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How to choose pedals

How to choose pedals

If you opt for clipless pedals, please make sure that the cleats and shoes are all compatible with each other. Indeed, there are different pedals, cleats, and shoes depending on the type of bicycle (mountain bike) and sometimes the manufacturer. You can also decide to buy compatible pedals that offer both possibilities (clipless on one side and the flat system on the other) and decide later.

Let's see together the main considerations to keep in mind when deciding which pedals to buy for your new bicycle.

  • Decide whether you want clipless pedals or traditional flat pedals: choose clipless pedals if you want to express maximum power and seek perfect efficiency. With these pedals, you will be able to transmit power in both phases of the pedal stroke: while pushing down and while pulling up the opposite pedal. Choose flat pedals instead if you are looking for maximum comfort, both in pulling your foot off the pedal and in walking with shoes that do not have cleats. Sometimes it can be a bit uncomfortable to walk with shoes for clipless pedals.
  • Consider the type of outings you intend to do: do you want clipless pedals for your racing bike to transfer maximum power in the race; or do you rather want traditional pedals for a simple Sunday outing outdoors with the rest of the family?
  • Decide on the type of shoe you prefer: your preference in shoes can sometimes lead you to different types of pedals. If, for example, you are a commuter and use the bicycle to go to work, it is probably better to opt for flat pedals that can be used with regular shoes. At most, in this case, you could use mountain bike pedals and shoes that have "hidden" cleats that do not create difficulty in walking.


The most common types of pedals: clipless vs. "flat"

The first question to ask yourself is whether you want to attach your foot to the pedal or if you want to leave it free. The two most common types of pedal are, indeed, clipless pedals and the traditional pedals we all know, called "flat".

Clipless pedals

What are they? Clipless pedals work through a plastic or metal plate that is mounted on the sole of the shoe that clips into the pedal with a locking mechanism. To unclip them, it is enough to rotate the foot laterally. Road cleats usually have three holes and are made of plastic; while mountain bike cleats have two holes and are made of metal. They may seem complex to use at first glance but I assure you that with a little practice it is learned quickly.

Why choose them? Clipless pedals allow great control of the pedal stroke, especially when going fast or standing on the pedals. In the world of mountain biking, then, they allow the foot to remain well anchored to the pedal despite the terrain's unevenness. It may seem strange to think about the foot clipped to the pedal but I assure you that once you have tried clipless pedals you will find them completely natural and will not want to do without them anymore.

"Flat" Pedals

What are they? "Flat" pedals are the traditional pedals you are probably used to. They are, in fact, flat pedals with a wider surface to allow the foot to rest in comfort. They were not designed to be used with shoes for clipless pedals.

Why choose them? In the discipline of downhill mountain biking, riders (usually not called cyclists) prefer "flat" pedals, with small metal spikes, combined with non-slip sole shoes that guarantee excellent grip but also the possibility to have the foot free in case of a fall (or to avoid a fall).

"Flat" pedals should be chosen, as mentioned, mainly for their ease of use. Occasional cyclists, commuters, or those who frequently get on and off their bicycle should probably opt for this type of pedal that allows them to wear more comfortable footwear when walking.


What kind of cyclist are you?

Clipless pedals for road bikes: most road cyclists prefer to use clipless pedals because having the foot attached to the pedal guarantees them maximum efficiency and power in the pedal stroke. Even the shoes, usually stiffer, even with a carbon fiber sole, are designed to maximize pedal stroke power. Pedals for road bikes generally work with three-hole cleats. These are often referred to as "Look" cleats (from the manufacturer that invented them) or "SPD-SL". These cleats are quite wide, made of plastic, and protrude quite a bit from the sole of the shoe, especially compared to two-hole cleats. The great advantage of three-hole cleats is that, being wider, the force transmitted and directly impressed on the pedal is greater because applied on a wider base.

Clipless pedals for mountain biking: clipless pedals for mountain biking are the type with two-hole cleats. The cleat, "hidden" in the sole, does not prejudice walking, which, on dirt and rough paths, might become necessary. The cleats, generally made of metal, are screwed directly into the sole of the shoe. Mountain bikers definitely prefer this type of pedals that guarantees them better pedaling efficiency and control of the bicycle, greater power to face steep climbs and the guarantee that the foot will not run away on technical and tortuous descents. In the discipline of downhill, as mentioned, riders prefer, however, "flat" pedals that allow to have the foot more free.

Pedals for occasional cyclists: if you are occasional cyclists the best option, probably, is represented by "flat" pedals, or, at most, by clipless pedals for mountain biking that allow walking without difficulty.

Pedals for bicycle commuters: if you are commuters who use the bicycle to go to work, it is better that you use "flat" pedals compatible with any type of shoe. If you really have to make a long journey then you might think about clipless pedals for mountain biking, even if this means, probably, having to change shoes anyway for work.

Hybrid Pedals: there are hybrid pedals that guarantee all the comfort of a "flat" pedal on one side and the maximum efficiency of a clipless pedal on the other. This allows approaching the clipless pedal system more slowly. They are ideal for those who do not always pedal with bike shoes.


How to use clipless pedals

Learning to use clipless pedals might intimidate someone. Many cyclists at the beginning, while still learning, fall because of these pedals. That's why it's good to start practicing with someone holding the handlebars. The advice is, then, to try the first times on flat and grassy terrain; a fall on the soft should not have consequences. In any case, it is not very difficult to learn, it will take you a few attempts. The first times, however, be careful to remember to have the clipless pedal at traffic lights and stops.

How to clip in the pedals:
  • First of all, while trying to clip in the first pedal, pinch the front brake to prevent the bicycle from going forward unintentionally.
  • Clip in the first pedal and start pedaling. Once you have reached balance in motion, clip in the second pedal.
  • Generally, it is easier to clip in the pedal on flat terrain or slight downhill because it is easier to maintain balance. Starting uphill is a bit more complicated and takes a bit more practice.
How to unclip the pedals:
  • When you are approaching the stopping point, start thinking "heel out" and do it in advance. You must unclip the pedal before you have completely stopped, otherwise, you will fall. If you stop only for a moment you can also just unclip one of the two feet.
  • Typically, one tends to unclip the dominant foot. However, for a mountain biker, it is good to learn to use both feet.
  • The movement to unclip the pedal must be lateral, bringing the heel out. A kind of rotation of the foot outward. Once you hear the "click" your foot will be unclipped and you can put it on the ground and stop completely.
Some advice:
  • For clipless pedals with a three-hole cleat system, there are various types of cleats that offer different degrees of foot rotation. The foot can remain perfectly fixed, can have a little bit of play, or much more, depending on the cleat mounted. The advice is to try more than one, perhaps starting from those with more freedom if it is the first time you use clipless pedals. For fixed cleats, it is good to mount them precisely, otherwise, the wrong position could create problems for the knees.
  • Always clean the pedals well and lubricate them if necessary. Like the rest of the bicycle, also for the pedals, it is good to do constant maintenance. Otherwise, then they might not clip in so well anymore.
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