Ever thought about how crucial bicycle pedals really are? They’re a critical part of a drivetrain that most people tend to overlook. Pedals are the platforms that screw onto your crank arms and help you put down power through the chain and to the rear wheel. Properly suited pedals will help you generate maximum power in the most efficient manner possible.
Pedals are your first point of contact on a bicycle so it’s important for you to know how to choose the right ones. The right bicycle pedals matched to your riding style will help you get the most out of your bike.
Pedals can be of various categories – clip-in (clipless), flats (platform) and Toe clips.
1. CLIPLESS PEDALS
These types of pedals have to be used in conjunction with “cycling shoes” that have cleats underneath them. These cleats mechanically attach your feet to the pedals. This system allows for efficient peddling and easier power transfer. It’s also safer as your feet cannot come undone from the pedals over bumps, or jumps in the case of mountain bikers. Clipless pedals are confusingly named so, as your feet are actually clipped in.
A cleat is basically a piece of metal that is attached to the sole of your shoe (comes with the cycling shoes). It slots into a mechanism on the pedal to hold your feet in place. Now within the clipless world, you’ve got mainly two types of pedal styles to choose from, the 2-hole and the 3-hole types. The 2-hole is most commonly used for MTB’s and the 3-hole are used for road bikes.
The 3-hole clipless pedals make a stronger connection between the pedal and the rider’s shoe. Prioritizing power transfer over practicality and comfort for walking. Great for road bikers!
The 2-hole clipless pedal cleats are embedded into the sole. This means you can walk a lot more comfortably off the bike. 2-hole systems are also a little easier to clip in and out of as there is less resistance in the system. Perfect for mountain biking, touring or randonneuring where walking is an important part of your ride.
These pedals come with a slight learning curve as learning how to “unclip” is important to prevent a fall from not knowing how to unclip in time. Unclipping involves twisting your feet away, heel first, from the pedals. Clipless systems provide the best use of all the input power and efficiently generate power at each pedal stroke, even when the pedal travels to top dead center.
2. FLAT / PLATFORM PEDALS
These pedals are the most common and are usually found on BMXs, Mountain bikes and hybrids. These are the easiest type of pedals to use; they require no technical expertise to set up or use. You just put your foot on and off the pedals without the interference of any mechanism. Platform pedals only propel the bike when the pedal is pushed down, whereas clipless pedals allow you to have a power transfer throughout the up and down pedal strokes.
The idea of being glued to the pedal does not appeal to all riders, especially not to those involved in cycling disciplines where quick placement and removal of the foot is essential – namely downhill riding, dirt jumping and BMX riding.
3. TOE CLIPS
They attach your foot to the pedal via a plastic or metallic cage and strap. They allow you to pull up with your foot in the pedal stroke as well as push down (Similar to being clipped in). With the addition of an adjustable strap that loops through the top and bottom of the clip, you have a basic retention system that is lightweight and durable.
They help put down more power through the pedal than flat pedals but are not as committed as being clipped in. Now considered a largely primitive and less popular alternative to clipless pedals, toe clip pedals allow your foot to be attached to the bike without the need for special cycling shoes.
They can be a bit finicky to get in and out of, especially in urban stop-and-go situations.
1. PEDAL STACK
The stack of a pedal refers to the thickness of the contact surface. Riders choose their stack according to their riding style and natural knee and ankle flex. Most riders prefer shorter stacks as it is comfortable.
2. PEDAL FLOAT
Float is basically the degree to which the pedal allows the foot to pivot along the horizontal plane whilst engaged to the pedals. This ability of the foot to move from one side to another while clipped in, allows the knee to flex during each pedal stroke, this is essential to avoid strain and injury to this sensitive joint.
3. SPINDLE LENGTH
This refers to the length of the protruding threaded axle that attaches to the crank arm. It is the distance between the pedal body and the crank arm.
ROAD CLIPLESS PEDALS
Road bike pedals use a cleat that protrudes from the shoe and engages usually on only one side of the pedal to reduce the weight of a second attachment mechanism. Road cleats are often made of resin as opposed to metal (weight savings) and have a large surface area, giving a greater contact patch with the pedal for improved stiffness and power transfer. Remember, road cycling is all about endurance and efficiency.
When choosing the right road pedal for you, your main considerations will usually be their weight, engagement points, and how much float they have to offer.
It’s worth noting that clipless pedals generally come supplied with new cleats, and while some manufacturers’ cleats are compatible with other brands of pedals, many are not. Always check compatibility before you buy, if you intend to use a single set of cleats with pedals from different brands.
Shimano’s SPD (Shimano Pedalling Dynamics) clipless pedal system has been a popular choice among all levels of riders, with its robust mechanism offering at a reasonable price point.
MTB CLIPLESS PEDALS
MTB cleats sit into a recess on the sole of your shoe, enabling the rider to walk while still wearing cycling shoes; an important inclusion, especially since trails riders often have to get off their bikes and hike up certain sections of trails.
MTB riders also prefer to have the ability to have more float as technical riding requires more positional changes on the pedal itself.
MTB FLAT PEDALS
Flat pedals have tough metal platforms with multiple spikes or pins on them for extra grip. Platform pedals are a lot simpler to use and ride with. Old-timers prefer these types of pedals for this sole purpose. They are typically used in conjunction with sneakers, the soft rubber sole of which enables the rider to feel ‘stapled’ to the pedal.
BMX pedals are simplistic components designed to take plenty of abuse and are often fairly heavy. Many of them run a single bearing and bushing with only 7-10 gripper pins on the platform. They are often made of plastic as BMXs tend to fall over hard a lot of times. It is more economical to replace plastic pedals once they break than to replace alloy pedals.
Pedals with a metal body typically offer better grip than plastic pedals, but they are generally more expensive and heavier.
As with most parts on your bike, maintenance is key for smooth functioning and the more you use your clipless pedals the more likely they are to wear out, like with pretty much any component.
There are many clipless pedal spares available from seals and bearings to keep your pedals running as smoothly as the day you bought them. Keep the bearings clear of moisture and grease the bearings so that they operate with minimal wear and tear. As for the cleat attachment, keep them clear of debris.
Pedal bearings come closer to the ground than compared to any other bicycle component, which is why you must take good care of them. They should be serviced regularly, and especially if the bicycle is used in winter or in wet weather. This is because it is more exposed to muck and moisture during these times.
Pedals with screw-on dust caps commonly fail because a dust cap can very easily have fallen off, allowing dirt into the outer bearing. Check the tightness of dust caps, if a dust cap is missing, take the pedal off the bike right away, before the bearing is damaged.
Many pedals are rebuildable; cheap ones are often not. Pedals may use special bearing parts which are usually only available through the manufacturer.
The right kind of pedals will hugely improve your riding and you must do your research before you invest in a pair of pedals for your bike. As a rule of thumb always throw out the stock pedals on your road bike and replace them with clipless pedals as riding flats on a road bike has literally no advantages.
However, If you’re on an MTB, your riding style will determine your pedal preferences and whether you’re comfortable with being clipped in or not. Both systems have their pros and cons in each discipline and there is no clear winner here, unless of course if you’re a road cyclist.
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WHAT I LOVE ABOUT CYCLING
I’m an avid mountain biker and I like riding fast and flowy singletrack. As I keep riding, I continuously work on honing my riding skills. I like to ride whenever possible, especially with friends. I also like to influence folk into getting to ride more often.
Working on bicycles has also been a keen interest of mine for quite some time.
DISCIPLINE: Mountain biking and Road biking
CURRENT BIKE: RockRider 5.3 & Specialized Allez Elite DSW
DREAM BIKE: Santa Cruz 5010