Pedals are one of the more essential parts of your mountain bike, being one of the only three parts that your body touches on your bike. It is through them that you can propel your bike.
When it comes to mountain biking, every little thing counts. This included the kind of pedals you use. With the right pedals for your mountain bike, you might notice some welcome change in speed and comfort.
If you have been planning on changing your mountain bike pedals, here is everything you need to know to help you make the right choice.
Mountain Bike Pedals and Riding
Without a doubt, your pedals have a hand in the way you ride your bike. The type of riding you do and the terrain you ride on also dictate what kind of pedals you should have on your bike. Mountain bike pedals can be grouped into two broad categories, clipless and flat pedals.
Clipless pedals make use of a concept used in skiing. To use clipless pedals, you need a special set of pedals and cleats. Cleats are devices that come with the pedals which you attach to the soles of your clipless cycling shoes.
After installing the pedals on your bike and the cleats to your shoes, all you need to do is step on the pedals to click your feet into place. Once you are locked in, your feet and the pedals are one, which optimizes efficiency. To get out, you need to swing your feet outside, heels first. This releases the pedals.
The reason clipless pedals are so peculiarly named is to set them apart from toe clips and straps. These were invented shortly after the bicycle was to prevent the cyclist’s feet from slipping off the pedals. They do this by bolting to the pedals, forming ‘cages’ to hold your feet in place.
Clipless pedal systems can be subdivided into two groups: walkable systems and road systems.
Walkable clipless systems
These are ideal for off-road cycling, making them perfect for your MTB. The cleats are recessed into your cycling shoes’ soles, so the cleats don’t touch the ground. This maintains the cleats’ traction and makes them easy to walk and hike in, hence the name. These systems are double-sided, and you can click on any side.
Road clipless systems
These are designed for use on road bikes, with efficiency, aerodynamics, and weight in mind. The cleats protrude from the soles of these shoes, making them difficult to walk in. Road systems are single-sided, and you have to find the right side of the pedal to click into.
Platform (flat) Pedals
Flat pedals have very little difference from the bikes you used in your childhood. These pedals have a large platform for you to place your shoe and they have no clip-in mechanism. MTB flat pedals also come in two categories, based on the material used to manufacture them.
Metal flat pedals
These are constructed from metal and have raised pins on the sides. These provide the cyclist with extra grip when used while wearing mountain bike shoes with soft rubber soles. Some of these pedals have replaceable and adjustable pins. Using a simple Allen key, you can adjust the pins to make the pedal feel more comfortable. They have larger surface areas to give you more control and a large working surface. Some pedals are made out of titanium to reduce weight and provide impact-resistance.
Basic plastic flat pedals
These pedals are made from plastic, which makes them less durable and unsuited for a mountain bike. They also don’t have traction pins. You are most likely to find this type of pedals installed on a road bike or a hybrid.
Platform Vs. Clipless Pedals
There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages that set these two pedal types apart. This section takes a look at the pros and cons of each pedal and leaves the decision to you.
Pros of clipless pedals
- Clipless pedals keep your feet in place. This gives you more control as you ride fast or hop your bike over logs, bumps and any rough terrain.
- Since they make your foot one with the pedal, you have more power throughout your pedal stroke, acceleration, and climbing. This is possible since your feet are always ideally placed.
- With your feet clipped in, it is easier to perform bike tricks that require more skill. This is because being clipped in gives you control over the rear wheel.
- Using clipless pedals makes it easier for you to maintain cadence. Cadence is the rate at which a cyclist turns the pedals. Cadence training is what puts most cyclists at the top of the leaderboard. With clipless pedals it easier to train at a higher cadence.
Cons of clipless pedals
- If you experience pain under your feet during or after your ride, the cleats might not be properly set up. This can be fixed by taking your bike to your local dealer to get a bike fit done and getting your shoes and cleats properly set up.
- If you’re just getting into cycling, clipless pedals might not be ideal. You won’t learn the proper technique like how to properly place your foot on the pedal.
- With clipless pedals, you have to use special shoes, which are thicker. This raises your center of gravity, in turn, making you less stable.
- If riding isn’t the only thing on your itinerary, you might have to carry an extra pair of shoes, especially if you have road clipless pedals.
- With clipless pedals, you have to buy more parts (shoes, cleats, and the pedals). This gear is generally more expensive than flat pedal gear.
Pros of platform pedals
- Since your feet are not complexly secured, you can easily hop off the bicycle in case of an unavoidable collision.
- Platform pedals are the way to go if you are a downhill cyclist.
- They don’t need special shoes, which makes them a good fit for recreational cyclists.
- Since your body isn’t ‘one’ with the bicycle, your center of gravity is lower, making the bike more stable.
- Flat pedals are better suited for extreme conditions like snow, mud, steep hills or congested streets. If you need to get off the bike in a hurry, flat pedals work best.
Cons of platform pedals
- Flat pedals leave you with less control. It is more difficult for you to perform the same tricks you would with clipless pedals, due to lack of rear-wheel control.
- With these pedals, your feet slip out of the ideal position a lot. This means you can’t generate maximum power during your ride.
- Your foot can easily slip off the pedal. This causes a missed stroke. When your foot slips, the pedal may bash into your leg causing injuries on your shin.
There is a way to enjoy the benefits of both types of pedals. You can do this by installing a pair of hybrid pedals. Hybrid platform pedals come in two types. Some have one side flat and a clip-in mechanism on the other side. The other has a clip integrated into the platform on both sides.
These hybrids are the perfect choice for anyone who’s learning how to use clipless pedals or any cyclist.
Consider the Type of Riding You Do
As a road cyclist, you might consider getting flat pedals, in case you need to get off your bike fast. However, some prefer clipless pedals. This is because being clipped in results in more power and efficiency.
Most road bike pedals use a 3-hole cleat design. The cleats are made out of plastic and are more protruding. This design reduces the pressure on the connection points due to a larger cleat.
Clipless pedals offer rider efficiency, power, and control. MTB clipless pedals use a 2-hole cleat design. With this design, the cleats are more recessed and this lets you slide them back and forth. This lets you get the proper angle and placement for comfort and engagement with the pedal.
A 2-hole cleat system would suit you if you are a casual rider. You might also want to consider getting platform pedals since the shoes you cycle with will be comfortable to walk on.
If you bike to and from work, the pedal efficiency of clipless pedals might appeal to you. However, if you need comfortable shoes that you can wear anywhere, consider flat pedals.
Other Pedal Factors to Consider
Although a lighter pedal is preferred, it might come at a cost. Lighter pedals tend to have a shorter service life. Pedal weight has a little to do with speed, but a heavier pedal can also cost you a few seconds on a 5-mile climb.
Mud shedding abilities
Before you settle for a pair of pedals, check whether it has open spaces where mud or snow can be pushed out when you set your foot on the pedals.
A clipless pedal’s adjustability can be measured in terms of its pedal tension (the amount of force needed to clip and unclip) and float (the extent to which you can rotate your clipped-in foot).
Flat pedals’ adjustability can be looked at in terms of how much you can adjust and replace the traction pins.
You should choose a pedal that can withstand the rough terrain that a mountain bike is built for, and for a long time. Consider getting a solid pedal with smooth bearings for this reason.
When it comes to ease of maintenance, you should ask yourself(and your parts dealer) one question: When the pedal gets damaged, will you only need to swap out the damaged parts or will you have to replace the whole pedal?
Mountain Bike Pedals Cost
Unlike previous Shimano pedals, this one is a clipless pedal made out of heavier materials, as it weighs 347g. it is a 50mm wide pedal with 4-degree multi-release cleats, which let you pull out upwards and sideways. It also has a 4-degree float and retails at $38.99.
Time ATAC XC carbon pedals
This one is also a clipless pedal, but it offers lateral float to reduce the strain on your knees. It has adjustable tension and 13 to 17-degree float. Due to its carbon composition, it weighs in at only 284g. combined with its small platform, this pedal is perfect for cross country riding. It costs $96.93.
Spank spoon bike pedal
This platform pedal is optimized for top performance and it comes in 3 sizes, 110mm, 100mm, and 90mm. The pedal has a long concave body and each side has 10 replaceable and removable pins. The pins at the front and back are 14mm long and the middle four measure 12mm. This pedal weighs 420 grams, and it costs $89.88.
Chromag Scarab platform pedal
This pedal measures 110×115 mm, one of the widest platforms in the market. It has adjustable steel traction pins with 2 height options. With this pedal, you can perform some sick tricks to impress tour friends. The pedal sells for $109.95.
Crank Brothers Mallet Enduro
This is a hybrid pedal that was designed for enduro riding and racing. In addition to the clip mechanism, the pedal has adjustable traction pads and pins. It also has a concave shape and chamfered edges to deflect rock strikes. The clip mechanism offers 15 or 20 degrees of float. It weighs 420g, which isn’t too heavy for a hybrid pedal for $124.95.