Cyclist Health - Flat Pedals or Clipless?

We’ve been hearing recently that flat pedals, rather than ‘clipless’ pedals, is healthier for many cyclists, especially with innovations in the design of flat pedals. The move back to flat pedals with ‘barefoot’ shoes is a trend we are hearing about more often than ever. In our shoe world, and due to that spark from our founder who discovered that his shoes were causing his problems, we believe that less shoe is better for you, so we become all ears when another industry is saying the same thing.

Old flat pedal with soft sole shoes

Using a clipless pedal requires shoes that are stiff and restricting, which can cause painful foot conditions and injuries. This technology may have inadvertently created problems for the bodies of cyclists for many years, and can lead to weakening of muscle groups such as the hamstrings. Many of the cleated cycling shoes available are not suitable for any activity other than cycling - walking in them is difficult because the stiff soles don’t bend easily, and the cleats mean that extra care is needed on smooth or wet surfaces.

According to some experts in the field, the arch of your foot needs to be supported at the front and at the back - just like standing on firm ground - in order to give you pedal-pushing power without putting undue stress on the sensitive nerves in the ball of the foot. This is possible when you have a longer flat pedal combined with a shoe that has a flexible sole and a wide toe-box.

Travel shoes with a bike.

This is a hotly-debated topic! There are cyclists who will never give up their cleats, and others who will never give up their flat pedals. Many cyclists who have made the switch to flats find that their performance dips at first. They have to work on or re-learn some of the riding techniques, but report that they feel more connected to their bike, their body and their feet.

When your feet are well-positioned on a flat pedal, your knees and hips work more efficiently, allowing you to make better use of the large muscle groups (particularly the glutes and hamstrings), giving you the power you need.

Although using cleats can improve performance, those improvements are reported as minimal. Unless you are an endurance cyclist or participate regularly in cycling races, where even fractions of a second count, it is worth considering whether the hype over performance is worth the inconvenience of cleated shoes and the risk of injury to or weakening of your muscles, joints and feet. Why not try switching to flat pedals and a pair of good quality barefoot shoes?

Soft sole shoes or stiff shoes?

There are a couple of ways to learn if these statements are true: You can do further research for more information, and; you can try it out for yourself. We originally designed SOM shoes with the runner - not the cyclist -  in mind and, while they are perfect for many other activities besides minimalist running, we decided to make use of our advantage and we turned to our cycling customers to see what they were saying. Their statements are anecdotal so we are not offering proof, but they are interesting and reinforce what we have been hearing elsewhere.

We learned from France that a group of friends has started to bike with their SOMs instead of the cleat. They added a strap to stay in place, and it works great. They like to be comfortable on the bike as much as on the ground!

We learned from Oregon that, after her hip replacement, one SOM customer went back to flat pedals for her recovery time and at one point switched from her tennis shoes to her SOMs and now can’t and won’t go back! She said that she likes to travel a lot, and that her last bike trip in Italy was the best because she was the only one in the group who could walk around freely whenever they stopped to see the sights or tour a town, the others not being comfortable walking in their cleated bike shoes.

Venice canal on a bike

And then there is that young woman, biking with her boyfriend from France to China, adoring her SOMs for exploring around campsites and villages where they stop along the way. She said she beat up her SOMs between sand beaches and rocky mountains during her first 5 months of the trip, and they needed some repairs. While in Iran she happened to find a cobbler and he took care of them. A gentle proof that shoes made in the USA can unite across cultures.

 Iran's cobbler in help of her travel shoes

Sources: - More power, more efficiency more comfort and stability... "...while torque during the upstroke did reduce the total positive work required during the downstroke, it did not contribute significantly to the external work done because 98.6% and 96.3% of the total work done at the low and high workloads, respectively, was done during the downstroke." ...Despite changes in materials and construction techniques, not much about the shape of cycling shoes has changed over the years.

1 comment

  • I just came back from a 6 day cycling tour during which I used SOM shoes exclusively with Pedaling Innovations Catalyst pedals. The combination worked extremely well! I could apply power just as well as with a regular clip in pedal, but what was really nice was being to hike around easily, no need to change shoes to do so, and not needing to carry another pair of shoes.
    Next I’ll try a bike packing trip on the Colorado Trail using the same shoe and pedal combo.

    Greg Bachman

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