Choosing the right pedals for you

You have three primary points of contact with your bike – your saddle, handlebard and pedals. We looked at saddles and handlebars recently, so pedals are next up under the London Cyclist microscope.

An obviously very necessary component of the bike, many higher end rigs will come without pedals, specifically because the choice is very personal.

Here’s a look at some of the options..

FLAT PEDALS

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Most cyclists will start out on flat pedals. The benefit is that there is nothing holding your foot to the pedal at all, so coming to a stop is as simple as putting a foot down. Also, you don’t need any special footwear, so you can wear anything you choose.

The negative side of flat pedals is that your foot will sometimes slip on the pedal, and you can’t use the ‘pull’ part of your pedal stroke as you can when clipped in, therefore forward propulsion comes only from the ‘push’. The result of all this is that the rider doesn’t get the full benefit of their leg strength.

If you’re just riding to get somewhere efficiency probably isn’t an issue and flat pedals are a simple and uncomplicated option.

See: Why Andreas switched to mountain bike style flat pedals

CAGES OR PEDAL STRAPS

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Cages or pedal straps are a middle ground – the foot slips into a cage and a clasp can be used to tighten this around the foot. These often come on new bikes, and I’ve heard a fair few struggles with them. The benefit is that you’ll get more of the ‘pull’, but though cages can seem less intimidating than riding clipped, they can actually be a bit more tricky to get in and out of. In particular, clipped pedals (see below), are designed to release you in an accident situation, whereas you can get stuck in the cages.

On the plus side, if you don’t want to use them, you can usually flip the pedal over and use the flat side alone, though this does tend to mean the cage drags on the road.

CLIPLESS PEDALS

Clipless pedals have a confusing name. The ‘clipless’ term refers to the lack of cage and ‘toe clip strap’ on the option above. However, a lot of people call them ‘clip in’ pedals, because you literally clip into them.

The idea behind clipless pedals came from ski binding technology and they’ve been on the racing scene since the late 1980s. When riding with clipless pedals, your foot is interlocked with the pedal via a cleat on your shoe. This means you get the full benefit of a good strong pedal stroke. The thing that puts a lot of people off is that you are attached to the bike.

Unclipping is very simple, you just twist your ankle outwards to be released. However, the brain does need to learn that this needs to be done before coming to a stop. It’s not uncommon for someone new to clip in pedals to take a zero speed tumble because they’ve stopped and not unclipped. This said, nearly every beginner to clipless pedals has one of these moments, and they very rarely bruise anything more than their pride. Learning to ride clipless isn’t scary, and there is no art to it – it just takes practice. The best option is to practice when stationary, first (on a turbo/holding onto a wall), then practice on grass, before taking to the roads.

TYPES OF CLIPLESS PEDALS

There are several options when choosing clipless pedals. If you’re taking the plunge for the first time, you’ll need to buy pedals, and shoes to clip in with. Cleats, which attach to the bottom of the shoe to form the bond, usually come with the pedals but need replacing every few months, depending how much you ride.

Ask for help when you first attach the cleats, or do some reading – as cleat position needs to be set up right to avoid knee injury. Once set up correctly, your new pedalling style should put less pressure on your knees as you can use your hamstrings and quads more efficiently.

ROAD PEDALS

shimano-oe-r540-spd-sl-road-pedals

Pedals designed for road cycling have a wide base, and the majority of the ball of the foot is engaged with the pedal. These offer the strongest power transfer, giving the rider the most efficient pedal stroke. They are the hardest option to get in and out of, but that isn’t to say this is difficult – it just takes a little practice before it becomes second nature.

The cleat on a road shoe is wide and sticks out from the bottom of the shoe, meaning that you don’t want to be walking far in them.

Take a look at road bike pedals.

MTB PEDALS

shimano-m520-spd-pedals

Mountain bike pedals, or SPDs, are much smaller. Designed for off road riding, they’re super quick to clip out of, and the cleats don’t collect mud like road options do.  The other benefit to MTB pedals is that the clear is recessed into the shoe – so you can walk as normal.

MTB pedals are a really popular option amongst commuters for the reasons above.

Take a look at MTB pedals.

Best of both worlds – Double sided or Clik’r pedals

shimano-mt50-clickr-pedal

A fantastic option for commuters, double sided pedals usually allow you to clip in on one side, or use a flat pedal on the other. The Clik’r from Shimano has a clip in SPD within a flat pedal, offering both the ease and security of flats, plus the extra power of a clipless pedal.

 What pedals do you use?

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31 Responses to Choosing the right pedals for you

  1. Jane 20/05/2014 at 7:16 am #

    I love my MTB clipless pedals but have abandoned the ones on my road bike as my ankles are just not strong enough to get my feet out of the much firmer cleats on a reliable basis.

    • Gordon 20/05/2014 at 5:08 pm #

      you can use spd’s with your road bike, you don’t have to use spd sl’s.

      • SteveP 23/05/2014 at 11:12 am #

        And you do know the release force is adjustable? And that there are different cleats with differing release characteristics (for SPDs)

    • Cas Burke 23/05/2014 at 3:07 pm #

      Jane, you do know that you can adjust the fixing tension on SPD’s?
      Apologies if I’m teaching my grandmother how to suck eggs. :)

  2. MJ Ray 20/05/2014 at 8:00 am #

    The benefit of “pull” pedalling is a myth, isn’t it? Last study I saw concluded that it’s a tiny difference for few people. Compare that with all the injuries that clips and clipless pedals contribute to.

    The photo with the flat pedal section is a toothed pedal. Truly flat pedals like Vavert’s Commuter/Leisure or Raleigh rubber blocks are stickier without destroying soles. Give them a try.

  3. Nick 20/05/2014 at 9:13 am #

    @MJ Ray: Get onto a wattbike with both types of pedal, you will see a notable power difference between the 2 types of pedal and offer a smoother cadence which is better for longer distance riding, if there was no benefit to the pedals, then pro riders wouldn’t bother using them and the market for them would be dead.

    I personally think pedal straps and cages are a potential death trap, people at lights spend so much time fumbling to get into them that they lose concentration on the road and other road users, granted the same can be said of clipless pedals both MBK and Road varieties. I used to use Crank Bros Eggbeaters and Candy’s as you did really need to look at them to clip in to engage, but in the last few years I switched out to road pedals as I was doing a lot more sportives and road racing. I was on Time’s iClic system for about 9 months, but I was going through cleats every 3 months and going through pedals as well (I broke 3 pairs). It was in a shop when someone was telling me about the benefits of the Speedplay Zero’s, and since switching over to them, I can never look back. Yes the cleat is huge and kind of hard to walk in, but I’ve had the same pair of cleats on my shoes since I moved over 2 years ago and now all my bikes have speedplay pedals. They’re possibly the best pedals I have ever owned, and are easy to engage, you have 2 sides to clip into so you don’t have to fumble like you do with other road cleats, the power transfer is very much noticable as well, they’re like the Crank Bros pedal for the road market.

    • MJ Ray 26/05/2014 at 3:18 pm #

      @Nick – please reread and see that I didn’t say there was no benefit – I said it’s too small a difference to be worth the injuries seen in almost every cycling club from so-called “clipless moment” crashes. If you’re not a racer, it’s not worth it. It looks like the nearest Wattbikes are in private sports clubs 30 and 40 miles away from me (I’m at the far end of a London commuter train line) and non-members aren’t allowed to just turn up and try them, so I probably won’t do that any time soon unless someone knows an easier way to access them.

      @Jack – try a modern non-slip textured flat pedal. Never slipped, even in horrible thunderstorms.

      • Nick 27/05/2014 at 9:57 am #

        My mistake, I sadly moved away from an area which had watt bikes to be in an area where I could ride outside more, and I only started to use a proper bike computer after my move to road cleats. I would agree there does seem to be a very limited benefit to MBK cleats and a commuter shoe as these have a soft sole and all the pull is lost in the bottom of the shoe.

    • MJ Ray 26/05/2014 at 3:19 pm #

      Actually, maybe someone who has easier access to a Wattbike could share their clipped/flat power numbers?

  4. Jack 20/05/2014 at 9:51 am #

    Shimano A530 are a great option for people wanting a) a nice entry to clipless pedals and b) a double sided pedal so they can cycle without having to throw on cycling shoes every single time they want to go out. Also a great option if you’re having to get through busy traffic and therefore can’t be clipped in all the time.

    Having said that, I do agree that the difference is minimal in terms of performance, so it’s only really essential if you’re a pro. I personally think all the ‘all-the-gear-no-idea’ cyclists look a bit try-hard. That said, my main reason for sticking with clipless is for not losing my footing when sliding through pouring rain.

    • Russell Odom 24/05/2014 at 9:59 pm #

      I took a deep breath and went for SPDs about a year ago for my commuter bike. Like Jack I went for Shimano A530 pedals so I had choice of footwear, but in practice I never use the ‘flat’ side, as I have become hooked (so to speak) on how much more securely attached I feel with the SPDs.
      I’ve not yet had the dreaded ‘cleats moment’ – which I put down to using SH56 multi-release cleats. These detach with even the most panicky unplanned yank of the foot in pretty much any direction, but have almost never let go when I didn’t want to.
      I’ve also read articles about putting power in on the pull stroke being something of a myth – I can do it if I try but it’s hard to sustain for more than a quick sprint.
      Ooh and do take the time to get your cleats in a comfortable place! I found a ~1.5mm move outward was the difference between knee agony and comfort.

  5. tom 20/05/2014 at 12:09 pm #

    Toeclips for me, some of the advantages of clippy pedals, but without the massive disadvantage of having to wear special shoes.

  6. Tammela 20/05/2014 at 4:55 pm #

    I have flat pedals for commuting and MTB pedals on my road bike, though I’d like to upgrade to road pedals at some point. My partner and the more serious road cyclists he rides with use (and love) Speed Plays, which you didn’t mention here!

    • Gordon 20/05/2014 at 5:16 pm #

      speed plays are the worst pedals for road cycling, they have far to much movement in them, everyone I see using them look like they are struggling to sit properly or their knees are pointing out from the bike making it look like they would be more comfortable on a horse.

      • Nick 21/05/2014 at 9:11 am #

        So what you’re talking about is “float” which allows your foot to move and doesn’t put your foot in a fixed position locking your knees which causes long term damage… Ask anyone who used the old style non float pedals from the 80s and 90s.

        Granted you can have them to open which allows a lot of free float, but you can also have them very closed so you disengage at a lower angle, but then how often do most people adjust their bikes?

        I have 3 pairs of cycling shoes set up very differently (although a luxury for some). I have my winter set up which has a low gate so it’s quicker to get in and out of, my track set up which has a lot more float but the trap is a lot tighter, and my crit/sportive set up which has a little more float in both shoes. Although it’s really easy to adjust this with a philips screwdriver.

        • Gordon 21/05/2014 at 7:07 pm #

          I understand the term float, I use pd-m520 cheap mtb spd’s, and if the float is adjustable on speed play pedals, why does everyone I see using them have their knees 4ft apart with the weirdest looking pedaling technique.

        • Nick 21/05/2014 at 7:19 pm #

          That is nothing to do with the pedal, that’s not adjusting the saddle height after switching over to Speedplay pedals, so your leg isn’t extending correctly. The plate is a lot lower than most road pedals so it’s easy to miss.

          Although I can’t speak for everyone on Speedplay, but then I’ve had bike fit and can suggest it for everyone… although I was only a few mm off on most things personally but then I know how one should be set up on a bike, maybe it’s a comfort thing… who am I to judge!

        • Nick 21/05/2014 at 9:10 pm #

          Wait… WHAT?

  7. John Somers 20/05/2014 at 5:27 pm #

    Clip-less all the way….actually after decades of using toe clips, I do find it very difficult to ride a bike without my feet being “attached” to the pedals in one way or another…! :-o

    I migrated away from toe clips nearly a decade ago on a couple of bikes and now they all (x7) have them fitted and to keep the spares inventory and few specialist tools they are all the same Shimano PD-M520′s – great pedals very nearly indestructible and great value for money….they even come with a set of cleats for <£30 normally.

    Even on the road bikes have these pedals fitted and suit me and my cycling requirements down to the ground…and while there may be lighter, more expensive pedals around, I honestly haven't found a good enough reason to change them….I even have a "widget" to unscrew the plastic locking collars, so can (and do!!) even service them too…! :-D

  8. idavid 20/05/2014 at 7:30 pm #

    On the day I fitted my first pair of clipless I fell off five times, but not once since – so persevere.

    Years later I use Shimano double sided. It’s great to be able to just potter round on a decent bike in regular shoes, then lycra up when I feel more committed.

    Clipless are not only more efficient, but it’s truly a great feeling being a union with the bike.

    • Paul 22/05/2014 at 11:29 am #

      Double sided for me too, tried loads of different pedals but once I switched to double sided I stuck with them. Had them for 3 years, which is a big deal for someone who changes bike parts at least once a month.

  9. Austen 21/05/2014 at 7:40 am #

    I chose Ergon PC2 pedals for my hybrid. They’re big and to some look clunky but are comfortable, have a very effective non-slip surface and the reflectors are huge. I recommend them.

  10. Charles 21/05/2014 at 10:40 pm #

    I use MKS EZY pedals. I have two bikes (a Dahon folder for commuting and a Cube cyclocross for leisure) and two pairs of pedals – one is mountain bike style clip ins, although they use a proprietary cleat rather than a Shimano one, and the other pair is flat. The best thing about them is that you can easily swap the pedals between bikes in a matter of seconds so you have the right pedal for the occasion. They are quite pricey but worth every penny in my opinion.

  11. SteveP 23/05/2014 at 11:18 am #

    Clipless SPDs on all but my city bike. I tried straps and cages but for city use it’s just not worth it as I’m on and off the bike too much. If I commuted into the city with areas of less traffic I would use SPDs (and a bike with gears :-) Note that while you can walk fine with SPD cleated shoes, the metal cleats can damage indoor floors and also slide on things like Tube steps. You DO know they are there.

    There are many styles of SPD pedal. One of my favourites is the Shimano A530. It’s light, available in silver and black and has a flat platform on one side with SPD on the other. Often available for a mere £30 if you shop around.

    http://www.shimano.com/publish/content/global_cycle/en/us/index/products/pedals/road/product.-code-PD-A530.-type-pd_road.html

  12. Andrew Wilcox 23/05/2014 at 11:37 am #

    Currently on double sided Shimano’s as per last picture on my touring bike. They are great at helping me to propel myself 95 miles in a day from Bristol to New Alresford nr. Winchester. I definitely feel a performance benefit.

    I have the MTB pedals on my aluminium road bike.

    I have caged Shimano AX600 pedals on my Raleigh Road Ace because it was built like that in the 80s.. Looking out for shoes to fit and match the pedal flange.

    My hack has toe straps at the moment.

    My mountain backs have SPD or flats.

    I miss not being clipped in when on a flat pedal bike.

    My Specialized Tahoe shoes have lasted nearly 3 years, done 7,000 miles and several music festivals!

    Typo in MTB section:

    MTB pedals is that the clear is recessed into the shoe – so you can walk as normal.

    cleat methinks

  13. Phil 23/05/2014 at 2:35 pm #

    Flat pedals with pins for me: they aren’t perfect, but nothing is. I can live with a tiny bit of slipping, also the macho emphasis on ‘power’ makes me giggle. Personally, having tried clipless I wouldn’t bother again, I didn’t like being trapped at every stop, nor the hassle of clipping in again when the lights changed.

  14. Vid 23/05/2014 at 3:18 pm #

    Shimano PD-T780 XT MTB SPD Trekking Pedals.

    SDP on one side and flat on the reverse. Most importantly for me they have reflectors built in… a legal requirement at night. As a cyclist,motorcyclist,motorist and trucker catching a glimpse of pedal reflectors moving up and down on a bike with dim lights is a big help in avoiding any conflict.

  15. harvey t lyon 23/05/2014 at 4:10 pm #

    i am a touring rider, and i use rat-traps; i have cleats only on my triathlon bike. there is a proiduct made of leather which clips onto your pedal cage and is the equivalent of clipins. recent researh inidcates there’s very ltiile difference for mots riders in any of thes choices, but i tour in europe every year, and i want easy exit, easy walking, and rattraps are how i get that

  16. MJ Ray 26/05/2014 at 3:26 pm #

    Here’s some recent research on clipped-v-flat. As I understand it, clips allow a temporary power increase at the cost of efficiency: https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/abstract/10.1055/s-2008-1038374

  17. Rideon 26/05/2014 at 6:18 pm #

    Here’s a link to review at mtbr, very nice durable pedals for any type of riding with exception of gram counting roadies. Durable, well reviewed pedal is clipless as well as providing a solid platform for riding with non cleated footwear.
    http://www.mtbr.com/cat/drivetrain/pedal/shimano/pd-m647/prd_362878_135crx.aspx

    • SteveP 27/05/2014 at 6:37 am #

      These are under £50 in the UK. I have them on a MTB and they are fine. Just note if you ride without cleats or very stiff-soled shoes, you can feel the mechanism through the sole (there is no plain side).

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