Thursday, June 29, 2023

Are Flat Pedals Good For Gravel?

The Redshift Sports flat pedals w/lights installed.
While I do not focus on mountain biking here much anymore, I do pay attention to what is going on with mountain biking. One of the trends I see growing is the use of "flat" pedals. The pedals that non-cyclists would call "normal" pedals. 

Before Shimano introduced the PD-M737 clipless pedals in the early 1990's, "flat" pedals are what all mountain bikers were riding. Well, those pedals weren't the flat pedals of today, but they were not clipless pedals either. No, mostly we were using caged pedals with toe straps.Uggh! Those were truly awful. 

At least they were for MTB, which required a lot of get-offs and remounts. Toe straps were just an impediment to doing what you had to do. 'True' flat pedals existed then, but weren't used widely, at least not around here. I say that because trends were a lot more regionally driven then than they are today. 

Nowadays I am seeing more flat pedals being made and more introductions of shoes for flat pedal mountain biking. Seeing as how mountain biking has an influence on gravel riding, I am wondering if flat pedal usage is going to be a thing in gravel riding. Could it become a trend in gravel much as it seems to be doing in MTB?

New flat pedal shoes from Unparalleled Sports. (Image from their site)

The title for today's post asks if this sort of flat pedal set up is "good for gravel". Well, of course it is! I've already proven that for myself, and in my mind there is no question that for every gravel pursuit outside of Pro/Semi-Pro gravel racing, flat pedals definitely have a space in the gravel riding niche. 

But..... There is always a "but"! This probably won't really take off as a trend for gravel until the shoes are made for it. The current MTB specific shoes just don't quite have "it". 

And right now, I'm not sure what "it" is. But I do know that MTB specific flat shoes are a bit too "heavy duty" and not as thin and breathable as I would want to wear. But I'm also not a shoe designer. Maybe I'll know it when I see it, but for now, I'm just going to say that the MTB flat shoes are not what I'd be looking for. 

I have done 100 miles of gravel on flat pedals wearing.........Vans! Yes those traditional skate/fashion sneakers that are canvas and rubber. They were fairly light, which was good, breathable, which was good, but they let in a lot of tiny bits of gravel and the soles were less than stiff for pedaling. So, not those shoes, but I am thinking whatever comes out, if anything comes out, will be closer to Vans than these MTB flat pedal shoes. 

And maybe this will never happen. I hope that it does, because I think a lot of people would ride more if their gravel bikes had flat pedals and shoes to go with that.


Phillip Cowan said...

The further I get into the weeds with researching this subject the more I'm convinced there is no valid bio-mechanical reason to have the feet attached to the pedals. Of course some guy/gal who just spent $800 for a shoe and pedal combo will get irrationally defensive if you tell them that. Whatever. I've got pinned flats on just about everything I own and have never been happier.

Gary said...


Jon BALER said...

Guitar Ted said...

@Jon BALER: Interesting! Thanks for pointing those shoes out. That is definitely a design in the right direction. Besides the BOA closure, I'm not sure that I couldn't do the same thing with a shoe from Chrome, as a for instance. (I have two pair of their shoes, by the way) Vans are too flexy, but the Chrome shoes I have are (besides not having a BOA closure) pretty much exactly what the reviewer has with the Giro shoes.

I noted the weight, the fact that these shoes he reviewed got pretty flexible, and that he thought they weren't very good at keeping moisture out. I feel like the Giro shoes would be great gravel flat pedal shoes based upon what I read, but I think more can be done here, and what I really want is something a bit more technical and focused.

Like an upper made from materials similar to Shimano's RX6 shoes, with a bit lighter weight sole, BOA, and a slightly stiffer sole than that of the Giro shoe. Something more like the RX6. I imagine you're not going to get much less weight than the Giro's, so maybe it's a pipe dream.

PStu said...

Bikepacking has a lot of good reviews for flat pedal gravel shoes. The comments under each review are helpful for surfacing other brands/models to check out. I've been tempted to switch for my gravel and commuter bike if I could just figure out a good pedal that didn't have pins that gouge out chunks of my shin when I miss the pedal.

Guitar Ted said...

@PStu - Thanks for that tip. I read through several shoe reviews which I randomly chose to look at because the shoes "looked interesting", so not a thorough examination of what is on that site, but mostly these were recent reviews to help keep things relevant.

I still don't see what it is I am looking for here. Bits and pieces, yes. But nothing yet has hit it out of the ballpark for me.

It also is readily apparent that what bikepacker/touring folks are looking for is something quite different than what I have in mind.