On the surface, pedals on a mountain bike might not seem very important. They are small and seemingly insignificant. But the truth is, pedals are a very important facet of having a bike that fits you, and the difference between a quality pedal and one that doesn’t work very well for the type of riding you are doing can make or break the experience.

So, how do you choose which pedals to buy? There are a few different decisions you’re going to need to make, and I’m going to walk you through some of the pros and cons of each, as well as give some recommendations based on Singletracks user ratings and personal experience.

Platform vs. Clipless Pedals


When choosing a mountain bike pedal, the first thing you’ll want to decide is if you want platform (aka flat) or clipless pedals. Most entry level mountain bikes come equipped with platform pedals made from either plastic or some type of metal. The main advantages of platform pedals are:flats

  1. You don’t need special shoes to use them. Any sturdy pair of shoes with a flat bottom will work.
  2. It’s easy to bail off the bike if necessary (great for beginners, but also downhill/dirt jump/freeriders).
  3. Entry-level platform pedals are generally less expensive than entry level clipless pedals.

Platform pedals have come a long way in recent years. They are lighter, sleeker, and grippier than ever, and specially-designed shoes by brands like Five Ten make the experience even better (check out the mountain bike shoe buyers guide for more info on footwear options). Some people who ride flats claim that it’s just as stable as being clipped in.

In recent years, flat pedal technology has come a long way, with significant improvements in the pins and shape of flat pedals, and the grippiness of flat pedal-specific shoes. There’s never been a better time to purchase and ride flat pedals! Even if you have flats that you’ve owned for many years, now might be a great time to look into a flat pedal upgrade.

DMR Vault V2 Pedals - Pink | Flat Pedals
$78.18    Wiggle US   AD 

The Canfield Brothers Crampon Ultimate flat pedals. Photo: Aaron Chamberlain.

The Canfield Brothers Crampon Ultimate flat pedals. Photo: Aaron Chamberlain.

See Also
By Aaron Chamberlain

However, many people will turn to clipless pedals in search of a really solid foot-pedal attachment.


Clipless mountain bike pedal systems feature a special cleat that is attached to a mountain bike-specific shoe to give the rider a true connection between foot and pedal. The rider clips into the pedal by stepping down and releases by twisting his heel to the side. It can take beginners a bit of practice to get used to clipless mountain bike pedals, but there are some advantages:

  1. Improved pedal efficiency, as energy is transferred throughout the pedal stroke.
  2. Improved handling on technical rides. Clipless pedals keep your feet attached to the bike on bumpy descents and make things like bunny-hopping much easier.
  3. Decreased size. Clipless pedals cut a smaller footprint than platform pedals and can make clearing rocks easier. They also tend to be lighter for a similar-quality pedal.
Issi is a newer pedal company making SPD-compatible pedals.

Issi is a newer pedal company making SPD-compatible pedals.

Pedal iSSi Trail PD2740 Pedal Black 9/16
$29.99    ebay   AD 

There are several competing standards in the clipless pedal market, and cleats may not be compatible from one standard to another. The major clipless pedal standards are SPD, Time, and CrankBrothers. At the moment, SPD is the most widely-used standard across many brands, but unless you plan to share bikes or need to outfit multiple rigs, this may not be a very important consideration.

Combo Pedals

Combination mountain bike pedals merge the advantages of both pedal types: a wide platform plus a clipping mechanism. There are two different styles. One type has a clip on one side and a platform on the other, and the other type has a clip integrated into the platform on both sides, so that each are accessible at the same time.

These Shimano combo pedals have a cleat on only one side.

These Shimano combo pedals have a clip on only one side.

The CrankBrothers Mallet has a clip integrated into a platform, so it can be accessed from both sides of the pedal.

The CrankBrothers Mallet has a clip integrated into a platform, so it can be accessed from both sides of the pedal.

Pedal cleat Standard Release 6 Degree Float
$16.49    Amazon   AD 

The main trade-off in choosing a combo pedal is that there is often a large weight penalty, and the clips may be a bit more difficult to engage than on a clipless-only pedal. One issue with many combo pedals that only have a clip on one side is that they tend to rotate so that the clip side is always pointing towards the ground, because it is the side that weighs more. This makes getting clipped in a little more cumbersome, which can be annoying out on the trail. But they are a great choice if you have a bike that you use for a wide variety of applications and sometimes want to be clipped in, but also want to be able to easily jump on with normal shoes (like a commuter bike).

Other Pedal Factors to Consider

No matter which type of pedal you’re looking for, you may want to consider these additional items:

  • Pedal weight — While lighter is generally better, sometimes it comes with durability consequences. Do some research before automatically choosing the lightest option.
  • Mud shedding abilities — Look for open spaces in the pedals where mud can be pushed out when you place your feet on the pedals. This also applies to snow.
  • Adjustability — This is mostly important when looking at clipless pedals where you’ll want to consider things like pedal tension settings (the amount of force it takes to clip and unclip) and float (the degree to which you can rotate your foot when clipped in). Platform pedals may allow you to replace spike pins or even change up the colors on the pedal body. More adjustability is better.
  • Durability — It’s a good idea to choose a solid pedal with smooth bearings that won’t require a ton of maintenance. Great mountain bike pedals will stand up to the abuse of multiple rock strikes and scratches year after year.
  • Ease of maintenance — Some pedals can be easily rebuilt and parts swapped out, while if others break, you have to buy a whole new pedal.
# Comments

  • dgaddis

    An important note on clipless pedals: Although each different manufacturer uses a different style cleat, the bolt pattern is the same, so any pedal manufacturer’s cleats should fit any mtn bike shoe.

    Does anyone know any exceptions to this rule?

  • trek7k

    Great point! Most cleat receivers have four standard bolt holes, though every cleat I’ve ever seen only used two bolts. On a recent ride I lost one bolt and was really wishing I had some backups so I could get my foot out.

  • GoldenGoose

    Normaly you run into the different bolt pattern when you start using road pedals for mtb riding. I’ve heard of several XC racers going this route in dry conditions for weight savings. As far as mtb specific pedals with the 3 bolt pattern, I couldn’t give you any off the top of my head.

    A little side note about pedals and things to look for when shelling out your hard earned dollars…

    Warranty and rebuilability (did I just make that word up?) are also big factors in my book. It sure is nice to be able to keep your pedals spinning like new with a rebuild kit. Lots higher end pedals have some form of rebuild kit and if a rebuild won’t fix the problem, a good warranty will always get them working again.

  • trek7k

    Word GG. Will have to update the article to add warranty/maintenance as another factor to consider.

  • jrkoenig

    More adjustability is not always better…I think it just means more opportunity for failure.
    Its good to have a rebuildable pedal, just not one that requires it a couple times a year (eggbeater).

  • maddslacker

    I thought the lack of adjustability on eggbeaters would be an issue but I haven’t found it to be so in the year or so I have been riding with them.

  • sionetane

    eggbeaters are adjustable in that if you put the right cleat in the left shoe and vice versa the tension to release both pedals is increased to the higher degree of angle. This adjustment has kept my shoes engaged with the pedals through the rough stuff.

  • trek7k

    To be clear, you can adjust FLOAT by changing the cleats on the eggbeater sl pedals but not release tension.

  • dgaddis

    Right. With Crank Brothers, wwapping cleats left/right changes the release angle, not the tension. I love my Crank Brothers pedals, and the new ones they showed at Sea Otter look even better.

  • mtbgreg1

    @Archangel992, Probably every single person in a cross country mountain bike race will be riding clipless pedals. In fact, most people that are cross country or all mountain riders who aren’t even interested in racing still ride with clipless. If you’re interested in making the switch, be sure to check out the two part series I wrote on the topic: http://www.singletracks.com/blog/mtb-gear/clipless-pedals/ and http://www.singletracks.com/blog/mtb-gear/how-to-switch-to-clipless/

    If you have any questions, just be sure to ask!

  • fatlip11

    I have the Xpedo XMX 13s on my single speed and love them. They are completely rebuildable and come with extra pins and a tool. I have banged them around more than a few times and they are still rock solid. Great pedals!

  • 49637

    You’d think they would have called them “Clip-in” pedals instead of clipless. Doesn’t that make more sense??

  • CorePapaXC

    I am a newbie, but I prefer the platform/clipless. I use Forte Campus. They allow me to clip in, but be able to go “regular” when I have an area where I feel I might need to put my foot down. I may switch once I get more comfortable on my MTB, but for now I reallt like these.

  • Tstrahan87

    How hard is it to clean the shoe and how does the sizing relate to that of regular shoes? Everything I read pretty much talks about the pedals and clips, is there a post about the shoes and what is best for them?

  • onefastfattie

    I ride the exact shimano clipless/platform pedals used in the photo in this article. I have had them for about two seasons now and I have gotten so used to clipping into them on the fly that the whole rotating down thing is second nature to me. I just flip it with my foot and almost in the same motion im clipping in. I have a lot of climbs where I ride so the benefits of clipless pedals are indispensable here.
    And like CorePapaXC stated:” When I come to a section that I might need to put my foot down” I un clip and ride flat. This part is awesome for me because I also ride a ton of street on my MTB. Bunny hops, drops, jumps etc. are all more cozy on a flat pedal to me so being able to ride how I like without having to change the pedals out is great.

  • Litespeeder

    Something not discussed here is ease of clip in which is big. For example Eggbeater is 4 sided while SPD is two and when in a race time spent fumbling around to get clipped in always vexes me. The shoe has a lot to do with this as well so a review of combos would be very worthwhile editors :-)…..

  • finerbiner

    Used eggbeaters when i lived in the midwest and never though I would change. Switched to Shimano xt because of all the pedal striking on the Front Range and both work great in the right application.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.