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Bicycle Pedals Buyer's Guide

This buyer's guide will help you choose the right pedals for your bicycle, based on the style of bicycle that you have and the type of riding you like to do. First, we break down the types of pedals and the differences among them. Then, we'll cover some technical information you might need to know to help choose the right pedals and install them yourself.

Platform Pedals

Platform pedals are just regular plain old pedals; no straps, clips, or other fancy stuff. They all function pretty much the same, and work with any type of footwear you prefer. They come with smaller platforms for kids' bikes. They are made of plastic, steel, aluminum, or some combination of plastic and metal. The basic inexpensive platform pedals are okay for occasional casual riders. What you get when you pay more for better platform pedals are smoother, higher-quality bearings, and more durable overall construction.

Sunlite Mtn Sport II Pedal

Sunlite Juvenile Pedal

Sunlite Comfort Grip ABS Pedal

Origin8 Classique Pro Pedal

Toe Clips & Straps

Toe clips are plastic or metal "cages" that enclose your shoes. They hold your feet in place on the pedals to help keep them from slipping off.

Most toe clips also come with straps that can be tightened and loosened based on your preference. If you already have a pair of platform pedals, you may be able to attach toe clips to them. If that is not possible, then you can buy pedals and toe clips as a complete set.

Toe clips can also make your pedaling a little more efficient, because they allow you to push down and pull up with your feet at the same time.

Dimension Mini Toe Clip

Sunlite ATB Toe Clips and Straps

MKS Steel Toe Clips

Sunlite Low Profile Alloy ATB Pedal with Toe Clip and Strap

"Clipless" Pedals

The type of pedals that you "clip into" are technically called "clipless" pedals. This confusing terminology came about because they were originally compared to pedals with clips and straps as described above. We use the term "Clip-In Pedals" to avoid confusion.

Clip-in pedals come with a pair of "cleats" that attach to cycling-specific shoes. The cleats click into a mechanism on the pedals so that your feet are held securely in place, allowing you to make the smoothest and most efficient pedals strokes in a uniform circular motion. The cleats are specific to the manufacter and model of the pedals.

Once your feet are clipped into place on the pedals, they are not "locked" in place. It is very easy to unclip; just swing your heels outward, and the clip-in mechanism releases. It does take some getting used to but it's not as hard as it seems for your first time.

Clipless pedals come in a variety of different styles and mechanisms. Choose your pedals based on the type of cycling you do and the type of cycling shoes you want to wear. (See our related article: Cycling Shoes Buyer's Guide.)

Mountain Bike Clip-In Pedals

Clip-in pedals that are designed for mountain biking usually have the clip-in mechanism on both sides of each pedal. This makes it easier to clip in after the frequent dismounts from your bike that are common while mountain biking. Some mountain bike pedals have a platform that surrounds the clip-in mechanism to provide a little extra support for your shoes, while some have a very minimalist design.

The cleats used with mountain bike pedals are small enough to be enclosed within the tread of your cycling shoes, which makes it easier to walk or run as needed on dirt trails when you have to get off your bike to get through rough terrain.

Shimano PD-M520 Mountain Bike Pedal

Shimano PD-M8120 Deore XT Mountain Bike Pedal

Road Bike Clip-In Pedals

Clip-in pedals made for road cycling usually have the clip-in mechanism on only one side of each pedal. This is mainly so that the pedal can be made as lightweight as possible. Clipping in and out quickly is not as big a concern as when mountain biking, since frequent starts and stops while road cycling are not as common.

The cleats that come with road cycling pedals are large triangular-shaped pieces of plastic. The large cleat helps to distribute the weight and force of your feet over a larger area. This helps to minimize sore feet and hot spots during long bike rides. The cleats protrude significantly from the bottoms of your shoes, making walking around in road cycling shoes a lot less convenient compared to mountain biking shoes.

Shimano PD-R8000 Ultegra Road Cycling Pedal

Look Keo Classic 3 Road Cycling Pedal

Time Xpresso 7 Road Cycling Pedal

Road Touring and Commuting Pedals

Some road cyclists want the minimalist design and lighter weight of road bike pedals, but they also want the convenience of being able to walk around while off the bike, which is easier with mountain bike shoes. The pedal shown in the first image below meets these needs. It has a mountain-bike style clip-in mechanism, so it can be used with mountain bike or bicycle touring shoes. However, the mechanism is only on one side of each pedal, allowing for a smaller, sleeker look.

Some people want the flexibility to use shoes with clip-in cleats sometimes but wear regular shoes other times. The pedal shown in the second image below has the mountain bike type of clip-in mechanism on one side and a plain traditional platform on the other side.

The pedal in the third and fourth images below takes this concept a step further by putting metal traction pins on the platform side, similar to mountain bike platform pedals (see below).

All three of these pedal models do take some getting used to, as it takes some practice to flip the pedals to the proper orientation as you start riding. But for fans of these style of pedals, the trade-off is worth it.

Shimano PD-ES600 Road Touring Pedal

Shimano PD-M324 Bike Touring and Commuting Pedal

The clip-in mechanism side of the Shimano PD-EH500 Bike Touring and Commuting Pedal

The platform and traction pins side of the Shimano PD-EH500 Bike Touring and Commuting Pedal

Mountain Bike Platform Pedals

Many mountain bikers prefer not to use clip-in pedals, but use mountain bike specific platform pedals. These pedals have traction pins on the platforms that grip the soles of your shoes to help keep your feet from sliding off of the pedals. The pins can be molded into the plastic or metal body of the pedal, or they can be metal studs that are screwed into the pedal body. This style of pedals is also popular on BMX bikes.

You're probably thinking, "Won't those sharp pins rips my shins up if my feet slip off the pedals?" That is a possibility in the worst-case scenario. However, the idea is that the pins grip your shoes so well that it is very unlikely that your feet will slip off the pedals.

These pedals work fine with regular sneakers or running shoes. Some riders like to use flat pedal specific mountain biking shoes that have a smooth rubber sole, but a stiff plate built into the sole to minimize flexing of your feet and maximize the energy you put into the pedals.

Race Face Ride Flat Mountain Bike Pedal in Black

Giant Pinner Elite Flat Mountain Bike Pedal in Blue

Eclat Surge BMX Platform Pedals in Silver

The bottom of the Giant Shuttle Flat Pedal Mountain Biking Shoe

More about the differences between mountain biking and road cycling cleats and shoes

The smaller cleats used with mountain biking pedals attach to the shoes using two bolts each. On the shoes, there's a nut embedded within the soles where the cleats bolt into place. The nut can slide forwards and backwards, plus there are two pairs of mounting holes in the nut--this gives you a wide range of front-to-back adjustment of the cleat position. There is also some side-to-side adjustment available.

The larger cleats used with road cycling pedals attach to the shoes using three bolts each. The mounting holes will be arranged in a triangular pattern on the soles of the shoes. The cleat itself allows for some front-to-back and side-to-side adjustments to its position.

Some road cycling shoes have both sets of cleat mounting holes--the three-bolt pattern for road cleats and the two-bolt pattern for mountain cleats. However, we don't recommend using mountain cleats on road shoes.

Road cycling cleats are available that have rubber inserts to help provide a little traction when walking on smooth pavement or floors in road cycling shoes.

The ideal position of your cleats is determined by a number of factors--the natural angle of your feet, variations in the structure of your knees, the width of your hips, and more. How do you determine the best cleat position for you? You can use a trial and error approach, trying one setup, and making small adjustments after you ride until you get it dialed in. However, the best course of action is to get a professional bike fitting to optimize your cleat position.

Crank Brothers Zero Float Mountain Biking Cleats

The cleat mounting area on the sole of a mountain biking shoe

Shimano SPD-SL Road Cycling Cleats

The cleat mounting area of a road cycling shoe

Pedals for Indoor Cycling

If you bring your bike inside to use an indoor trainer during the winter months, then you can use the same pedals and shoes that you're comfortable with for outdoor riding. Many indoor-specific trainer bikes come with road cycling pedals. An example is the popular Peloton™ bikes--the road cycling pedals are included with the bike, but the cleats are not (you can buy the cleats from us).

The pedals used on indoor bikes, or spin bikes, at gyms will vary from one gym to another. Sometimes, they will have platform pedals with toe clips and straps. Some use exerciser-specific pedals with solid plastic platforms and large plastic or hook-and-loop straps (first picture below). Some use combination pedals that have toe clips and straps on one side, and a mountain bike clip-in mechanism on the other (second and third pictures below). Still others use combination pedals that have a mountain bike clip-in mechanism on one side and a road bike clip-in mechanism on the other (not pictured).

Some gyms will allow you to bring your own pedals to swap onto their bikes in place of their provided pedals. Check with your gym to see if they permit this and bring your own pedal wrench if so (see below).

Sunlite Flat Form Exerciser Pedal

Toe clip and strap on the Sunlite Training Pedal

The mountain bike clip-in mechanism side of the Sunlite Training Pedal

Pedal Threads

If you are removing and/or installing pedals yourself, the most important thing to know is that the right and left pedals are NOT the same. The threads on the spindles that screw into your bike's crank arms are different on the right versus the left pedal:

  • The RIGHT pedal uses "regular" threading. To remove the right-side pedal, you turn it the same direction as you would to loosen a screw, or counterclockwise. To install the right-side pedal, turn it clockwise. In other words, the usual rule of "Right-Tighty, Lefty-Loosey" applies.
  • The LEFT pedal uses "reverse" threading. To remove the left-side pedal, turn it clockwise. To install the left-side pedal, turn it counterclockwise.

When installing new pedals, if you are lucky, they will be marked with an "R" or an "L" to indicate which is right and left. There may be some other manufacturer-specific mark to distinguish right and left; check the owner's manual. If there are no right/left indicators, you can tell which is which by closely examining the threads. Hold a pedal in front of you with the threaded spindle pointing up. If the threads are slanted up and to the left, that is the LEFT pedal. If the threads are slanted up and to the right, that is the RIGHT pedal. If you try to install the right pedal on the left side, or vice-versa, it is highly likely that you will damage the pedal and the crank arm beyond repair.

Bicycle pedals with Left and Right indicators on the ends of the threaded spindles

Examining bicycle pedal threads to determine which is Left and Right

Pedal Spindle Sizes

There are two sizes for the threaded portion of the pedal spindle, 1/2 inch and 9/16 inch. 9/16 inch is the most common, and that's what used on most adult bicycles. Some inexpensive adult beach cruiser bikes might have 1/2 inch spindles. Most kids' bikes with 20-inch wheels or smaller have 1/2 inch spindles.

Bicycle pedals with one-half inch spindle and nine-sixteenths-inch spindle

Pedal Wrench

The wrench flats used to tighten the pedal spindles are usually 15 millimeters. In some cases, you might be able to use a 15mm crescent wrench that you'd find in a typical hardware store. However, in many cases, the amount of space available on the pedal wrench flats is not enough for a regular crescent wrench to fit, so you'll have to use a bicycle-specific Pedal Wrench, which has thinner "jaws" that allow it to reach into the tight space.

A crescent wrench and a bicycle pedal wrench

Hex Wrenches for Pedals

Some pedals don't have wrench flats on the spindles, but instead use a hex socket on the end of the spindle. A large L-shaped hex wrench works well on these. You can also get hex wrenches with comfortable grips on the ends, made just for this purpose. Most pedals of this type use an 8mm hex wrench, but some use 6mm.

Hex wrenches used for installing and removing bicycle pedals

We have all of these varieties of bicycle pedals in stock in all four Century Cycles stores. Stop in and talk to our friendly staff about what pedals are best for you! Still confused by all the technical information? Bring your bicycle with you, so we can better evaluate what pedals are compatible, and install them for you.