Pedals come in all shapes and sizes, flats pedals you place your foot on, clip in pedals where your shoes are attached to the pedals through to a combination of a flat surface and a clip in mechanism. There are advantages to all but it will depend on what you are riding and where, as to the choice that is best for you. In our Buying Guide we will go into more detail on each type and help you make an informed decision.
If you want to try clipped in pedals but aren't sure how easy they are to operate, then Shimano and Speedplay offer Light Action road pedals. The pedal has a light action mechanism for easier clip in and clip out movement. In the case of Shimano, they have a wide pedal platform to improve foot-pedal stability and a low maintenance sealed cartridge axle unit. Designed for riders who want to try being clipped in but prefer a quicker release so they get the reassurance and power transfer to the pedals without feeling restricted.
Road pedals allow you to clip the cleats on your shoes into the pedal where they are held securely by the pedal mechanism. This allows you to both pull up and push down on the pedals, minimising energy loss. The large platform of the pedals increases your stability and ensures great power transfer whether you are climbing or sprinting. For high performance cycling pedals are lightweight and incredibly stiff so every watt you produce is transferred to the road.
There are a number of different styles of road pedal, whilst they all operate in a similar way they have different cleats so always check the drillings in your shoes are compatible with your chosen pedal system. Road pedals need to be used with road shoes as the cleats are larger and they are not compatible with the recessed cleat drillings found on mountain bike shoes. The first clipless pedals were invented by Look who still make high-performance pedals today and by using carbon pedal bodies are amongst the lightest on the market.
When choosing a new system consider the cleats as well as the pedals. All pedal systems offer some float, the amount of movement allowed between the cleat and the pedal, measured in degrees. The more float a pedal has the more your foot can rotate as you press down on the pedals. Some systems such as Shimano SPD-SL offer different cleats with different degrees of float. It is important that you set your cleats up accurately to prevent any knee pain or injury.
Plastic cleats wear easily if you walk around in them a lot and worn cleats can allow you to accidentally pull your foot out of the pedal so they need checking and replacing frequently. If you do walk in your shoes, consider buying cleat covers to protect them.
Most road pedals, unlike mountain bike pedals, are single-sided as you do not need to clip and unclip as quickly or frequently on the road. The exceptions to this is Speedplay, Ritchey micro-road and Shimano road SPD. These pedals are dual-sided, some people find them easier to clip in to on the move and the pedals are smaller. These smaller style cleat and pedal combinations can be used with some off-road shoes, with room for recessed cleats, for commuting and touring when walking is desirable.
Mountain bike pedals that allow you to securely clip-in give you a strong, reliable connection to your bike and allow you to both pull up and push down on the pedals for maximum power transfer. Called ‘clipless’ because they don’t have the clips and straps of toe-clips or cages these pedals are multi-sided to allow you to clip-in quickly and are designed to shed mud easily when riding off-road. They are ideal for all off-road riding including cross-country, enduro, leisure and downhill.
Cleats for mountain bike pedals are smaller than those for road pedals and are recessed into the sole so they don’t interfere with the grippy lugs of your mountain bike shoes. The pedals are dual or multi-sided so you can quickly clip back in if you have pulled your foot out the pedal for stability when cornering or on technical sections. Being clipped in to your mountain bike can help with manoeuvring your bike and the stable connection can increase your confidence when you are riding loose, rooty or rocky sections as your feet are firmly fixed to your bike.
Some mountain bike pedals are relatively small, smaller than the platform on road pedals. They are lightweight, shed mud easily but rely on the stiffness of your shoe to create the platform. If you are riding technical trails then a good mid-way pedal is a platform, similar to a flat pedal, but with a clip-in mechanism, this means you have a large surface to brace your feet against. Riding heel down increases traction by putting more pressure through your tyres for greater grip in corners and on loose surfaces. It also means you can still have good control even if you are just resting your foot on the pedal and not fully clipped in.
All manufacturers have slightly different cleat systems so check your shoes have the correct drillings and are compatible with your chosen pedal system. Make sure you set up your cleats correctly before you ride to avoid knee pain or injury. Most pedals offer customisable tension, if you are new to riding clipped in reduce the tension until you are confident with the action of clipping in and out.
Flat pedals create a large stable platform to connect with your bike allowing you to move your feet and shift your
body weight to respond to the demands of the trail. Whether it is enduro, downhill or dirt jumping a decent set of
flats will put you firmly in command of your machine.
Flats have no mechanism to allow you to ‘clip-in’ to the pedal, instead you are relying on the friction between your
shoe and pedal for grip. When choosing flats look at the number of pins and pin configuration as you want to be able
to catch and connect with your pedal instinctively and reliably every time, even in wet or muddy conditions. Moulded
knurls on the axle also help to increase your grip between shoe and pedal.
Look for low-profile broad platforms with plenty of contact area for stability so you can really push into the pedals
to increase your traction and help manoeuvre your bike. Sturdy construction and a stiff axle ensures maximum power
transfer whilst a smooth, free rolling axle body means you can easily angle the pedals as you adjust your body
position. For longevity look for pedals that offer replaceable pins and easy to service pedal axles.
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