Pedals: The most important point of contact between rider and bike
Pedals should provide a safe and supportive platform whilst transferring the force from the movement of the pedal into forward propulsion of the bike. In the world of pedals, we differentiate between platform pedals and clip-in pedals. Platform pedals are flat and don’t provide a solid connection between bike and rider. They allow greater flexibility on the bike and can be worn with any type of shoes. In contrast, clipless pedals do offer a fixed connection between rider and machine and must be worn with specific matching shoes. Road cyclists and some MTBers prefer the sturdy connection that the likes of Shimano, Look and Crankbrothers clip-in pedal systems provide. Everyday riders and trick-performing dirtbikers are generally better off with platform pedals. For touring riders looking to enjoy the benefits of both system types, combination pedals are the best answer.
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There are a few important points of contact between a rider and their bike: the saddle, the handlebars/grips and the pedals. Some would argue that the pedals are the most important of all.
Choosing your pedals
Whether you’re an occasional cyclist or a regular rider, your choice of pedal is absolutely essential. For amateur and occasional MTB and road riders, a pair of inexpensive platform pedals will be enough to meet your needs. These classic accessories will offer you excellent riding comfort in urban environments and country terrain. But this shouldn’t stop you from opting for more sophisticated pedals. Regular and demanding riders will find their perfect match in a more sophisticated platform, clipless pedal system or combi pedals.
The three most popular types of pedals are as follows.
Platform pedals offer a platform that the rider can rest their foot on. Your shoe is free to move from the pedal and is gripped by strategically placed pins on the pedal.
This pedal type is suitable for both playful and competitive cycling and can be used without having to invest in special shoe and pedal contact systems. Popular and easy to use, they allow you to adjust your foot position as you ride and to bail if you need to. Since contact with the pedal is important, it’s vital to choose pedals that provide a sufficient contact surface – otherwise your foot may slip.
MTB platforms come in a wide range of different shapes, materials and sizes, and are suited to different riding styles and shaped feet. They are used for flatland, dirtpump, downhill and BMX.
Road platforms are more commonly used for commuting, fitness and casual/cruising – as they’re easier and quicker to use than clipless (and can be used with any type of shoe).
Your shoe is connected to the bike using a cleat. Calling it clipless may seem confusing to some because your foot actually ‘clips-in’ to the pedal cleat. However, it dates back to a time when pedals came with toe clips. These new ‘clipless’ pedals got rid of the toe clips and offered a direct attachment between the shoe and pedal instead.
Much lighter and more elaborate, these pedal systems are designed to directly channel your power into the pedal. Pedalling is smoother and more efficient. It’s easier to ‘hop’ or lift your bike over features on the road or trail and you don’t have to worry about your feet slipping off the pedals.
MTB clipless pedals feature cleats with a 2-hole design. The 2-hole design is often referred to as the "SPD" system (short for Shimano Pedalling Dynamics). But others like Crankbrothers and Time have also invented their own versions. This type of pedal is particularly popular in cross country MTB racing.
Road clipless pedals mostly feature cleats with a 3-hole design. Shimano SPD-SL, Time and LOOK all have their own 3-hole pedal system designs. A small number of shoe manufactures make 4-bolt shoes which are compatible with Speedplay‘s unique 4-hole road cleat system. This pedal type is mainly used for road cycling/racing.
They combine the best of both worlds. These double-sided pedals offer a combination of a flat platform and either a road or an MTB clip-in system. So you have the choice of using either on the go.
These pedals offer flexibility for riders who also use their MTB/road bike for commuting or casual riding. They can be a useful introduction to clipless systems and can be used with either standard shoes or cycling specific shoes. You can pick and switch between the best pedal side for the terrain or riding style.