Mountain biking can be an expensive hobby. Any rider, whether novice or experienced, knows very well that your equipment heavily influences your performance. But as your skill level improves and you start to take on new challenges, you’ll quickly find yourself limited by your equipment.
We’ve all caught ourselves fantasizing about a new bike, but this isn’t always viable. In fact, it’s often much more economical to upgrade your current ride. A few simple components can make your bike feel brand new, sparing you the four-figure outlay needed on a new set of wheels. Where is your money best spent? In our eyes, you can’t go wrong with a new set of pedals.
A new set of pedals is one of the best bang-for-your-buck upgrades available for your bike. They’re inexpensive, easy to install, and can have an immediate and powerful impact on your ride quality.
When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. All of your power is transferred from your feet to your bike through your pedals. Your ability to control your bike depends on your ability to maintain contact with them, and one little slip can put a quick end to your otherwise perfect line. With the right pedals, it will be easier to move your bike in the direction you want it to go. Manufacturers try to ship their bikes with a generic pedal that will keep everyone happy. But when you slap on a pair that suit your own individual riding style, the improvement can be drastic.
But just as a new set of pedals can improve your ride, it can also hinder you. It’s important to understand what options are out there, and the differences between them.
With pedals, there is no one-size fits all option. What works for one person may not work for another. In this guide, we’re going to show you all of the different types of pedals that are available to you.
First, we’ll help you understand what types of pedals are out there. We’ll go in-depth and explore the best options in each category, then help you decide which option right for you.
Flat or Clipless? The Most Important Decision You’ll Make
All of the pedals on our list are going to fit into one of two categories: Clipless or Flat. Which one you choose depends entirely on your preference, and there are a few things that you need to know.
|Clipless Pedals lock on to your shoes, holding your feet on better. Clipless pedals let you take on jumps and challenging terrain at higher speeds, and are more forgiving of your body position. These pedals are popular among racers, and those who like to hit lines a little beyond their ability. Yes, the name is deceptive. And many riders find the idea of being locked to their bike intimidating. But many feel that clipless pedals are safer, as they allow you to regain control of your bike in situations that would otherwise result in a wipeout.|
|Flat Pedals are definitely the most common options, and likely the type that your mountain bike came with. They require a little more control over your body position, but allow you to perform tricks where you’re intentionally removing your feet from your pedals. Flat pedals are a top choice for hobbyists and freestylers, and generally have no learning curve.|
Shimano Pd-Mx80 Platform Pedals
The Best Flat Pedals
If you’re upgrading from stock, these would be our first choice for flat pedals. They offer the best balance between price, comfort, and customizability, making them a great starting point.
As soon as we started working on our guide, we knew that these popular pedals would be at the top of our flat pedal list. They may be new to the market, but the pd-Mx80s are simply the latest update to Shimano’s popular Saint series.
Their extremely rigid frame and flat, boxy surfaces are what makes this a platform pedal. There is a lot of dead space on the face of the pedal, but using them feels as if you’re pressing down on a solid chunk of metal. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, these are some of the most comfortable pedals available. There are no frustrating pressure points, and the large size means that you don’t have to think about where your foot is placed.
What stands out about the Mx80s is their customization. Traction is provided by several pins in the face of the pedal. A set of included washers allow you to raise of lower them. Raising them increases traction, lowering them reduces friction. Whether hitting jumps or tackling steep slopes, you’ll be used to these pedals from the moment you install them, and can tweak them to best suit your needs.
Crank Brothers Eggbeater 2
The Best Clipless Pedals
Whether you’re upgrading from another clipless pedal or looking to try them for the first time, we can’t recommend the Eggbeater 2 enough. Their unique design offers an unparalleled riding experience, earning them a cult following amongst enthusiasts.
Topping the clipless category, these pedals are a bit of an underdog. They’re not the most popular, and they’re very different in design from most common models. But once you’ve tried these, you’ll never want to go back to another design.
What makes this model stand out is the unique way that the Crank Brothers found a balance between weight and durability. Typically, to make a pedal stronger you’ve got to reinforce it. Stronger pedals come with a weight penalty, while lightweight pedals don’t tend to last as long. In this case, the opposite is true. By making the outer casing from cast stainless steel, these puppies are virtually indestructible. The spring spindle in the center hold your feet in place just as well as any other design, but the rounded edges allow it to shed mud and debris.
The patented four-sided entry mechanism means that you can install these pedals anyway you want, and you won’t struggle to get your foot clipped in. This is one of the few clipless designs that is almost as easy to use as a flat pedal.
Shimano PD-M324 SPD Dual Platform Pedal
The Best of Both Worlds
Can’t decide whether you prefer flat or clipless pedals? Find yourself constantly switching between the two? Shimano’s unique design allows you both styles in a single package. Although basic in design, the PD-M324 are still a pretty serious upgrade over the stock models. This is the no-risk option for any consumer who isn’t sure where their money is best spend.
Shape wise, these pedals are comparable to most basic flat pedals. They’ve got a large, yet thin outer grip that is textured to maintain good contact with your foot. On the flat side, a smooth metal bar provides platform-grade support. When you flip them over, that support becomes the mounting bracket for the SPD interface.
One of the main advantage with these combo pedals is the fact that they use a standard interface. Most competing models use a custom interface, requiring you to purchase proprietary shoes that won’t work on other clipless pedals. But this model uses Shimanos standard interface, so you’re always able to upgrade later if you find that clipless is more your style.
These pedals are popular among bikers who ride a variety of terrain. Being able to instantly swap between two pedal types means that you don’t have to bust out the multi tool just to change up your riding style. With the M324s, you’ll be able to focus on the destination instead of your gear.
Shimano XTR PD-M9000 Race Pedal
Built for Speed
Whether you’re flying down a mountain, ripping a cross-country trail, or tearing your way back up to the top, there are times when speed is the number one priority. In a clipless pedal, the most important factors during high speed use is durability, weight, and response. In all three categories, the M9000 checks all of our boxes.
Ever drag yourself out of the house on a snowy winter day to shovel the driveway? The moment you put on those thick winter boots, you instantly feel like you’ve got bricks strapped to your feet. Your movement is clumsier, less precise, and generally a little awkward.
That’s exactly what it’s like to use pedals that are too heavy. At high speeds, you gain a lot of inertia. Seemingly simple movements require a ton of force, and a few grams of weight can make a huge difference.
The M9000 racing pedals are some of the lightest on the market. At 310 grams, they feel virtually weightless. Slipping your feet into them is quick and easy, and the single release angle means that you’re not going to accidentally disengage, even when throwing yourself over rugged terrain.
Adjusting the tension and release angle can be done in seconds using only an 8mm wrench. These are the pedals you want if you’re an experienced downhill rider who wants something that will adapt to your exact needs, without hindering your performance.
Race Face Chester Pedals
Eye-catching Style That Doesn’t Break the Bank
For many mountain biking enthusiasts, style is important. Unfortunately, many manufacturers choose to favor visual appeal over quality. But this flat pedal is uniquely designed to offer excellent performance and style, without the premium price tag attached.
A few years ago, Nylon pedals took the market by storm. Nylon can take a beating without cracking or chipping, and it doesn’t weight nearly as much as steel. From a functionality perspective, Nylon is a premium material. From a financial perspective, it’s very affordable to manufacture.
Race face makes their Chester pedals available in six different neon colors: blue, green, orange, purple, red, and yellow. For the minimalists out there, a jet black model is available as well. All of them have the same basic form factor – a thin profile dotted with eight traction pins per side.
These pedals are wide, comfortable to use, and very forgiving. They’re easy to slip your feet onto or off of them, and getting the perfect footing isn’t required. This makes them a great choice for tricks, or just fooling around on the trail.
HT Components X2 Clipless Pedals
A Clipless Alternative for Tough Terrain
A common misconception is that clipless pedals are only suitable for speed and precision. When you’re hitting the backcountry and tackling whatever nature throws at you, most riders choose a flat pedal so that they can bail if necessary. But the unique design of HT components X2 pedals make them one of the few clipless pedals that thrive in this environment, and are often considered the safe choice.
Made from anodized aluminum, the eye-catching design is one of the first things you notice about the X2s. They’re available in black, red, and blue, with each option featuring a unique metallic sheen.
Visually, they look like they’re built to take abuse. But that’s not actually the case. They’re designed to break.
Before you scroll to the next model in our list, hear us out. This is actually a good thing. When you’re going down rough backcountry terrain, there is always a chance that you can wipe out. During an accident, it is often ideal to let go of your bike and let yourself land naturally. Under extremely high tension, these aluminum pedals will snap and release your foot. This is rare, but can be the difference between a bruise and a broken bone.
The purpose of this design is to allow you to use clipless pedals in environments where you’re typically chose flat. And the payoff can be huge. With 4 degrees of float, your feet are held tightly to the pedals. This is a much tighter tolerance than most clipless designs, allowing you to move with more precision and feel the ride more.
The release angle is much looser, with a 13 degree tolerance. This means that you can easily dismount, even when you’re in an awkward position. The design is definitely unique, but perfectly suited for backcountry riding.
Spank Spike Platform Pedals
The Best Pedals to Take Air With
There are few activities in life as exhilarating as launching yourself over a dirt jump, doing a little tail whip, and nailing the landing. But if we’re being honest with ourselves, we’re not going to nail every single landing. And when you’re beating on your pedals like that, you’re bound to break something. The Spank Spike’s are specially designed for this kind of use and abuse, and will hold up better than anything else on the market.
Visually, this might seem like your standard low-profile bike pedal. Thin pedals are not often known for being tough, so we weren’t sure what to expect when we first tried it out. But we now know first hand that although they are small, these things are fierce.
Most steel pedals are extruded. The metal is melted, pushed into a mold, and cooled. But these ones are cold-forged. They’re not heated to the melting point, but just enough to be malleable and repeatedly slammed with a press until the desired shape is met. This improves the structural integrity of the metal, allowing them to withstand significantly more force.
The outer edges are protected from dents and scratches with another piece of thin metal, so you’re not going to chew them up when you wipe out. The bearings are a little firmer, so they won’t spin while in the air. The low profile gives you better clearance, preventing you from clipping them on unexpected obstructions.
The end result is a pedal that feels like it belongs in the air, but handles itself well in a gravity fed world.
Why We Chose These Pedals
Didn’t see your favorite pedal on the list? Wondering why we’d choose one or the other? There are plenty of great pedals on the market, and not all of them made our list. But we wanted a good starting point for you to choose from, and every model on our list was chosen based on the following criteria:
This isn’t just our opinion. We wanted pedals that had been reviewed by professional mountain bikers, and tested by consumers. You won’t find any no-name products here, only tried and true designs that have stood the test of time.
Some of these pedals are recommended for all users, while others are recommended for specific purposes. We made sure that every model we recommended was built to a high standard, and is designed withstand even the most extreme scenarios we recommended it for.
There are a few situations where you need something specific, but there isn’t a single pedal on our list that is only good for one thing. They might be geared towards one particular riding style, and they might be designed with a specific purpose in mind. But every pedal on this list can be used full time. You won’t have to swap them out, nor will you need to buy multiple sets.
When we say value, we’re not talking about the price. We’re talking about getting what you pay for. You can find pedals that are a fraction of the price of the cheapest option on our list, and there are certainly more expensive options out there. But these models were chosen because the price is fair considering the features you get. For example, our clipless pedals use common interfaces. You’re not going to get locked into a proprietary system, so you’ll be able to keep the same shoes if you decide to upgrade in the future. Other times, we focused on pedals that were overbuilt, so you can get many years of use out of them before they have to be replaced.
Questions to Ask Before Buying
Still not sure which one is right for you? Asking a few simple questions will help you narrow down your choices.
What is my experience level?
Experts are likely going to select different pedals than beginners. If you’re just getting started, we’d recommend selecting a pedal that has little to no learning curve. Flat pedals are going to be the most similar to the ones you’re currently riding, so you can get up and go. Models with lots of traction will keep your foot in place, but will be more forgiving of improper posture and positioning.
For the more experienced, you might find that a clipless pedal gives you better control over your bike. A lightweight model will be more responsive to subtle input, and let you control the bike with greater precision.
How harsh are the conditions I’ll be riding in?
Take a look at the pedals that are currently on your bike. Are they caked with mud? Do you often snag them on terrain and obstacles? You can pick up the most expensive, lightweight pedals on the market. If they’re packed with dirt and debris by the time you get to the bottom of the hill, you’ll lose a lot of the advantages. Many models are designed with large gaps between the structural components of the pedal. This allows dirt to fall out, and prevents buildup.
If you’re constantly catching them on things or slamming your foot into them after a drop, picking up a more durable model is a good call. This will extend the life, and prevent you from having to replace them prematurely.
How Fast am I Riding?
Tearing down a trail at a mountain bike park is completely different from pushing yourself through the backcountry. High speed riders want a pedal that is lightweight, has tight tolerances, and keeps your foot firmly on the pedal. This will help you feel the run below you, and convert subtle movements into usable input.
When you’re climbing over steep, unstable ground, precision is the last thing you need. You want a pedal with a foothold, tons of grip, and plenty of reinforcement.
Don’t be Afraid to Experiment!
Remember the day you first got your bike? It’s always an incredible feeling when you do perform an activity that you’re familiar with, but still experience it in a completely different way. Sure, purchasing a clipless pedal can be intimidating when you’ve only used flat ones. It’s easy to brush off an intriguing new feature with “will I ever really use that?” But it’s important to push these thoughts out of your head. If you want something unique, you’ve got to branch out a little. Buying a pedal that is nearly identical in design to your current one will only provide subtle, at best, improvements. When you try something new, you learn a whole new way to ride. It’s those kinds of experiences that help you grow as an athlete, pushing you forward on the ongoing trail of your life.