How to Choose Bike Pedals? (Beginner’s GUIDE) [2021]

How to Choose Bike Pedals

In this article, you find out how to choose bike pedals. I will guide you through the benefits and disadvantages of individual types, so you won’t have a problem choosing the right pedals if you are a beginner.

When choosing bike pedals, you have to consider two main things:

  1. The type of pedals (clipless, flat, or hybrid)
  2. Your riding style

Below, I explain everything in-depth.

Let’s dive in.

What Types of Pedals Are There?

Bike pedals are one of the three touch-points between you and your bike, so it is important to take the time to choose the right ones.

Based on pedals type, we can distinguish the following three types:

  1. Flat pedals
  2. Clipless pedals
  3. Hybrid pedals
Types of bike pedals (platform/flat, clipless - road and MTB, hybrid)
Types of bike pedals

Flat Pedals

Flat pedals are also sometimes called platform pedals. You don’t need special cycling shoes because they don’t have any attachment (clip-in) mechanism.

You can simply put your feet on them and ride. They are beginner-friendly, easy to use, and you can use them with regular shoes.

Flat pedals can be further divided into two categories:

  1. Flat pedals for hybrid & commuter bikes are more affordable and don’t have pins for better grip. They are less durable because they are often made of plastic.
  2. Flat pedals for mountain bikes are usually more expansive and include pins for better grip. They are also more durable thanks to higher-quality materials like aluminum, titanium, etc.

Clipless Pedals

Clipless pedals have an attachment mechanism and require special cycling shoes with cleats. These cleats are clipped into the pedals to ensure firm shoe attachment.

The word ‘clipless’ may be confusing. In the past, riders used ‘toe clips .’ The word ‘clipless’ distinguished the new clipless pedals from ‘toe clips.’

Clipless pedals have multiple benefits – thanks to the fixed position of your feet, you can focus on the right pedaling technique. In combination with cycling shoes, they are also more comfortable. They are also safer in some situations because your feet won’t slip off them.

They have a few shortcomings, though. Clipless pedals are less beginner-friendly because they take some time to get used to. They also require special cycling shoes with cleats.

Hybrid Pedals

Hybrid pedals combine the two above-explained pedals. Their one side is flat, and the other features a clip-in mechanism.

You can use them with regular shoes (the flat side) and cycling shoes with cleats (the clip-in side).

This is also their main benefit. They are popular among people who commute and take family or solo trips.

The main disadvantage of hybrid pedals is their weight and bulkiness.

The following table shows the pros & cons of different types of bike pedals.

Type of PedalsProsConsRecommended for
Platforms (flat pedals)• You can use them with almost any type of shoes.
• You don't have to clip into them so you can take your feet of them easily. This increases your safety and confidence.
• You learn the right echnique and tricks more easily.
• You can't pedal in circles (you cannot pull up).
• Your foot can slip off more easily.
• Shin injuries from pins.
Beginners, commuters, BMX riders, MTB riders, downhill riders
Road pedals (clipless)• You will feel like you have better control over your bicycle.
• They are lightweight to lower your fatigue over long distances.
• You can pedal in circles.
• They are longer than MTB pedals, so they provide more support for your foot.
• You can't clip in from both sides.
• Expensive - You will have to buy pedals, road bike shoes, and cleats.
• It will take you some time to get used to them.
Road cyclists
MTB pedals (clipless)• You will feel like you have better control over your bicycle.
• You can pedal in circles.
• You can clip in from both sides.
• Expensive - You will have to buy pedals, mountain bike shoes, and cleats.
• It will take you some time to get used to them.
MTB and gravel riders, cyclocross riders
Hybrid pedals (flat + clipless)• You can decide what type of shoes you use (normal footwear or specialized cycling shoes).• They are heavier compared to clipless road and MTB pedals.
• They are bulky.
Commuters, bike packers, people who like bike trips and hiking, mountain and gravel bikers

Pros and cons of different types of bike pedals | Sources: bicycling.comskedaddle.comactive.omsingletracks.com


What Is Your Riding Style?

Ok, so now you know what types of pedals are there. Now, let’s talk about your preferred riding style.

You can choose from pedals for the following disciplines:

  1. Road cycling (clipless road bike pedals)
  2. Mountain biking (clipless or flat MTB pedals)
  3. Gravel riding (road or MTB pedals)
  4. Commuting & Casual riding (flat, flat + clipless)

Let me now explain them more in-depth.

Road Cycling

Road bike pedals are designed for road cycling. Their platform is bigger than the platform of clipless MTB pedals, so they are more comfortable for longer rides.

Look Keo Blade pedals
Road bike pedals

You need special road cycling shoes to use them. These shoes have a 3-hole configuration for attaching cleats that are then clipped into the pedals.

Their biggest disadvantage (except Wahoo Speedplays) is that you can only clip into them from one side.

There are four main road cycling pedals manufacturers and standards:

  • Shimano SPD SL
  • Look Keo
  • Time Sport (acquired by SRAM in 2021)
  • Wahoo Speedplay

Check out their pros & cons in the following table.

Type of PedalProsCons
Shimano SPD-SL• They are compatible with 2°, 3°, and 6° float cleats.
• They are better balanced compared to Look pedals, so they are easier to clip in.
• They are the most popular and easy to get almost everywhere.
• You can clip in from one side only.
Look• They are compatible with 0°, 4.5°, and 9° float cleats.
• Look pedals are available in various color combinations.
• Look cleats are compatible with Garmin Vector pedals that have integrated power meters.
• You can clip in from one side only.
• Classic Look Keo cleats don't have rubber pads, so they are slippery when walking.
• Look cleats are easy to wear out and don't last as long.
Wahoo
Speedplay
• You can clip in and out from both sides.
• They offer the best fit adjustability out of all pedal systems.
• They are easy to clip in and out.
• Speedplay offers walkable cleats.
• Speedplay pedals are available in various colors.
• They are more expensive compared to other pedal systems.
• You have to buy 4-bolt configuration road shoes (limited selection) or use special adapters.
• The contact area is the smallest compared to other pedal systems.
Time Sport (SRAM)• They have the largest contact platform.
• They provide angular (+- 5°) and lateral float (2.5 mm), so they are good for your knees.
• They allow you to move your feet further away from cranks than Look and Shimano SPD-SL pedals.
• You can clip in from one side only.
• They are not as widespread as Shimano SPD-SL or Look, so they may be harder to get.
• They lack adjustability.

Pros and cons of different types of road clipless pedals | Sources: shimano.comlookcycle.comwahoofitness.comsram.com, various bike forums


TIP: Some road cyclists prefer MTB clipless pedals on their road bikes. The MTB clipless shoes allow easier walking and clip into them from both sides.


Mountain Biking

There are two types of mountain bike pedals:

  1. Clipless MTB pedals
  2. Flat MTB pedals (platforms)

Clipless MTB Pedals

Clipless mountain bike pedals are the perfect choice for mountain, cyclocross, and gravel riders. They are easy to clip in and out and allow you to shed mud easily.

The Best Clipless Mountain Bike Pedals
Clipless mountain bike pedals

Like road bike pedals, MTB clipless pedals also require special mountain bike shoes with cleats (2-hole shoe configuration). These cleats are recessed deeper into the shoe insole, so they allow easier walking.

MTB clipless pedals without platforms (more about them below) allow you to clip into them from both sides. This is important in terrain where there is no time for mistakes (not clipping in).

Their biggest disadvantage is that they are heavier than road bike pedals. You can also experience feet hotspots during longer rides due to the smaller platform.

Clipless mountain bike pedals can be further divided into two types:

  • Clipless MTB pedals without platforms are suitable for cross-country, cyclocross, and gravel riders. They are perfect for mud shedding and you can clip into them from both sides.
  • Clipless MTB pedals with platforms are better for more technical terrain because they provide your feet with additional support. Their downside is they accumulate mud more easily and are heavier.

Flat MTB Pedals

Platforms are popular among mountain bikers who enjoy riding trails, downhills, BMX, etc. Thanks to the pins and shoes with flat soles, they provide great grip but at the same time an ability to take off the foot when needed.

The Best Mountain Bike Flat Pedals
Mountain bike flat pedals (platforms)

One of the biggest advantages of platforms is that they are beginner-friendly, and you can use them with casual shoes. They will also allow you to learn the right riding technique and skills (like a bunny hop).

Flat pedals are not suitable for cycling shoes and long rides. Pedaling in circles is also more difficult than with clipless pedals.


Gravel Riding

There are also gravel bike pedals, but they look and work almost the same as MTB clipless pedals. However, some gravel riders prefer MTB clipless pedals, MTB flat pedals, and sometimes road cycling pedals for their gravel bikes.

Look X-Track Race pedals
MTB clipless pedals are also suitable for gravel

The choice depends on your preference and riding style.

  • If you ride in technical terrain combined with flats, you will probably prefer MTB clipless pedals. They will fix your feet but you can clip out easily and clip into them from both sides. MTB shoes for clipless pedals also allow relatively easy walking.
  • If you ride in very technical terrain and for short distances, you will probably prefer MTB flat pedals. Platforms allow you to take off your foot easily when needed. This is handy in difficult terrain like singletracks, trails, etc.
  • If you ride mostly flats and less technical terrain, go for road cycling pedals. They provide you with enough foot support, so they are more comfortable for longer distances.

Casual, Commuting

Hybrid pedals are one of the best pedals for casual riding and commuting. They have a platform on one side and a clip-in mechanism on the other. This combination makes them versatile because you can use them with normal shoes for commuting and cycling shoes for longer bike trips.

The ability to use them with different types of shoes is their biggest advantage. However, they are heavy, bulky, and you also need to rotate them to a position suitable for the shoes you wear.


How to Choose Bike Pedals FAQ


Summary

When choosing bike pedals, consider the type of pedals (flat, clipless, or hybrid) and your riding style (road cycling, mountain biking, gravel riding, etc.).

Road cyclists prefer road bike pedals. Their larger platform ensures efficient power transfer and feet support, making them more suitable and comfortable for long distances.

Mountain bikers have multiple options. They can either use platforms (flat pedals) or clipless MTB pedals. Choose depending on your riding style (learn how).

Gravel bikers can choose from gravel, road, or MTB clipless pedals. Some even prefer platforms on their gravel bikes. This choice is the most complicated but still manageable (learn more).

Commuters and casual riders will prefer platforms or hybrid pedals with a clip-in mechanism on the one side and the platform on the other.

I hope these tips helped you to choose the right pedals. If they did, let me know in the comments section, or feel free to share this guide with your friends.


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