Choosing Mountain Bike Pedals to Optimize your Riding

Do mountain bike pedals really make a difference in your riding? Absolutely! Choosing the right pedals will not only make you a better rider, but it will make your ride safer.

Types of Mountain Bike Pedals

The first step in choosing bike pedals is to understand what options are out there.

There are 3 basic types of mountain bike pedals: Platform, toe-clip, and clipless.

1. Platform pedals

Platform pedals are flat pedals that do not attach to your foot.

Platform pedals are sometimes found on entry level mountain bikes and you may have had these types of pedals as a kid. They may be smooth or have nonaggressive grips or teeth on them. These mountain bike pedals are adequate for more casual recreational riding and if you are not concerned about efficiency and speed when climbing.


There are also platform mountain bike pedals that have pins or teeth sticking out of them that grip onto the sole of the rider's shoe, which is often made of a soft, sticky rubber.
These pedals are often preferred for downhill and freeride biking because they allow the rider's foot to grip onto the shoe, yet they are able to be removed more quickly from the pedal during aggressive riding than if it were clipped in. Here is an example of some reputable and popular downhill mountain bike pedals

2. Toe-clip pedals

Toe-clip pedals or cage pedals are basically flat pedals that have straps or metal cages on the front that attach your foot to the pedal. They provide better pedaling efficiency than platform pedals because they allow power to be transmitted on the upstroke as well as the downstroke.


The tighter your foot is clipped in, the better the pedaling efficiency; however, when clipped in tightly it becomes more difficult to quickly remove your foot from the pedal when necessary, which obviously has its disadvantages.

Toe-clip pedals came out before clipless mountain bike pedals were invented. They have decreased in popularity since clipless pedals have entered the market because clipless pedals are more efficient and it is easier to remove your foot from the pedal.

3. Clipless pedals


When I first heard of clipless pedals, it didn't make sense to me that they were called clipless because you clip your foot into them. Apparently clipless pedals were invented after toe-clip pedals and got their name because they do not require the toe-clips.

Clipless mountain bike pedals have a mechanism that attaches to a cleat on a special type of bike shoe so that the rider's foot is attached to the pedal. The foot is removed from the pedal by a quick outward rotation of the foot beginning with the heel.

Clipless pedals are often the preferred pedal for cross country mountain biking because they allow the rider to have more pedaling efficiency and power than other mountain bike pedals. Because they make it possible to pedal in a circular motion, they allow the rider to use multiple leg muscles rather than just pushing down with the quads.

Clipless pedals keep the rider's feet securely attached to the pedals while going over obstacles so you don't lose your balance or momentum due to a foot slipping off the pedal. Having your feet attached to the pedals also provides greater power when motoring over obstacles. I am often surprised at what I can motor over if I am able to just keep going.

Considering Clipless Pedals?

Are you considering taking the plunge to clipless pedals? If so, you may have some of the same concerns I had when I was considering going clipless. You may also be wondering which types of clipless pedals are best. Learn more about Shimano clipless pedals, Time ATAC pedals, and other clipless pedals.

I had a big fear that I would get hurt because I wouldn't be able to remove my feet from the pedals if I took a spill. I was just getting comfortable with the platform pedals and feeling more secure on my mountain bike, and the thought of being stuck to the pedals did not sound very safe.

In spite of my fears, I decided that I would take the plunge and go clipless. After all, my biking buddies were all telling me I would be a better rider if I made the switch.

I practiced riding around with the clipless pedals on grass at home before trying them out on the trail just to be sure I could get my feet out of them and get accustomed to the motion of clipping out.

Also, my Shimano clipless pedals are able to be adjusted so I can set the amount of force required to get my feet out by simply loosening or tightening a screw on the pedal. Most clipless pedals have this adjustment option. I initially set mine on the loosest setting, which helped alleviate my fear of not being able to get my foot out in time.

I didn't have any problems getting my feet in and out of the pedals riding around in the nice soft grass so I was ready to try them out on the trail. I took two spills that day. I would like to say that I was riding down a rock garden or something cool like that, but one was in the parking lot and one was on the trail when I was meeting a rider and pulled over to let him by... both times, a little embarrassing, but at least not life threatening.

It really didn't take long to get used to the pedals after that. In the beginning, The problem was mostly just forgetting I was clipped in and not using the right motion in time to get my foot out before losing my balance and tipping, but that motion very quickly became automatic. Once that happened, my riding improved significantly.


The first improvement I noticed was my ability to climb hills better. Instead of just pushing down with my quads, I now was able to use other leg muscles to climb by pulling up, forward, down, and back on my pedals in a circular motion.

Another area that I showed improvement in was when riding over rocky sections of trail. Before switching to clipless, my feet would often slip off the pedals as I was trying to motor through rock gardens, which would cause me to lose my balance and momentum. When this would happen, I would often knock my shins or calves on the pedals or even worse, take a spill. Riding bumpy downhill sections also became easier because my feet were more stable on the pedals.

Although clipless pedals require a period of adjustment, they are well worth it and have definitely improved my mountain biking abilities.

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