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Bike Pedals: The Complete Beginners Guide (Updated 2021)

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PEDALS! They are the vital component that propels your bike forward and you into your next adventure. However, one of the most often asked questions at the store is “What pedals are suitable for me?”

When it comes to pedals, the first thing you should consider is the sort of riding you want to perform. Are you planning to be largely in the dirt, going full roadie, or touring/commuting? Do you want the power transmission and efficiency of a clipless system or the relative simplicity and agility of a platform? Or maybe you’d want the best of both worlds!

Let’s start by looking at some of the many types of pedals.

Platform bike Pedals
Platform pedals are similar to those seen on your first bike. They give a wide/stable surface to support your feet on both sides and may be used with almost any shoe. They are not meant to be worn with clipless shoes.

Newer models employ lightweight materials and sealed bearings to keep moisture, filth, and other random debris out. Some even include interchangeable pins on the surface for further traction in slick conditions.

These pedals are ideal for commuting, touring, and even dirt riding. These pedals provide enough grip and control while being the simplest to get on and off during any sort of adventure.

Straps and Toe Clips for Pedals
Toe clips, sometimes known as toe cages, are little frames that connect to the front of platform pedals and encircle your toes. They enable you to lift up as well as push down with your foot throughout the pedal stroke.

Most will come with an adjustable strap that threads through the top and bottom of the clip (this encircles the ball of your foot), providing you with a simple retention mechanism that is lightweight, inexpensive, and long-lasting.

Bike Pedals With No Clips
To begin, clipless is an admittedly strange moniker for these pedals since you are really clipping onto the pedal’s cleats, just as you would with a ski binding.

The term derives from a time when pedals with “toe clips” were a cyclist’s only option for better pedaling efficiency. The clipless pedal eliminated the need for toe clips by providing a direct connection between shoe and pedal, which is how they were known as “clipless pedals.”

The technique works by attaching a tiny metal or plastic cleat to the sole of your shoe, which snaps into a series of spring-loaded clips on the front of the pedal.

While riding rapidly or doing actions like leaping up on curbs or over logs, clipless pedals will give a high degree of control. With your feet secured onto the pedals, the risk for bouncing off the pedals when you apply power or ride over bumps is reduced significantly.

It may take some practice to get into and out of clipless pedals, but once you do, you won’t forget.

Quick Overview: Here are some of the most common clipless shoe features available on the market.

Touring, Gravel, or MTB?

Biking on the road

Pedal design

two-hole (SPD, Crank Brothers, Time styles)

three-hole (Look, Time or SPD-SL styles)

Outsole of a shoe

Rubber Luggage

Carbon or smooth composite?

Sole of a shoe

Stiff

Extremely stiff

Cleat fashion

Recess into the sole

Protrusion from the sole

MTB/Gravel Bike Pedals: Clipless pedals for MTB/gravel riding with 2-hole cleats. Screws are inserted through the two holes in the cleat, fastening it to two tracks on the bottom of a suitable shoe. This allows you to slowly move the cleat back and forth to reach the appropriate angle and positioning for optimal comfort and ease of pedal contact.

The 2-hole design is often known as the “SPD” system (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics). Shimano was one of the first businesses to design this method and is still a market leader today. Other manufacturers, including as Crank Brothers and Time, have created comparable systems based on Shimano’s concepts.

Road Bike Pedals: Clipless pedals for road bicycling often include 3-hole cleats. This form of cleat is often referred to as a “Look” style cleat (after the firm that pioneered its usage) or the newer SPD-SL system. These cleats have a larger platform, are made of plastic, and protrude slightly further from the shoe’s sole than the 2-hole design.

The benefit of a 3-hole design is that the bigger cleat can distribute the force imparted to the pedal across a much greater platform. This decreases total strain on the foot and connecting points when pedaling and provides for a solid connection.

If you’re a more casual rider or regularly get on and off your bike, a 2-hole cleat system may be preferable since it allows for simpler on/off and is a more walkable cleat.

Bike Pedals (Clipless/Platform)
The versatility of platform pedals is combined with the efficiency of a clipless system in this hybrid pedal. This may be thought of as a “gateway” pedal. It’s ideal for anybody who wants to get started with clipless. While most people think of clipless pedals as either all in or all out, they are a good comfortable medium and an option for individuals who don’t usually ride with a cycling shoe.

Important Phrases
There are a few terminology that will be thrown about concerning pedals that you should know when you start thinking about which pedals are suitable for you.

Pedal float occurs when a cleated bike pedal is stepped on and the cleat locks into the pedal’s mechanism, keeping the pedal securely in place. The amount of angular rotation permitted for the foot on the pedal is referred to as float. A few systems keep the foot at a fixed angle; others allow set levels of float; and a few allow for configurable float ranges. The amount of float in a pedal and how you choose to ride that pedal will become a more personal choice as you gain riding expertise.

Cleats with several releases: Most cleats that come with pedals release laterally. The so-called multiple-release cleat is quite identical to these types, with the exception that it releases a little more readily and at somewhat higher angles (your heel can move either inward or outward and slightly upward as well). While the changes are sometimes modest, the main line is that they seem to be somewhat more forgiving than lateral-release cleats.

Pedals are a personal decision, and determining what works best for you and your riding style may be difficult. We hope, however, that this serves as a useful starting point for you as you begin to study your possibilities.

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Author avatar - Bradley Knight
Written By Bradley Knight
As a native New Yorker, Bradley is no stranger to the fixed gear scene. He’s been riding fixed for over ten years. When he’s not on the bike, you can find him practicing his many hobbies including playing guitar, video production, and photography.

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