In this mountain bike pedals Buyer's Guide, we are breaking down everything you should consider before buying your next set of clipless pedals for your mountain bike. Just how important your pedals are can sometimes go unnoticed or forgotten. The pedals are one of the few contact points your have with the bike and can drastically change your experience on the trail. If you are riding clipless pedals that are hard to get the cleats in and out of, coming unclipped when you need to can be a bit hectic. At the same time, if riding with your clipless pedals is like seamless clockwork, chances are you have forgotten all about them. We are here to walk you through what makes a good pedal a good pedal and which pedals give you the most bang for your buck.
Crank Brothers Mallet Enduro pedals mounted to a set of Race Face Next SL cranks - a killer combination!
+ While flat pedals give you a bit more freedom allowing you to put your foot out at any moment, clipless pedals keep your feet attached to the pedals when riding through rough and choppy terrain. This is one of the biggest advantages to clipless pedals. Keeping your feet positioned in the exact same spot on the pedals allows you to focus more on what's coming up on the trail. That means your feet won't be bouncing around on the pedals and you won't have to be constantly adjusting them on the fly.
+ Of course everyone wishes they could ride flat pedals as flawlessly as downhill world champion and enduro world series champion Sam Hill, but riding with clipless pedals allows you to pedal more efficiently and put out more power. Being able to pull the pedals up and around of each pedal stroke drastically improves pedaling efficiency. If you're out for a casual ride and have a long climb ahead of you, riding with clipless pedals will allow you to get to the top without exhausting as much energy. When it comes time sprint hard out of the turn, you will be able to put down as much power as you possibly can with clipless pedals.
- One of the few drawbacks to riding with clipless pedals compared to flats is that, like we said before, you don't quite have as much freedom. With flats, you can simply put a foot down through a corner with ease. Now as you become more and more experienced with clips, clipping in and out of the pedals should become second nature. One of the other drawbacks to clipless pedals is that they are generally more expensive than flat pedals. The clip mechanism makes the pedals more complex and also a bit more delicate.
One is not necessarily better than the other, flat and clips just each have their own advantages and disadvantages. If you are looking to compete in a cross country mountain bike race, chances are you will be better off with clipless pedals. If you are going to ride your hardtail mountain bike at the skatepark, flats might be a better option. In the end, riding with either flats or clips comes down to personal preference. Thankfully there are plenty of options for both!
Just like with most all the components on your mountain bike, not all pedals are made from the same materials. While the majority of both flat and clipless pedals are machined from aluminum alloy, more and more pedals are now also offered in some kind of composite option. On the high end of the spectrum, you will find pedals with more exotic materials like titanium pedal spindles for example. One step below using those exotic materials, most high end pedals feature a high level machined aluminum alloy body with a chromoly steel spindle. At a lower price point and more popular recently, you will find pedals made from injection molded nylon fiber composites. Those different composites are durable, lightweight, and cost much less to manufacture. Your budget will largely affect which materials your pedals are made from. If you are someone that is looking to leave no stone un-turned, then an extremely light weight pedal that utilizes titanium and aluminum might be your best bet. If you are looking for a budget friendly set of pedals, there are plenty of options made from different composite materials that are still packed with performance features.
In the photo below you'll see two different pedals, the Crank Brothers Mallet Enduro 11 and the Time ATAC MX6. The body surrounding the clip mechanism on the Crank Brothers pedal is made from 6061-T6 aluminum. The body on the Time pedal is made from a glass-filled composite. The Mallet E 11 pedal also features titanium "wings" on its eggbeater clip mechanism, and both pedals use chromoly steel axles. These are just two examples of different materials used throughout clipless pedals.
When you are clipped in to the pedals, depending on the cleats you've chosen, your cleats can swivel side to side a certain amount before either being limited by the shape of the cleat or coming unclipped. The amount your cleats can swivel is referred to as float. For example, Crank Brothers offers four different styles of cleats that all work for the same pedals, giving you different float and release angle options. As you are going through a corner or get knocked off balance on your bike, it can be helpful to pivot allowing your feet to turn slightly on the pedals. A common range for cleat float is anywhere from 0 to 6 degrees.
Most all pedal manufacturers use their own clip mechanism design. You can break down the clip mechanism down into three phases really: clipping in, riding clipped in, and clipping out. What this means is that each pedal design has a bit different feel for each of those three phases. The most popular clip design by far is Shimano Pedaling Dynamics, or SPD. You will find SPD's not only Shimano pedals like the Shimano XTR M9100 but also on pedals like the iSSi Trail II pedals. SPD's use one retention spring per side with adjustable tension and a steel cleat that is very durable. The clip mechanism platform on the SPD pivots to make clipping in easier. Once you are locked in to your SPD's, the feeling is very secure. You do have to be a bit assertive clipping out, and you will hear an audible snap sound when you do. Below you can see a few different models of Shimano clipless pedals that use the SPD system.
Another very popular clip design is the Crank Brothers "eggbeater" design. Crank Brother refers to their clip mechanism as the eggbeater because it really does look like one! The eggbeater design uses one central spring that opens and closes a pair of rotating wings. The Crank Brothers design is certainly the most forgiving compared to any other clip design. Clipping in and out of the Crank Brothers pedals is very easy, especially in those hectic moments on the trail. Once you are clipped in, the Crank Brothers pedals allow for a little bit more freedom. One of the drawbacks to the eggbeater system is that they use cleats made from brass. The cleats wear much quicker than steel and do have to be replaced more often.
Some of the other popular and unique clip designs come from HT Components and Time. HT clipless pedals are comparable to SPD's but are even more secure. When you are clipped in to HT pedals, the connection is very solid. Time pedals offer a completely unique design that allows the cleat to slide a little bit side to side when clipped in. At the end of the day, which pedals you ride with comes down to personal preference. The best thing you can do is try out your buddy's pedals and see if you like the feel before going and buying a pair. Everyone here at the shop has their own favorite, so feel free to give us a call and see what we think!
iSSi Tail III pedals mounted up on one of our employee's bikes
Pairing your new clipless pedals up with the right pair of shoes is equally as important as the pedals themselves. Just like with pedals, there are road, cross country, trail, and downhill specific shoes. The different types of shoes will vary in weight, stiffness, walkability, and sole design. Most trail, enduro, and downhill mountain bike shoes, like the Five Ten Kestrel Lace and Afton Vectal shoes below, feature a rubberized sole that is designed to grip to the pedal platform while clipped in. Check out our full collection of mountain bike shoes to pair with your clipless pedals.
When it comes time to buy a new set of clipless pedals, you need to first consider what type of riding you will be doing with those pedals. If you are looking for pedals for your new downhill bike, something with a bigger platform like the Crank Brothers Mallet DH or the Shimano Saint pedals would be a great option. As you work your way down to bikes that handle less and less aggressive trail, the size of the pedal platform surrounding the clip mechanism can get smaller and smaller. Below you will find our top five favorite and most popular mountain bike clipless pedals. No matter what your budget is, there are plenty of great options available at a variety of different price points. If you already know exactly which pedals suit your tastes, check out our complete collection of clipless pedals.
The Crank Brothers Mallet Enduro pedals are one of the most popular sets of mountain bike pedals on the market today. If you are a fan of the Crank Brothers eggbeater style clip mechanism, then you will love the Mallet E pedals. The combination between the Crank Brothers' clip design, the platform size on the Mallet E pedal, the 6 adjustable pins per side, and the integrated traction pads gives you a pedal with a great pedal / shoe interface. The Mallet E pedals are offered in either a standard or Long Spindle (LS) model. The Long Spindle model, which you will see in the center in the photo above, feature a 5mm longer q-factor than the standard model and can be distinguished by there two tone colorway. The Long Spindle model (57mm q-factor) is the same exact spindle you will find on the Crank Brother Mallet DH pedals.
The HT Components T1 pedals are HT's enduro race offering. The clip mechanism on all HT mountain bike pedals provides a very secure and tight feeling that means the platform on the T1 can afford to be a little bit smaller and lightweight. The platform on the T1 is first extruded and then CNC machined from aluminum. The spindle on the standard T1 pedal is machined from chromoly steel and spins on one Igus bushing and one cartridge bearing. HT offers three different cleat options for the T1 pedals to give you either 4° or 8° of float with different release angles. If your are looking for a strong and secure clip mechanism, the HT T1 pedal would be a great one to consider.
Just like all of the different components that make up the Shimano XTR lineup, the Shimano XTR M9100 pedals are a top of the line premium product. M9100 race pedals are extremely light weight and are designed for cross country or trail riding. The XTR M9100 pedals are designed to be effective shedding mud and still provide some contact area between the shoe and pedal body. There are two different spindle length options available for the M9100 pedal, one 3mm shorter than the other. The simplistic beauty of these pedals is really impressive. The quality of the materials and finished product is what makes the Shimano XTR M9100 pedals a premium product.
The iSSi Trail II pedals are designed for the trail category and are aimed to give you a wider platform surrounding an SPD compatible clip mechanism. iSSi offers three different spindle length options to make sure your pedaling ergonomics are optimized, keeping proper hip, knee, and foot alignment. iSSi uses high quality bearing paired with a durable construction to stand up to the elements. Because the iSSi trail II pedals are SPD compatible, there work with iSSi, Shimano SPD, and Wellgo 98A cleats. The Trail II pedals feature 4° of float and a 14.6° release angle, very comparable to other pedals on the market.
Time has really turned everything up to another level with the Speciale 12 pedal. The Speciale is machined from a very durable 6106-T6 aluminum and seamlessly balances performance and styling. Time's unique clip mechanism allows for 5mm of side to side lateral freedom with adjustable tension. Three different cleat options give you three different release angle possibilities of either 10, 13, or 17°. We are big fans of the top notch quality of the Time Speciale 12 pedals and think they are a perfect match for your enduro or trail bike.