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Choosing the right mountain bike pedals

November 20, 2020

Pedals are one of the three contact points between the rider and the bike, and can define your riding experience. In mountain biking the purpose of the pedals is not just transferring power to the drivetrain but it helps you to have a better control of your bike.

Main decision which every mountain bike rider must make is to decide between flat or clipless type pedal. This article will help you decide which pedal is right for you.

Low and middle end bikes usually come with some kind of flat pedals, high end without any, but sometimes your favourite LBS (local bicycle shop) will throw in some cheap pedals for free to help you come home. :)

So we will start with flat pedals.

Flat pedals

Cheap plastic pedals, or even metal cage pedals are really not suitable for mountain bike riders. They are too slippery and simply not tough enough. They might be ok for city riding and occasional light trip in the nature – but this type of riding is not the subject of this article.

Platform pedals are type of flat pedals for “real” MTB use. They have large area  and pins in order to hold your foot firm on the pedals. But, occasional slip can occur  and then you can expect painful and bloody contact between the pedals and your lower leg, especially the shins. So think about using shin guards.

On the plus side – removing your foot from the pedals in critical - to be or not to be - situations is natural and quick without any learning curve. But the downside is that pedalling is not as efficient as with clipless style pedals.

Kona Wah Wah 2 - AlloyKona Wah Wah 2 - Alloy

Shoes choice is very important, skate style shoes works the best as pins can sink in to the sole providing excellent grip. Also many manufacturers make bicycle specific shoes for use with flat pedals.

Bottom line, if you are beginner, platform pedal is a good starting point, and as your riding style starts to develop you will see what works best for you. If you are into free riding or downhill platform pedals will work great for you – but even in that case you might consider the benefits that clipless pedals can provide.

Clipless pedals

Clipless pedal system consists of the two separate parts, the cleat which is screwed into the shoe sole and the mechanism on the pedal which locks firmly with the cleat. Usually when rider steps in the mechanism locks the cleat and when the rider twists heal outward the mechanism release the cleat.

The possibility of the accidental release of the cleat  is low. Some practice is required before the rider can unlock fast and securely. Added benefit is increased inefficiency: while one foot presses on the pedal, another pulls up the opposite pedal. :)

There are many brands and locking mechanisms. The most well known is SPD (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics) . They are best value for money and they will last a long time. They allow few degrees of heal rotation before they unlock – thus providing some degree of freedom of the movement. Distance between the foot and the cranks is selected at the time of attaching the cleat to the shoe, so while riding there is no horizontal freedom of moment.

Time ATAC pedals and SIDI shoesTime ATAC pedals and SIDI shoes

But ours favourite is Time ATAC pedals. Their locking system allows both freedom to rotate the heal few degrees and freedom of horizontal movement while you are securely clipped in. This enhances the comfort and is essential if you have knee problems.

For all types of clipless pedals special shoes are required, their sole is somewhat less flexible then the normal shoe but walking a short distances is not a problem. Some shoes are more similar to the normal walking shoes, while others are more racing looking and usually more stiff.