How to Choose Bike Pedals: A Beginner Guide

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So, you’ve got your shiny new bike and you’re ready to hit the road or trail. But there’s one important component that often gets overlooked: the pedals. Choosing the right bike pedals can greatly impact your comfort, control, and overall cycling experience.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced cyclist, this guide will help you navigate the world of bike pedals and find the perfect fit for your needs.

Types of Bike Pedals

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, let’s start by understanding the main types of bike pedals available:

Flat Pedals

Flat pedals, as the name suggests, have a wide platform that allows you to rest your feet on them without any additional attachments. Unlike clipless pedals, which require special shoes and cleats, flat pedals are compatible with any type of shoes. This makes them incredibly versatile and convenient, as you can easily get on and off the bike without any hassle.

flat pedals

The wide platform of flat pedals provides a stable base for your feet, and many models come with pins or teeth that grip the sole of your shoes, providing extra traction and preventing your feet from slipping off the pedals. This is especially beneficial when riding in wet or muddy conditions, as the grip ensures that your feet stay in place even when things get slippery.

The Pros and Cons of Flat Pedals

Like any cycling equipment, flat pedals have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a closer look at them:

Pros of Flat Pedals:

1. Easy to Use and Versatile: With flat pedals, you can simply hop on your bike and start pedaling. No need to worry about attaching or detaching your shoes from the pedals. Plus, you can wear any type of shoes you want, whether it’s sneakers, sandals, or even boots.

2. Good for Beginners and Learning New Skills: Flat pedals provide a sense of security and freedom, making them ideal for beginners who are still getting the hang of cycling. They also allow you to practice and improve your skills, such as bunny hops, manuals, and jumps, without the fear of being locked into the pedals.

3. Safer in Case of Crashes or Emergencies: With flat pedals, you can quickly and easily put your feet down to stabilize yourself or avoid a potential crash. This can be particularly helpful in off-road or technical terrain, where unexpected obstacles or sudden turns can catch you off guard.

Cons of Flat Pedals:

1. Less Efficient and Powerful than Clipless Pedals: Flat pedals rely on the strength of your legs alone to generate power and speed. Unlike clipless pedals, which allow you to pull up on the pedals as well as push down, flat pedals can be less efficient when it comes to transferring power to the bike.

2. Less Secure and Stable than Clipless Pedals: While flat pedals provide a good amount of grip with their pins or teeth, they may not offer the same level of security and stability as clipless pedals. Your feet are not attached to the pedals, which means there’s a higher chance of your feet slipping off or losing contact with the pedals, especially during high-intensity or technical riding.

3. Potential Foot Slippage or Pedal Strikes: Depending on the type of shoes you wear and the condition of the pins on the pedals, there’s a possibility of your feet slipping off the pedals, particularly when riding in wet or muddy conditions. Additionally, flat pedals tend to be bulkier and closer to the ground compared to clipless pedals, increasing the risk of pedal strikes on rough terrain.

Tips for Choosing Flat Pedals

Now that you know the pros and cons of flat pedals, let’s discuss some tips on how to choose the right ones for your riding style and preferences:

1. Consider the Size, Shape, and Weight: Flat pedals come in various sizes, shapes, and weights. Consider the size of your feet and choose pedals that provide enough surface area for a comfortable fit. The shape of the pedals can also affect how your feet sit on them, so choose a shape that suits your foot anatomy. Additionally, pay attention to the weight of the pedals, as lighter pedals can improve your overall riding experience.

2. Look for a Grippy Surface and Durable Pins: The grip of the pedals is crucial for keeping your feet securely in place. Look for pedals with a grippy surface, such as those with pins or teeth that provide excellent traction. Make sure the pins are durable and replaceable, as they can wear out over time.

3. Choose Pedals that Match Your Bike and Riding Style: Consider the type of bike you ride and the terrain you’ll be tackling. For example, if you’re into mountain biking or BMX, you may want to choose pedals that are more robust and durable to withstand rough trails and jumps. On the other hand, if you’re a casual rider or a commuter, you can opt for pedals that prioritize comfort and ease of use.

4. Try Different Pedals Before Buying: Pedals can have a significant impact on your riding experience, so it’s essential to try out different models before making a purchase. Visit your local bike shop or borrow pedals from fellow cyclists to get a feel for what works best for you. Trying out different pedals will help you determine the right size, shape, and grip that suits your feet and riding style.

Clipless Pedals

Contrary to their name, clipless pedals actually involve clipping in. These pedals have a mechanism that locks into a cleat attached to the bottom of your cycling shoes. This connection between your feet and the pedals allows you to pedal more efficiently and effectively, as it eliminates the risk of your feet slipping off the pedals.

clipless pedals

The Pros of Clipless Pedals

1. Increased Power Transfer: Clipless pedals provide a more efficient transfer of power from your legs to the pedals, allowing you to generate more speed and maintain a consistent cadence.

2. Enhanced Stability: With clipless pedals, your feet are securely fastened to the pedals, giving you greater stability and control over your bike. This is particularly beneficial when riding at high speeds or tackling challenging terrain.

3. Improved Bike Handling: The secure connection between your feet and the pedals enables you to manipulate your bike more easily, making tight turns, navigating obstacles, and climbing hills with greater precision.

4. Weight and Aerodynamics: Clipless pedals are generally lighter and more aerodynamic than their flat pedal counterparts, which can make a noticeable difference, especially when racing or attempting to improve your personal best.

The Cons of Clipless Pedals

1. Learning Curve: Using clipless pedals requires a bit of practice and coordination. Getting in and out of the pedals smoothly can take some time to master, and there may be a few wobbly moments and falls along the way.

2. Special Shoes and Cleats: To use clipless pedals, you’ll need cycling shoes with cleats that are compatible with your chosen pedal system. This means an additional investment in footwear, which may not be ideal for riders on a tight budget.

3. Comfort and Convenience: Clipless pedals can be less comfortable for short rides or when frequent stops and starts are required. The need to clip in and out each time you come to a halt can be a hassle, especially in heavy traffic or urban environments.

Choosing the Right Clipless Pedals

Now that you’re familiar with the pros and cons of clipless pedals, let’s discuss how to choose the perfect pair for your ride. Consider the following factors:

1. Pedal Type, Size, and Weight: There are various types of clipless pedals available, including road pedals, mountain bike pedals, and hybrid pedals. Decide which type suits your riding style and preferences. Pay attention to the size and weight of the pedals as well, as these can affect your overall cycling experience.

2. Mechanism Reliability and Ease of Use: Look for pedals with a reliable and user-friendly mechanism. You want a system that is easy to engage and disengage, ensuring a smooth and effortless transition between clipped-in and clipped-out positions.

3. Compatibility with Your Bike and Riding Style: Ensure that the clipless pedals you choose are compatible with your bike’s crankset and bottom bracket. Consider your riding style and terrain preferences, as different clipless pedals are designed for specific disciplines, such as road cycling, mountain biking, or gravel riding.

4. Test Before Buying: If possible, try out different pedals and cleat systems before making a purchase. This will give you a better understanding of how each pedal feels and performs, helping you make an informed decision.

Hybrid Pedals

Hybrid pedals, also known as combination pedals or dual-sided pedals, are designed to give riders the flexibility to switch between flat and clipless modes. They feature a flat platform on one side and a clipless mechanism on the other. This means that you can choose to ride with traditional flat pedals or clip into the pedals using compatible cycling shoes.

With hybrid pedals, you can simply flip the pedal to switch between the flat and clipless modes. The flat platform provides a large surface area for your feet, allowing you to ride comfortably in regular shoes, making them great for short commutes or casual rides. On the clipless side, you can attach cleats to your cycling shoes and securely clip into the pedals, providing a more efficient and connected pedaling experience.

The Pros and Cons of Hybrid Pedals

As with any cycling gear, hybrid pedals come with their own set of pros and cons. Let’s take a closer look at what makes them a popular choice among cyclists, as well as some potential drawbacks.

Pros:

1. Versatility: Hybrid pedals offer the best of both worlds, allowing you to ride with regular shoes or clip into the pedals with cycling shoes. This versatility is especially useful if you’re transitioning from flat pedals to clipless pedals and want to ease into the change.

2. Compatibility: Unlike clipless pedals, which require specific cycling shoes with cleats, hybrid pedals are compatible with both regular shoes and cycling shoes. This means you can hop on your bike with whatever footwear you have on hand.

3. Mixed Terrain: Hybrid pedals are well-suited for riders who encounter a variety of terrains. The flat side provides grip and stability for off-road or technical sections, while the clipless side offers a more efficient pedaling experience on smooth pavement or long stretches.

4. Easy to Switch: Switching between flat and clipless modes is as simple as flipping the pedal with your foot. This allows you to adapt to different riding situations quickly and easily.

Cons:

1. Efficiency: While hybrid pedals offer a good balance between efficiency and versatility, they are not as efficient as dedicated clipless pedals. The flat side lacks the direct power transfer provided by clipless pedals.

2. Grip: Similarly, the flat side of hybrid pedals may not provide the same level of grip as dedicated flat pedals. This can be a concern if you ride in wet or muddy conditions where traction is crucial.

3. Flipping Pedals: Switching between flat and clipless modes requires flipping the pedals with your foot. This can be a bit cumbersome, especially if you frequently switch between the two modes during a ride.

4. Weight and Cost: Hybrid pedals tend to be heavier and more expensive than dedicated flat or clipless pedals. If weight is a concern for you, or if you’re on a tight budget, it’s worth considering these factors before making a purchase.

Tips for Choosing Hybrid Pedals

Now that you have a better understanding of hybrid pedals, here are some tips to help you choose the right pair for your cycling adventures:

1. Consider Size, Shape, and Weight: Look for pedals that are the right size for your feet and provide a comfortable and stable platform. Consider the weight of the pedals, as lighter options may be preferable for performance-oriented riders.

2. Balanced and Smooth Design: Opt for pedals with a balanced design that allows for easy flipping between flat and clipless modes. Look for smooth engagement and disengagement of the clipless mechanism for a hassle-free riding experience.

3. Bike and Riding Style Compatibility: Consider the type of bike you ride and the style of riding you do. Different hybrid pedals may be better suited for road cycling, mountain biking, touring, or commuting. Choose pedals that match your specific needs and preferences.

4. Test Before Buying: If possible, try out different hybrid pedals and shoes before making a purchase. This will give you a better sense of how they feel and perform, helping you make an informed decision.

How to Choose Bike Pedals

How to Choose Bike Pedals Based on Riding Style

Whether you’re a road cyclist, a mountain biker, a commuter, or a recreational rider, the type of pedals you use can impact your comfort, efficiency, and overall performance on the bike. In this part, we’ll explore how different riding styles require different types of bike pedals and provide tips and recommendations for choosing the right ones for your needs.

1. Road Cycling Pedals

Road cycling pedals are designed to maximize power transfer and efficiency, making them ideal for cyclists who spend most of their time on smooth pavement. The two main types of road cycling pedals are:

1. Clipless Pedals: Clipless pedals, despite their name, actually involve clipping your cycling shoes into the pedals using a cleat system. This allows for a secure connection between your feet and the bike, promoting efficient power transfer. Clipless pedals are favored by road cyclists for their ability to improve pedaling technique and increase overall speed. Popular clipless pedal systems include Shimano SPD-SL and Look Keo.

Advantages of Clipless Pedals for Road Cycling:

  • Efficient power transfer
  • Enhanced pedaling technique
  • Increased speed and performance

Disadvantages of Clipless Pedals for Road Cycling:

  • Learning curve for clipping in and out
  • Requires specific cycling shoes with cleats

2. Hybrid Pedals: Hybrid pedals offer the option to ride with or without cleats, making them a versatile choice for road cyclists who want the convenience of clipless pedals without the commitment. These pedals feature a platform on one side and a clipless mechanism on the other, allowing riders to use them with either cycling shoes or regular footwear. Popular hybrid pedal options include Shimano SPD pedals with a platform on one side.

Advantages of Hybrid Pedals for Road Cycling:

  • Versatility for riding with or without cleats
  • Convenient for commuting or casual rides
  • No need for separate shoes for short rides

Disadvantages of Hybrid Pedals for Road Cycling:

  • Less efficient power transfer compared to dedicated clipless pedals
  • Can be heavier and bulkier than clipless pedals

2. Mountain Biking Pedals

Mountain biking pedals are designed to provide stability, control, and ease of use in rough off-road conditions. The two main types of mountain biking pedals are:

1. Flat Pedals: Flat pedals, as the name suggests, offer a flat platform for your feet without any type of attachment. These pedals are popular among mountain bikers for their simplicity and freedom of movement. With flat pedals, riders can easily put a foot down for stability and maneuverability on technical trails. Flat pedals are also favored by downhill and freeride mountain bikers who require quick and easy foot disengagement. Popular flat pedal options include Race Face Chester and Crankbrothers Stamp.

Advantages of Flat Pedals for Mountain Biking:

  • Freedom of movement and easy foot disengagement
  • Enhanced maneuverability on technical trails
  • No special shoes required

Disadvantages of Flat Pedals for Mountain Biking:

  • Less efficient power transfer compared to clipless pedals
  • Limited ability to pull up on the pedals for climbing

2. Clipless Pedals: Clipless pedals are also popular among mountain bikers who prioritize efficiency and power transfer. Mountain bike clipless pedals have a similar design to road cycling clipless pedals but with added features for off-road riding, such as increased mud-shedding capabilities and adjustable release tension. Popular mountain bike clipless pedal options include Shimano SPD and Crankbrothers Eggbeater.

Advantages of Clipless Pedals for Mountain Biking:

  • Efficient power transfer for climbing and sprinting
  • Secure connection between shoes and pedals
  • Better control and stability on technical terrain

Disadvantages of Clipless Pedals for Mountain Biking:

  • Learning curve for clipping in and out
  • Requires specific cycling shoes with cleats
  • Limited foot movement and potential for crashes if not unclipped in time

3. Commuting and Recreational Riding Pedals

For commuting or recreational riding, the choice of pedals depends on personal preference and the type of riding you’ll be doing. Options include:

1. Flat Pedals: Flat pedals are a popular choice for commuters and recreational riders who value comfort, ease of use, and the ability to wear regular footwear. Flat pedals allow riders to easily hop on and off the bike, making them convenient for urban riding and frequent stops. They also provide a more relaxed riding experience without the need for specialized cycling shoes.

2. Hybrid Pedals: Hybrid pedals, as mentioned earlier, offer the option to ride with or without cleats. They can be a great choice for commuters or recreational riders who want the versatility of clipless pedals but also the convenience of riding with regular shoes.

How to Choose Bike Pedals Based on Bike Type

The type of bike pedals you choose should be compatible with your bike type, as different bikes have different requirements. In this part, we’ll explore how different bike types are compatible with various types of bike pedals and provide tips for choosing the right pedals based on your bike type.

1. Road Bikes

Road bikes are designed for speed and efficiency on paved roads. They typically have thin, smooth tires and a lightweight frame. When it comes to bike pedals for road bikes, the most common type is the clipless pedal system. These pedals use a cleat system that attaches to your cycling shoes, allowing you to clip in and out of the pedals. Clipless pedals provide a secure connection to the bike, maximizing power transfer and efficiency.

2. Mountain Bikes

Mountain bikes are built for off-road trails, with features like suspension and wider, knobby tires. For mountain biking, there are two main types of pedals: flat pedals and clipless pedals. Flat pedals provide a large platform for your feet and are a popular choice for riders who prefer the freedom to quickly put a foot down when navigating technical terrain. Clipless pedals are also common in mountain biking, offering a secure connection and efficient power transfer.

3. Hybrid Bikes

Hybrid bikes combine features of road bikes and mountain bikes, making them versatile for various terrains. They are designed for comfort and efficiency on both paved and unpaved surfaces. For hybrid bikes, the choice of pedals depends on personal preference and riding style. Many hybrid bike riders prefer flat pedals for their simplicity and ease of use. However, clipless pedals can also be a great option for those who want to maximize power transfer and efficiency.

4. BMX Bikes

BMX bikes are designed for freestyle tricks and racing on dirt tracks or skate parks. They have a compact frame, smaller wheels, and a single gear. BMX riders typically use flat pedals with pins to provide extra grip and control. Flat pedals allow riders to easily reposition their feet during tricks and jumps.

How to Choose Bike Pedals Based on Skill Level

In this part, it is about how skill levels affect the choice of bike pedals.

1. Beginner Cyclists: Flat Pedals for Stability and Confidence

As a beginner cyclist, you’re still developing your skills and building confidence on the bike. In this stage, it’s often recommended to start with flat pedals. Flat pedals provide a large platform for your feet, allowing you to easily place your foot down on the ground if needed. They also provide a more stable base for your feet, making it easier to balance and maneuver the bike.

One of the main advantages of flat pedals for beginners is that they allow you to quickly and easily remove your feet from the pedals in case of an emergency or a fall. This can help prevent injuries and build confidence as you learn to ride. Flat pedals also allow you to wear any type of shoe, making them a versatile option for casual riding or commuting.

2. Intermediate Cyclists: Clipless Pedals for Efficiency and Power Transfer

Once you’ve built your skills and are comfortable on the bike, you may want to consider transitioning to clipless pedals. Despite the name, clipless pedals actually involve clipping your cycling shoes into the pedals using a cleat system. This connection between your shoes and the pedals provides a more efficient transfer of power, allowing you to pedal with greater efficiency and control.

Clipless pedals can be a bit intimidating at first, as they require you to practice clipping in and out of the pedals while riding. However, with some practice, the process becomes second nature. The learning curve is worth it for the increased efficiency and power transfer you’ll experience. Clipless pedals also provide a more secure connection to the bike, allowing for better control and stability, especially during fast descents or technical sections of a trail.

3. Advanced Cyclists: Hybrid Pedals for Versatility and Adaptability

As an advanced cyclist, you may have specific needs and preferences when it comes to pedals. This is where hybrid pedals come into play. Hybrid pedals, also known as combination or dual-sided pedals, offer the best of both worlds by combining the benefits of flat pedals and clipless pedals.

On one side, hybrid pedals have a flat platform, allowing you to ride with regular shoes or shoes without cleats. This is great for casual rides or commuting when you don’t want to wear cycling shoes. On the other side, they have a clipless mechanism for use with cycling shoes and cleats, providing the efficiency and power transfer of clipless pedals.

Hybrid pedals are a popular choice among advanced cyclists because they offer versatility and adaptability for different riding conditions. Whether you’re hitting the trails, commuting, or going for a long road ride, hybrid pedals allow you to easily switch between clipless and flat pedal modes, depending on your needs.

How to Choose Bike Pedals Based on Personal Factors

Choosing the right bike pedals is also absolutely a personal decision that depends on various factors, including budget, comfort, convenience, and aesthetics. These factors play a crucial role in determining which pedals are the best fit for you and your cycling needs. Let’s dive into each factor and see how they influence your pedal preferences.

1. Budget – Finding the Right Balance

Your budget is an essential consideration when choosing bike pedals. Fortunately, there are options available for every price range. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced cyclist, you can find pedals that suit your budget without compromising quality and performance.

Consider the following options:

1. Entry-Level Flat Pedals: These are cost-effective and suitable for beginners who are just starting their cycling journey. They provide good grip and are easy to use.

2. Clipless Pedals: While they may be more expensive upfront, clipless pedals offer improved power transfer and efficiency. Investing in a quality pair can enhance your cycling experience in the long run.

2. Comfort – Pedals That Feel Right

Comfort is paramount when it comes to cycling. The right pedals should provide a comfortable platform for your feet, minimizing hotspots and discomfort during long rides. Consider the following factors:

1. Pedal Size: Choose pedals that match the size of your feet. If you have larger feet, opt for pedals with a larger platform to ensure proper support and stability.

2. Pedal Shape: Different pedal shapes offer varying levels of support and grip. Experiment with different shapes to find the one that feels most comfortable for your riding style.

3. Cleat Float: If you opt for clipless pedals, consider the amount of float they offer. Float refers to the degree of rotational movement allowed for your feet. More float can relieve stress on your joints, providing a more comfortable ride.

3. Convenience – Pedals that Suit Your Riding Style

Convenience is another critical factor to consider when choosing bike pedals. Think about your riding style and the type of cycling you enjoy. Here are some considerations:

1. Easy Entry and Release: Clipless pedals with a quick and effortless entry and release mechanism can be a game-changer, especially for urban commuting or stop-and-go traffic.

2. Dual-Sided Pedals: Dual-sided pedals have clipless mechanisms on both sides, allowing you to engage from either side. They offer convenience and versatility, ideal for riders who frequently switch between clipless and flat shoes.

3. Maintenance: Some pedals require regular maintenance, such as greasing, while others are maintenance-free. Consider the time and effort you’re willing to invest in pedal maintenance.

4. Aesthetics – Pedals That Match Your Style

While aesthetics may not affect the performance of your bike pedals, they can certainly add a personal touch to your ride. Consider the following:

1. Color and Design: Choose pedals that complement the overall look and style of your bike. From vibrant colors to sleek designs, there are plenty of options to express your personal taste.

2. Pedal Material: Pedals come in various materials, including aluminum, composite, and stainless steel. Each material offers different aesthetics and durability. Consider which material aligns with your style preferences.

Conclusion

Choosing the right bike pedals may seem like a small detail, but it can make a big difference in your cycling experience. Take the time to consider your riding style, shoe compatibility, and other factors outlined in this guide. By doing so, you’ll be well on your way to finding the perfect pedals that will enhance your comfort, control, and enjoyment on every ride. Happy cycling!

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AUTHOR

Randy Joycelyn

Randy is the founder and editor of Cycling Soigneur. He has been passionate about cycling since he was a kid. He has been riding bikes for over 10 years. Cycling has just become a part of life.

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