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The clips vs flats debate

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I wrote this article back in 2008. Maybe some of you might enjoy the read.

Clips vs. No Clips? …… The never-ending question

By Brendan Arnold – High Performance BMX Coach

Well I thought I would chat a bit about the old debate “ Clips or No Clips” in BMX Racing. The issue to me is not about banning clips, but more about educating parents, coaches and riders to the benefits of teaching fundamentals on flat pedals and teaching athletes to be competent on the track.

I was recently at an NBL National and saw numerous kids wearing clips. Now once again clips are NOT bad, but for someone who has problems braking, cornering and even rolling over a jump, maybe having clips is not such a smart decision.

At this event I think I have seen the most ridiculous thing ever, this young boy (6 years old I believe) was on the gate and basically has his foot floating on top of the pedal. At first I thought he couldn’t get clipped in, but in reality he didn’t have the force to get clipped in., The parent had clipped his right foot into the pedal at the bottom of the hill and the rider could only put the left foot in as he gained momentum down the start hill….anybody else think this is a poor and highly unsafe decision?

I have proven through some personal testing that clips are faster; help with power transfer and will help athletes complete powerful and complete pedal strokes. The one thing that people forget is that you need these skills before you start to perfect them. Some of these skills are called fundamentals these include; pedalling, turning, balancing, braking, front wheel lifts, back wheel lifts and bunnyhops.

I hear the age old story from parents that “we got them because we hear they were faster” well you are 100% correct… they are but they are only faster if you are able to automatically perform these basic fundamentals.

I guess the main point to my article is that it doesn’t matter how old you are; you must learn to ride and perform on flat pedals. I always say that you can train the energy systems, tactics and how to be an athlete - but you must have skill to compete. If you wait till late in life to acquire these skills then you will never reach your full potential. So I guess you could be 5 or 40, but if you are new to the sport or do not perform all the fundamentals to a satisfactory level then you should work on them any chance you can and make sure you do it on flat pedals. Remember if you have the right shoes and good flats then you shouldn’t slip off anyway.

Some people ask why I train kids on flats, well for me flats are good to train with because it is easy to detect errors, build leg speed and try some things that might be out of an athlete’s comfort zone. However, that doesn't mean you should always train on flats, there are benefits to clips training too. After going through a strength training phase using mainly flats, putting clips back on allows you to work on leg speed. After all, power is the combination of strength x speed.

So I don’t want to discourage the use of clips because they do have advantages but if your child is a first or second year racer, or a rookie/novice in BMX racing then maybe practice some of the basic fundamentals and see if they can perform some of these skills. If they can then make sure you transition them slowly onto the clips, don’t just put them on and say “ Ok away you go”, clips need practice off the track as well as on.

I remember the first time I used clips, I was 16 years old and had been riding flats since I was 6. I remember putting them on and practicing my balancing, pedalling and crashing. It took time… please be patient and the results will come.

If you have any questions regarding your child and wearing clips please don't hesitate to contact me.

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