How to Choose Series (1): Bike Pedals

Hey there, biker dude. You are probably biking quite well out there, exploring the streets or trails really nice. Good control, awesome stamina. However, if you strive to take your riding to a higher level, it’s about time to know how to choose accessories and gear for your bike.

The How to Choose Series is a collection of articles which will span over a couple of months and aims to teach you how to do the right decisions when shopping for your bike. As an amateur biker who used to commute and started training for an IronMan, I did my part of research in the last two years, gaining plenty of knowledge when it comes to gear, helmets, clothing, locks, lights, racks and bags, pumps, shoes, saddles, storage, commuter bike gear, computers, handle bars, chains and many others. We’ll discuss all of these, and you, my friend, will know How to Choose when it comes to cycling.

Choosing the right bike pedals is all about what kind of cycling you will be doing. Are you a commuter or do you use a mountain bike on steep trails so frequently? Are you seriously into road biking? You might be looking for clipless pedals for increased pedaling efficiency or you might like the maneuverability and ease of platform pedals. Or maybe you seek the benefits offered by both types of pedals.

Should you decide to buy clipless pedals, make sure your shoes, cleats, and pedals will work as an efficient mechanism. It doesn’t really matter what you decide to shop first, just know that compatibility between shoes and pedals is essential. Cleats can be bought separately or with pedals.

Bike Pedals Types

Platform Bike Pedals

The “flat” type is probably the one you used on your first bicycle. It provides a strong surface (on each side) for your feet and works with any shoe. This type of bike pedals is not compatible with clipless shoes.

Latest models are made of lightweight materials, replaceable pins for higher grip during slippery situations and moisture-proof sealed bearings.

For what I saw, most downhil mountain biker use platform bike pedals combined with a specific shoe. The combination offers sufficient control and grip while being easy to get off in case of a sudden crash. Clipless pedals are easy to release in the event of a crash, but platform pedals might offer huge confidence to actually AVOID the crash. 

Platform Bike Pedals - How to Choose

Pedal Straps and Toe Clips

Toe clips have been around for a really long time. Incorporating a strap and/or cage,they help your shoe remain very much strapped on the pedal, allowing for little movement. Pros: increased efficieny over platforms, low cost, easy to install. Cons: the most dangerous of the three and not as efficient as a clipless setup.

Toe clips are basically made of small frames attached to the plaform (forming some sort of cage) and allow you to push down and pull up when pedaling. Overall, you get to use a durable, affordable, and lightweight system.

Clipless Bike Pedals

Clipless bike pedals are system made up of two parts for your bicycle. First part is a typical pedal that comes with a locking system, and second part is just a cleat that connects to your bike shoe. How does it work? The shoes will clip into the pedals, offering you quite a solid connection.

 “Clipless” can definitely be a confusing term, mostly because you “clip in” - like it happens in sky binding. The origins of the term go back a few decades when cyclists used toe clips as the only way to improve pedaling efficiency. Clipless pedals were a real revolution because they offered a direct connection between pedal and shoe. While the name is dumb, they provide many advantages: better power transfer, vastly increased efficiency, and security.

Clipless pedals offer hugecontrol when cycling fast or going over logs or through curbs. You are always able to apply power because your feet don’t bounce off. 

Clipless bike pedals are system made up of two parts for your bicycle. First part is a typical pedal that comes with a locking system, and second part

Clipless Mountain Bike Pedals

Mountain bike pedals have 2-hole cleats. Screws secure the cleat to two slots or tracks in the bottom of your compatible shoe. The mechanism will let you slide the cleat as you want to get the proper placement and angle for maximum ease of engagement and comfort.

Often called as “SPD” system (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics), the 2-hole cleats were first developed by Shimano and the company is still leader in this industry today. 

Learn how to choose mountain bike pedals

Clipless Road Bike Pedals

Clipless road bike pedals have 3-hole cleats. Often reffered to as “Look” type (the name of the first manufacturer), this one protrudes father from the sole of the shoe, is larger and made of plastic.

The only advantage of the 3-hole cleat over the 2-hole cleat is the large cleat that’s able to expand the force applied over a wider area. The pressure on the attachment points is reduced, allowing a secure connection when pedaling a road bike.

Since we’re talking about How to Choose, I’ll give you a tip now: go for the 2-hole design if you are more a casual rider. This one allows easier entry/exit and it’s way easier to use.

Platform/Clipless Bike Pedals

The Platform/Clipless hybrid combination features the efficiency of a clipless system with the flexibility of typical platform pedals. It can also be a good transition choice for people looking to switch to clipless. Most riders go either “all in” or not at all when it comes to clipless pedals, but this hybrid approach is a perfect alternative for riders who don’t always have cycling shoe available. 

Platform/Clipless Bike Pedals

BONUS: Clipless Pedals - How to Use Guide

Using clipless pedals takes plenty of practice. Start by disengaging the shoes from the pedals – just twist your feet, start by turning or pressing your heel outward, away from the bike. You’ll see that the clip system will disengage and you foot will be free. It’s quite easy to learn this, but you must practice to develop confidence and muscle memory in this process.

Search for a level (preferably grassy) field to start practicing. Know that you might fall a couple of time while learning - a soft field can prevent unwanted injuries. Additionally, practice clipping out/in while having another biker hold the handlebar.

Tip: Aim to develop an excellent muscle memory simply by clipping in/out of the bike pedals 60 to 70 times. The secret is to train yourself to do it without having to think much about it.

Do know forget about bike pedal maintainance. Sometimes it may get difficult to disengage from the clipless pedals, so you’ll need to do some lubrication and cleaning.

Stay tuned for the next article in the How to Choose Series. We’ll talk about bike shoes and how to get unmatched control with a minimum amount of your pedaling energy lost.

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