It’s hip to be flat


One thing I realized pedaling on heavy bikes across Germany is that nothing beats flat pedals, so I put them on my $75,000 racing bike and they go super awesome with my new Ceramic Speed bearings from FastForward. The pedals are made of plastic, which is pre-carbon, and they are 100% pre-carbon, made completely of pre-carbon.

You probably think I’m joking, but ask Toronto and Hollywood and Ronan’s hockey coach, who all saw me out running errands on Monday afternoon, all fredded out with my walking shorts and regular shoes and flat pedals and backpack, which was filled with two onions, a bag of celery, a bag of carrots, and a whole chicken because I was making chicken soup for dinner.

But I’m not joking, and if you want to turn your $75,000 full-carbon race machine into something that is:

  1. Fun.
  2. Useful.
  3. Easy to ride.

… then we are talking about a $10 upgrade, unless you want to get really fancy and buy high-performance flat pedals for $20 bucks or so. High-performance onion/celery/carrot/chicken carrying is the next big thing.

I’m really not joking.

How many times have you thought, “Fuck, I’d like to hop on my bike and get a quart of milk and some condoms,” but then you’ve immediately thought, “Fuck, I have to wear cleats, and then carry flip-flops, and then switch back and forth from cleats to flip-flops at the milk store and again at the condom store, ahh, fuck it,” and then you got in your car and spent $2.79 in gas and ruined part of the Amazon to drive down to the corner when you could have saved Mother Earth and been part of the solution not the problem all because of those sorry clip-in pedals.

Nope, I’m dead serious, clip-in pedals suck and they always have. What they are, is an improvement over the old toe straps where you had to coast, wobbling, while bending over to fiddle with a leather strap as you struggled to steer around a pothole and brake in time not to shoot out into the intersection and wet yourself or break your humerus in three places. Clip-ins were a big improvement over that shit.

Also, clip-ins made you faster, not because of some stupid circular pedaling mumbo-jumbo or pulling up on the back stroke, but because they chained you to the beast and allowed you to transfer more force to the pedal while allowing you to hold onto the bike in a vise-grip fear of death, further increasing the power transfer.

Otherwise, clip-in pedals suck huge donkey pustules because they discourage you from using your bike to, you know, do useful shit like riding to the bike shop to buy more bike stuff to make your bike even more useful for running errands like riding to the bike shop.

For example, once you get flat pedals you can buy a pair of these pants on one of your trips to the bike shop to get more bike stuff to enhance the usefulness of riding your bike, and yes, I’ve already ordered a pair and am saving up for the mountaineering thingy key chain and the fancy brickwork.


Clip-ins are also hell and ruination for new riders. We’ve all been there. Some friend/S-O/sucker gets interested in bikes, or more likely, gets guilted into it by you, saves up $75,000, and asks you for help at the LBS in getting set up. You go to the bike shop together, in a car of course. “Gotta have Campy 19-speed, full carbon.”


“Gotta have a Giant full carbon aero frame made of 100% carbon.”


“Gotta get tricked out in a StageOne carbon summer kit with bibs, fall kit with windbreaker and vest, and winter kit with long-sleeve insulated jersey and matching leg warmers.”


“Can’t walk out of here without three cases of artisanal electrolyte replacement drink mix.”


“And you need these shoes. They are full carbon.”

“Why do I need the shoes? I already have shoes.”

“To fit onto your pedals. They are full carbon, too.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The pedals are like ski bindings. They lock your foot to the pedal.”

“So I’m locked onto the bike?”


“What happens when I need to get out of the pedals?”

“You twist hard.”

“What happens if I can’t do it fast enough? You know, like at a stop sign?”

“You crash. But you’ll learn quicker that way.”

“So I have to crash my $75,000 bike in order to ride it?”

“Pretty much. Until you learn how to use the pedals.”

“How long does that take?”

“Depends. Some people get the hang of it in a few weeks, others take longer.”

“How much longer?”

“Oh, some people never get it down.”

“And all the while they’re crashing because they can’t take their foot off the pedal?”

“Something like that.”

“Well fuck that.”

And then the friend/S-O/sucker walks out of the bike shop with all the purchases still on the counter and takes up hot bikram crossfit golf.

Even worse are the thousands who buy the bike and pedals, fall over a few times, and never ride again. And remind me what the purpose of the pedals was for these BEGINNER BIKERS? So they can ride faster? Faster than what, a mailbox? I recall my old girlfriend from college who hated bicycles and couldn’t really ride one, so I badgered her into getting a $275 Nishiki with toe clips and straps. On her maiden voyage down the block she tumped over, feet strapped into the clips, whammed her head, got a concussion and had a short seizure. Welcome to cycling and the excitement of being tied to your bike! She never rode again, of course.

See you on the road. Hope you like my knickers.



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43 thoughts on “It’s hip to be flat”

  1. If you are a real cheap skate, go ask for some demo pedals that come with all carbon, carbon super carbon mega bikes, as used for test riding around the block.

  2. My MTB has flats for exactly the reasons you outline. Sometimes there is nothing better than riding in sandals, shorts and a t-shirt.

    I don’t need my 100% Italian made (in Italy by Italians and designed in Italy by Italians speaking Italian (like Robert DeNiro) and drinking espresso while arguing with Dario Pegoretti about Alfa Romeos) bike all the time. Although it might be fun with flats too.

    1. With flats your Italian, Latin-based vehicle is a total blast to ride. It’s like taking your Italian-made Ferrari and sticking in big comfy seats. Italian ones.

  3. So True though I really like having the options for cleats. Think I’m going to switch to half and half cleats on one side flat on the other side.. I just walk through the grocery stores in my recessed cleats. It always turns heads Wearing a pair of cargo shorts a tshirt and shoes that click. Sometimes I hear kids say to their parents why is that guy wearing tap shoes and I just smirk.

    1. I think having a flat pedal on one side and a clip-in pedal on the other is the most awesome thing I have ever heard of. And the kids at the condom store will know you are a boss.

  4. Leaving my bike al carbon sitting outside a store would be such a kind humanitarian gesture to impoverished crack heads in desperate need of funds for the eternal next fix.

    My old Trek 1100 al AL does errand duty. Both have flat pedals, Speedplay on one, on the other one half-flat MTB pedals for clipin on one side, noclip on flipside. All metal, no plastic on the 1100.

    1. Wise man! But why do you hate impoverished crack heads who hang out at your all-night liquor and condom store? They need a nice bike, too.

  5. You act like multiple bikes are a bad thing, like condoms. Now, european man-capris are definitely a bad thing.

  6. I have flat pedals that I put on my MTB to do gnarly (gnarly for me, not for you) stuff like Backbone. Last Sunday I put the flat pedals on the MTB and wore regular pants and a pink t-shirt and rode the bike to Brentwood to watch some racing and possibly help out. It was so much fun that my wife Linda came as well (her MTB also has flat pedals) and she said it was the most fun she ever had on a bike. Nice to know that Pivot Mach 6 with full XTR and custom wheels can be fun to ride. But our flat pedals are Crank Brothers and cost a *little* more than $20. I didn’t see you there but every time they announced a prime I thought “juice box.”

    1. You didn’t see me there?? How could you have missed, me, buried in the back, tongue lolling in my spokes, praying for a bad crash or cardiac arrest to take me out?

      Juice box!! Owe that one to The Rev. Billy Stone, stolen without permission.

  7. Interesting, your clip-in pedals discussion reminded me of sex for some reason. You meet a bike, fall in love, and just want to be one with it. You love it so much you want to merge souls. But then like love, you get to a point when you want to be done and move away, but it’s always so hard to break up, isn’t it? And sometimes, yes, you fall down and hurt yourself. 🙁

  8. We just had the converse experience, dragging clip-in pedals and shoes to Europe to install on flexy-flyer rental mountain bikes. Made pedaling around town much more enjoyable and seriously increased our range.

  9. Hello fsethd-san and All,

    What a dissapointment ….. I thought it would be about athletic women.

    Velo mag had a test …. of sorts …. with clip vs. no clips …. no difference in power ….

    Who knew?



    +1 mph Faster

    1. I don’t see many people riding regular shoes on SPD’s or on any clip-in pedal, for that matter.

  10. I’m always jumping on my bike in skate shoes or jandals (flip flops to you yanks) and riding down to the store or out with the kids and dog. It’s perfectly possible to pedal your fancy speedplays or spds in street or beach footware, just don’t try and race anyone over 10.

  11. If you are willing to spend just a BIT more, check these out!!!

    These are Universal Clipless Platform Adapters, and they work with all major brands of clipless pedals.

  12. Just got a new touring bike after twenty years off the saddle. (Was a hardcore biker till my mid-30s.) I let everybody talk me into getting cleats this time. “Everybody does it now.” “Not just for racers anymore.” “You’ll never go back.”

    I’ve had them for three days. I’m going back.

    The litany of everything wrong with cleats would take a book, but to sum up: 1. They’re too expensive. 2. You can’t walk in those shoes, so you can’t actually ride, you know, anywhere, except in a loop that ends back at home. (Yes, I bought the “walking” kind. You can’t walk in them.) And 3. the imagined performance difference is just that: imagined.

    I’ll admit, there is in fact a slight performance improvement over the toe clips I used in the 80s and 90s. It’s very small. Not enough to offset the 45 minutes it takes to cleat in, and all the above problems. (Add “forcing your knee to move like the machine wants it to, instead of the way evolution prepared it to.”)

    Bottom line: cleats are racing equipment. Recreational riders don’t ride like racers (i.e., full-cycle powering, which nobody but a racer in top condition can sustain for more than 3 strokes), so the advantages are lost on us. All we’re left with is significant disadvantages.

    By contrast, you can full-cycle in toe clips just fine for the short bursts we need and can sustain. And they hold your foot plenty secure for pulling the unloaded crank back up on the return, which is the only performance boost over nothing that non-racers need.

    This business about having to “tighten the straps” in the old days is more racing-performance obsession. Racers tightened their straps back then; recreational riders had no need to, because (see above). Proper use of toe clip straps for everybody but Lance Armstrong is to set them permanently at the diameter of your foot and slip in and out. I rode my old TdF thousands of miles and never touched the straps after initial adjustment.

    So why does everybody gush about cleats now? I’m mystified, but suspect it’s down to a mix of herd mentality and that slim performance edge. Yes, the performance is marginally better. No, it isn’t worth it, if you ever want to, you know, get – off – your bike. (Or ride it within a month of buying it.)

    Properly-used toe clips, with an old school stiff-soled touring shoe, perform very nearly as well as cleats for recreational users on the bike, and dramatically better off it.

    Sorry to pop the bubble, folks, but that’s the truth. If I can find real touring shoes anymore, I’m going back to what works.

    My two-cents.

    1. The highest performance cycling equipment is the stuff that makes you want to ride.

        1. People are insecure about their equipment, which is shorthand for insecurity about why they’re on a bike to begin with. Am I doing it right? Do I look okay? Are people laughing at me? Am I any good?

          Eventually, (most) people who stick with it find their happy, and only a tiny fringe do it with Spandex, Lycra, and $15k rigs.

          There are lots of great reasons to lock your feet into the pedals, and lots of great reasons not to. Enjoy, and glad you’re back on the bike!

          Better than pedals, invest in a 1200-lumen headlamp (run it during the day on strobe), and a couple of 100+ lumen taillights. You’ll look like a dork, but you’ll be a live dork.

          I use the Serfas Orion rear light, Diablo for the front, and an extra NiteRider 150-lumen taillight.

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