There is a saying in mountain bike gravity racing, that ‘flat pedals win medals’. Although most of the world’s elite downhill and enduro racers are now clipped in, Australian Sam Hill has managed to win three consecutive Enduro World Series titles on flat MTB pedals.
Most mountain bikers might be clipped in, for the benefit of general efficiency and power transfer during climbing, but flat pedals remain popular for those who prefer undiluted trail feedback.
If you wish to perfect your technical riding technique, without the risk of having to follow your bike into a crash sequence if things do go wrong, flat pedals are the solution. Advances in design have delivered a new generation of larger platform flat pedals, with more intricate shapes and lower weight than ever before.
It is worth mentioning that flat pedals work as part of a system and must be paired with appropriate shoes for the best results. Skateboarding shoes, sneakers or trail running shoes are not appropriate and will make your flat-pedal experience miserable.
The best MTB flat pedals
No current flat pedal has the racing cachet of these Nukeproofs. They have won Sam Hill numerous Enduro World Series races and it is the racing environment which has influenced their design.
The edges of these Nukeproofs are slightly angled, reducing the probability of terrain strikes when attempting to flow through a slow and treacherous rock garden.
Platform size is not the largest, but those few missing millimetres have been sacrificed in places where you’d ordinarily have the risk of rock strikes. If you are a committed gravity racer, either downhill or enduro, these are the pedals for you.
The only composite pedal on our list and one which offers terrific value. OneUp Components makes a great aluminium flat pedal with ample platform size and pin distribution. Remoulding it in nylon-composite dramatically drops the price without sacrificing the many attributes which impress.
A wide platform with very thin leading edge thickness gives you are terrific stability platform on the bike.
DMR has been in the flat pedal business for more than two decades and remains the choice for those who want to experience the surge of confidence when attempting a new section of technical singletrack riding.
Its classic platform design is now available in a magnesium structure, spinning around a titanium axle. This combination delivers one of the lightest flat pedal options available.
The Vault Superlight might not win on pin count, but the positioning of its pins are excellent and ensure great shoe contact, even if you are on the lean angle limit through a fast berm or bouncing through a challenging rock garden. Serviceability is great too, thanks to the cartridge bearings.
The Canadian flat pedals look intimidating, with their long pins. Designed to offer a large platform, with impressive axle balance thanks to a slim profile, the Daggas are engineered for extreme descending riders.
With a structure that allows the use of extra-long pins, you might risk painful shin strikes if your shoe does slip, but the theoretical grip profile is tremendous. If you are committed to riding with a heel-down technique, these large platform Chromags, with their threatening pins, will reward you with unequalled levels of metal-to-rubber grip.
Designed by American strength coach, James Wilson, this is the largest flat pedal you can buy. The Catalyst operates on a power transfer concept which believes that the more force you can apply through the entire foot (or shoe), the better your stability will be in any athletic endeavour on the bike.
The result is a huge pedal, which is particularly well suited to riders wearing large shoes. With its massive structure, there is room for an unrivalled 18 contact pins.
Big size does mean an increase in weight, which make these less rotationally efficient than other flat pedals. There isn’t quite the concave shaping refinement to the Catalyst’s overall structure, either.
Flat pedals: everything you need to know
Flat pedal grip constitutes three elements: pin placement, pedal shape and platform size.
Pins are what give you the grip interface between a soft compound rubber mountain bike shoe and flat pedal. The logic is that a greater number of pins give you superior grip, and the longer they are, the more secure your shoe-to-pedal interface is.
Having more pins might be theoretically superior, but they don’t help if the distribution of pins is haphazard. Placement is vital and here is where the pedal engineers really earn their money.
The more material you remove from a flat pedal’s structure the better its self-cleaning properties are, enabling you to shed mud during a winter ride. A pedal structure with more metal removed also yields a lighter pedal, but you still need enough pedal surface to provide a sufficient distribution of pins.
Material and manufacturing improvements have enabled pedals that are larger, lighter and capable of accommodating more pins. Having pins around the edge of the pedal makes the most sense, because the axle body area, in the middle, isn’t where you source most grip when descending. The skills philosophy of ‘heel-down’ pedal technique applies force to the fore and aft, so this is where most of the rider input happens during technical riding.
Although we refer to them as flat pedals, most are in fact slightly concave. This rise at the front and rear of most flat pedals is a subtle design feature which isn’t as obvious as pin placement, but vital. This concave shaping gives you an intuition of where the limits of the pedal are when having to readjust shoe position during a descent.
Bigger pedals are generally better, as they give you a greater surface area on which to make foot placement adjustments. A larger contact area will also spread impact forces when riding drop-offs or landing jumps. That said, there is obviously a limit on pedal size.
If your pedals are too large, they are sure to strike more rocks when you are navigating a slow technical section of trail.
Pedal thickness is a small number that is often ignored when assessing a pedal. But it is very important if you want to achieve outstanding balance and confidence on technical trails.
The thinner a pedal is, and this difference is often in single-digit millimetres, the lower your centre of gravity will be. It is worth remembering that a flat pedal, with its much larger structure rotating around the axle, generates a more powerful rotational momentum effect than any SPD clipless pedal. At speed, over rocky terrain, this increases the risk of your shoe possibly over-rotating and slipping off the pedal. The thinner your pedal is, the less pronounced this inertia effect is.
Why are most premium flat pedals aluminium? Pin extraction is one reason. A pin which has survived a severe pedal strike might have bent and compromised its thread. Extraction of a metal pin from an aluminium pedal structure is possible. The same cannot be easily done with a polymer pedal.
Plastic pedals are much cheaper, though, and some brands offer versions which are exact size and shape replicas of their best aluminium pedals. These will have the weakness of causing pin removal frustration if you are likely to suffer many pedal strikes on the technical terrain that you ride.
With its lightweight design, great pin distribution and generous platform size, the DMR Vault remains a choice flat pedal. If you are a more finessed descending riders, or unlikely to venture into the most testing of terrain, there is no arguing the value offering by the nylon pedal from OneUp Components.