Platforms or Clipped In? Which System is Better?

Flats just look weird after all these years!

Recently, I’ve read some information from James Wilson, MTB Strength Coach that has me absolutely fascinated. The long and the short of it is Wilson says that being clipped in can ultimately set you further to set you back in your training, teach improper pedaling mechanics and not allow you to refine your riding technique.


I spoke with him last week for about an hour, and he had some good points to support his stance. Which you can read by clicking here.


He’s a really cool guy, extremely knowledgeable about how to train off the bike and I very much enjoy talking to him. If you haven’t seen his site, hit the link above and poke around.


This topic is akin to disc vs v-brakes, full suspension vs hardtails and 29″ vs 26″ bikes  (and soon to be 27.5″ bikes added to that “conversation”) to the MTB crowd. Some are in alignment with Wilson, and some think the wheels between his ears are in need of truing. Go to a family party, bring up religion and politics, and you get the idea of how the camps are divided.


Crank Brother 50/50 pedals

Me, I’m about 50/50 right now. I get his point about energy lost pulling up on the pedals, further shortening hip flexors and all of the “fun” things that happen as a result.


So, never being one shy away from a self induced muscular massacre in the name of science, I ordered a set of Crank Brother 50/50 platform pedals and a pair of Teva Links to ride in. Now, this is cool for a couple of reasons:


1) I rode around my neighborhood on them, and it instantly had the feeling of when I’d ride my bike as a wee lad. So, tons of feel good warm fuzzy feelings there.


EXCEPT when I had to scale the Col de Sunset Dr to get back to my house after each excursion. That my friends, was neither warm nor was it fuzzy. In fact it was down right cold and prickly. EVERY TIME. Always a pleasure after an 8-hour pick up baseball bonanza at Veterans Memorial Park every summer!


2) It is always fun to get new bike toys, and this time is no different.


So, the Giant Anthem X3 29er is equipped and read to rip. The only thing I need to do is to get the tubeless tires back on (don’t ask, long story) and I’m set.

The Teva Links I’m using for the experiment


Here’s how the experiment will go:

1) Four weeks of riding short interval loops ranging from 3:00 mins to 5:00 mins that I use to train on. They are extremely predictable in terms of terrain/conditions, so short of rain, I will get a consistent experience riding in terms of the terrain. This will also include timing myself on a 5-mile loop that I’ve ridden quite a bit for race training.


2) I will start out with rides on the 29er, and then put the pedals on the 26er as well to compare apples and oranges not only between pedal systems, but bikes as well. My suspicion is that the 26 Anthem X2 will be a blast to ride on the platforms because it will be easier to throw it in and out of corners! Hopefully, this won’t entail throwing a check in and out of a Blue Shield co-payment envelop as well!


3) I will then upload the times to to see how they compare.


One of the other things I will measure is how I feel the next day after riding without being clipped in. How the back does, the knees feel and the other muscular hot spots that crop up during a week of riding. This will include how my body adjusts when I see my chiropractor.


The goal is to very much to not dispute what Wilson says, but more so to:

1) Have fun doing something different on the bike!

2) See how much of a difference, if any, there actually is.

3) See how handling skills/bike control are affected on the plus and minus side.

4) See how much better my pedaling technique gets and if that translates into time improvements on the interval loops post experiment being clipped in.


The first ride is Wednesday (my birthday!!) on the new set up, and I will report as the experiment unfolds!

  • I commute on platform pedals all the time. I don’t need the kind of control Richard mentions. I do find I can get a good spin. I remember seeing a story that people don’t actually pull up on the pedal. You just unweight it. So you really aren’t going to pull your foot off the pedal. I use an Animal BMX pedal. It is a resin, about the same size and shape as the Crank Brothers pedal and only cost about $15.

  • @Rep: Do you know what air pressure your shocks are supposed to be at on your FS bike, and if so how often do you check them? Your FS bike should kick your SS bikes butt in the handling department, or at least there should be such a difference.

  • The reason I use clipless pedals on my mtb is for control. In my very first race I figured out that if my feet leave the pedals I lose control of the bike. So, opposite of Rep, I feel safer clipped in because it makes it easier for me to maintain control. The flip side is I am absolutely amazed at downhillers and dirt jump guys who use flat pedals. Although if you put me on a slack geometry trail bike with proper shoes and pedals I might be ok, but grunting over big roots and and rocks on a steep climb would be next to impossible for me without being able to yank up as much as down on the pedal. I think this speaks much more to a lack of certain skills on my part than anything else. Although, it sounds like a great training tool.

  • (a) Still issues with those tires, huh?

    (b) Laughed on your last line of #2 on your experiment details. Careful what you draw into being…or you might end up needing MORE rest days. ;p

    (c) So, I commented elsewhere briefly about this. But here’s my own update. Recently, I’ve started back riding my SS HT, not b/c of the pedals but b/c I need to kick my own arse back into some shape after the events of this summer – argh. (I’ve been roading biking whenever I can but decided that it was time I brought mtb-ing back into the picture.)

    Then yesterday, I went to a different trail with MORE ups (and downs). So, I decided to take my FS geared mtb, which has the SPD’s on one side and “flats” on the other, except the platform for the flat side isn’t very big – not like what’s on my SS. Well on the first run on that trail, I became very frustrated with handling on my bike. Call me crazy, chicken, whatever, but I prefer the balance, handling and control I have on the SS. Though, the cush ride of the FS is very, very nice.

    So after that first run, I went back to my vehicle and swapped out shoes. (I was wearing mtb shoes with stiff soles – not carbon though but stiffer than the sneakers that I was doning – b/c I “clip in” only on the left. I don’t have cleats on the right side…and would only install/use them when on a fire service road or a non-technical doubletrack. As many of you know, I am not a fan of being fully clipped-in on the mtb. There’s just too much room for error (for me), and I don’t have the willingness nor the time to deal with falls, wrecks and the like just to “get used” to them. [Yes, BTDT, not doing it anymore.] It was weird at first, b/c I did notice the difference having a softer sole. Then, I realized that the smaller platform on the flat side was also coming into play. Not only that but the pedals don’t have decent enough “spikes” to give me the grip I needed. So after the second run, I decided that I was going to bail on those pedals period and put back on the wide double-sided flat pedal platforms that originally came on the bike.

    I will let you know how it goes. Though, I might be in the market for a stiffer soled shoe b/c the mtb shoes I currently have are actually too narrow…but I get better grip on the flat pedals from my sneakers.

    Hmmm…I’m curious – what kind of shoes does James Wilson use for his mountain biking?

    (d) What? You’re waiting until Wednesday to ride to check it out?

    Happy Early Bday, btw!