Skip to content
Home » Bike Gear » Biking Shoes » Bike Shoes Flat Vs Clipless – Which Is The Better Riding Option?

Bike Shoes Flat Vs Clipless – Which Is The Better Riding Option?

group mountain biking in beautiful landscape

This page contains affiliate links, and I may earn a commission if you use them. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

When mountain biking, having the right footwear is important for control, efficiency, and safety. Mountain bikers mainly use two types of shoes – flat pedal shoes or clipless shoes. Flat shoes have a stiff sole and sits on top of the pedals, while clipless shoes attach firmly into the pedals for a more connected feel. So which type of mountain bike shoes lead to better riding – flats or clipless? There are good arguments on both sides.

Pedal Grip and Foot Position

Flat pedal shoes provide lots of grip and a stable platform for feet. The shoes have deep treaded soles with pins and ridges that grip aggressively onto the pedals. This means feet stay planted securely during rough terrain. Flats also allow moving feet into different positions as needed. Riders can shift weight back on steep descents, move forward to pedal out of corners, and dab a foot down quickly if needed. Some riders feel flats lead to better balance and control compared to clipless.

However, clipless shoes attach solidly into the pedals for maximum power transfer. Cleats on the bottom of the shoes click firmly into place, creating a very stiff connection. This eliminates foot slippage when pedaling hard or sprinting. It also allows pulling up on pedals for additional power. The fixed foot position promotes an efficient pedal stroke. Many riders feel the locked-in feel of clipless shoes leads to better control and power application.

Injuries and Bailouts

Falls and crashes happen often in mountain biking. Clipless shoes make it harder to quickly put a foot down or bailout. Cleats remain attached to the pedals until released by twisting the foot. This can lead to balance issues and falls in technical areas. It also may result in knee or ankle injuries if feet don’t come unclipped. However, clipless pedals usually have tension adjustments. Lowering the tension makes them easier to unclip.

Flats allow riders to instantly put a foot down when needed. As soon as a foot slides off the pedal, it can dab and catch yourself. This greatly reduces crashes for newer riders learning technical skills. Flats also eliminate muscular injuries from twisting feet to unclip. Some riders feel safer on tricky terrain with flats instead of clipless.

However, flats do come with their own injury concerns. Pins and ridges can be sharp if they directly contact skin. Falls can also lead to shins or calves getting cut up by the pedals. Using shin protection helps reduce flats related injuries.

Uphills and Downhills

Pedaling uphill requires lots of power and stamina. Clipless shoes allow pulling up on pedals, engaging more muscles to help conquering steep climbs. The lack of pedal spin also promotes consistent power transfer when tired. Many riders feel clipless shoes provide a noticeable advantage muscling up technical climbs compared to flats.

However, flats allow shifting foot positions when climbing, reducing muscular fatigue. Feet can be moved forward on the pedals to use different muscles. Flats also make it easy to dab a foot when needing to catch your balance on precarious uphill sections. Some riders feel flats offer nearly the same climbing efficiency as clipless.

On steep descents, clipless shoes allow dropping heels and shifting weight far back while still attached. This lowers the center of gravity for added stability at speed. Though flats provide lots of grip, some riders feel more secure blasting down rugged terrain with their feet clipped in place.

New vs Experienced Riders

Clipless pedals require building muscle memory and practice to efficiently twist in and out. New riders may want to begin with flat shoes to avoid endless toppling from failing to unclip. Flats allow learning fundamental skills without also mastering clipless release techniques. Struggling to unclip can negatively impact confidence.

However, as mentioned in this article about mountain biking tips, some riders feel beginning with clipless pedals right away ultimately leads to better technical mastery. The connection forces better pedal stroke habits. Clipless may benefit newer riders planning to advance past beginner trails. But flats remain the best choice for casual riding.

For intermediate and advanced trail riders, clipless pedals offer significant performance benefits once release techniques become second nature. Better power transfer and foot stability on rough terrain allow faster riding times. The lack of pedal spin helps conserve energy on long distances. Most serious riders ultimately upgrade to clipless shoes and pedals at some point.


There are good arguments regarding whether flat or clipless shoes make for better mountain bike riding. Flats provide flexibility, confidence, and control – especially for newer riders. But clipless offers more power and efficiency once riders learn release techniques. There may not be a definitively “better” option. Matching shoes to riding style and skills provides the best performance. As those progress, so may shoe preferences. While flats and clipless both can excel, hybrid pedals allowing either shoes do provide added versatility. Riders can stick with what works based on changing trail conditions and individual needs.

About the Author

Tony K

Senior Technical Writer,

Tony K is a technical editor at He has a focus on downhill bike riding but still loves xc bikes too.

With more than ten years of mountain biking experience and more than 5 years testing mountain bikes, Tony has ridden and tested hundreds of different bikes and products, everything from XC to enduro bikes. Tony regularly competes in mountain bike races while seeing how long those compontents can hold up which gives me a lot of insight.

When he isn't shredding down a mountain or camping out, he is writing reviews for Mountain Bike Experience.

Rides: Surly Lowside, Canyon Exceed