When you’re riding your bike, you make contact with it at three main points: the handlebars, the saddle, and the pedals. As your legs are working to drive the bike forward, the road bike pedals are arguably one of the most important components on a bicycle.
When we talk about road bike pedals, we are generally talking about the clipless cleat and shoe system. There are over the toe straps that can work great for some, but for the purposes of this article we are referring to the clipless (or strapless) system.
What are Clipless Pedals
Clipless pedals have a spindle just like a normal platform pedal, but the plastic or metal platform is shaped in a way to allow the second part of the system, a matching cleat, to snap into it. A spring-loaded mechanism then secures the cleat in place so it doesn’t slide around or release. A cleat is then attached to the cycling shoe, made specifically for these cleats to be attached to the bottom via bolts.
How they work
On the pedal there is a spring mechanism that holds the cleat to the pedal. To clip in, line the cleat up with the pedal and then push down, just like a ski binding. To release the shoe from the pedal, a simple twist of the heal outward releases the cleat.
Why go clipless?
Why go clipless? Clipless pedals with cycling shoes is the most efficient and comfortable system out there when it comes to road biking. The stiff sole of the cycling shoe provides a rigid platform to transfer power from your legs to the drivetrain and propel the bike forward. Softer shoes lose some of that power as the flexible sole deforms around the pedal (and also makes your feet sore).
As well as having stiff soles, being clipped in encourages proper pedalling technique, using power through every part of the pedal stroke. Not only are you pushing down, but you are also pulling up to complete the 360 degree motion, making the switch to clipless pedals well worth it.
What to look for when buying pedals
- Cleats – The majority of road cycling cleats are three bolt (SPD-L), with two bolt (SPD) being more appealing for commuting, touring, and mountain biking. Some cleats are a compatible with both.
- Tension Adjustment – When you’re first switching to clipless pedals, the most intimidating thing is not being able to get unclipped quickly when you need to stop. The slow motion topple over is almost a right of passage, but it can be lessened by decreasing the tension. Be sure to get pedals that allow you to adjust this tension, starting low and increasing the tension as you become more confident.
- Float – Float refers to the wiggle room you have while clipped into the pedal to get into the most comfortable position for your legs. Most pedals have about 3-9° of float, but keep in mind the more float you have the more you will have to twist your foot to release. Some pedals are zero float, but you will want to make sure you’ve had a detailed bike fitting before locking in with zero wiggle room.
- Stack height – Stack height is the measurement from the middle of the pedal axle to the bottom surface of the shoe. The smaller the stack height, the more efficient your pedaling will be as your foot is closer to the axle.
The Best Road Bike Pedals
Best All-Round Pedal: Shimano Ultegra PD-R8000 SPD-SL Pedals
Before going into any of the features that make this pedal great, the ease of use is its greatest selling point. They require little to no maintenance, are durable, and remain easy to clip in and out of even when mud and snow is involved. They also hang well when unclipped to make for a quick and easy clip in.
With a carbon composite body, these pedals are a great choice for competitive and casual cyclists alike. Evolved from the Pd-6800, the R-8000 has a 0.7mm lower stack height and a lighter weight at just 248g.
Most Adjustable Pedal: Speedplay Zero Pedals
If you struggle with knee pain, then these are the pedals for you. The twisting motion to release the pedal can be painful on the knee joint, so the Speedplay Zero allows the widest range of tension adjustment to ensure this isn’t a problem. All three foot-axis adjustments can be set independently of each other for a precise and comfortable fit. The locking mechanism does not rely on spring tension for security, so entering and exiting Zero pedals is easy, and they are dual-sided entry to allow for an easy clip in.
Most Budget-Friendly Pedal: Shimano PD-R550
The Shimano PD-R550 are the perfect pedal for cyclists looking to transition to the clipless system. Not only are they extremely affordable, but that have a wide platform that feels more like a traditional platform pedal while giving you the efficiency of being clipped in. There is a wide range of tension adjustments so you can start with a lower tension and build up your confidence. Made from a resin body with a stainless steel cover, they are durable and have a large entry point to keep from struggling to get your foot in just the right position.