The Soapbox: The Magic of Flat Pedals

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Words by Chris Southwood | Images by Damian Breach

Flatties…

I still remember my first ‘good’ flat pedals; a set of blue DMR V8s that I moved from bike to bike, not caring that the axles were bent. I’d pull them open and squirt fresh grease into them all the time, I bought longer pins to give me more grip (and to take off more skin from my shins), I was stoked how they matched the frame colour of my hardtail. I wonder where they went…?

I learnt an awful lot on those pedals too. They supported my feet as I built my skills over a good few years, before I ultimately began running clipless pedals. I still ride flatties occasionally – not on trail rides, but sometimes on the downhill bike, and my dirt jump bike of course runs flats too.

Looking back, I’m exceptionally glad I spent all those years on flat pedals.

Flat pedals teach you a lot of things that many people miss out in in their headlong rush to be a ‘proper’ mountain biker and clip in.

  1. Confidence; this is probably the biggest one in my mind. When you know you can eject from the bike completely at your whim, without the risk of your feet staying locked into the pedals, your confidence is much higher. You’re willing to try lines, corner harder, tackle tricky climbs, or do jumps, because you know you can bail out if it starts to head south. Consequently, your horizons are broader and you start to learn how far you can push it, and just what you and your bike are capable of. You realise the boundaries aren’t as tight as you might have thought.
  2. Smoothness; flat pedals make you smoother. If you’re not smooth on flat pedals, your feet aren’t going to stay put. I don’t care how grippy your shoes are, if you plough through a rock garden without learning how to use your body and legs to soak up the bike bucking underneath you, your feet are going to get bounced off.
  3. Lifting the bike; rather than simply hoiking the bike up with your feet clipped in, flat pedals teach you how to use your whole body properly to get the bike into the air. You learn to hop higher, further and more safely (with less chance of accidentally yanking a foot out of your pedal) if you’re riding flat pedals.
  4. Scars; flat pedals leave good scars all up and down your shin. As I look down at the craters the pins left in my skin, each little divot is a reminder not just of a mistake I’ve made, but a ride I’ve been on. And even if it hurt at the time, it’s a good memory now.

Recently, a few of my riding mates have returned to flat pedals for trail riding. And as I watch them rail a corner with their foot out, or clown around doing some trials moves on the rocks without fear of toppling over in a slow motion crash, I start to wonder if I can find those old blue DMRs somewhere…

Chris Kovarik has spent his entire career racing on flat pedals.

 

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