Types Of Bike Pedals: Every Type Explained

One of the most critical points of contact you have with your bike is the pedals.

You can put an incredible amount of power into them, but they also give you valuable feedback from the surface you are riding on. Therefore, you should carefully consider what pedals you fit to your bike.

There are different types of bike pedals available for pretty much any type of bike, but all types of bike pedals have varying characteristics.

So what does each type offer in terms of your experience on the bike?

In this article, we’ll be covering:

  • Clip-In Pedals Vs Flat Pedals
  • Understanding ‘Float’ And Cleats
  • Choosing The Right Clipless Pedals For Road Bikes
  • Finding The Right Clipless Pedals For Mountain Bikes
  • Flat Pedals In Detail

Ready to dive into the details of different types of bike pedals?

Let’s jump in!

Types Of Bike Pedal Title Image

Clip-in Pedals vs. Flat Pedals

At the top level, there are two types of bike pedals: clip-in and flat pedals. They are also known as clipless pedals (yes, we know that’s confusing!) and platform pedals, respectively.

Flat pedals are pretty simple. These don’t have any mechanisms, so you can use them with any type of shoe. You will see flat pedals on BMX bikes, dirt jump bikes, various mountain bikes, and commuters.

You can get different kinds of flat pedals to better suit your chosen discipline. For example, downhill or enduro flat pedals are wide with longer pins to give your shoes more grip.

But why choose between clipless and flat pedals?

Clipless pedals provide more efficient pedaling. As the pedal is attached to the cycling shoe, you can use the upstroke as well as the downstroke, which is the advantage they have over flat pedals, along with a smoother pedal stroke.

However, many mountain bikers and BMX riders prefer flat pedals as they allow you to dab a foot down on tricky corners or jump off the bike quickly if you get into trouble.

A group of road cyclists on a sunny day.

Understanding ‘Float’ And Cleats

Float

There are a few different designs of clipless bike pedals, but most of them are designed to enable ‘float’. Float is the amount the pedal will allow your foot to pivot horizontally while clipped in.

Float allows your foot to move slightly from side to side and your knee to flex as you pedal. This helps to prevent strain and injury to your knees. So if you have issues with your knees, it would be best to look for pedals that allow lots of float. Most clipless pedals allow you to adjust the float according to your needs.

Cleats

Your clip-in bike shoes have cleats: pieces of plastic or metal attached to the soles. The cleats engage with the pedal’s mechanism, holding your foot in place.

Most clipless bike pedals only have this mechanism on one side to save weight. This makes them tricky to use for beginners, as you often need to spin the pedal round to clip in.

There are two main types of clip-in pedals corresponding to the type of cleats you have on your cycling shoes. These will either be three-bolt or two-bolt cleats.

You get a much stronger connection from three-bolt clipless pedals, which also provide excellent power transfer. However, the shoes are difficult to walk around in. You’ll usually find these types of bike pedals on road bikes.

If you prefer to be clipped in on your mountain bike, you will probably have two-bolt cleats. This system makes walking easy, and you’ll find clipping in and out easier too, which is more important for mountain bikers.

Remember, if you go clipless, you’ll need to ensure that your pedals and shoes are compatible!

Types Of Bike Pedals: Every Type Explained 1

Choosing The Right Clipless Pedals For Road Bikes

When choosing the right clipless pedals for your road bike, you will want to consider how heavy they are, their level of engagement and how much float they have.

You’ll usually get new cleats to fit your shoes when you buy new pedals. Some cleats are compatible with multiple brands, while others are not. You’ll need to check this if you want to use one pair of shoes with pedals from multiple manufacturers.

Cleats gradually wear out over time, making them easier to clip in and out of your pedals. However, you’ll need to replace them when they become too easy to use, as they will eventually stop engaging with your pedals altogether.

A Closer Look At Clipless Road Bike Pedals

Most clipless pedals disengage by simply twisting your heel. These types of bike pedals commonly have some level of adjustment, which makes clipping in and out much more manageable. This is especially important when you are still getting to grips with being clipped in.

Road bike cleats are typically made from resin rather than metal and have a wide surface. The large size gives you a large surface area for lots of power transfer and stiffness.

Some high-end pedals use carbon fiber to save weight, but you need to be prepared to pay more for these.

There are a few subtle differences between clipless road-bike pedal brands. The differences mainly lie in their price points, the shoe-pedal interface, float, and stability. Here is a rundown of the three most common manufacturers:

#1. Look

Look is the oldest manufacturer of clipless pedals and released their pedals onto the market in 1983. Look has evolved and refined their products, but they still function in a similar way to their original designs.

Look’s cleat-and-binding system is called Keo, and is available in two styles. The standard Keo uses a spring mechanism to secure the cleat, while the Keo Blade utilizes a carbon leaf spring, which is over 95g lighter than the standard version.

You can choose between three different types of cleats when you choose the Keo. Each one has a different level of float.

#2. Shimano

Shimano is a well-known brand in the cycling world and makes some excellent products. Their SPD-SL pedals are probably the most popular clipless pedals for road bikes.

These pedals work incredibly well, are robust, reliable, and don’t cost the earth. There are many different levels of the SPD-SL, depending on your budget.

Shimano offers a choice of cleats, so you can opt for your preferred amount of float. All of the cleats available from Shimano are adjustable, so you can fine-tune them to suit you perfectly.

#3. Time

Time is a French company specializing in carbon fiber bikes and components. Riders tend to appreciate Time pedals’ low weight and stable cleat platform.

Time has an expansive range of pedals, exceeding most manufacturers, but their exotic materials mean they’re not the cheapest.

Types Of Bike Pedals: Every Type Explained 2

Finding The Right Clipless Pedals For Mountain Bikes

Mountain bikers who choose to ride with clipless pedals like being able to put extra energy into the pedals, making those quick bursts for climbing easier.

In addition to this, clipless mountain bike pedals provide more security when riding rugged terrain.

A Closer Look At Clipless Mountain Bike Pedals

Similar to clipless road bike pedals, you will want to look into lightweight pedals and how easy they are to clip in and out of. However, it’s crucial to see how well they clear mud.

A pedal caked in mud becomes heavier and difficult to clip in and out of. This is where minimalist clipless mountain bike pedals are advantageous.

Some clipless mountain bike pedals have a cage or platform around the pedal mechanism. These are usually made from aluminum or resin, and they provide a larger surface to pedal from. They also protect the pedal from rock strikes and when you bash it into tree roots.

The extra surface area is also great for when you can’t clip in fast enough, as you still have a platform to pedal from even when not clipped in.

The most popular clipless mountain bike pedals are made by Crank Brothers, Time, Look, and Shimano. You’ll find that most mountain bikers who ride clipless use Shimano’s SPD system. These pedals use an adjustable spring, have durable cleats and high-quality bearings.

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Flat Pedals In Detail

Not everyone likes the idea of being attached to their bike by their feet. Even though clipless pedals have their advantages, these types of bike pedals can be nerve-racking to use, especially for new mountain bikers.

Some disciplines of mountain biking require you to quickly remove your foot from the pedal. If you don’t feel confident that you can do it in time, flat pedals are the best option.

In addition to this, if you are a dirt jumper, downhiller, or freerider, there will be times when you want to get as far away from the bike as possible. Being able to throw your bike away mid-air will reduce the likelihood of it landing on you, or you landing on it!

Neither is a pleasant experience.

Flat pedals are extremely tough and usually made from metal, but you can also buy pedals made from a strong resin.

To give you lots of grip, flat pedals have pins or spikes screwed into them. The pins work best with proper mountain bike shoes with soft rubber soles. The shoes are flat, similar to skate shoes, but they are much tougher and provide an element of shock absorption.

When you ride these types of bike pedals with proper mountain bike shoes, you feel very secure – almost glued to the pedals. In fact, once your feet are on the pedals, you will find it difficult to twist your feet to change position.

You can buy flat pedals to suit all budgets. More expensive flat pedals use titanium or magnesium. These types of bike pedals can also have titanium spindles to reduce weight and to allow them to spin faster.

Most good flat mountain bike pedals have replaceable pins, so you can buy new ones when the old ones get worn or broken. The higher-end flat mountain bike pedals can be serviced to extend their lives. You can lubricate them via grease ports and even replace the bearings. This makes paying the extra money easier to swallow.

Flat pedals for BMX and mountain bikes look pretty similar. However, they have different-sized axles, so they’re not interchangeable.

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Get Pedaling!

Now you know about all the different types of bike pedals, it’s time to put them to use in your own cycling!

Finding the right pedal setup for you can have a transformative effect on your riding, but can also take some getting used to – especially if you’re going from platforms to clipless for the first time.

But we promise you, taking the extra effort to find the setup that works for you is worth the extra effort!

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One of BikeTips' regular content creators, Tom lives in the French Alps. When he isn't writing, he can be found charging downhill on a mountain bike or snowboard. Tom's other passion is fitness, which goes a long way to help him make the most of the Alpine lifestyle.

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