Welcome to a new series of Pinkbike buyers’ guides. We’ll be revising and updating these guides periodically as new options get released, and we get more feedback from our team.
Flats or Clipped In?
At some point every mountain biker makes a choice: will they ride flat pedals or will they ride clipped in?
Flat pedals allow you to wear a flat-soled shoe that is held onto your pedals with pins that dig into the rubber sole of your shoe. They’re often chosen by riders who want to put a foot out quickly in technical terrain, or riders who want to do tricks. You can walk more easily in flat pedal shoes, and they’re often more comfortable.
On the other hand, clip-in pedals require a special shoe that connects to the pedal using a cleat. Clip-in pedals (also called “clipless” pedals, we know it’s confusing) ensure that your feet are held securely to the pedals, and always planted in the same position. Many riders also feel that they allow them to engage more muscles in their leg when pedaling, and encourage smoother, more efficient pedaling technique.
Regardless of your choice, most mountain bikers should try clip-in pedals at some point. After researching and testing countless pedals, we’ve narrowed down our top picks for you below, depending on your riding style, budget, and preferences. We’re confident that each of the Pinkbike Editors’ Choice options below will serve you well.
Why are they called “clipless” pedals when you clip into them?The Testers
Pedals used to have “toe clips” that held riders’ feet on the pedals with a cage or strap across the top of their shoe. In the mid-80s when pedals that you clipped into without the toe clip started showing up, they were marketed as “clipless” pedals to differentiate them from toe clips.
They're referred to as clip-in pedals in this article to avoid confusion, but clipless is technically the correct term.
I’ve been mountain biking for over half my life, and I’ve ridden clipped in since day one. I’ve raced World Cup cross-country races and EWS enduro races in all conditions, and have seen my fair share of bad pedals.
Pinkbike technical editors Mike Kazimer, Mike Levy, Richard Cunningham and Daniel Sapp also contributed to this test. As long-time bike industry tech editors, they’ve reviewed dozens of clipless pedals in the past decade.How We Chose
There are literally hundreds of pedals on the market. We narrowed down the list of pedals to include in this test by polling our own technical editors, and assessed the following criteria.Mountain bike specific pedals:
Road cycling and mountain biking clip pedals are different. We chose pedals that are specific to mountain biking and will suit the majority of trail riders. Unlike clip pedals used for road cycling, mountain bike shoes use cleats with a 2-hole design that are recessed into the sole. This allows for more comfortable and safe walking. Two-sided clips:
There are pedals that have a clip on one side and a flat pedal on the other. We only included pedals with clips on both sides. Popularity:
We reached out to our contacts at various pedal manufacturers and bike shops asked them what their best selling mountain bike clip pedals are. Durability & maintenance:
We sought pedals that have a reputation for lasting for a long time, and have rebuild options or are easy to maintain. Weight:
We chose pedals with a platform that are a reasonable weight for their intended use.Pricing:
We chose pedals that have a good price to weight ratio. We didn’t look at any pedals over $200 USD, because in the trail and enduro categories they’re just not worth it. Pedals get smashed up, and the few grams you’re saving are better saved elsewhere.Availability:
We chose pedals that would be available to the majority of mountain bikers around the world. We didn’t include any “Limited Edition” pedals. Other Feedback:
In addition, we read a slew of consumer reviews on websites that host them as well as the opinions of other cycling media. We chose to focus on pedals that are consistently well liked.How We Tested
Each pedal and cleat combination was weighed. Then we installed the cleats on a Specialized 2FO Roost shoe to see whether there were any compatibility issues or if shims were required. We rode each pedal on the same bike in regular conditions for general performance feedback. We checked the amount of contact with our test shoe.
In order to level the playing field, we created a “mud test” where we poured 1 cup of mud onto each pedal and then tried to clip in and out repeatedly. We tested each pedal in the middle of any adjustments they have (tension, float, etc.), as well as at their extremes.
What is float?
Float is the degree of free movement allowed by the cleat side to side while pedaling before you unclip. If you're focused on efficiency and power transfer, you will likely prefer your foot to feel more secure in the pedal and ride a pedal and cleat combination with less float, while more gravity oriented riders, or riders with any type of joint or knee problems, tend to prefer the mobility of a cleat and pedal combination with more float.
We also took apart each pedal (or attempted to) in order to assess serviceability. Durability is very difficult to assess with a small sample size of testers, so our durability scores rely heavily on our longer-term testing and user reports. If you have issues with any of the pedals we’re testing, please let us know in the comments.