A GUIDE TO PEDALS

At Contender Bicycles, we are occasionally asked “Why doesn’t my bike come with pedals?” That’s actually a pretty good question. Cycling veterans know, but for less-experienced and newcomer cyclists - and after the 2020 pandemic, there are thousands of new cyclists out there - this is a very legitimate question.

The answer, while as complicated as you want to make it, is also super simple: Pedals, shoes and cleats are a very personal choice. No pair of feet is the same and no riding style preference is the same. So bike shops, especially when selling upper end bikes, tend to let the cyclist make the decision and choose the pedals that best suit their individual needs and preferences.

On mountain bikes, flat pedals are common. On road bikes, you won’t see flats in the peloton very often. Flat pedals allow greater freedom of movement for mountain bikers who find themselves needing to put a foot out quickly to maintain balance. Clipped in pedals create a much more powerful complete pedal stroke and if speed is your goal, clipless is the way to go.

Like everything else in the bike world, you can spend a lot of money on pedals or you can save a handful of bucks for a pedal that will still provide a great ride experience. There are pedals with a clipless side and a flat side so you can ride with one pedal and change the shoe you choose to ride on any particular day. Additionally, the ‘both side’ pedals enable mountain bikers to clip in on climbs and sprints and use the flat side on those tricky descents.

Let’s take a look at the different types of pedals, their pros and cons and discuss why you should, or shouldn’t choose any particular type of bike pedal.

FLATS OR CLIPLESS?

FLATS

Flat pedals are exactly that - just like you remember from learning to ride a bike when you were a kid. You can find flats with perfectly flat surfaces or anti-slip spikes that dig into the soles of your shoes for a bit of traction for downhill riders. If your riding style is purely for getting around town or having a leisurely spin on the parkway with the kids or grandkids, flat pedals are perfect.

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Pros: Easy, peasy. Simple and cost effective. Can ride with pretty much any shoes including flip-flops at the beach. Safer because you can step off the pedal quickly to gain balance or when you come to a stop. Improve riding technique when starting out.

Cons: Not made for ultimate speed performance. Not as efficient as clipless. Some mountain bike flats have small grip spikes that can cause injury to your shins and knees if you slip a pedal.

CLIPLESS

Road cyclists and, increasingly, mountain bikers swear by clipless pedals. They are typically less weight, made of super strong materials and integrate well with most performance cycling shoes. Clipless pedals help create a full circle of motion and power transfer as you push the pedal down and pull it back up. Most bikes in spin classes and races alike have clipless pedals installed.

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Pros: More power efficient pedal strokes. Better for speed. Being locked into the bike can improve confidence.

Cons: For newer cyclists, it takes getting used to and you might fall over when you stop if you’re unable to unclip fast enough. Requires specific cycling shoes. More expensive than flats and cleats are often specific to pedal brand. Can be dangerous if you fall.

If you are interested in learning more about clipless versus flat pedals we wrote up a blog explaining in-depth the differences and advantages to each style.



CLEATS

This is where the pedal and shoe connect. Typically, when you purchase a pair of clipless pedals they will come with the appropriate set of cleats. Shimano’s SPD cleat system is the most popular and is compatible with a wide range of shoes and pedals. Other pedal brands like Crank Brothers, Time, Look, and more have their own cleat systems. It may take a little trial and error before you find the exact pedal and cleat system you like best. Cleats are also often adjustable so you can position them on the bottom of your shoe in a way that fits you best. Again, this will take some trial and error to ensure maximum comfort and performance because no two feet are the same and the ball of your foot and the width of your toe box create unique fits for every ride and every foot. If you have foot pain or numbness after long rides, consider visiting a bike fitter to make the micro adjustments that will result in the best fit possible.



DO I NEED SPECIAL SHOES?

When it comes to shoes, the options are plentiful. And, just like when you’re picking out shoes for work or a night on the town, your style and fit make the difference. Generally speaking, the biggest differences in shoe styles come down to the tops and bottoms of the shoes. A precise fit is an absolute must for racers and those putting in lots of miles.

On the road side, shoes are usually equipped with Velcro straps, ratchet straps and/or BOA dials. Some road shoes are shoe lace style if that’s your thing. Try on multiple pairs of shoes and walk around the shop to find out which you like best. Many road shoes have small rubber heels and toes on the bottom of the shoes to make walking easier and to protect the sole of the shoe which can often be made of lightweight carbon fiber to reduce weight and improve pedaling efficiency.

Mountain bike shoes have a few options and you’ll see a wide range of gear on the trails. There is no best answer because there are so many different riding styles on the mountain. Cross country riders often prefer a shoe which resembles a road shoe with a cleat on bottom and straps or laces for fit adjustments. But, because mountain bikers are more often on their feet - hike-a-bike? - their shoes have more robust rubberized heals, toes and mid sections. Traction when on foot can be just as important as tire traction at times. Downhill or gravity riders often chose a shoe that in many ways resembles a regular tennis shoe, but usually has a unique flat sole with lots of knobs or places for pedals with traction grip spikes to sink their teeth into the shoe and prevent slipping.

Whatever style of riding you enjoy, Contender Bicycles has myriad options of pedals to help you get more out of your next ride. Check out our shoe selection below.