When it comes to the contact points on your bike, the best mountain bike pedals represent one of the most vital components and for very good reason. They're crucial to everything from climbing to cornering and that's why you need to find what pedals work best for the type of riding you enjoy. This buyer's guide will give you the low down on the best mountain bike pedals so you know your flats from your clipless.
A brief look at the history of the mountain bike pedal will show just how much the best mountain bike pedals have evolved. At the very start, off-road riders used flat-platform pedals with a body that offered some form of grip. They often looked like a hunting trap and if you were unfortunate enough to suffer a slip of some sort, there would be a similar amount of blood, too.
A gradual evolution in flat pedals followed leading to features like concave pedal bodies, replacement pins and improved mud and ground clearance. This also led to flat pedal shoes with soft and sticky soles to increase the bite into the pedal pins and thus grip. Flat pedals are a great option for developing your bike skills and body positioning for beginners.
Riders - especially those of the cross-country mountain biking variety - began favouring all-out performance and power transfer and opted to go the toe clip route; these attached to the main pedal body and secured your feet to the bike somewhat permanently. It gave riders a more equal spread of power throughout the entire pedal stroke thanks to the push and pull of the pedal arc. The off-road clipless pedal concept would eventually evolve into the Shimano Pedaling Dynamics or as it's simply known; the SPD pedal which did away with the need for toe clips and straps (hence the clipless name).
It's a lot to take in if you're a beginner but we've got you covered. Skip to the bottom of the page to read our guide to choosing the best mountain bike pedals. We'll also cover the pros and cons of both styles later in the guide. This will help answer some of the most common questions and steer you in the right direction.
Best mountain bike pedals - clipless pedals
The X-Track En-Rage adopts a standard Shimano SPD mechanism, so although the pedals are supplied with Look’s X-Track own cleats, standard SPD cleats from other brands are compatible.
While there is plenty of support from the caged design, the Look X-Track En-Rage pedal is missing any pins for a real substantial bite and only has small serrations on either side of the cleat, so the grip level isn't the best.
The Look X-Track En-Rage pedal is very durable and designed to go the distance. While they're not the lightest in the segment, there is a lot to like for the price. For fans of a float-gree pedal feel these come highly rated.
The Hope Union TC model is a long-awaited addition to the brand's pedal line-up. It’s designed to be a large platformed trail pedal with impressive build quality as you would expect from the team at Hope. While only compatible with Hope's own cleats, the pedal offers loads of pin adjustment for a great level of grip, easy engagement, and a solid feel when clipped in it's a tough pedal not to like.
Its stainless steel clip mechanism resembles some of Shimano’s offerings, but it’s very different in reality. Both jaws, as it were, are sprung, and they’re wider apart, meshing with a fatter cleat. The fact that it's only compatible with Hope cleats is forgivable, too, thanks to the range of bits and pieces included in that asking price.
This pedal offering from Hope is priced at the premium end of the market but the great on-trail performance, and exceptional craftsmanship paired with the use of quality materials more than warrant digging deep for a pair of Hope Union TC pedals.
2021_CrankBros_Eggbeater3-1.JPG, by Matt Page
The Eggbeater has been part of the Crankbrothers range since it started making pedals and there’s a reason these have been around almost unchanged for so long. The Eggbeater 3 is light due to its zero platform and the pedal is extremely easy to use with the unique and ingenious four-sided design.
For riders who like to tough it out during the grim Winter months, you will be pleased to read that the Crankbrothers Eggbeater 3 pedal has the best mud-shedding performance of any clipless pedal you can buy.
The lack of a platform does make shoe choice more important than usual. If you miss the platform support from your pedals, then Crankbrothers also offer the Candy model with the slightest weight penalty.
The Speciale 12 uses Time’s proprietary ATAC cleat and a dual-sided, two-bar spring engagement, and gives riders a choice of either a 13- or 17-degree release angle. This makes clipping in a doddle and the angle of engagement tends to squeeze any debris out of the way.
The platform is machined from 6061 aluminium and, while the result is pretty light (404g for the pair), strength and durability seem high. Despite the battle scars from the tough test period, there is zero play and the Speciale 12s are still silently spinning like new.
Hope’s Union RC clip pedals are targeted at cross-country mountain biking, cyclo-cross, and gravel riding. Available in six colours to match your steed and Hope offers a unique mechanism housed in a dual-sided, beautifully CNC machined body. Inside they spin on three bearings, a self-lubricating bush and a titanium axle. They are fully serviceable, can be accessed with regular bike tools, and come with a two-year warranty.
Just like the rest of their pedal lineup, the unique Hope cleat design makes them incompatible with any other system on the market. That said, the build quality and durability are unsurpassed. With silence as their middle name, you will suffer from no creaking or groaning. Yes, the blue anodising is starting to wear, but importantly the mechanism still looks fairly fresh after six months of use and it continues to work as new on both sides of each pedal.
Best mountain bike pedals - flat pedals
The PNW Range Composite is the budget-friendly sibling of the brand's Loam pedal. Through testing, the pedals have proven to be a reliable bang-for-buck option as grip, feel and durability are excellent.
The Range pedal shares the same shape and shallow convex shape with its pricier stablemate the Loam; only the 22 steel non-adjustable pins here aren’t as tall. Not to worry though, paired with the shape of the pedal body the foot wraps nicely around the pedal while forcing the pins deeper into the sole for good levels of grip.
If the convex shape works for you, then this is a flat pedal you will want to try. The grip and durable performance are not short of impressive for the cash.
Riding the concave shape combined with the pins and relatively low profile offers plenty of purchase and allows the midsole of your shoes to sink into the concave area. The robust cro-mo axle sits the pedal body a good distance from the crank for shoe positioning. The Slim Jims feel solid, able to stand up to some abuse and they clear mud well. Accessible bolts make it easy to pull the pedal apart and it is just as simple to swap out bent pins.
The Slim Jims are great alloy pedals. This latest iteration is wallet-friendly, tough as old boots with a limpet-like grip. They will last a long while but having an easily serviceable pedal with plenty of aftermarket replacement parts means when they do eventually feel tired you can have them running like new again.
The Loam Pedals are PNW Components' first go at the flat-pedal concept. PNW Forged and CNC’d the 6061 aluminium and have not only made a beautiful job of it, they definitely feel substantial and shrug off pedal strikes with ease. The pedal body has a convex shape with a concave pin layout, meaning that the 22 replaceable pins are taller on the front and rear than they are around the middle. It might not be to everyone's taste but regardless of the shoes their stiffness and grip have been consistent and plentiful thanks to those strong and lengthy pins.
PNW’s Loam pedals are a beautiful and solid first foray into flat pedals. They are mega grippy and impressively durable; it’s great to see that they have considered servicing too. If you’re looking for wallet-friendly aluminium-bodied pedals that come with a lifetime warranty these should be towards the top of your list.
DMR-V11-flat pedal-review-100-2.jpg, by Jon Woodhouse
DMR has been in the flat pedal game for a long time. The V11 gets the same pedal platform shape as its metallic brethren, the Vault pedal, which is an excellent thing. It's decently thin and has nicely chamfered edges to reduce the likelihood of pedal strikes and the large pedal body that is slightly concave in both fore and aft and side to side to allow your foot to sit into it.
The internals is the same as the Vault, with a DU bushing on the inside of the axle and a single bearing at the end spinning on a steel axle. A rubber seal on the inside and a screw-on cap on the outside keep the weather out.
These superb pedals mirror the performance of their premium brothers at less than half the price. They have loads of grip and support, with the same proven bearings and platform design plus a very damage-resistant body.
Nukeproof-Horizon-Pro-2-flat-pedal-review-100.jpg, by Jon Woodhouse
The changes over the old Horizon pedal are subtle, with improved ground clearance and an increase in strength on the aluminium pedal body. As ever, the grip is superb, aided by a nice big and slightly concave pedal platform and 10 steel pins per side. Each pedal runs on a pair of cartridge bearings plus a DU bushing, with a substantial rubber seal to help keep the crap out. It works well as they're still spinning smoothly despite plenty of wet-weather miles and general battering.
The Nukeproof Horizon Pro 2 pedals manage to improve on an already excellent design. They're grippy, tough, smooth rolling that will remain that way for a long while. In a nutshell, they're simply one of the best flat pedals you can buy.
The Race Face Atlas is a premium flat pedal offering. It is beautifully sleek with a low-profile design and it comes in a choice of five colours alongside the traditional black. It's not just pretty looking though; it packs a tough well thought-out design and is fully rebuildable.
The Atlas pedal is so grippy it boosts rider confidence with a concave platform and 10 pins per side. It's a worthy choice for gravity-focused riding and excellent for all kinds of trail riding.
The excellent grip, low height, tough spindle and smooth edges make the Atlas a modern classic. Yes, they are pricey but this kind of quality and design is going to cost.
Built with 6061 T6 Aluminium, the TMAC has the largest pedal platform Deity has produced to date. The large platform and pronounced concave profile go a long way to deliver a rock-solid trail connection coupled with excellent performance.
The TMACs give a super solid feel and holds your feet over roots and rocks to provide excellent trail feedback. This gifts the rider confidence to push against them when airborne and also for bunny hops.
The build quality is very good; the combination of sealed bearings and DU bushings keeps the pedals spinning reliably. They are serviceable when you eventually need to give them a spruce-up. They are available in a multitude of colours: Black, Brown, Silver, Orange, Blue, Red, Green and Purple.
How to choose the best mountain bike pedals
Choosing the best mountain bike pedal might be seen as a complete minefield but this section has been curated to answer all your questions and some you might not have considered yet, helping you the perfect match for your riding style and budget.
What size pedal is best and what should I use?
The greater the pedal platform size, the more support it will offer. The larger surface area will make it easier to locate which could be a game changer when you are charging in technical terrain. The trade-off is the additional weight, this is the reason they are mostly found bolted into the bike of gravity riders.
Recently there have been more enduro-sized platforms on the market like the Time Speciale 12 pedal. By adopting a slightly smaller platform they are lighter and still pack a punch in the grip department with some strategically placed pins even if you are not clipped in.
The next step down again is the pedals aimed at trail riding just like the Look X-Track En-Rage. The platform is smaller again, these usually offer a small cage to protect the mechanism from ground strikes and also allow more support than a completely uncaged option. This support will allow you to use a shoe that has a little more flex in the sole.
The uncaged mechanism-only pedals like Crankbrothers Eggbeaters 3 or the Hope Union RC are super light and give no support platform or protection to the binding mechanism. They’re best suited to the very stiffest soled riding kicks.
Another consideration worth mentioning here is the pedal Q-factor. Bare with me and I will keep this as painless as possible. It is the measurement taken from the outside of the crank arm to the centre of the pedal body. It’s added to the crank Q-factor, which is the measurement between the outsides of the crank arms. A wider stance offers an increase in stability and crank/frame clearance. Just be wary when running the widest pedals and cranks; strikes will be more commonplace with scuffs and damage to pins is just a matter of time.
How much are mountain bike pedals?
Your budget will be a major consideration when buying a new pair of pedals. Sometimes the gains are not worth the money. The cheapest pedals are quite often the caged trail platforms and the price tag starts to creep up as you start to get more features such as coated bindings, adjustable replacement pins, lighter-weight axle materials and longer warranty periods with serviceable designs. Quite often the bigger the pedal the more it will cost due to the more material and neat ways to shave weight and increase strength.
Which clipless system is best?
There are many contributing factors to the design of a great clipless pedal system. This includes weight, platform size and price. One of the most crucial is the feel or the operation of the clip-in mechanism and how they release.
Having an adjustable binding tension as found on Shimano SPD designs will go some way to help. The tension ranges and engagement does vary and some attention needs to be given to the shoe sole design and the pedal-to-shoe spacing. This is important with the Crankbrother-type clipless pedal systems that use a loop-type binding with no tension adjustment. The unique Hope pedal design gives a double spring binding mechanism and offers riders a tight and secure feel.
Some riders prefer more float. Float is the amount of rotational movement of your foot before the cleat disengages from the pedal. This movement or float is key for riders that suffer from knee strains. The amount of movement will differ between pedal designs but it can also be changed by using different shapes of shoe cleats or tuning the cleat position from left to right.
Are clipless pedals better than flat pedals?
Now there's a question. There are many factors that will determine the answer to this one. The type of riding and the trail conditions will have an impact on which pedal type will be used, even for some of the world's fastest downhill mountain biking racers. In steep and technical terrain or in the wettest conditions, being able to quickly dab a foot off a flat pedal or avoid the clip-in mechanism from clogging might mean the difference between winning and crashing, so you will see riders swapping from clipless to flats.
For riders looking for the ultimate power delivery and pedalling efficiency for cross-country, cyclo-cross or gravel bike racing then you will want to consider slipping on some stiff shoes and laying down some of your hard-earned dosh on a pair of lightweight, mud-shedding uncaged clipless pedals. With the variety of sizes of caged clipless systems on the market there literally is a pedal for every genre of mountain biking and for every budget.
If your rides take you up some sections that are impassable on the bike and you are forced to take to foot and hike a bike. You may favour a grippy flat pedal shoe that has some compliance, over a stiff cross-country race shoe that is not fun to walk in for any real distance.
Sometimes for riders, being able to pull the bike up over obstacles and go light over some roots, the security in the roughest sections of trail and that consistent foot placement having your feet tethered to your steed is the best solution. There will always be a rider from the freestyle dirt jump or bike park scene that needs to hit the ejector button from time to time and flat pedals are the only way to go on those bikes. Pedalling with Flats is the best way to master techniques that will aid your trail riding like cornering, jumping and the faithful bunny hop.
Whichever pedal type your choose, we have to stress the importance of pairing the right pedal with the most appropriate shoe.
Are bigger flat pedals better?
Larger flat pedals will provide a stable planting for your feet. Platform size is a finely balanced trade-off between weight and the likelihood that your pedal comes into contact with the ground or trail features. This is known as a pedal strike. Pedal strikes, at best, will cause some damage to your pedals and, at worst, could pitch you off your bike. This is the reason modern pedal designs feature tapered leading edges and chamfered corners, so they glance off rather than dig into the ground during a strike.
What is a cleat?
The cleat is the part of the clipless pedal system that attaches to the underside of the sole of your riding shoe. They are not always cross-brand compatible so you need to make sure you use the correct cleat to fit the design of your pedal.
If you use clipless pedals it is worth spending a little bit of time to perfect the cleat position on your shoe. This will maximise your comfort, control and also your power output. The setup and position of the cleat on the shoe sole is a compromise between having the cleat all the way forward and offering better acceleration but a less stable platform for your foot and ankle. The forward position will engage more of your calf muscle which is good for sprinting and acceleration. As a great place to start, a more rearward cleat position on your shoe is favoured and gives the rider better control on descents, then gradually try moving them forward until you find a comfy position. This will allow the ideal rider-specific compromise between foot stability, calf muscle energy input, sprinting ability and control.
Most riders line the cleat straight with the shoe. Angling the cleat slightly inwards towards the cranks and frame in other words slightly pointing to your big toe so it will unclip sooner. The incorrect or unnatural positioning of a cleat may result in some unwanted aches and pains, especially around your knee.
You can also adjust the side-to-side placement of the cleat on your shoe. It might be wise for bigger-footed riders to place them further inboard to move them away from your crank arm to avoid any fouling when you want to disengage and unclip.
The only other point worth considering is to make sure that your cleat bolts are correctly tightened. They should be tightened alternately until they reach the correct tightness and won't move. Test them before setting out on a ride and readjust if they don't feel right. It is worth periodically checking your cleats in both shoes for wear and to ensure that the bolts are tight.