Bicycle pedals vary in design to meet the demands of all different kinds of riding. Figuring out which pedals are the best choice for you can lead to greater efficiency and a more comfortable ride. Read on for a brief description of the different styles of pedals and their applications.
Rubber Platform Pedals
These pedals are most commonly seen on single speed and three speed, upright cruiser style bicycles. They can be recognized by the large black flat rubber platform. These pedals are a better match with flexible soled shoes than a caged platform pedal because of the flat contact surface. You can feel the spikes of a caged platform pedal through soft shoes. Unfortunately these pedals are not very lightweight, offer very little traction when wet, and when used with soft soled shoes, they do not offer much comfort after about an hour of riding.
Plastic Platform Pedals
The plastic platform pedal is usually seen on mountain bikes and hybrid bikes in the sub $300 price ranges. These pedals offer lighter weight and better traction (to your shoes) than the rubber platform pedal. These pedals can be used for commuting and mild off road use, but for durability reasons, it is not recommended for heavy off road use. Frequently a new bike buyer will upgrade to a metal pedal at the time of purchase or after the plastic pedals wear out. One benefit of the plastic platform pedals over metal pedals is that if you slip your foot off of a pedal and the pedal comes back around and hits your shin, the plastic pedal is more forgiving to your skin than a metal pedal would be.
Plastic Body Metal Cage Platform Pedals
These pedals have a plastic center portion that has a metal cage bolted to it. These pedals offer better grip to your shoes over an all plastic pedal and save you some money over the cost of an all metal pedal. You do sacrifice some durability over the all metal pedal. If you are hard on your equipment, consider the all metal version platform pedal.
The All Metal Platform Pedal
The all metal platform pedal is usually made with a steel spindle and an aluminum body and cage. This is the most popular pedal found on mountain bikes and hybrid bikes above $500 and under $1000. These pedals are very durable and light weight. Some versions of these pedals are available with titanium spindles for even more weight savings.
The Road Specific Platform Pedal
The road specific platform pedal is much narrower than the more common mountain / hybrid pedal to save even more weight and gain cornering clearance. They are also narrower because they are usually used with a narrow road style shoe. These pedals are best when used with a clip and strap since the platform area is so small. Without a clip and strap it is difficult to hold your foot in the proper position for pedaling.
BMX / Downhill / Slalom / Platform Pedals
These pedals are grouped into two categories, platform and clipless platform. The platform pedals come 9/16" or 1/2" for all BMX bicycles. These pedals are sturdier and heavier than most other platform pedals. Some of these pedals have a concave design that centers your foot to assure grip and proper foot placement. Many of these pedals have replaceable pins for traction. These are the most menacing pedals and have chewed their fair share of shins as they are designed to give as much grip on the pedal as possible without clipping in, because the riders are taking their feet off the pedals so often ( to drag a foot through the corners). There are also clipless platform pedals which are discussed in the clipless pedal section below.
Toe Clips and Straps for Platform Pedals
Toe clips and straps are an add-on for most platform pedals. Consider them as safety belts for your feet. The straps keep your feet on the pedal and can improve pedal efficiency up to 20 %! You do however have to loosen the straps before you come to a stop or you could fall with the bike attached to your feet.
Clipless Pedals Overview
These style pedals work in conjunction with cycling shoes. The combination of the pedal, and the shoe with cleats bolted on to their soles, allows you to "click" in and out without straps. Clipless pedals can add up to 20% more pedal efficiency by rounding out the pedal stroke. Clipless pedals are easier to get into and out of than toe straps. To engage, you press down on the pedal with the cleated shoe. To release, you turn your heel sideways, this removes the cleat from the engagement springs. There are two general categories of clipless pedals: road pedals and mountain pedals. The road style clipless pedal is narrow. This is done to allow for better cornering. You'll have less chance of hitting a pedal on the pavement in tight turns with a narrower pedal. These pedals also have cleat entry on only one side of the pedal. They are made this way to save weight since the road cyclist doesn't engage and disengage as frequently as the mountain cyclist.
Mountain clipless pedals are designed for the frequent engaging and disengaging that occurs on off-road terrain. The pedals have cleat entry on both sides of the pedal, making it easier to clip into the cleat while in the mud and dirt. While these pedals add pedal power, they also keep your feet from flying off the pedals while going down hill. Down hill, slalom, and BMX riders typically use a clipless platform pedal when they're not using platforms. The clipless platform pedals have the interior of a mountain clipless pedal, having cleat entry on both sides of the pedal. They also have a platform shaped exterior to give more pedal area when you feet come on and off while planting your turns.
A good tip for making sure that your clipless mountain pedals engage and disengage in muddy conditions, spray pam cooking oil on your pedals and cleats. This will keep the mud from sticking to the pedals and shoes and jamming up the works. Cooking oil is also safer for the environment than chain lube for this application.