Choosing the Right Type of Pedal for Your Mountain Bike

When it comes to mountain biking, your equipment is almost as important as your skill level and fitness level. If you are out of shape then it will be much harder to ride your bike and if you have the wrong equipment then the same thing applies.

One thing that will make a difference in your riding abilities that many people tend to overlook are your pedals. After all, your pedals are what connect your legs to your bike so it’s important to have the right ones for your riding style and comfort level. Now you may think that a pedal is just a pedal but there has been a lot of research and development that has gone into the design of mountain bike pedals. And with that said you can only imagine how many different styles there are to choose from.

The first thing you need to decide is if you want to use a flat or platform pedal or a clipless pedal. Platform pedals are what you would normally think of when picturing a pedal and are where you basically put your foot right down on the pedal to pedal the bike. Clipless pedals are the type where you clip the bottom of your shoe into a special clip that secures them to the pedal. I know you are asking yourself why they are called clipless when you clip them to your pedal. It’s because when the toe clip pedals were popular they were considered to be clipped in type pedals and therefore when you didn’t use the toe clip but rather attached them to the bottom of your shoe they were considered clipless. Now let’s talk about the pros and cons of each type of pedal.

Flat or platform pedals have been around since bikes have been around and they are the easiest to use since there is nothing really to get used to assuming you know how to ride a bike.

Platform Pedal

Benefits include:

  • Ease of use
  • No special shoes required
  • No getting used to unclipping
  • Pedals can be cheaper to buy
  • Safer for extreme or downhill riding since you can put your foot down faster when needed

On the down side you don’t get the pedaling efficiency with platform pedals and you also risk slipping off them in tough or wet situations. And once you get a pedal in the shin it’s something you will remember on your next few rides!

Clipless pedals require you to have special shoes with built in clips that need to match the clip type on your pedal. And if you forget your shoes it’s not too easy to ride them with regular shoes since the clip will be digging into the bottom of your foot an there is not much of a platform to them if any.

Clipless Pedal

Clipless Pedal

Benefits include:

  • You get the power on the down AND up stroke of the pedal making your riding more efficient
  • No slipping off your pedal and having the pedal jam into your shin
  • Some people feel more in control when "connected" to their bike

One of the biggest downsides of clipless pedals is that if you are not good at unclipping you can easily fall over when you can’t get your foot unclipped in time. The pedals have sensitivity adjustments on them so you can adjust how easy or hard it is to get unclipped. Over time you will get better at getting unclipped quickly but even the most experienced clipless riders still get stuck from time to time.

When it comes to choosing the right pedal for you it will come down to how much you want to spend to enhance your riding experience. Platform pedals come in all sizes and materials from aluminum, to magnesium, to polymer and so on. Some have teeth like prongs on them to grip your shoes while others have tiny screw in studs that can be replaced when they wear out. Higher end pedals have sealed bearings and are rebuildable so rather than replacing them when they start making that crunchy sound you can simply rebuild them.

When making your decision think about how much you want to spend and how light you want your pedals to be as well as what kind of abuse they will be taking. Sure a polymer pedal will be light but it may not take as much rock smashing abuse as a metal pedal. Also keep in mind that there are various thicknesses to platform pedals and this may come into play when it comes to avoiding hitting them on rocks and so on.

Clipless Pedal Shoe

As for clipless pedals you want to make sure to spend enough so you don’t have issues getting clipped in and out of the pedals to avoid any unnecessary accidents. You should also decide if you want to have a strictly clipless design or one that has a platform built into it just in case you want to ride unclipped on a technical section of the trail. Some clipless pedals even come where one side is for clipping in and the other side is completely flat allowing you to have the best of both worlds. You also have to remember that you will need special shoes that allow you to attach the clip to the bottom of it and they can be pricey. Another down side with clipless shoes is that they tend to be stiff so if you have to hike your bike up a hill it can make it harder and you may also damage the clip on rocks etc.

If you are new to mountain biking then you may want to talk to others that use one or both types of pedals to get their opinions on what they like best before buying your new pedals. And since many new bikes don’t come with pedals these days its best to know what you want before your next bike purchase.

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