How to Choose Clipless Bike Pedals

How to Choose Clip-in Bike Pedals

A Guide to Different Types of Clip-in Cycling Pedals

Clipless pedals vary in type, size, weight, and cost. Choosing the right pedal can be difficult so here’s a guide to help with decision making.

Riding a bike with clip-in pedals offers the cyclist greater efficiency as power is maintained on the upward stroke. A natural progression from a toe-clip/strap system, clipless pedals are lighter, safer, and easier to use, once well-practiced in the art of clipping in and out of the pedals.

There is a huge choice of bike pedals available but it is important to first understand the basic difference between road and mountain bike clip-in pedals.

Clipless Pedals for Road Cycling

Most keen road cyclists use single-sided clip-in pedals. Invented by Look in 1984 from ski binding technology, this type of pedal has a large shoe contact area and requires wide cleats for quick engagement and most efficient pedaling.

Weight is key for a road racer so a one-sided design is lighter, but as the cleat protrudes from the shoe, this type of pedal is not suitable for mountain biking where riders sometimes have to walk over rough terrain.

Mountain Bike Clipless Pedals

A large proportion of regular mountain bikers use Shimano’s SPD (Shimano Pedalling Dynamics) system. With a simple axle and retention mechanism and a dual-sided action, SPD pedals operate with a small cleat recessed into the bike shoe allowing the rider to walk around with ease when not on the bike. They have a smaller contact area than a road pedal and some people find them uncomfortable especially if wearing flexible, trail-friendly hiking-type shoes.

Key Points to Consider when Buying Clipless Bike Pedals

  • Choose an entry-level pedal when trying the clipless system for the first time to avoid a wasted shoe and pedal purchase should ride clipped in proving too difficult.
  • Check whether the cleats are included in the pedal price. On cheaper models, they are often extra which can add around $15 to the price.
  • Most pedals have a built-in float allowing side to side movement of the foot whilst clipped in. Without it, the knee cannot flex and knee problems could be the result. Riders prone to knee injuries should choose a bike pedal with a large degree of float adjustment.
  • Cyclists who ride both on and off-road bikes should choose a cleat system requiring only one pair of shoes, most likely a mountain bike clipless pedal as road pedal mechanisms are not interchangeable due to the larger cleat. Alternatively, opt for two sets of pedals and shoes.
  • Nervous riders or those who like to wear hiking-type bike shoes may want to consider a caged clipless pedal, giving more comfort at the contact point and allowing the foot to rest unclipped on the platform on difficult terrain.
  • Check the compatibility of shoes if upgrading to a new model of the pedal as certain brands only fit certain models.

Main Clipless Pedal Bike Brands

Shimano, Crank Brothers, Look, Time ATAC, and Speedplay are the key brands to consider in the market.

Shimano and Look are the leaders in MTB and road cycling respectively. Crank Brothers are a niche brand offering the innovative egg beater, loved by off-road riders due to an open mud resistant design. Time ATAC is the brand to consider for knee problems with its lateral, angular float capability versus the more rigid grip of the Shimano system.

Cost of Clipless Bike Pedals

Entry-level pedals start from around $40 and prices rise above $400 for the top of the range titanium or carbon racing pedals.

The average cyclist can happily learn with an entry-level pedal then upgrade to a sturdier model once confidence grows.

Whichever model is chosen, clipless pedals are a worthwhile investment for any keen cyclist looking for greater pedaling efficiency. Just be sure to check shoe and pedal compatibility before purchase.