Pedals are one of the seminal cogs in a bike’s structure. They form one of the main parts of the bike where you make direct contact and are a key area of control for the rider. Additionally, they are also the component that allows you to use your leg power into the bike’s drivetrain, which moves you along the trail.
They may be the most important part of your bike, but they take on many different forms and styles. This article will explain the different mountain bike pedal categories and some of the better pedal models on the market.
- 1 Flat Mountain Bike Pedals vs Clip-in Mountain Pedals
- 2 Cross Country (XC), Trail, All-Mountain (AM), and Endurance Mountain Bikes
- 3 Glossary
- 4 XC Mountain Bike Pedals
- 5 Trail and Enduro Mountain Bike Pedals
- 6 Frequently Asked Questions
Flat Mountain Bike Pedals vs Clip-in Mountain Pedals
Most mountain bikers have at some point been faced with choosing between riding with flat mountain bike pedals or clipped ones. The ultimate benefit when it comes to flat pedals is they allow you to wear flat shoes.
The bottom of your shoe will dig into a pin that digs into your shoe’s sole. This is often the preferred choice for riders who quickly take one foot off the pedal because of technical trains or obstacles. It is also easier to walk in flat pedal shoes, and they are almost always more comfortable.
With clip-in pedals, you will usually need a specific shoe with cleats that will connect to your pedal. Clip-in pedals, sometimes confusingly referred to as clipless pedals, make sure your feet are attached to the pedals in a secure position.
Riders sometimes prefer these pedals because the secure position means that they can exert more force while pedaling and develop a more robust pedaling technique.
There are two main types of clip-in pedals: floats and cleats.
Float clipless pedals emphasize the foot’s ability to pivot side to side while pedaling. The foot’s ability to move side to side will let your knee flex as you pedal, which will help avoid some painful strains or injuries. Many mountain bikers have had previous injuries with their knee joints and thus seek out clip-in float pedals that let them move their feet laterally.
On the other hand, mountain bike cleats will seep into a small space in the shoe’s sole, allowing the rider to walk while they are still in their cycling shoes. This tends to be a plus for a mountain biker who often mixes hiking and mountain biking. Therefore, many Mountain Biking shoes are just biking boots with cleats.
Here are some of the best mountain bike pedals to consider.
Cross Country (XC), Trail, All-Mountain (AM), and Endurance Mountain Bikes
Before getting into the various types of pedals, it is imperative to understand the different types of mountain bikes and when they are used.
XC mountain bikes generally refer to either cross-country or marathon mountain bikes. These bikes are usually made of carbon fiber and, as such, are focused on minimizing weight. They were made for the purposes of either racing, marathoning, or steep hills, so they usually have 100mm or less of suspension for more efficient pedaling.
The most common and wide-ranging types of mountain bikes are trail bikes and Enduro bikes. These bikes can be both shorter travel bikes and equipped with 140-150mm of suspension.
They are built for rougher downhill descents and emphasize stability and comfort over speed. Enduro bikes are built for more difficult terrain and longer riders than trail mountain bikes but tend to use similar pedal structures.
All-Mountain (AM) bikes are mainly used for those who care about comfortable descents but still want to emphasize speed and control. As for pedals, they are equipped with similar pedals to the XC or Trail bikes, depending on the model.
Before getting into some of the best current pedals on the market, it may be ideal to have a glossary of terms that a mountain bike novice may need to know to understand the different parts of their pedals.
- Float: This is just the degree to which your shoe can laterally rotate on the pedal. A little bit of float is good because it can stop your knees from hurting, but too much float can feel a bit too loose and insecure.
- Platform: This is basically just the pedal’s body and is the platform where you stand. The size and shape vary depending on the model, but a larger platform pedal will always offer more support for your feet stomping down. XC pedals tend to be more lightweight and have a smaller platform pedal than some of the Trial or Enduro models.
- Release Angle: This is just how far you need to twist your cleat to release it from the pedal.
- Retention: You can ‘retain’ or keep your cleats in place with a cleat mechanism.
- Stack Height: This refers to the distance between the middle of your pedal axle and the area where you place your cleat on the pedal.
XC Mountain Bike Pedals
1. Shimano XT M8100 and XTR M9100
Shimano manufacturers were the pioneers of contemporary bike pedals with their SPD (Shimano Pedalling Dynamics) interface. Many riders continue to view their products as they go for their pedals. Their best products as of 2021 are probably the XTM8100 and the XTRM9100 pedals.
Both models of Shimano pedals are lightweight and long-lasting with adjustable cleat tension. Shimano is also the only bike pedal manufacturer to use cup and cone bearings. This makes them simple for users to fiddle with if they develop play, which is useful since Shimano does not sell any rebuilding kits.
The XT pedal is an upgrade from the M540 SPD pedal, which is a slightly less advanced, less expensive clipless pedal. The M540 is a bit heavier but has no platform and has a thin steel bearing. However, the XT M8100 has better sealing and thicker axles and offers more support for the rider with small shelves on both sides of the retention mech.
As for the XTR M9100, this is likely Shimano’s best pedal on the market. It is 30 grams lighter than the XT but still is wider than other models to provide more support from your mountain bike shoe. It has some upgrades from the XT M8100 as well, with reduced stack height and the option to shorten the axles if need be.
2. Look X-Track Carbon XC Pedals
Look X-Track distributes four different bicycle pedal options ranging from $50-$270 in cost. One of the mid-cost options is likely the best such as the Carbon XC model linked below. They are 30 grams lighter than the base model and roughly the same weight as the Shimano XT but have one of the biggest platforms available.
This allows for great stability for the rider and is a good option if you are one of those riders who like to hit the pedals hard even before you clip your foot in. Carbon XC pedals also tend to last a while because of a wide bushing near the crank arm and double rows of cartridge bearings on the outer end of the pedal.
3. HT Components M1
Ht’s model comes in 11 colors with a slick oil touch, so it takes the cake when it comes to aesthetics. Also, it has one of the best retention mechs available. Even though they look smaller than some of the other pedals out there, their retention mech extends out, so your feet feel supported. If your feet tend to pop out of your pedals a lot, then these might be your best bet.
However, it is definitely good to wear the X1 cleats that come with them if you want the highest retention. The set below also comes with three added cleats that let you roll and twist your foot while secured in the pedal. They tend to develop a little play over time, but HT also has rebuilds that will replace worn-out bearings.
4. Crank Brothers Eggbeater 3
Crank Brothers pedals are some of the more unique pedals because they have a four-sided entry. Unlike most pedals, you do not have to slip your foot from behind the clip and can just step down to attach your foot. This also means that they are less susceptible to getting clogged by mud, dirt, sand, or snow.
They are also incredibly light but unfortunately do not offer the best support. They do not have a platform but do have traction pads that slide onto the pedal’s body. In addition to the lighter pedals, the cleats are also roughly half the weight of the other cleats on the market because of their brass-based material.
However, this also means they tend to wear out quickly, so they might need acute care and attention. The plus side is that these cleats are easily fixable and are left-right specific, which allows you to choose between 0- and 6-degree floats.
Egg Beaters are really a hit or miss for a mountain biker. They offer a lot more versatility, but the cleat may also release and pop your foot out if you hit some obstacles on your trail.
Trail and Enduro Mountain Bike Pedals
Most trail and Enduro Mountain Bike models are best suited to clipless mountain bike pedals and thus are the main options on this list. These are some of the best clipless pedals with platforms. Combining platform shape and size and its nubs or pins determine how much support and grip they will give the rider.
A bigger platform will give your feet more support but is a bit heavier and may sometimes get stuck in rocks and logs on the trail. Pedals with bigger platforms also sometimes have angled shapes which help make sure they do not clip to the ground and force you off the bike.
Trail and Enduro bikes also usually have adjustable pins that can be easily replaced. This is great for riders who want to specify their pedal grip for their preferences. Some other Trail pedals have small bumps instead of pins but can be somewhat easier on the shins.
Some other trail pedals may not have pins and may aim instead for a bigger platform to give your feet increased support while still allowing you to twist your shoe out. This can be very important for new bikers who may struggle with aggressive pins that do not let them easily release their foot from the pedal.
1. Crank Brothers Candy 3 Pedals
This is sort of a melange of an XC pedal and trail pedal and is perfect for riders who want a lightweight pedal with a bit more support for their feet. The XC-sized platform gives the rider enough space to stomp on without worrying that they will roll their foot off and not be able to clip their foot. Like with the Crank Brother Eggbeater XC pedals, you have to step down onto the pedals instead of the angle sliding you may be used to with other Trail or Enduro pedals.
2. Time ATAC MX Pedals
Time pedals will probably be your best friend if you like to bike in dodgy mud and snow. They have a wide-open spring mechanism that self-clears in even the worst terrain and is the best bike out there for winter. Time Offers roughly four options of their MX pedals that use slightly different materials and weights.
However, two specific features make Time’s Mountain bike pedals so special. Firstly, they have both rotational and lateral floats, which puts less pressure on your knees. It may feel a little odd if you are used to pedals that really ‘lock’ your feet in, but most riders grow accustomed to it over time.
Secondly, the spring mechanism Secondly, the spring system on the pedal tends to be forward-facing. As a result, some bikers may have trouble clipping their foot to the pedal on some smaller platform XC pedals because their foot keeps rolling off the front. However, this is not a problem for all users, and it rarely is on any of the ATAC Mx pedals that have platforms.
Unlike most Enduro pedals with a harder-edged spring, the MX-series uses a round spring shape ideal for wetter riding conditions.
Frequently Asked Questions
What material is better for my mountain bike pedals? Titanium, alloy, or carbon fiber?
At the end of the day, this depends on the budget you have in mind but let us assume cost is not an issue. When it comes to durability, your best bet would be alloy-based pedals. However, assuming you will not consistently ride over a series of large rocks, both titanium and carbon fiber-reinforced composite pedal materials should do just fine.
How long do these pedals last?
This is a difficult question to answer because it depends on how often you go riding. If you are the kind of rider who only goes out for a couple of rides a week, you may be able to go years with the same pedals if they take care of them. This would involve taking them apart a couple of times a year and cleaning and re-greasing them.
However, if you ride more often and consistently in harsh conditions, you may want to buy a pedal that comes with a rebuild kit.
When should I replace my mountain biking cleats?
The average steel cleat should be replaced at least once a year and even more if you often ride in rough and particularly wet terrain. If your cleats begin to accidentally unclip regularly, it is probably a good sign that you need new cleats. If you have crank brothers or Time cleats, you may need to replace them even more because they are made of brass, which is softer than the common steel-based cleats seem from other major brands.
Which one should I buy?
The best mountain bike pedals depend on your riding style and personal preferences. Unlike other bike features, though, we advise that you do not put too much emphasis on weight. While saving extra grams of weight on pedals does not come with a trade-off as it does with other features, it may not be worth paying another $200 for the lighter titanium options offered by Time, Look, HT, or the Crank brothers. There are more cost-effective ways to save weight than with pedals.
That aside, you should also think about how much you move around when you bike. If you are a more aggressive rider, you should prioritize high retention strength, but the lighter eggbeater pedals may be more for you if you are a steadier rider. As for those who prefer riding in adverse weather conditions, you should consider pedals that are sturdy and easy to clip back onto.
Last Updated on July 19, 2021 by Matthew Carpenter