How to choose your bike pedal wisely
Most pedals disengage with a simple twist of the heel. Most models feature a level of adjustment called float that allows you to back off the tension, making disengagement easier, especially during the ‘getting to know you’ period.
While the design of clipless pedals varies (see below), one important concept common to the majority is float, or the degree to which the pedal design allows the foot to pivot on the horizontal plane while engaged on the pedals.
This ability of the foot to move from side to side while clipped in allows the knee to flex during the pedal stroke, essential to avoid strain and injury to this sensitive joint. Riders with sensitive knees or past injuries should seek out pedals that have a wide degree of lateral float – Time and Speedway pedals, for example, have a good reputation for this.
Road bike pedals use a cleat that protrudes from the shoe and engages on only one side of the pedal to save the weight of a second binding mechanism (some pedals aimed at commuters or those new to clipless feature a ‘normal’ pedaling platform on one side and a binding mechanism on the other, but in practice these can be difficult to use). Road cleats are often made of resin as opposed to metal and have a large surface, giving a greater contact area with the pedal for improved stiffness and power transfer.
More expensive models of road pedal will make use of exotic materials, particularly carbon fibre on top-end road pedals, in order to shave weight.
In this article, we’ll guide you through the main considerations when choosing bike pedals:
- Decide if you want clipless vs. flat pedals: Choose clipless pedals if you want more efficiency and control; with your shoes connected to your pedals, you transfer power when you pull up and push down. Choose flat pedals if you need to quickly take your feet off the pedals or want comfort while walking in the shoes that don’t have cleats.
- Consider the type of riding you do: Do you want road cycling pedals with a three-hole cleat for the most power transfer? Or are you a recreational cyclist who wants flat pedals that are easy to get on and off?
- Decide on the shoes you want: Sometimes, your shoe preference may dictate the type of pedals you get. If you’re a bike commuter who wants to wear your shoes off the bike as well as on, flat pedals or mountain bike pedals are good choices because you can wear shoes with recessed cleats or regular street shoes. To read more about choosing bike shoes
What are clipless pedals? “Clipless” is admittedly a confusing name since you actually “clip in” to the pedal’s cleats much like you do with a ski binding. (They were named clipless decades ago to distinguish them at the time from another style of pedals called “toe clips”). Clipless pedals work by mounting a small plastic or metal cleat on the sole of your shoe that typically snaps into a set of spring-loaded “clips” on the face of the pedal. Clipless pedals feature cleats with a 3-hole or 2-hole design.
Why choose clipless pedals? Clipless pedals provide a high level of control while riding fast or executing moves like hopping up onto curbs or over logs. Your feet won’t bounce off the pedals as you apply power or while riding through the bumps. It can take some practice getting in and out of clipless pedals, but once you get the hang of it they’ll feel like second nature.
Bike Pedal Features
Pedal float: When you step on a cleated bike pedal, the cleat locks into the pedal mechanism and is held firmly in place. Float refers to the amount of angular rotation allowed to the foot on the pedal. Different types of cleats allow for different degrees of float; you can change the cleat to vary the float. A few systems hold the foot at a fixed angle; others allow fixed amounts of float and a few allow customizable ranges of float. This largely becomes a personal preference as you become a more experienced rider.
Multiple-release cleats: Most cleats that come with pedals release laterally. The so-called multiple-release cleat is very similar to these models except that it releases a bit more easily and at slightly increased angles (your heel can move outward or inward and slightly upward as well). The differences are subtle. The bottom line is that they do seem to be somewhat more forgiving than lateral-release cleats. Multiple-release cleats are typically sold separately from pedals.