So, I want to start this post off with a little history on myself as a mountain biker. I have been racing bikes for over 10 years. I have raced downhill, cross country, and super d. Over the last 6 years I have focused primarily on all mountain style riding, and Super D racing. This will be my first season racing at a regional pro level in Super D. As most riders do, I started off on flat pedals. Giving into pressure from fast locals and the mountain biking media (magazines, videos) I decided I had better learn to ride with clips so I can one day be a "real" mountain biker. After riding primarily on clipless pedals for the last 10+ years I am now wondering if they are actually any better, and or make you a faster/better rider?
I believe it is commonly perceived that clipless pedals are by far the fastest and most efficient way to do this style of riding/racing. I know I used to think so, and still do a little. While there are many top pro downhillers using flat pedals, there very few racers using flats for super d racing. I wonder if this is because clips are really faster or because nobody has actually REALLY tried flat pedals to see how they would compare? By really tried I mean giving them it enough time to get completely used to them, like a full season. I by no means believe I am the first person to see this or to ask this question, I know there are lots of flat pedal all mountain riders out there, but I believe I have a unique take on this subject since I have basically been on clipless for over 10 years now and I have a lot of super d racing experience on clips. I think most of the riders at a higher level of racing that are running flats have been doing so for most of their career.
I have decided to do a long term test on flat pedals that will involve me racing and riding the entire season on flats. What sparked my interest in this subject are some blog posts on professional mountain bike trainer James Wilson's website. He makes some very good arguments not necessarily against clipless pedals but the lack of a need for them for most riders. After reading the threads on the Bike James website I have noticed some very bad techniques I have acquired by being on clipless pedals for so many years. As of right now I have been on flats for 2+ weeks and have completed 2 super d races. First impressions are that flats are more fun, but have a steep learning curve when you are used to being connected to your bike. I have already noticed an improvement in my handling skills and my posture. I also feel like this has added an extra bit of excitement to my rides that just wasn't there before.
My main goals out of this test are to improve my bike handling skills by not relying on a mechanical connection to the bike, and to improve my riding style and stay loose on the trail while improving my posture on the bike. I also want to prove to myself and other all mountain riders out there that are afraid of trying something new that flats can be just as fast and maybe even more fun. Stay tuned.