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I love talking bike pedals. They are affordable, easy to install, and can make a huge difference in your performance.
And yet — especially if you are going “clipless” — they are also the one upgrade that everyone fears.
Are You Scared Of Clipless Bike Pedals? “I’m Worried that I Won’t Be Able To Unclip From Them” is what everyone says. Some of that may be true. Everyone I know has at least one event where they ride up to a stop sign, stop, and then realize they forgot to unclip. If you can, just turn your wheel tightly and pedal a little circle to stay upright while you unclip. Of all of those who have fallen over, I’ve never known anyone to be seriously injured. After that, you tend to remember to unclip before stopping.
Unclipping from your pedals is extremely easy. Just twist your heel and it’ll pop right out. There are a lot of pedals that are even adjustable so you can clip out more easily. I’ll talk about those in just a second.
What If I Wreck? I’ll say it now, I’m a careless rider. I take risks that I shouldn’t. And I’ve wrecked more times than is prudent. My feet somehow get free every single time. Sliding wipeouts, endos… there was one time I endo’d off a log and then just did a nice barrel roll and stood up. Thankfully, clipless pedals don’t hold you in when you wreck. Otherwise, I imagine I’d only be able to talk in a high tenor voice.
Which brings me to the next question: Why Are They Called “Clipless” when you “Clip Into Them?
The answer to this question is about a paragraph long, but the short answer is that first, we had pedals. Then we made toe cages that we strapped our feet into. Then we invented shoes with clips on the bottom that clipped to the pedal with straps on top for added security. These were hard to put on and remove and to differentiate the new “clipless” design that didn’t trap your feet to the pedal they called the new design “clipless”.
Now, some 119 years later, this new design is the only one in major use… and we still call them “clipless”.
Clipless Vs. Flat Pedals: Which Are Better?
This is an on-going debate even among experienced cyclists.
The clipless pedals secure your feet better, reducing foot slippage and shin bang. They also dramatically increase efficiency making them the top choice of pro racers in all disciplines.
However, the flat pedal is still common among freestyle riders as it is simply hard to do it tailwhip when your feet are locked in the pedals.
Even among my friends, I see a lot of riders go back and forth on the matter. Most of them prefer clipless, but they also own a very nice pair of flat pedals that they switch out for more casual riding.
What To Look For When Buying Mountain Bike Pedals:
Durability: Unless you ride like grandma, these pedals are going to take a real beating. You need a pedal that can withstand the occasional tree bashing or wipe out. However, even if you do ride like a grandma, you are undoubtedly going to pack the pedals with enough grime to pave a couple of driveways. This grit will eat out lower-quality material in weeks. Of course, you’ll be kind to your bike and wash it after each ride… but even water can lead to rust. When I review pedals, I’ll go into their durability so that you can make sure to get one that lasts. However, even the most durable pair will likely need to be replaced with 5 years of heavy riding (multiple times a week during the season.)
Cleaning: Along with durability comes cleaning. Some pedals retain grime better than others. Some are finicky about being re-greased after a cleaning. Ideally, you’ll want a set that sheds mud and doesn’t require too much maintenance.
Adjust-ability: How easily can you click out of them? Do they allow your feet to move naturally as you pedal? Freedom of motion is especially important for people who struggle with knee pain. Are they good for just cross country riding, or do they also work well for downhill?
The Top 3 Clipless Mountain Bike Pedals
Top pick: The Shimano SPD Deore XT Pedal
Undoubtedly the most significant mountain bike cleat on the market is the SPD pedal made by Shimano. They are used by countless indoor cycling clubs around the country, which has undoubtedly done a lot to help their popularity.
This popularity has also spurred the creation of a lot of knockoffs. I’ve had pretty bad luck with most of the knockoff designs, (except for the Wellgos which I got a couple of years out of on my commuter bike).
I really like the Shimano-branded pedals. They offer excellent adjustability so you can make it as easy or as difficult to click out as you would like. They also built extremely well. Even if you go with their lowest model, you will be disappointed.
For this review, I chose the PD-M780’s. I find them to be an excellent blend of price and performance.
To begin with, the M780’s are lightweight the weight of a pedal is not going to make or break the bike, but it is nice to not have to add a super clunky pedal to your kit.
What I like best about these is their incredible bearing design. Everything is sealed well, with the bearings having been designed for the rigors of professional racing. Unless you spray water directly into the spindle, you almost never have to think about maintenance on these pedals.
The cleats are also offset to help shed mud better, and the dual sided design makes it extremely easy to clip into your pedals. Just “stomp and go”!
Sure, you can get the M540’s for about $20 less. Considering how much better the M780’s are, I would definitely dig around the couch cushion and car to get the pocket change you need to snag these bad boys.
Pick #2 The Shimano SPD
This is the option most of my readers should choose.
I was re-reading this post as I got it ready for the new year (2018).
Frankly. I love this gig as a bike blogger because it means I get to re-read my entire site, look at new technology and decide what products are going to continue to hold their spots and what products need to be removed.
It’s a little tedious, but I’ll take it over being a trash truck driver (probably the most fun real-world job there is after locomotive driver).
I realized that my post didn’t offer a high-quality cheap mountain bike pedal for beginners. And so I started thinking of the most bomb-proof pedals I’ve ever used.
Frankly, I didn’t think that they still made them. Typically when something is this well-made, the brands stop making them because they need to cheapen some parts to increase their profit.
But there they were: Entry-level Shimano SPD pedals.
Now, I almost went with the Wellgos. The Wellgo brand is a knockoff that is a little bit cheaper and seems to hold up well to about 2 years of regular rising.
But there is something about going with the Shimano brand that has seemed to be worth the added expense.
This pedal is going to have a lot more steel in it than the XT’s I review above. So you need to be careful to wash them after you ride and to not shoot water into the moving parts with your pressure washer during bike washes (something you want to avoid with any pedal, but especially with these.).
Despite this pair’s price point, you have full tension adjustments allowing beginner cyclists the ability to dial the tension back to make entry and exit extremely easy. The more advanced riders will likely turn it up a couple of notches to improve how well their cleats stay attached over rough terrain.
Overall, this is a hardy little pedal, and I have a pair that I still use on my commuter ride. Excellent starter pair.
Pick #3 The Crank Brother’s Egg Beaters
I know many, many cyclists who would say these are the best pedals they’ve ever ridden. They may be correct.
Crank Brother’s is the king of innovation. They have absolutely crushed so many competitors by coming out with so many new ideas that we mountain bikers fall in love with. Take their mountain bike tools, for example. They made them out of stronger materials, pared them down to the key tools a biker would need, and are now one of the top tools anyone could want.
Their pedals are no different. In my opinion, they pulled the best functions from their competitors and combined them into a pedal. The end result is a line of pedals with huge, wide-open clips that shed mud like a rain gutter. You just spray them off with the rest of your bike at the end of the ride and they are as clean and shiny as when you first installed them.
The cleats are also easy to get clipped into. Thanks to the unique, 4-sided “eggbeater” design, you simply can’t miss them with your feet. Plus, their minimalist design makes them the lightest pedals on the market. Perfect for you weight-weenies.
Crankbrothers has also created a version of the pedal called the “candy”. Frankly, I preferred the eggbeater version better. They are easier to clip into and have no interference from the surrounding platform that the Candy has. I know the bright colors of the Candy are exciting and that sells a lot of people on them, but for the better clean-ability and easier on-trail use, I prefer the eggbeaters.
You can also see this on the race course; it seems as though every pro who isn’t being sponsored by Shimano, is using Eggbeaters.
They make several different versions from Chromoly to Stainless Steel. I like them all, but I have seen the Chromoly’s rust.
So, if you can afford to go for the stainless, do it.
The Titanium upgrade is also sweet, but I really feel that the extra money for the Ti pedals is mostly going for the few grams of weight savings and the “cool” factor for having Ti pedals.
Pick #4 The Time Atac’s
I have seen these pedals come and go out of vogue so many times that I’m starting to get tired of it.
It seems that we go through phases where all of the forums rave about them and everyone gets them By next year you have a mix of diehard converts and absolute haters.
About five years later we’ll see it happen again.
I will say that for those who love the Time pedals, it is impossible to get them to try anything else.
And I can understand why. These pedals are very durable. As far as maintenance goes, I would argue that these pedals may require less than the others, simply because they are so well-built. Whereas we might have to do a bearing reassembly on a couple of pair of Crank Brothers every year, and will see a couple SPD pedals that are absolutely trashed, I might only have to rebuild or replace a time pedal every couple of years.
Of course, that could simply be because they are not as popular and there fewer people are riding them.
They are also excellent at keeping your feet clipped in. So if you struggle with your feet bouncing out of other pedals on rough rides, these would be a great pair to look at. They also have a wider platform, which makes them great for people who might want to pedal around town in their tennis shoes.
Time is an excellent brand, and they are one of the pioneers in the sport. There’s no doubt that they deserve a place on this list. But it is hard to guarantee that you will love these pedals like you will with the Crank Brothers or SPD’s.
I mostly see folks riding the MX2 pedals because they are the most affordable ones (Time doesn’t make anything truly “entry-level”). But the recent pair of XC 8’s that I got to install was so sexy that the bike itself was having jealousy issues once we got them out the door.
My Top 2 Favorite Flat Pedals
As we discussed earlier there are a lot of people who really enjoy riding on a flat pedal. And there are some really incredibly – made flat pedals for the serious rider.
I want to talk about my two favorite flat pedals and one excellent urban pedal which works as both a clip list pedal and a flat pedal for that rider he was unsure about which way to go.
The Spank Oozy Trail Pedals
For a long time, cyclists wanting platform pedals have really felt overlooked in the wake of the clip list craze. The first time I held a pair of Spank Oozy’s, I knew we were in a new phase.
These pedals really define “bike jewelry”.
At only 360 g, these are extremely lightweight and are fun to hold. The chamfered side edges not only improve your cornering clearance, but they add such a snazzy bit of industrial styling to the pedal. Plus, if you are going with one of the bright colors, these chamfered edges help keep the pedal from getting that trashed look most colored pedals get after a few rides.
I also love the industrial bearings they used on these pedals. They also move these bearings a lot closer to the crankshaft, which delivers a level of reliability and pedaling efficiency that you just don’t see out of other pedals.
Finally, the 12 mm thick and the 4.3″ x 4.3″ platform gives you one of the thinnest pedals on the market with one of the largest platforms.
If you were already a convert to the flat pedal lifestyle, these will convert you.
The only challenge is going to be deciding on which of the four colors best reflects your style.
Crank Brother’s 50/50
The CrankBrother 5050 pedal is one of the most beautiful downhill pedals I have ever seen. They are extremely lightweight, with huge openings to keep the mud-compacting to a minimum, and to make clean up as easy as possible.
They also have the optional studs that you can screw in so the pedal can grip your shoe. Not everybody will want them much traction, so you can only use some of the studs, or remove them all. However, while the pegs are little hard on your shoes, I still think they’re just about the right amount of traction.
I also love the color of these pedals. They are absolutely eye-catching and look great both on the track and on the campus.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a sicker pedal than these.
While I am not often asked this question by mountain bikers, I am often asked to recommend a good platform pedal that combines a clipless pedal with it as well.
Bike companies have tried to create the ideal combination many, many times. There is one design that has been around for a long time while many others have come and went.
That pedal is the M324.
It is clunky, it is not sexy.
It is a tank. And, like a tank, it is indestructible.
These pedals let you clip into one side, are pedal on the other side. These are ideal for the writer who may want to be able to ride with or without cleats, or maybe has a “loaner” bike that they let friends and family ride.
If you need a combination pedal you can do no better.
Need a Mountain Bike? You’ll be amazed by my list.
Other Mountain Bike Buying Guides You Might Like:
- Clipless Vs. Flat Pedals: Which Are Better?
- What To Look For When Buying Mountain Bike Pedals:
- The Top 3 Clipless Mountain Bike Pedals
- My Top 2 Favorite Flat Pedals