Everything you need to know about Bike Pedals

PEDALS! They are that integral piece that helps propel your bike forward and you onto your next adventure. However, one of the things that we often get asked about at the shop is “What pedals are right for me?”



When you start to think about pedals, first you are going to want to think about what type riding are going to be doing. Are you primarily going to be in dirt, going full roadie, or touring/commuting? Are you going to be looking for the power transfer and efficiency of a clipless system or the relative ease and maneuverability of a platform? Or maybe you want the best of both worlds!

First let's explore some of the different flavors of pedals.

Platform Bike Pedals

Platforms pedals are the ones you probably had on your first bike. They provide a wide/stable surface to support your feet on both sides and these can work with just about any type of shoe. They are not intended for use with clipless shoes.

New versions use lightweight materials, sealed bearings to keep out moisture, grime, and any other random junk that might try to get in. Some even have replaceable pins on the surface for increased grip in slippery situations.

These are pedals are great for commuting, touring, or even some gravel. These pedals offer a combination of sufficient grip and control, all while being the easiest to get on and off during any type of adventure.

Pedal Toe Clips and Straps

Toe clips or toe cages are small frames that attach to the front of platform pedals and surround your toes. They allow you to pull up with your foot in the pedal stroke as well as push down.

Most will come with an adjustable strap that thread through the top and bottom of the clip (this encircles the ball of your foot), giving you a basic retention system that is lightweight, affordable and durable.

Clipless Bike Pedals

First of let’s clear things up, clipless is admittedly a confusing name for these pedals since you are actually clipping into the pedal’s cleats much like you do with a ski binding.

The origin of the name goes back to when pedals that had “toe clips” were really a cyclist’s only choice for improved pedaling efficiency. The clipless pedal got rid of the toe clips by offering a direct attachment between shoe and pedal and that is how they came to be known as “clipless pedals”.

The system works by mounting a small cleat (made of metal or plastic) on the sole of your shoe that snaps into a set of spring-loaded clips on the face of the pedal.

Clipless pedals will provide a high level of control while riding fast or executing moves like hopping up on to curbs or over logs. With your feet locked into the pedal the potential won’t be nearly as high for your bounce off the pedals as you apply power or while riding through the bumps.

It can take a little practice getting in and out of clipless pedals, but once you get the hang of it, you won’t soon forget.

Quick Overview: Here are some the most popular clipless shoe attributes that are out on the market


MTB, Gravel or Touring

Road Biking

Pedal style

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

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

Shoe outsole

Lugged Rubber

Smooth Composite or Carbon

Shoe sole


Very stiff

Cleat style

Recessed into sole

Protrude from sole

MTB/Gravel Bike Pedals: Clipless pedals for MTB/gravel biking feature cleats with a 2-hole design. Screws are placed through the 2 holes securing the cleat to 2 tracks along the bottom of a compatible shoe. This lets you slide the cleat back and forth slightly to achieve the proper angle and placement for maximum comfort and ease of engagement to the pedal.

The 2-hole design is most often referred to as the “SPD” system (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics). Shimano was one of the first companies to develop this system and continues to be a leader in the market today. Other manufacturers like Crank Brothers and Time have also developed similar systems based on the same principles as Shimano.

Road Bike Pedals: Clipless pedals for road biking often feature cleats with a 3-hole design. This design is often called a “Look” style cleat (after the company that pioneered its use) or the newer SPD-SL system. These cleats have a larger platform, are made out of plastic and stick out a little farther from the sole of the shoe than then 2-hole design.

The advantage of a 3-hole design is that the larger cleat is able to spread the force being applied to the pedal over a much wider platform. This reduces the overall pressure on the foot and on the connection points and allows a secure connection while pedaling.

If you’re a more casual rider or are on and off your bike frequently, you may opt for a 2-hole cleat system instead since it allow for an easier on/off and lends itself to be a more walkable cleat.

Clipless/Platform Bike Pedals

This hybrid pedal combines the flexibility of platform pedals with the efficiency of a clipless system. You can think of this as a gateway pedal. It’s great for anyone looking to ease into clipless. While most folks thinking of clipless pedals either go all in or not at all, these are a nice happy medium and offer an alternative for those who don’t always ride with a cycling shoe.

Key Terms

There are a few terms that you will hear tossed around about pedals and these are going to be a good ones to have in your back pocket as you begin to think what pedals are right for you.

Pedal float: When you step on a cleated bike pedal, the cleat locks into the pedal’s mechanism and is held firmly in place. Float refers to the amount of angular rotation allowed to the foot on the pedal. A few systems hold the foot at a fixed angle; others allow fixed amounts of float and a few allow customizable ranges of float. The amount of float that a pedal has and how you choose to ride that pedal will become a more personal preference, especially as you become a more experienced rider.

Multiple-release cleats: Most cleats that come with pedals release laterally. The so-called multiple-release cleat is very similar to these models except that it releases a bit more easily and at slightly increased angles (your heel can move either inward or outward and slightly upward as well). While the differences tend to be rather subtle, but the bottom line is that they do seem to be somewhat more forgiving than lateral-release cleats.

Pedals are a personal choice and finding what works best for you and for your riding style can seem like a daunting task. However, we hope that this serves as a good jump off point for you as you begin to research your options.