BEST ROAD BIKE PEDALS
While road bike pedals may not be very sexy or expensive compared to your bike frame, other components, and kit, they are just as important to your performance, comfort, and safety out on the road.
This Know Fast review gives you the essential knowledge you need to decide what road bike pedals to get and where to get them in a brief, enthusiast-focused, ad-free post. I’ve done the same comprehensive, comparative, and conflict-of-interest-free gear and store evaluations that normally go into longer In The Know Cycling reviews to come up with my recommendations and insights and written them up in a form that you can more quickly read and act on.
I recommend the Shimano Ultegra PD-R8000 as the best road bike pedals for most road cycling enthusiasts. They perform well, suit the fit needs of most cyclists, are very durable and easy to maintain, and are very competitively priced.
- You can buy the recommended Shimano Ultegra PD-R8000 road bike pedals at the best prices by following these links to Competitive Cyclist, JensonUSA, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle stores that I also recommend because they have top customer satisfaction ratings from fellow cyclists as reported by independent services, a great selection of gear for road cycling enthusiasts, and very competitive prices.
If your biomechanics or bad knees require a fit solution somewhat outside the norm or you just prefer pedals you can clip in from either side with near near-frictionless float, I recommend the Speedplay Zero Chrome-Moly road bike pedals.
Compared to the Ultegras, they take a little bit more effort to maintain, are about $50 more in the US, but are just as durable as Ultegra pedals and are similarly priced to them in the rest of the world.
- You can buy Speedplay Zero Chrome-Moly road bike pedals at the best prices from recommended stores by following these links to Competitive Cyclist, UK/EU Evans, Mantel UK.
You get imperceptible performance improvements from the more expensive Shimano or Speedplay pedal models.
I don’t recommend you buy current Look or Time pedals, the other two major road bike pedal brands.
Look’s Keo pedals don’t have as stable an interface between the pedal and cleats as Shimano or Speedplay systems. This leads to less efficient power transfer and, in my experience and those of many others, an annoying creaking sound that comes and goes. While lower priced, they aren’t as well built as Shimano or Speedplay road bike pedals.
The new owners of Time have recently introduced a line of pedals that will replace their Xpresso models which have historically not proven durable. Until these pedals have gone through a couple years of field use, I suggest you hold off buying them.
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WHAT MATTERS MOST
There are 5 performance criteria that really matter in choosing road bike pedals and another 4 design aspects that matter much less or at all. Durability and maintenance are the key quality criteria for pedals. And cost always matters but changes more with design specs than pedal performance.
Clip-In – Each pedal system’s approach to clipping in is somewhat different but all of them take only a few rides to get used to. Once you do, they all become second nature and the only thing that differentiates them is personal preference.
- You‘ll see some reviewers state certain pedals “perform” better than others because they clip-in “easier”. Hogwash. It’s a personal preference rather than a performance difference.
personal preferencehogwash? Speedplay pedals, because they allow you to clip in on either side and don’t require you to tip the pedal with your toe to line up the cleat. It may be more of a mental than physical thing since a well greased Speedplay pedal won’t rotate to expose the other side when you’re out on a ride.
- I’ve used single sided Shimano and Look pedals extensively and I’m equally confident clipping into them as I am my Speedplays.
- Some people judge clip-in performance after the first couple of rides. This is misleading. It takes a few “break-in” rides for the spring mechanisms to work through the protective sealant applied at the factory and get to a steady tension.
Release – As with clipping in, each pedal system releases somewhat differently when you twist your heel out. But, all work effectively.
- Shimano and Look Keo 2 Max pedals use adjustable springs.
- Look Keo Blade pedals give you a choice of two or three carbon “blades” with pre-set tension levels instead of a spring.
- Speedplay uses a non-adjustable spring in a release mechanism that suits riders from about 145lbs/66kg to 220lbs/100kg for the model I’ve recommended.
Stability – Once clipped in, you want as stable and quiet an interface as possible between your pedal and cleat. The more stable the interface, the more efficient your power delivery.
- If the interface isn’t stable either initially or as the cleat and pedal component facings wear down, you’ll feel play or rocking in your pedals.
- If the interface isn’t quiet, it still may be stable. Creaking can be eliminated with periodic dry lubing of the cleats (Speedplay) or replacement of the cleats with an aftermarket version (Exustar) and regular cleaning.
Float – Float is the term used to quantify how much your heel can swing side to side when your foot is clipped in.
The more float you have, the more likely you can find a comfortable alignment between your knees and feet. But, the more your feet float, the less efficient your power transfer will be and the further you have to twist your foot to unclip from the pedal.
On the other hand, the less float you have, the more accurately your cleats need to be set up to avoid messing up your knees.
- If you get your bike fit every few years, you can get your cleats set up for the right alignment and you can (and should) go with less float.
- Most pedal systems offer a choice of cleats, each with a different amount float. Shimano pedals come standard with 6 degree cleats but sells 0 and 2 degree options; Look comes with 4.5 degree cleats; 0 and 9 degree options; Speedplay includes one set of cleats that can be set between 0 and 15 degrees of float.
- Speedplay’s float is nearly frictionless and feels totally free; Shimano’s float has somewhat more friction and Look’s more still. This is more a preference than a performance difference.
Axle Length – Pedal systems come standard with 53mm long axles between the crank and centerline of the pedal. If you have wide hips, some hip or leg asymmetry, or limited flexibility, you may need longer axles or “spindles” to make pedaling more efficient and more comfortable.
- A good bike fit will determine if your performance and comfort can be improved by riding pedals with longer axles.
- Shimano’s newest Ultegra and Dura-Ace road bike pedals are available with 4mm longer axles; Speedplay offers 3, 6, and 12mm longer axles. Look does not have optional axle lengths for their pedals.
Durability – Bearing wear, water resistance, spring fatigue, pedal body integrity, interface material wear, and cleat wear are all considerations in considering durability.
- Shimano and Speedplay pedal systems are clearly better made and more durable than those from Look. The pedal plates that interface with the cleats don’t wear as well on the Look pedals. Bearings also don’t hold up as long.
Maintenance – You need to do some maintenance on all of these pedals to get the full useful life out of them.
- Speedplay cleats require dry lubing in the spring mechanisms ever few hundred miles or kilometers, or about as often as you wet lube your chain. They (both your cleats and chain) can get gunked up in dirt or sand so while it’s simple to keep them cleaned and lubed, you have to commit to doing it. You also need to grease the pedal body every few thousand miles or kms.
- At the other end of the scale, you can pretty much ignore maintaining Shimano pedals and cleats and still sleep (and ride) well.
- Look Keo cleats need to be regularly cleaned off to avoid creaking while pedaling (and that doesn’t always work).
Shimano, Look, Speedplay and Time make three levels of road bike pedals to serve the range of road cyclists from recreational riders to racers. The pedals run from as little as $40, £35, €35, less than what you pay for a tire to 10-15x that amount, a sum that you would pay for an alloy upgrade wheelset. Yeah, really!
The sweet-spot – where you get good performing, long lasting, enthusiast-level pedals – is in the 75-150 dollar, pound, and euro range.
As with other categories of bike gear, the highest priced pedals are generally lighter, have higher strength-to-weight materials and have design specs which they claim will provide higher performance levels. While weight-weenies and prestige buyers may see some value in these attributes, they make little if any noticeable performance difference to road cycling enthusiasts.
Much is made of the four design features I describe below in the marketing of some pedal systems. For most road cycling enthusiasts, they don’t they affect your performance much, certainly not to the level of the five performance characteristics described earlier, if at all.
I’ve listed them roughly in order of their relative potential impact on performance.
Stack height – Stack height is the distance between your foot and the pedal. The theory goes that the lower your stack height, the more efficient your power transfer as there is less getting between the source of your power and where it is being applied.
Shoes have a stack height – the sum of the thickness of your shoe’s insole and outsole. Pedal cleats attached to your outsole and add to your overall stack height.
- The stiffness of your shoe’s outsoles and stability of the interface between your cleats and pedals will matter a great deal more to power transfer than a few millimeters difference in stack height.
- All things being equal – a stiff sole, a stable interface, a limited amount of float, good pedaling mechanics, etc. – there’s little difference between the pedals I’ve recommended or the more expensive versions of each. The Look pedals do have considerably more stack height than the others but it’s hard to quantify what effect that has.
- Perhaps the most important thing to do with the knowledge of your stack height is to raise or lower your seat to compensate for any change in stack height from a new set of pedals (or shoes).
Weight – As with all things cycling, weight is promoted well beyond its importance. And, as with other cycling gear, the credibility of claimed pedal system weight is suspect. Further, some companies give you both their claimed pedal and cleat weights whereas others just give you the pedal weight.
- Most road cycling enthusiasts are not going to notice the 20 grams or so difference per pedal, the most you’ll find in the road bike pedal systems for cycling enthusiasts I’ve reviewed in this post.
- Speedplay may appear to have lighter pedals, but the clip-in spring mechanism is found in the cleats, making the cleats heavier than those from Shimano and Look. Look at the sum of the weights of the pedals and cleats rather than just the pedal weights.
Walkability – No road bike cleats make walking easy and none of these are easier to walk in than others now that Speedplay has introduced their “walkable” cleats (their name, not mine). You’ll be safe in any of these walking around a cafe.
- Cyclocross, gravel, commuting or recreational cyclists who do a good deal more walking or running than roadies are really the only road cyclists that should buy a pedal system based on how well you can walk in their cleats. In those cases, a mountain bike pedal system is the best solution.
Platform Area – The idea behind this design feature is that your power is transferred more effectively by a wider or larger platform between your feet and the pedals.
Your platform is defined by some pedal companies as the area where the pedal and cleat meet. Others feel the key measure should be the area where the shoe and cleat meet. Some emphasize the width of the platform or while others promote the area of the platform.
- None of this matters for road cycling enthusiasts who wear the best road bike shoes with stiff carbon soles. If you don’t, a bigger platform area (however defined or measured) won’t help you a whole lot compared to those who do.
WHERE TO FIND ROAD BIKE PEDALS
If you want to buy other pedals in the Shimano, Look or Speedplay lines beyond those I’ve recommended, here are the links to the brand pedal listings at stores that have a good selection of each, the most competitive prices, and top customer satisfaction ratings.
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