More recently there has been a steady increase in what's available when it comes to flat pedals. In the past, the number of quality, well-designed flat pedals for mountain bikes was limited to a short few, with the likes of Shimano, DMR, and Easton being a few of the better options available. Then Wellgo joined the list of pedals that people wanted back in the early–mid-2000’s with their MG1, magnesium-bodied pedal. They were reasonably strong and durable, felt good, and came in at a great, low price (you can still get them today for between $40 and $60 USD).
While the MG1’s were quite popular, largely because of the value they represented, the pedal is a little dated in terms of the platform, the same goes for the older pedals from the other brands mentioned above. Over the past few years, while searching for more traction, flat pedals have grown in size and a number of different takes on the concave, (or even convex), pins and their orientation, and thickness have changed flat pedals for the better.
During this hard push to improve the flat pedal, a number of manufacturers attempted to produce the thinnest pedals imaginable and while there still are a lot of wafer-thin pedals available today, I for one am glad to see that a number of newer designs are what you could call a more reasonable thickness—at the slimmest portion of the pedal, about the size of the bearings, give or take.
Thin pedals, with their ‘extra ground clearance’ this and their ‘lighter weight’ that were cool and all, but they were more prone to the platform bending or worse, snapping due to an impact, and the continued move to bushings—which allowed for a thinner pedal body—often resulted in pedal slop and in some cases complete failure in far too short an amount of time. If someone is to throw down good money on a set of pedals, those pedals should last a decent amount of time.... and, no, a single season is not good enough. For a while there, none of the new stuff could boast the longevity of the Shimano DX, Easton Flatboy or the DMR V12 of old—I even still have three sets of Eastons, accumulated over the years, that are running fine to this day, despite up to 10 years abuse in Whistler, Squamish, and god knows where else. Thankfully, though, in a lot of cases, things have changed for the better with regards to the bushings and pedal life.
Originally this push to design a better flat pedal was no doubt helped along by the success and popularity of the ‘Flat Pedal Thunder from Down Under’. Sam Hill, possibly the most well-known, flat-pedal rider on the planet, began his rise to fame shortly before flat pedal designs really began to move forward. The rise of Sam saw the flat pedal become more widely accepted on bikes, especially in a competitive sense, and his popularity and success had an unmistakable influence on flat pedals. Even to this day, we can still thank him for that.
So here we are, 2017, and in the last five or so years we have seen some pretty interesting new products hit the market for those who like to ride bikes using ‘children's pedals'. While there still are plenty of ultra-thin pedals available, the more recent movement has been to thicken the bodies slightly in an effort to produce a more durable pedal. They’re still not the thick and horrible aluminium blocks from some of the designs of yore, but rather, they spread the material to the key areas of the pedal, areas that aim to provide riders the traction and the confidence that the foot will remain planted, while being able to take a hit and spin freely, free of play, for a time to come. At least that’s the hope.
In light of this more recent evolution in the design of the flat pedal, we’ve gathered six models that have caught our attention for one reason or another, and we’re giving you our thoughts on how each pedal rides and who they're possibly better suited to. This isn’t a comprehensive list of pedals from the now-saturated flat pedal market, each with a multitude of options that bear a remarkable resemblance to another. Rather, it's a tighter grouping of pedals from companies we feel went outside the box to try and develop something that each brand believed would help riders get on with riding and forget about worrying about where their foot was on the pedal. For the record, we know there are more than six pedals out there that definitely meet this criterion, but we did
have to draw the line somewhere. Perhaps a future Ridden and Rated will include those... Alright, on to the reviews then.
DMR’s classic V8 and V12 pedal designs worked really well, and as we noted earlier, were one of the earlier pedals that gave riders a good quality, great traction option. The design, however, was getting a little long in the tooth and DMR saw a need for a larger platform so that aggressive trail and DH riders could get more traction than the current crop at the time. The Vault was first released in 2010, seven years ago now, but it has remained a staple and a benchmark for many.
The Vault features a dual concave to the pedal profile—DMR is one of only a couple that utilize the technique—which is said to provide the foot with a more planted feel as a result. On the trail, the Vault is notorious for providing ample grip, thanks to the large platform, concave shaping, and seven long pins (three at the rear and four at the front of the foot). While the four stubby pins at the sides can be upgraded to a sharper, higher traction option, for the majority of people the stock setup provides plenty of traction.
The heavily chamfered design does a great job at blowing off rock strikes and impacts with obstacles and the renowned serviceability, on top of an already durable pedal, makes the Vaults a very worthwhile, long lasting pedal.
• Great grip and feel underfoot
• Great mud clearance
• Blows off strikes well, best of all here.
• Completely serviceable
• Update-able pins/Customizable grip
• Prone to bend/twisting the thinner sections of the platform on rock strikes
• Pins are a thicker diameter, which some won’t like the feel of.
• Doesn’t feel as big as others with similar size because of the shape (could be a plus for some)
Nukeproof Horizon (Sam Hill edition pictured)
This is quickly becoming a favourite. In the past, I've found a pedal with a more concave profile to be more desirable, but the amount of concave coupled with the shape and size of the Horizon pedal platform makes for a great feeling pedal that gives a planted feel—one that is rarely put off. The fact that Sam Hill rides it must mean it’s good too, right? Honestly, we all know that's not always the case (by no means singling out Sambo) but where the Horizon is concerned, particularly in the Sam Hill, we’re left with an excellent flat pedal.
Initially, I wasn’t convinced on the polished option of the Sam Hill signature when looking at the Horizon, but after riding it in plenty of variable conditions I can say that it does keep the surface clear of grit. That and the more refined surface created by the machining have resulted in a better connection between shoe and pedal. In practice, we haven’t had the chance to compare the regular version, so perhaps we’ll chalk it up to placebo until we do. The fact that there is no bearing bulge anywhere on the pedal absolutely adds to the pedal’s great feel, with the potential for that to interfere with foot placement removed also.
Most of the pins on the Horizon pedal screw in from beneath the platform, making it a little easier to remove them when damaged. There are also washers that make adjusting platform feel and traction easy. The four pins at either side of the platform—over the axle—are of the hollow variety which grants more traction than a regular, solid, round pin. The combination, even with the adjustable pins set to stock, provides incredible grip. We’ve been running the Horizons for a good portion of the summer and have yet to experience any play with the bushings, which is also quite promising.
• Great grip
• Incredibly planted feel (the best here)
• Shape works well with a range of shoes (narrow or wide soles)
• Feels bigger than the sizing suggests
• No bearing bulge
• Easily customizable pin length
• Completely serviceable
• No play after loads of abuse
• Decent price (especially if you went the non-Sam Hill, non-polished finish)
• Pins are a thick diameter, which some won’t like the feel of.
• DU bushings have a tendency to create slop when they wear
When the Deity TMac pedal hit it excited a number of people. The combination of a large platform, the largest of the pedals here (with the exception to the unique Pedalling Innovations Catalyst below) and the aggressive concave shape seemed to work well for all. Even despite some concerns with a unique profile, the amends made to work with these different approaches to the platform worked out on the trail. It’s clear that the team at Deity put three years into developing the TMac pedal.
On the trail, the pedal grants an incredible amount of confidence, with the combination of 14 hollow pins per side, the big platform, and the very concave shape resulting in gob-loads of grip. Drop the heels as you enter a rough section of trail and keep on trucking, it's a rarity for your foot to shift the least bit out of place. Despite all of the traction, subtle movements of the foot, whether to reposition or make up for a slip, are possible. That said, if you are wearing really grippy-soled shoes (like the 510 VXi or S1), you might find making those shifts require more effort, though they're still possible.
This pedal may be a bit big for some folks, especially if you have a smaller foot. My size US 10.5 was fine with most shoes, but the new Specialized 2FO was just too small to take advantage of the pedal shape and pin placement. All of the pins being of the hollow, top-loaded variety may not sit too well with some folks, but I’ve never had major issues with them in any pedals that ran this style of pin over the years. Yes, they can be sheared or torn out, possibly resulting in that placement being useless, but in practice, it happens less often than some would have you believe, and is a better scenario than bending the pedal body because the pin wouldn't give.
The TMac’s were my new all-time fave until the Horizon came along. Both are incredible, though they do offer different feels. The TMac provides a little more grip thanks to the amount of hollow pins, platform size, and concave, but the feel of the Horizon is more positive, with a fraction less grip than you experience with the TMac. The Horizon is a little easier to reposition the foot too.
• All out grip (the grippiest here)
• Great concave
• Massive platform (feels large)
• Hollow pins (more grip)
• Easy to find foot placement
• DU bushings could create slop when they wear
• Big platform can be more prone to strikes
• Cost. These are the priciest pedals here.
• Some won’t like top loaded pins
Chromag’s Scarab pedal is one of the older pedals of the six here—the DMR Vault the only one older—and it's included for good reason. The Scarab was Ian Ritz and his team's first, full-production pedal and they went to town when designing it. Many aspects of the pedal were painstakingly debated and worked on with this, the end result, being what Chromag consider the ultimate in flat pedals. Thin, but still enough material to provide what they feel to be an adequate double concave, chamfered edges to help minimize getting hung-up when connecting with obstacles, one sealed bearing and one bushing per pedal, and highly adjustable pins.
The pins are actually one of the unique features of the Scarab, differentiating Chromag’s flat pedal from many of the others available today. They include the ability to adjust the height via a washer, as a number of others do, but also provide a whopping 42 placement options per pedal. The pins also include a shear line, which is said to allow the pin to snap off when struck against an obstacle, limiting the amount of damage that the body of the pedal could see as a result.
Riding the Scarab, I found the platform to feel considerably smaller than the Horizon and TMac, which is interesting because the TMac has the same basic measurements and the Horizon is actually supposed to be smaller (than the Scarab). A lot of this comes down to the diagonal surface of the pedal and with the Scarab’s featuring a very rounded shape to the outboard side of the pedal, it loses quite a bit of the surface area, resulting in the smaller feel.
The Scarab also didn’t provide the same amount of traction as the other pedals listed here, regardless of the shoe or pin placement/height, and I regularly found myself repositioning my foot or simply hanging on and hoping to make it to the end of a rough section with feet on the pedals. It could be attributed to a number of things including the pins themselves (they’re not the sharpest), the concave of the pedal, or the size of the platform. Either way, if a slightly less grippy pedal is something that is more desirable, then the Scarab should be of interest, otherwise, the other pedals listed here will be better suited to your trail/DH needs.
• Lots of pin placement options
• Adjustable pin height
• Incredibly well sealed
• Shear line in pins to limit pedal damage
• Not as grippy as others
• Platform feels small due to shape
OneUp has grown steadily as a brand that thinks outside the box and seeks to solve problems that they feel exist in the world of MTB. Their first pedal design is no different and they went down the route of a more unorthodox pedal profile, dubbing it as a contoured shape (or simply, convex), rather than the more commonly seen concave or even flat designs that we see with many pedals. Their rationale for this approach is they feel it creates more of a connection with the bottom of the foot.
The pedal is available in a more expensive alloy body ($125 USD) and the nylon, or plastic version that we have here. The two are identical in appearance, with exception to the thickness, where the nylon version comes in with a center measuring 18.5mm thick while the alloy measures 12mm. That difference is all due to the axle being used and in order to keep the price down on the nylon pedal, a more simple axle was required and, you guessed it, that cheaper, simpler axle is thicker.
On the trail, the platform was great, with a large surface area and shape that works really well with the foot. The profile, being convex rather than concave, seems to have more of a love/hate affair, and personally, I had some problems with it. The pins do a great job of helping keep the foot in place, but I found that I was solely relying on them for that grip, with no concave to help cup the foot, providing added support. It also tends not to feel as planted as more traditional concave designs.
Other testers had better experiences, though, highlighting the fact that pedal feel can be quite personal (and hence a number of quite different pedals here). Other testers found the traction outstanding and really got on with the design. The contoured profile is more subtle than others with a similar profile and the pins, both their placement/spread and quality of the pin itself, result in a pedal that grips better than any other nylon pedal currently available. For 49 bones with a completely up to date size and loads of pins, it's a hard bargain to argue against.
• Cost. By far the least expensive option here.
• Massive, excellent shaped platform
• Grippy pins
• Easy to find foot placement
• Rear loaded pins
• Contour/Convex profile (could be a negative for some)
• DU bushings could create slop when they wear
• Wide platform (more prone to strikes)
• Nylon can crack and fail before a more expensive alloy typically would
Pedaling Innovations Catalyst
The Catalyst pedal was designed by James Wilson, the man behind MTB Strength Training Systems and an advocate for flat pedals in the cycling industry. That advocacy took a new shape when he realized he was dissatisfied with many of the pedals on the market, feeling that what was available didn't properly support the foot or how we best move, causing issues with balance and a loss in power thanks to inefficient use of our legs muscles.
The result of his research fueled on by that dissatisfaction, is the Catalyst pedal, which without question is one unique flat pedal. The 128mm long platform is all about providing the front and the back of the foot with adequate support to enable what James feels is the proper position and therefore, the most efficient use of input when riding. The large surface area is home to a total of 28 pins per pedal (which is the same as the Deity TMac), they spin on two sealed bearings and one DU bushing in each pedal and come with a 30-day, money-back guarantee if you decide they aren’t for you.
On the trail, we found that the pedal definitely works best if the rider employs the placement that James recommends, which is with the axle in the middle of the foot. Some riders have a tendency to ride with the axle just forward from the middle of the foot, but in trying to do so with the Catalyst pedal we found our foot would get thrown out of position, especially when attempting to pick up the bike (jump/bunnyhop). While it felt odd for one tester to move the foot back, the resulting balance and quality of control were immediately improved with the support supplied by the large platform.
Once comfortable with the larger platform and slight shift of foot placement, we found the pedals to provide a great transfer of power, more balance, and increased stability over long sections of trail. Moving the bike around, manuals, jumping, etc. were the same as usual and possibly even easier to execute. It’s a difficult sensation to pinpoint as the changes to muscle recruitment are subtle, but the pedals seemed to result in more control of the movements required. This could be thanks to the more relaxed calf muscle and achilles tendon, allowing for the more refined movements to correct the angle of the foot, adjusting for weight transfers and shifts.
While they provide excellent control, more efficient power transfer, and stability, grip is still not quite that of others in this test. When the going got really rough, or in wet conditions, the pedal didn’t quite provide enough traction to continue smashing. Even with the longer pins in extreme circumstances such as these noted, the foot could get moved about easier than others here in the test—something we feel comes down to the sheer amount of surface area between the leading and trailing pins. One tester also found that adding grip tape to the areas between the leading and trailing pins greatly helped with traction.
• Massive, unique platform provides incredible support
• Most ergonomic friendly flat pedal there is
• More power transfer without extra gym time
• Improved stability/balance
• 30-day money back guarantee
• Axle bulge across center is more pronounced by large surface area
• Top load pins
• Lack of traction