How to Choose the Right Bike Pedals


Finding the right pedals is no small choice.

These often overlooked platforms connect you to your bike and provide a place to stand. Most fundamentally, they take the power from your legs and transfer it to the drivetrain and wheels, propelling you forward. So it shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that many new bicycles come without pedals (or with the cheapest plastic option). How you connect yourself to your bike is such an important and personal decision that most companies stay out of the way and let you make up your own mind. Don’t get overwhelmed with the many bike pedal options and styles available—we’re here to help.

First, Ask Yourself These Questions:

How comfortable am I on my bicycle?

Many pedals allow you to connect yourself to your bike in combination with a cycling shoe; knowing whether or not you’re prepared to “clip-in,” will help you wade through many of the more confusing parts of buying pedals.

How do I ride my bike?

Determine your favored discipline and nail down details, especially off the bike, like if you use it for commuting or running errands. This impacts shoe types that match your pedal—as does efficiency over long distances or maintaining power uphills, where “clipping in,” benefits the rider much more than if you’re bombing downhill singletrack.

What shoes do I have?

Many pedals work as a system with your riding shoe. The pedal and riding shoe pair with a mechanical connection. There are few styles of pedals and shoes, so make sure your shoe matches the pedal, or, if you already have riding shoes, that the pedals match.

How much money am I willing to spend?

Pedals range from affordable to debilitatingly expensive based on the materials and weight. Decide on priorities and budget. For many riders, the weight savings of a few grams is not worth the extreme increase in price of going from a metal pedal to a carbon fiber pedal.

One bike to rule them all, or a specialized machine? 

Are these pedals needed on a single bike for all different types of riding, or are they needed on a bike for a single discipline like downhill mountain biking or road riding? This will help you decide between a more specialized or generalized pedal. 

A close up image of a bike pedal Photo: Akturer

Flat vs. Clipless 

One of the first decisions you'll have to make is whether to ride on flat pedals or clipless pedals. A flat pedal is just like it sounds. Imagine what you used as a kid: a simple platform that your foot sits on and pedals by pushing down. Flat pedals benefit those who are new to cycling: It’s easy to step off the pedal and place it on the ground. You also don’t need special riding shoes, which makes them popular with commuters who frequently stop at red lights, or who want to wear their riding shoes to work. Mountain bikers, especially downhill riders, also love flat pedals as they make it easy to put a foot down to stabilize or recover from a sketchy section of trail.

This part is confusing: A clipless pedal allows you to “clip in” with the help of a cleat on the bottom of your riding shoes. (It’s named that way to differentiate it from a pedal with an attached toe-clip basket.) This “clipless” integrated mechanism in the pedal connects to your riding shoe, allowing you to push down on the pedal, but also to apply power into the pedal when pulling up—all the way through your pedal stroke. While it is harder to pull your foot off a clipless pedal (you need to twist your ankle out to the side to unclip), many riders love them for the added power. The smooth, continuous pedaling also offers for more efficient riding, especially over distances covered in cross-country mountain bike, gravel, or road riding.

Types of Clipless Pedals

There are two main styles of clipless pedals differentiated by the cleat on the sole of the riding shoe that they are designed to pair with: 3-hole and 2-hole.


This road bike pedal, often referred to as Look or SPD-SL style, connects to the large plastic cleat which protrudes from the bottom of a road riding shoe (and is attached through three screw holes in the sole). Road riders often love this shoe-pedal system as the broad platform distributes force from the ball of the foot across the pedal. Accordingly, road riding shoes are often stiff, light, and relatively free of outsole tread—making them a poor option for mountain biking, commuting, or short walks—designed to be worn almost exclusively on the bike.


The 2-hole pedal, also known as an SPD or mountain bike clipless pedal, connects to a smaller metal cleat (attached through two screw holes in the riding shoe’s sole). This cleat is usually recessed within the sole, allowing for robust, lugged tread on the bottom of the shoe, which makes it easier off the bike to bound over sticks, through mud (with less chance of getting clogged), or even down the sidewalk. This type of pedal-cleat system works well for commuters, so riders can transition seamlessly from bike to walk to work.

Other Types of Pedals


If you want to put some power into your pedal on the upstroke but are unwilling to wear cycling shoes, or you’re wary of clipping in, then consider baskets. A basket (also referred to as a toe clip or toe cage) is a simple plastic piece attached to the front of a flat pedal that frames your forefoot, usually enclosed by an adjustable strap. Sliding your shoe of choice forward into the basket provides additional pedal connection with the top of your foot, adding more control and power than flat pedals alone. Not clipping the shoe directly to the pedal, however, means less efficiency than clipless systems. While many touring riders enjoy the freedom of shoe choice and comfort off the bike, others do not enjoy flipping the basket-side of the pedal over to slide the foot in, or pulling backwards (counterintuitively) to step out during a quick stop.


These pedals have two separate sides. One side is a flat pedal; the other is a clipless platform. This allows you to wear either street or clipless cycling shoes on your bike, providing some versatility: commute, cruise around town, or get a hard workout, all with the same pedal. They’re also popular with mountain bikers who like the stability of a platform but the efficiency of a clipless option for different rides. Downside of that versatility? Added weight that some riders abhor.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.