Are you getting the most out of your E-MTB with your current pedal and shoe set up? We break down the pro’s and con’s of clips or flats and tell you which type of pedal works best for E-MTBs.

E-MTB’s bring the fun both up and down, but are you getting the best from your bike?

A brief history in pedaling

The Clipless movement began in 1990 when Shimano revolutionised mountain biking as we knew it, releasing the first MTB specific clipless, (meaning no toe clips), to instant success – within the very XC focused market – with a design so good it remains basically unchanged 27 years later. By the mid 90’s, in response to the growing interest of DH and dual slalom racing, Shimano – along with companies like DMR – developed well sealed and grippy MTB flat pedals that appealed to the new breed of radical and loose BMX and MX riders transferring their skills to MTB. Almost immediately, riders picked sides, drew battle lines and the debate over which is better, clipless or flats, was born!

Flats …
… or clipless, which is best?

Since then, clipless or Flats is a question that has been argued over many times, with passionate supporters in both camps. The reason that there has never been a definitive answer to the question is that both platforms are valid and have pro’s and con’s that are largely dependent on what riding style you have or aspire to and where and what you ride. E-MTB technology brings a new element to this old debate, so we ask the question, ‘Clips or flats for E-MTB?’

The Case for Clips

There’s no getting around the fact that E-MTBs are heavy, the connection that clips give you makes the rider a more integral part of the bike, keeping your feet firmly planted at speed or in rough terrain. Having a pedal/shoe combination that improves the connection between rider and machine would be reason enough to ride clipped in but the real, ‘Ace in the Hole’, comes from the additional torque the system can potentially give.

Clipless pedals give you a powerful link to the bike, good for long tours.

Spin to win

E-MTBs are pedal assist, so it makes sense that the more watts (power) you generate, the greater the mechanical assistance; so using clips combined with good technique will, theoretically, allow the rider and E-MTB to generate more watts and better use the torque available from the bike giving you quicker acceleration and improved prowess.

Accessing the power of clips requires the rider to be able to ‘spin’; this means that you are pulling up as your pedal moves from the 6-12 O’Clock position, resulting in power evenly spread through the pedal stroke. Spinning is essentially pedalling in circles, rather than ‘pistoning’ the pedals up and down. Once the skill is learned, the rider will pedal with a smooth and consistent cadence that means you are able to ride further, maintain greater speeds for longer and, because traction will also increase as power is transferred evenly to the tyres, it will help you clear steeper and more technical trails. Spinning the cranks at higher revolutions, enables the rider to generate greater cadence which helps with many motor systems. For EMTBs this increase in energy efficiency could mean that you get extended range from your battery too…

Clipless pedals give you a consistent pedaling position, and allow you to pedal upwards too.

  Sounds like clips are great, right? So, with all the advantages of clips, why would an E-MTB rider use flat pedals?

Flats for freedom!

Many riders find the thought of being clipped in intimidating; flat pedals give you a safety net that definitely increases rider confidence. The ‘free’ nature of the pedal/rider connection means that you can build your skills as your confidence grows. Another advantage of flats is that their use encourages good technique and builds a solid skill base for new riders. Flats force you to ride with your foot in the middle of the pedal and your heels down, which helps generate downforce and increase grip. You can then wrap your foot around the platform giving you better control and feel.

Flat pedals boost fun and teach good bike skills, perfect for the modern E-MTB rider.

With increased grip and confidence, flats are great in the wet or in loose conditions, especially when the gradient increases or the trail is off camber. Committing to a section or line is the key to clearing it and having the knowledge that you can easily and quickly capture slips and slides, use your foot as an outrigger or even bail off the bike make flats very forgiving when tackling technical terrain; corners become more fun, steep sections are easier and wet roots and rocks less daunting. Winner!

Flat pedals are perfect for technical climbing, allowing you to jump off if you stall.

You can still spin with flats, it just another skill that has to be learned: super grippy soled shoes like on Five Tens really help with this and further reduce the need for the mechanical assistance of clips. A hidden benefit of flats is that you will ride with your saddle slightly lower compared to clips allowing the rider to be more reactive and dynamic in response to changing terrain and trail conditions, this is a real advantage for E-MTBs where you will be tempted to ride more technical ascents as the bike opens up more riding options.

Flat pedals really open up the potential of an E-MTB.

Lastly, for riding in the wilderness/bike packing and trekking, flats make real sense as you can ride in any footwear: this is a real bonus if you plan on exploring new area which could have extended hike-a-bike sections. Oh, and you can all have a spin on each others’ bikes too!

Clipless or flats for E-MTB, so which is best?

Now, the astute reader will be asking, ‘So which is it then?’, and may have noticed that we have not yet answered the question. This is because your pedal choice will ultimately be dependent on where and what you ride, how you ride it and how experienced you are. If you are able to spin with flats, with practise, you can get nearly as efficient a cadence as with clips; if you ride with your heels down and the cleats in the middle of your foot, then clips can give you as much grip and traction than flats.

However, for many, E-MTBs are about freedom, having fun and conquering technical climbs, and for us, that means flat pedals are king. Just like anything, riding flats well requires time spent developing your skills but they are a great platform for all levels of rider and we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend flat pedals to any rider looking to get the most out of their E-MTB.

Make sure you also read our E-MTB pedal group test with both flats and clipless pedals.

Free your feet to free you mind! Flat pedals are the perfect recipe for E-MTB fun.

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Words: Tom Corfield Photos: Trev Worsey