Components

Pedals buying guide

Category: Components

Modern bike pedals are a sophisticated component, but with different pedal systems, such as SPD, Speedway, SPD-SL, and platform, you’ll need to know which pedal best suits your biking style.

At the top level, pedals divide into two camps – clip-in (also called clipless) and flats (also called platform).

Clip-in pedals largely divide into two more camps, those for three-bolt cleats and those for two-bolt cleats. A cleat is piece of plastic or metal which is attached to the sole of your shoe. It slots into a mechanism on the pedal to hold your shoe in place.  

Flat pedals, thankfully, are pretty simple; just put your foot on them and go. They’re mainly used for BMX, dirt jumping, downhill racing, and freeride. 

Three-bolt clipless pedals make a stronger connection between pedal and shoe. Prioritising power transfer over practicality (such as walking around when off the bike), they are generally used on road bikes.

Mountain bike (MTB) clipless systems tend to rely on the two-bolt cleat, which is embedded into the sole. This means you can walk normally off the bike. Two-bolt systems are also a little easier to clip in and out off, as MTB riders will usually stop with a little more frequency. 

Bike pedals at a glance: 

  • The two most common types of pedals are clipless (or clip-in) and flat
  • Clipless pedals require cleats, which are attached to the shoe and snap into the pedal
  • There are various clip-in pedal systems, including Shimano’s SPD, SPD-SL, Speedway, and Crank Brothers

If you don’t want to read our in-depth guide on pedals, you can go directly to the relevant product pages via the links below:

Shop road clipless pedals

Shop MTB clipless pedals

Shop flat pedals

Shop BMX pedals

Shop clipless pedal spares

Shop flat pedal spares

Let’s look into each pedal type in a bit more detail, along with the spares available. Learn more about each pedal type:

Road clipless pedals
MTB clipless pedals
Flat pedals
BMX pedals
Clipless pedal spares
Flat pedal spares


Road clipless pedals are favoured by road cyclists for their increased efficiency. Because the pedal is attached to the shoe, energy is transferred during the up-stroke as well as the down-stroke. As platform pedals only propel the bike when pushed down, clipless pedals provide further forward momentum when being pulled up. The end result is improved speed, a smoother pedal stroke, and better energy efficiency.


Which road clipless pedal is right for you?


When choosing the right road pedal for you, the main considerations will generally be their weight, level of engagement, and how much float they offer.

It’s worth noting cleats generally come supplied with new pedals, and while some manufacturers’ cleats are compatible with other brands of pedal, many are not. Check before you buy if you intend to use a single set of shoes with pedals from multiple makers. All cleats will become worn with use, which can actually improve their ability to engage and disengage with the pedal, making it easier to clip in and out. Eventually, however, they will wear too much to effectively bind with the mechanism and will have to be replaced.


Road clipless pedals: in-depth


Most pedals disengage with a simple twist of the heel. Most models feature a level of adjustment called float that allows you to back off the tension, making disengagement easier, especially during the ‘getting to know you’ period.

Float
While the design of clipless pedals varies (see below), one important concept common to the majority is float, or the degree to which the pedal design allows the foot to pivot on the horizontal plane while engaged on the pedals.

This ability of the foot to move from side to side while clipped in allows the knee to flex during the pedal stroke, essential to avoid strain and injury to this sensitive joint. Riders with sensitive knees or past injuries should seek out pedals that have a wide degree of lateral float – Time and Speedway pedals, for example, have a good reputation for this.

Cleats
Road bike pedals use a cleat that protrudes from the shoe and engages on only one side of the pedal to save the weight of a second binding mechanism (some pedals aimed at commuters or those new to clipless feature a ‘normal’ pedaling platform on one side and a binding mechanism on the other, but in practice these can be difficult to use). Road cleats are often made of resin as opposed to metal and have a large surface, giving a greater contact area with the pedal for improved stiffness and power transfer.

More expensive models of road pedal will make use of exotic materials, particularly carbon fibre on top-end road pedals, in order to shave weight.


Common types of road clipless pedal


Here’s a sample of some of the common types of clipless pedal/cleat systems, according to manufacturer:

Shimano

Shimano Clipless pedal

Shimano’s SPD (Shimano Pedalling Dynamics) clipless pedal system is popular among all levels of riders, with its budget offerings meaning SPDs are often the first clipless experience for many. In fact the term ‘SPD’ has become an alternative generic name for clipless pedals. SPDs are available at a large range of price points and have a good reputation as durable and reliable products that are also easily serviceable by mechanically-minded riders.

Some pedals made by other manufacturers including Ritchey are broadly similar in design and functionality to SPDs, with compatible cleats.

Shop Shimano Pedals at Chain Reaction Cycles

Time

Time clipless pedal

Time pedals use two parallel sprung bars to grab the cleat. They are also popular with a large cross-section of riders who praise their large degree of lateral float.

Shop Time clipless pedals at Chain Reaction Cycles

Look

Look clipless pedal

French company Look were the originator of the clipless pedal idea having initially been a manufacturer of ski bindings. Their pedals, especially models with lightweight carbon fibre cages, remain hugely popular among the road riding fraternity.

Shop Look clipless pedals at Chain Reaction Cycles

Speedplay
Speedplay clipless pedals

Speedplay pedals have soared in popularity due to their huge range of float, offering 0 to 15° of freedom that can be fine-tuned to ensure you get the correct pedal stroke and avoid strain on your knees. They also offer dual-sided cleat engagement, light-weight materials, and superb power transfer for a professional-level performance.

Shop Speedplay clipless pedals at Chain Reaction Cycles

Shop road clipless pedals


Mountain bike clipless pedals are favoured by mountain bike riders for the energy advantages that they provide. Because the pedal is attached to the shoe, energy is also transferred during the up-stroke of the pedal as well as the down-stroke. Whereas platform pedals only propel the bike when pushed down, clipless pedals provide further forward momentum when being pulled up. The end result is improved speed, a smoother pedal stroke and better energy efficiency.


Which MTB clipless pedal is right for you?


When choosing the right mountain bike pedal for you, the main considerations will generally be their weight, level of engagement, mud-shedding properties and how much float they offer.

Pedals that quickly become clogged with muck make it difficult for riders to clip in and out quickly, so manufacturers have come up with various designs promising to clear mud quickly, among them the ultra-minimalist Eggbeater pedals made by Crank Brothers.

Some MTB clipless pedals may also feature the addition of a cage or platform surrounding the binding mechanism. Made of resin or aluminium, this kind of hybrid platform pedal promises a larger pedaling surface for extra stability, protects the pedal from trail impacts and can get riders out of tricky technical situations when they can’t get clipped in in time, but they do add extra weight so are not the cross-country racers’ choice.

It’s worth noting that cleats generally come supplied with new pedals, and while some manufacturers’ cleats are compatible with other brands of pedal, many are not. Check before you buy if you intend to use a single set of shoes with pedals from multiple makers. All cleats will become worn with use, which can actually improve their ability to engage and disengage with the pedal, making it easier to clip in and out. Eventually, however, they will wear too much to effectively bind with the mechanism and will have to be replaced.


MTB clipless pedals: in-depth


Most pedals disengage with a simple twist of the heel, and most models will also feature a level of adjustment that allows newcomers to back off the tension, making disengagement easier during the ‘getting to know you’ period.

Float
While the design of clipless pedals varies (see below), one important concept common to the majority is float, or the degree to which the pedal design allows angular rotation of the foot on the pedals.

This ability of the foot to move from side to side while clipped in allows the knee to flex during the pedal stroke, essential to avoid strain and injury to this sensitive joint. Riders with sensitive knees or past injuries should seek out pedals that have a good degree of lateral float – Time pedals, for example, have a good reputation for this.

Cleats
MTB cleats sit into a recess on the sole of the shoe, enabling the rider to walk while still wearing cycling shoes (an important consideration if your typical ride involves ‘hike-a-bike’ sections over rough terrain). Many MTB shoes, taking this into account, are effectively hiking boots with cleats attached.


Common types of MTB clipless pedal


Here’s a sample of some of the common types of clipless pedal/cleat systems, according to manufacturer:

Shimano

Shimano clipless pedal

Shimano’s SPD (Shimano Pedalling Dynamics) clipless pedal system is popular among all levels of riders, with its budget offerings meaning SPDs are often the first ‘clipless’ experience for many. In fact the term ‘SPD’ has become an alternative generic name for clipless pedals. SPDs are available at a large range of price points and have a good reputation as durable and reliable products that are also easily serviceable by mechanically-minded riders.

Some pedals made by other manufacturers including Ritchey are broadly similar in design and functionality to SPDs, with compatible cleats.

Shop Shimano MTB clipless pedals at Chain Reaction Cycles

Nukeproof

Nukeproof pedals offer the optimum balance of impact strength, fatigue resistance, low weight, and feature an all-new SPD cleat engagement. With input and influence from Nukeproof’s Pro team riders Matti Lehikoinen and Mike Jones, you can be sure your getting a platform that’s designed to win.

Shop Nukeproof MTB clipless pedals a Chain Reaction Cycles

Time

Time clipless pedal

Time pedals use two parallel sprung bars to grab the cleat. They are also popular with a large cross-section of riders who praise their mud-shedding abilities and large degree of lateral float.

Shop Time MTB clipless pedals at Chain Reaction Cycles

Look

Look clipless pedal

French company Look were the originator of the clipless pedal idea having initially been a manufacturer of ski bindings. Their pedals, especially models with lightweight carbon fibre cages, remain hugely popular among the road riding fraternity.

Shop Look MTB clipless pedals at Chain Reaction Cycles

Crank Brothers

Crank Brothers clipless pedal

The iconic Eggbeater pedal by Crank Brothers also uses sprung bar to catch cleats, with a four-sided engagement for ease of clipping in and out and a minimalist style giving mud little to cling to. Essentially a simple spindle with a binding mechanism, the Eggbeater works on the principle of the stiff-soled cycling shoe acting as the pedaling platform, rather than the pedal itself. They can also be fully rebuilt. Other Crank Brothers designs feature resin or aluminum cages surrounding the spindle for riders who prefer this style of pedal.

Shop Crank Brothers MTB clipless pedals at Chain Reaction Cycles

Shop MTB clipless pedals at Chain Reaction Cycles


The concept of being attached to the pedal does not appeal to all riders, and especially not to those cycling disciplines where quick placement and removal of the foot is essential – namely BMX, dirt jumping (DJ), downhill racing (DH) and freeride (FR).

Nukeproof Horizon pedal

Gravity riders and jump fans also appreciate the ability to quickly bail from a bike when something goes wrong. Flat pedals aimed at these riders are tough metal platforms with multiple spikes or pins for extra grip. There are typically used in conjunction with skate-style shoes, the soft rubber sole of which enables the rider to feel ‘glued’ to the pedal.

More expensive flat pedals will use exotic materials such as magnesium or titanium to shed weight; often feature replaceable spikes or ‘pins’ so new ones can be purchased when they become worn, and also carry other useful features such as grease ports to enable the bearings to be lubricated without the need for the pedal to be dismantled.

NOTE: Flat pedals for BMX riding and gravity MTB may look similar but due to the different sized axle standards used for each they are not interchangeable.

Shop flat pedals at Chain Reaction Cycles


BMX pedals are simplistic units designed for taking plenty of abuse, and are often fairly heavy. Many of them run a single bearing and bush with only 8-10 gripper pins on the platform.

Shop BMX pedals at Chain Reaction Cycles


As with most parts on your bike, maintenance is key and the more you use your clipless pedals the more likely they are to wear out. There are many clipless pedal spares available from seals and bearing kits to keep your pedals running as smoothly as the day you bought them.

Shop clipless pedal spares at Chain Reaction Cycles


As with most parts on your bike, maintenance is key and the more you use your flat pedals the more likely they are to wear out. There are many flat pedal spares available from pins to seals and bearing kits to keep your pedals running as smoothly as the day you bought them.

Shop Flat pedal spares at Chain Reaction Cycles

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