Many decisions in life are very confusing. Choosing the correct pedals for you doesn’t have to be one of those things. Follow this guide to find the right pedals for you.
There are 2 main types of bicycle pedals: platform and clip-in. In this guide, we are going to digging into the ins-and-outs of platform pedals, but if you want to learn more about clip-in pedals just click this link here (Guide to Clip-In Pedals).
Platform pedals (often called ‘flats’) are the type most people are familiar with as they are the easiest to use and don’t require any additional equipment like cleats or special shoes (more on this later). They’re exactly what you’d imagine a pedal to be – a flat, wide piece of metal or plastic sometimes with pins for added grip. If you’ve ever bought or rented a bike and it already had pedals on it, chances are they were platform pedals.
Flat style pedals are great for all sorts of applications from downhill racing to beach cruising and, when matched to a flat specific shoe with sticky rubber, can be almost as “engaged” as a clip-in pedal, but with a bit more freedom to move your foot or bailout. Flats are also a great tool for teaching yourself proper bike techniques that will crossover regardless of what other pedal types you may ride. The problem with platform pedals (and I use the word ‘problem’ loosely), is that they lack any sort of ‘foot-retention’ which can lead to reduced efficiency and pedal slips. A flat pedal that slips out from under your foot can be a recipe for some serious shin carnage if one is not careful. With the right platform pedal, a good pair of grippy shoes, and proper technique, riding on platform pedals can be very efficient, boost your confidence, and make riding more fun.
If you’re looking for a pedal for your commuter or beach cruiser, a simple commuter style flat pedal will be perfect. These tend to be made of plastics or lower grade metals and have a simple profile with ridges or grooves to add traction. These affordable pedals are great for rides that don’t require heaps of performance and will be paired to normal everyday shoes.
MTB flat pedals also will be made from aluminum or composite plastics but of a much higher grade. Out on the trail, these pedals will be seeing much more abuse and must provide a consistently strong, supportive, and grippy platform for the rider. Generally, these MTB flats will have a bigger platform, some shaping to support the foot (either convex or concave), and metal pins that dig into the soles of a rider’s shoes to provide grip. Often these pins can be adjusted or replaced to be taller or shorter to match the rider’s preference of grip.
The most common materials for flat pedals are aluminum and composite plastics, but which one should you choose?
For light enduro riding and below and for riders on a budget, the composites are probably the best choice. Many BMX or dirt jump riders prefer composite pedals with mold knobs and no pins because they are kinder to their shins if a trick goes wrong.
If your sessions are loaded with full-sends and enduro to DH style riding, the added confidence of the robust aluminum pedals will be beneficial. If bling is your thing, the aluminum options can be stunning. There are a few pedals that are made from a mix of magnesium and/or titanium. These metals are chosen for their weight savings and tend to carry a higher price tag. These tend to be a good choice for those who are racing and shaving grams matters, or where budget is not an issue.
Another consideration when choosing flat pedals is the overall dimensions of the platform. In recent years, the trend has been towards bigger, but thinner, platforms. The benefits of this are a more “in the bike” feel since your foot is closer to the spindle, more support and grip under your foot with a wide platform and a reduction in weight per size.
However, there are some drawbacks if you go too far with either of these dimensions. Thin pedals must have tiny bearings or bushings which wear out faster or tend to have more drag. Also, wide pedals can increase the chance of rock strikes in corners. Brands have been working to compensate for these challenges with some cool designs like oversized inboard bearings and chamfered edges. Some companies even offer pedals in multiple sizes to match your shoe size; a great option for those with smaller feet.