Some cyclists swear by flat pedals, most are stuck on clipless pedals (literally). Both sides of the pedal divide suffer from serious misinformation. This article will set out the truth about all types of bike pedals objectively. By the end, you will make better decisions about your choices.
Types and Comparison of Bike Pedals
There are three major types of bike pedals. These are platform or flat pedals, clip pedals, and clipless pedals.
These are the most basic type of pedal. Platform pedals are wide and flat, which makes them suitable for use by any kind of shoe. They appear on BMX bikes, urban bikes, recreation bikes, and some mountain bikes.
Platform pedals maximize power transfer by having more rigidity, better bearings, and better traction. That means that the shoe has to remain in close contact with the pedal as much as possible.
While this is not a problem with casual riding, mountain bikes require maximum power transfer. That is why flat pedals for MTB have spikes or pins on them to offer better traction. By wearing a soft rubber-soled shoe, contact is assured even in wet and muddy conditions.
The reason why platform pedals are so popular is that they allow the rider to react instantly and put a foot down in case of falls or accidents. That is why MTB riders love them because sometimes they might have to bail from their bikes instantly.
The other type of platform pedals is commuter and BMX pedals. Commuter pedals are simpler and designed for comfort. The latter are made for strength and durability.
Clip pedals have a toe clip into which you slip the shoe. A strap is then used to secure the foot. This way, you don’t need to have special shoes to use them. On the flip side, they are very dangerous if you have to put your foot down at a moment’s notice. Clip pedals are now outdated on all but indoor exercise bikes.
Clipless pedals represent the most advanced technology in bike pedals. Used in conjunction with special cycling shoes called cleats, they allow the rider to quickly and efficiently attach the shoe to the pedal.
Unlike clip pedals, this mechanical attachment is easy to undo in case of emergencies. Their main advantage, however, is a perceived increase in pedaling efficiency.
I say ‘perceived’ because the jury is still out on whether pulling on the upstroke contributes to improved power. However, it is indisputable that they lead to less mental and physical fatigue if used by a rider with good form.
Be that as it may, clipless pedals are high performance, and involve a learning curve for beginners. There is still a very real danger of falling over if the rider is not used to clipping in and out with fast reflexes.
It can typically take about 60 or more trials and constant practice to generate the muscle memory to do that. However, once it becomes second nature, clipless pedals can vastly improve a rider’s form.
Road Bike Clipless Pedals
These pedals are designed to offer maximum power transfer, increased security, and better efficiency. Since there is usually less need for fast clip outs and ruggedness, these are made to be more lightweight.
Road bike pedals will have 3 or 4 hole cleats for a more secure binding system. They are also wider for better stability and come with increased float angles—more about float below.
Because of a larger cleat, there is better power transfer to the drivetrain. However, this also makes shoes designed for road bike pedals more challenging to walk in.
MTB Clipless Pedals
MTB clipless pedals have different priorities in comparison. They have to be stronger, shed mud more efficiently, and allow better walking for when riders have to lug their bikes over rough terrain. More importantly, the rider has to be able to clip out in a moment’s notice.
This is why MTB pedals are smaller in size. They utilize two-hole cleats with multiple clip-out methods. This way, they shed mud more efficiently and allow easy clip outs.
They are also more robust because they have to endure rock strikes, falls, and other harsh treatment on the trail. More commuter cyclists are choosing MTB pedals because their shoes are easier to walk in.
Major Brands of Bike Pedals
Since clipless pedals are the most sensitive to brand quality and design, I will walk you through the best of them.
As the first manufacturer to mass-produce clipless pedals, Look naturally has crafted a loyal following with consistently ground-breaking designs and impeccable quality.
Look’s first design, called the Delta cleat, was a hit for more than 20 years since 1983. It was later modified and improved in its successor, the Look Keo.
The Look Keo comes in two designs. The regular Keo holds the cleat in place using a stiff spring, while the Keo Blade uses a carbon leaf spring instead. The latter saves more on weight, but performance is the same.
Short for Shimano Pedalling Dynamics, SPDs are the undisputed favorites among professional and amateur cyclists alike. Shimano released the original SPD in 1990, which was unique in that the cleat fitted in a small recess in the sole of a Shimano SPD shoe.
Shimano has different styles of SPDs. They are not always inter-compatible, especially between road-style and MTB-style SPDs. The former are usually black single-release cleats, while the latter are silver multi-release versions for increased MTB safety.
SPDs also vary in quality and price. Entry-level SPDs are some of the most affordable on the market, without too significant a lag in performance. That is why they are so popular. High-end models designed for pros can feature carbon fiber construction, weight-relieved bearings, and other hi-tech features.
Time is a French manufacturer, more famous for its XPro and Xpresso models. With more than 20 years in clipless pedal design and manufacture, Time is one of the industry leaders.
Time clipless pedals are popular for their low stack height, which is kept to a constant 13.5mm. Stack height refers to the height between the center of the pedal axle and the top of the cleat. They are also incredibly lightweight and are thus favored by professional cyclists.
Like Shimano, Time also has a large catalog of pedals for better freedom of choice. The XPro has three iterations, while the Xpresso has seven. The XPros is the latest design with a large surface area for better power transfer.
Speedplay is an American company with a completely different approach. For one, it uses a four-bolt system even though it is compatible with 3-bolt shoes. Second, it houses its springs within the cleat itself.
This design offers Speedplay cleats the distinct advantage of double-sided entry without sacrificing on cornering clearance. They are also extremely lightweight, thanks to their minimalist design. The lightest so far weighs a paltry 130g.
Clipless Pedals Terminology
So far, I have used a few terms that can be confusing to the uninitiated. Two more present themselves: spindle length and float.
Stack length refers to the distance between the center of the pedal axle and the top of the cleat. Stack height has two essential functions.
The first is that a lower stack height gives you more cornering distance so that your pedals don’t touch the ground. Secondly, they can help with increased power transfer due to the less material between the shoe and the pedal. That works, at least in theory.
Of course, a lower stack height also translates to a lighter pedal, which can mean a lot in high-performance cycling.
Also known as the pedal length or the stance width, the spindle length is the distance between the pedal surface and the crank arm. While short spindle lengths help with better cornering, it results in less efficient power transfer and is more brutal on the knees.
You can buy pedals with a longer spindle length as needed. These can help with patellar tracking, a condition in which the knee cap (patella) shifts too far forward. Patellar tracking is caused by improper form when cycling and typically feels as if your knee is buckling under you.
Float is the degree of freedom that clipless pedals allow for lateral movement before releasing the cleat. It ranges from zero degree or fixed pedals, to more than 150 of float.
More float gives your legs the freedom to change your stance, which in turn protects your knees. Time pedals have the biggest range of float, although Shmano’s SPDs also have a wide variation.
Taking Care of Your Pedals
Like any other part of your bicycle, all types of pedals require proper care and maintenance. For pedals, this involves regular cleaning and greasing.
Clipless pedals are more susceptible to wear than platforms. When clipping in and out starts to feel strange, it’s time to examine and possibly replace them. If you notice excessive wear, replace them.
Some pedals come with a small port that allows greasing without having to dismantle them. For most others, however, you have to take the tools out to lubricate them from the inside.
5 Tips On How to Choose and Use Bike Pedals
- Make sure to practice on your clipless pedals before you go out on the road. Nothing is more embarrassing than topping in full view of your riding buddies.
- You don’t have to spend hundreds on high-performance pedals. Not only will you waste your money with no tangible improvements, but you will also look more like a Fred (or Doris).
- If you’re a beginner, use platform pedals for at least 1 or 2 years. They will help you develop natural form so that when you graduate to clipless pedals you will just improve the existing form.
- Take your time when choosing your cycling cleats. The shoes play an even more significant role than the pedals, so get that right.
- Take proper care of your pedals. You don’t want your cleats stuck right when you have to disengage.
Which are better: platform or clipless pedal?
The consensus on this long-standing debate has not been reached yet. However, clipless pedals are better on road bikes and performance cycling, while platforms are suitable for MTB and BMX due to better security.
What pedals to professional cyclists use?
Most pros use different models of Shimano or Look pedals.
Is it good to have more float on clipless pedals?
Yes. The twisting action of cycling stresses the knees, and more float allows you to change your stance at will. Some pedals also have an adjustable float.
Do all pedals fit all bikes?
There are two standards, namely 15mm ad 9/16 pedals. The former will fit every bike, but 9/16 pedals only fit 9/16 cranks. If the size is not stated explicitly, it’s more likely to be a 15mm.
How do I choose my bike pedal?
That depends on what kind of cycling you do as well as on personal preferences. If you mostly do road biking, you may prefer wide-body pedals like Shimano SPD-SLs.
Pedals have come a long way since the days of the penny-farthing. They are one of the most critical parts of any bicycle when it comes to performance. Even then, they have seen little change in design since invention.
Thanks to the different types of cycling disciplines and the need for better performance, various types of pedals exist. Clip-on pedals arose from a desire to have better foot security on the pedal, but they were dangerous because riders could not disengage the foot in time.
Clipless pedals followed suit, which only became sensations in the ‘80s when they first helped win races. Designed by Look, clipless pedals are now a staple of performance riding.
All the while, platform pedals have remained mostly unchanged. Their design has remained constant, with just a few improvements.
Proper cycling starts with having the right gear. After that, you need to work on your form and technique. Now you know everything you need to choose the right bike pedals.
This in-depth information on bike pedals will help you more in the use and functionality of each type. That way, you can expect to at least double your profit and performance with the tips gained here.