The number of pros running flat pedals on the world circuit may be dwindling, but flats still have a loyal following. As Sam Hill proved with a second at La Thuile Enduro World Series round this July, flats can still be competitive even on pedally tracks.
Regardless of their use in the highest tier of racing, flats are great for learning good technique and building confidence. We often see beginner/intermediate riders on clips who are clearly nervous about having their feet attached and it’s hampering the progression of their skills.
With this in mind, here are our tips for riding flats and finding a solid set-up to keep you in control.
1. Foot placement
Although being on the ball of your foot is the most efficient position for pedalling, this won’t give you much support on flats. Position the pedal in the arch of your foot, so that your shoe folds around the pedal and holds you on.
2. Heels down, toes up
With the pedal in your arch, drop your heels so that when you hit rough terrain and square edges, the forces push the pedal harder into your foot rather than bouncing you off. When people lose their feet on flats it’s usually because they’ve let their toes drop. If you’re used to riding clips, this can be a hard habit to kick.
The biggest downside of flats is that on rough trails it’s harder to spin smooth circles and maintain consistent traction. Spinning a slower cadence while in a higher gear will help keep your feet in place. Read the trail ahead and look for smoother spots to pedal or sections you might be able to pump a transition for speed rather than turn the cranks.
It’s good practice to ride corners with your feet up but one of the biggest benefits of riding flats is being able to enter a corner faster, knowing that you can drop a foot if needed. Where flats come into their own is on drifty flat turns or consecutive loose switchbacks, where you would need to unclip and clip back in several times on SPDs.
There’s nothing less confidence-inspiring than feeling your feet might slip, so invest in a good set of pedals and shoes.
What to look for in a pair of flatties is a big platform with a concave shape so that the pedal cups your foot. Big pins mean lots of grip, but also lots of shin-gouging potential if you drop a foot. Look for pedals with replaceable pins because you will hit them on a rock at some stage.
Two of our favourite flats are DMR Vaults and Nukeproof Horizon Pros.
We feel no other company has yet to make shoes that match the grip offered by a pair of Five Tens — their stealth rubber soles grip the pedals like glue. The build quality is not always great though, so it’s worth looking at Giro and Shimano’s offerings too.
If you’re on a budget or want to just try out flats then a pair of Vans or skate shoes will do just fine.