Whether you’re new to mountain biking or a seasoned expert, you’ve probably pondered the benefits of using clipless pedals versus flat pedals. There are many opinions about which one is the right choice, but like many component questions, it isn’t a matter of asking which is best, but which is best for you.
When shopping for pedals, ask yourself what kind of rider you are and what type of terrain you typically ride. Shimano offers a wide range of both SPD “clipless” pedals and flat pedals that meet the demands of all kinds of riders. Whether you want pedals with a larger platform and long pins to hold your foot in place or a minimalistic design that sheds mud quickly, Shimano pedals set the benchmark in performance.
What is Shimano SPD?
Shimano Pedaling Dynamics, or SPD, pedal technology was developed to meet the demands of diverse mountain bike riding styles. It was the first widely adopted mountain bike clipless pedal and cleat system and remains the reference point in pedal technology over 25 years later. Shimano’s SPD system increases power transfer and improves rider stability by integrating the pedal and shoe outsole into a single, unified system. It offers easy walkability thanks to the recessed cleat and new pedal designs help shed mud for smooth engagement in all conditions. Since its origin in 1990, the SPD pedal has expanded into various models including the lightweight and race-focused Shimano XTR pedals to the sturdy SAINT Downhill model and the beginner-friendly Click’R system.
So why are pedals that you step or “clip” into called “clipless”? In the early days of the cycling, many riders used flat pedals with metal or plastic cages at the front of the pedal that held the rider’s foot in place. Straps were used to tighten the cages down over the user’s feet and these pedals were commonly referred to as “toe-clips.” They were difficult to get into and out of while riding, leading to the development of the pedals known today as clipless.
What type of mountain bike pedal is best for beginners?
Mountain biking can be intimidating to some. If you’re just getting started, consider using platform pedals so you can easily hop on and off your bike or put a foot down without worrying about unclipping your foot. Spend time building your confidence and handling skills before considering a switch to clipless pedals.
The right pedal for the right kind of riding
Choosing between clipless pedals and flat pedals mostly comes down to feel. Many riders prefer clipless pedals because they provide a more secure and powerful feel when pedaling hard. You can pull up as well as push down through the pedal stroke, delivering more power and making the most of your efforts, particularly when climbing. This is the reason you don’t see cross-country racers using flats pedals.
On the flipside, many mountain bikers choose to use flat pedals because there are times when you don’t want a mechanical connection to your bike. Dirt jumpers and bike park riders and some downhill racers stick to flat pedals.
How to choose flat pedals
Flat pedals come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and materials. More aggressive riders like downhill racers and free-riders prioritize durability and security over weight savings. Shimano SAINT PD-M828 flat pedals feature a wide platform with 12 stainless-steel pins along the edges and in the center for optimal grip on aggressive terrain.
The versatile DEORE XT PD-M8040 flat pedals are the choice pedal of many trail and Enduro riders. Offered in two sizes, small-medium and medium-large, they deliver optimal support and performance with the best balance of weight and durability across all riding conditions.
How to choose clipless pedals
Clipless pedals are designed for the many different styles of mountain biking. While all SPD clipless pedals feature a similar clipless mechanism, they can differ in construction materials, weight, and complexity of the pedal design. Shimano has a variety of different SPD mountain bike pedals to choose from based on the type of riding you plan to do.
Cross country riders opt for lightweight pedal with a minimalistic design. The new XTR PD-M9100 cross-country pedals have a sleek construction and weigh just 310 grams. They also offer adjustable spring tension, which allows riders to fine tune the amount of force required to clip in and out of the pedals.
Pedals designed for general trail riding and Enduro racing often have larger bodies to protect the clipless mechanism from damage. Shimano offers a trail configuration of both the XT and XTR pedals for more aggressive riding. The larger cage protects the clipless mechanism while also offering an expanded shoe-pedal contact area for added stability on technical terrain.
Gravity and downhill riders choose more robust SPD pedals like Shimano’s alloy bodied SAINT PD-M820 pedals. These resemble flat pedals with a wide platform but they include a clipless mechanics for a solid interface between shoe and pedal. The wider surface supports soft-soled gravity shoes and gives riders a secure platform in the event they come unclipped.