirt bikes.
This is due to the fact that inexpensive pedals damage easily. To avoid breaking the bank, it’s best to save up for a pair of pedals that are neither too cheap nor too costly.
If you’ve just bought a new gravel bike to satisfy your newly discovered interest in mountain riding and traversing summits and hills, then flat pedals are the best choice for you.
Professional freeride and slopestyle riders select flats because they have more control when shredding, jumping, and doing stunts.
If you’re a beginner rider still working on your abilities and confidence, you could find that you progress, improve and learn much more quickly using flat pedals.
But in the end, it all comes down to your preference, style, affordability, and the type of terrain you plan on taking the bike through. Have fun and don’t forget your helmet!