Flat Pedals or Clipless for Kids?

Flat pedals or clipless for kids? This is one of the most important considerations when buying a bike for a child or replacement pedals. Each pedal type comes with a set of advantages and disadvantages, and this post is all about shining some light on those pros and cons so you can make an informed decision.

Flat Pedals vs Clipless Pedals for Kids: Which is Better?

For kids learning to ride a bike, kids who’re into jumps and stunts of all kinds, and younger children, it’s best to start them off with flat pedals. Once they master the pedaling technique, they can transition to clipless pedals. Also, each pedal type tends to work better in certain bike riding disciplines and not as good in other disciplines.

Before introducing a kid to clipless pedals, make sure they’ve learned how to effectively and safely use flat pedals. Also, make sure to understand the different clipless pedal systems and the cycling shoe styles they’re compatible with. Finally, be sure to position the cleat at the most comfortable position on the stiff soles of your kid’s cycling shoes to prevent knee and hip injury.

What Are Clipless Pedals?

Clipless pedals aren’t merely pedals. Rather, they’re a complex system that requires special pedals made to work with special features called cleats that stay on or in the soles of special cycling shoes. To switch from flat pedals/platform pedals, you need to get the right clipless pedals with devices that sink into cleats attached to the stiff soles of cycling shoes. And these devices must be compatible with the cycling shoes or the system won’t work at all.

Clipless pedals came on the scene as an improvement of an existing pedal system that included toe-clips and straps. Even though mountain bikers and roadies use the phrase “clip in” when talking about connecting to the clipless pedals, that’s not the reason they’re known as clipless pedals.

They’re called clipless pedals because unlike the original system that kept the feet securely on the pedals, these modern pedals don’t have a toe clip or straps…they’re clipless, that is.

Pros of Clipless Pedals: Benefits of Riding Clipped In

  • When clipped in, the child feels like the bike is a natural extension of themselves. And this fosters confidence.
  • When the child transfers body weight from one pedal to the other, the feet stay on the pedals, helping keep the ride nice and stable.
  • Since the feet are almost always on the pedals’ platform, pedal strikes decrease dramatically. In fact, it’s rare to hear of kids who ride clipped in ever complaining of nasty pedal strikes. Pedal strikes are something you get exclusively from platform pedals. Am I right mountain bikers? You know I am.
  • The crank and pedals are in a sense an extension of the rider’s legs. Small wonder kids who ride clipped in don’t struggle to make smooth pedal rotations and to maintain a more efficient cadence.
  • When riding downhill, clipless pedals are safer than flat pedals. I know this is hard to believe, but it’s actually true that riding clipless down steep, rocky terrain is safer than riding on platform pedals. How so? The kid’s feet stay firmly secured onto the pedals, and there’s no chance of the feet slipping off and destabilizing a speedy downhill ride.
  • Most clipless pedal systems have what’s referred as float and allow you to adjust tension however you want. Clipless pedals with float help minimize knee and hip injury. They achieve this by allowing the legs to naturally swivel laterally to counter incorrect knee position.
  • Riding clipless is cool and earns your kiddo respect among his riding buddies. Not everyone manages to clip into this pedal/cleat system and ride a bike with the feet cemented onto the pedals. Just like not everyone grasps calculus with same level of ease. And this makes kids who can safely clip in and out sort of special.
  • Riding clipless encourages proper pedaling technique, which improves overall efficiency. But no, clipless pedals themselves aren’t more efficient than flat pedals. Research shows that once riders master the pedaling technique, neither pedal type fosters greater pedaling efficiency. But since riding clipped in encourages good pedaling behavior, there’s a greater chance your kiddo might see better cadence.
  • Clipless systems are an ever-evolving technology, and if you like having the most advanced technology working for you, ride clipless. They’re always researching and innovating to make better, more comfortable, and more efficient pedal systems.
  • Bikes with clipless pedals have a minimalist design, plus they’re slimmer and look sleeker which is really cool.
  • When going up steep hills on a bike with clipless pedals, you get to pull up on the pedals, which makes the ride up kind of easier.

Cons of Riding Clipless: Reasons Kids Shouldn’t Ride Clipless

  • If you’re unable to set up the cleats right as well as the rest of the bike, there’s a decent chance your kiddo will experience knee pain and hip pain.
  • Riding clipless can be challenging for young kids because they lack the strength required to rotate them and the coordination needed to use them safely.
  • Safety isn’t guaranteed when a child rides a bike with clipless pedals. If you don’t set the tension right, get in and out of the pedals can be a challenging endeavor, one that can result in a bad crash or even a collision. Imagine your little one being unable to disengage from clipless pedals at a busy intersection as the sign just lights up red.
  • Riding clipless can get pretty expensive compared to riding a bike with flat pedals. To ride a mountain bike or any other bike type with platform pedals can be done with regular sneakers or even flip flops. But the same can’t be said of riding clipless. You need to buy proper cycling shoes for your kiddo and pair these kicks with a compatible pedal/cleat system. Cycling shoes aren’t cheap, nor are the best clipless pedal systems out there.
  • Mastering clipless bike pedals has a steeper learning curve to it versus using flat/platform pedals. Flat pedals are easier to use, and getting on and off the bike is pretty easy, which makes bailing quicker and safer.
  • Clipless pedals might make it harder for kids and adults to learn proper jumping technique. Think bunny hops, wheel lifts, and doing massive jumps during technical riding. If your kiddo rides clipped in, they end up pulling the bike up as they jump. The bike does some of the jumping work. While the jumps and tricks may feel remarkably easier, it becomes harder to master the actual technique required to do the stunt.
  • If you ever travel to a destination where clipless pedals and clipless shoes aren’t commonly used, finding replacement parts can be a problem.
  • With a clipless system, your foot stays in the same exact position, which may not be super comfortable, and changing foot position definitely necessitates changing cleat position.
  • Installing cleats and setting them at the right position is a technical skill, and it’s easy to do it wrong. Consider getting a bike mechanic at a bike shop do it for you at a small fee.
  • It’s easy to develop bad riding habits such as pulling up on the pedals instead of doing the work yourself. Be sure to ride flat some of the time to cure this laziness.
  • It’s easy to forget you’re clipped in at super critical moments and end up falling over. It can be embarrassing, and it’s happened to every kid and adult that rides clipped in.

Who Uses Clipless Pedals?

Road cyclists, commuters, mountain bikers, bike tourists, gravel bike riders, Peloton bike riders, and other bicyclists. Commuters living in regions with cool and wet weather love using clipless pedals because these pedals keep them save and secure when riding in these slide-y conditions.

Can Kids Use Clipless Pedals?

Yes, kids can definitely use clipless pedals. But how old do kids need to be to use clipless pedals? Kids who participate in various cycling competitions really love to ride clipless. Road racing kids can start using clipless pedals and cleats from as early as age 9.  But it’s  not uncommon to see kids as young as 6 using these not-always-so-easy-to-ride pedal systems.

Before you let your kid ride clipped-in, be sure they know how to use these pedals. Because you don’t want them to be involved in all sorts of sudden accidents out on the roads.

Which Clipless Pedals Work Best for Kids?

When it comes to choosing the best pedal system for kids, the 2-bolt Shimano SPD setup works pretty well for the vast majority of kids. This super popular clipless pedal is a simple, easy-to-use, dual-sided pedal that works well for both road cycling and forest trail or off-road riding.

What Are Flat Pedals?

Flat pedals are basically a flat foot platform that lacks any kind of bindings. These pedals typically come in a non-slip design that grips the rider’s feet like nothing you’ve ever seen. Other flat pedals come with metal pins designed to prevent to prevent the rider’s feet from sliding off the platform.

There are flat pedals made from tough, durable plastic and flat pedals made from metal. Plastic flat pedals are lighter than metallic flat pedals but not as durable. To ride flat pedals, all a kid needs to do is straddle the bike, place their feet on the platform and just ride.

You don’t need special shoes of any kind to ride a rig with platform pedals. You can rotate these pedals with boots, skate shoes, sneakers, or sandals. You could even pedal a bike with flat pedals in regular dress shoes or even barefoot.

Advantages of Flat Pedals

  • They’re easy to use. Pretty much any child can hop on their bike and ride away. If they know how to ride a pedal bike without training wheels, they shouldn’t struggle using platform pedals.
  • No specialty shoes and pedal systems needed, which keeps costs down.
  • Flat pedals are more common in developing countries and if you travel there someday, you shouldn’t have problems getting replacement pedals and parts.
  • They’re safer in the sense that little riders can get off the bike instantly and avoid a crash versus forgetting you’re actually clipped in when riding clipless.
  • Platform pedals have a lower center of gravity, and lower CoG makes the ride feel a tad more stable.
  • A kid who’s mastered a balance bike can get on platform pedals and ride away without needing to learn any new skills. While there’s nothing wrong with learning new skills, it can be time-consuming, difficult, and even frustrating. Plus, learning a new skill means your kiddo can’t access clipless riding right away, which isn’t nice in a world where almost everything happens instantly.
  • In bike riding situations where the rider needs to put a foot a down to stabilize the ride or sidestep disaster, being able to take the feet off the pedals fast is super desirable. And platform pedals make this possible.
  • When riding through extreme conditions such as mud, snow, slush, or people and vehicle-packed cities, it helps to have pedals you can take your feet quickly off of.

Disadvantages of Flat Pedals

  • You can’t pull up on the pedals, which is something riders want to do when climbing the steepest of hills. I get it: pulling up on the pedals isn’t exactly proper technique, but when you’re extremely exhausted or bonked.
  • Riders can be super efficient on platform pedals, but it requires tons of practice before you can start getting the most out of each pedal stroke.
  • It’s more difficult to maintain a high cadence with flat pedals. It’s easy to make “mistakes” pedaling and have the pedals rotating faster than your feet can pedal them. And this causes your kiddo to slow down a bit. If the feet slide off the pedals, things get even worse.
  • Technique riding tends to be more difficult on flat pedals. Because flat pedals make the bike wider or beefier. Being thicker makes navigating tight spaces such as through jagged rock gardens kinda more difficult.
  • Bicyclists have noticed that riding clipless is faster than using flat pedals. Moving even slightly slower can make a huge difference when it comes to doing a month-long trip or a multiple-months bike tour.
  • Using flat pedals makes performing wheel lifts, bunny hops, and jumps harder since you have to count on proper technique and shifting of weight rather than on pulling up on the pedals.
  • Pedal strikes are pretty common, and they hurt shins real bad.
  • When riding through tough terrain such as snow, mud, and wet conditions, your kiddo wants to be able to get off the bicycle quickly. But when the feet slide off the pedals unexpectedly, this destabilizes the ride and cause lead to a bad crash or at least slow the little rider down.
  • I ride flat some of the time, and I’m OK with it, but truth be told: platform pedals are old technology. If your kiddo is the type that likes keeping up with emerging trends, definitely get them clipless pedals.
  • Since flat pedals are becoming outdated technology every passing year, pedal manufacturers are investing tons of money in R&D. At least they’re not spending as much money as they do trying to improve clipless systems.

Are Flat Pedals Good for Kids?

Yes, flat pedals are good for kids, especially young kids or early in their riding career. Flat pedals are easier to use, are cheaper, can be ridden even shoe-less, and are easy to get off of in a sticky riding situation. You want your kiddo to master flat pedals before they graduate to clipless pedal systems.

If your kid mountain bikes, I suggest that they use flat pedals. If they cyclocross, mostly use clipless since the kid doesn’t need to dismount that often. If they BMX, dirt jump or riding clipless almost always gets better results.

Clipless vs Flat Pedals for Kids? Final Thoughts

Kids almost always should start riding on flat plat pedals. You can buy your sons or daughter’s bike bike with clipless pedals but I won’t advise you to do this. Because kids tend to take to cycling easier with flat pedals than with cleats, it’s better to start them off with flat pedals. They’re easier to use, don’t require any kind of special equipment, are cheaper, and are easier to get on and off in sticky situation such as in when skidding in wet weather.

For me, platform pedals are the way to go with kids. But I’m not saying that very young kids, inexperienced kids, kids who ride a beginner mountain bike, or those who race BMX bikes should ride clipless. I’m saying that kids can’t ride clipped in at very young age or as complete beginner. And anyone who’s been riding clipless for some time knows just how hard it is to go back to flat pedals.

In the end, clipless versus flat pedals is a question of personal preference and experience. When your kid is ready for clipless pedal systems, let nothing stop you from getting them the required equipment.

Author: Esther Moni

I'm Esther Moni, a proud stay-at-home mom and a psychology graduate of the United States International University (USIU) . I hate it when anyone calls me a housewife, because what does housewife even mean? Being a mother of two babies and a pup, Bailey, as well as being Ricky's wife tires me to no end, but I still manage a smile at the end of it all. And when my boys aren't done doing mischief, I juggle writing a post on parenting or baby gear performance for this blog and running my little counselling office based out in Nairobi. <a href="">Visit my Facebook profile here</a>, and this is my <a href="">LinkedIn profile</a>, and here's my <a href="">nascent youtube channel.

Esther Moni

I'm Esther Moni, a proud stay-at-home mom and a psychology graduate of the United States International University (USIU) . I hate it when anyone calls me a housewife, because what does housewife even mean? Being a mother of two babies and a pup, Bailey, as well as being a wife tires me to no end, but I still manage a smile at the end of it all. And when my boys aren't done doing mischief, I juggle writing a post on parenting or baby gear performance for this blog and running my little counselling office based out in Nairobi. Visit my Facebook profile here, and this is my LinkedIn profile, and here's my nascent youtube channel.

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