The mass clacking of dozens of pedals engaging has formed the prelude to every bicycle race since the early eighties. Another thing that sets the serious cyclist apart from the dilettante, the journey to becoming one with the bicycle begins by bolting your feet to it.
A terrifying prospect for the uninitiated, mechanically attaching yourself to the pedals nevertheless allows for a greater degree of stability, better power transfer, and increased mechanical efficiency. Like so much in cycling, although this seems a bit odd at first, it’s easy once you know how.
Achieving such a crucial task, pedal choice is therefore a somewhat contentious and personal matter. Here are the systems we're happy to recommend.
£380, Shop Speedplay
In a list of items generally more functional than lust-inducing, Speedplay stands out. For one thing, its minimalist pedals represent a drastic departure from the norm, both in terms of appearance and function. At first glance, it’s hard to even comprehend how they work. This trick is managed by switching most of the system’s retention mechanism from the pedal to the cleat.
This not only results in a very cool-looking dual-sided pedal but also one that allows for a massively adjustable degree of float without the need to swap between cleats. Extremely smooth when set up correctly, Speedplay products have long been a favourite with pro cyclists and bike fitters. With the firm recently bought by GPS and turbo trainer maker Wahoo, the system is now likely to be seen on an increasing number of bicycles, especially as the brands’ collaboration is soon to also result in a power meter pedal.
Incredibly lightweight, the fact that the mechanism is attached to your shoe means Speedplay aren’t the choice for those that like to go stomping about in the mud. Yet, assuming you can manage to avoid detours into muddy verges, their adaptability, unbeatably low stack height, and three-axis adjustability will make them a hit with racers and anyone else interested in biomechanics. Available in Chromoly, stainless, and titanium axle versions, the lightest of these weighs a tiny 168-grams a pair.
£160, Shop Shimano
If Shimano makes it, stop trying to be contrary, and just buy it. A gram or two heavier than Look, a degree less exciting than Speedplay, Shimano’s road bike pedals are nevertheless super durable, readily adjustable, and very easy to get spares for. Free from the need to sell themselves on accomplishing anything to the nth degree, like all Shimano products they’re splendidly easy to live with.
Your local bike shop will have the cleats for them if you need them asap, the method by which you clip-in is straightforward, and the tension with which your feet are held is simple to adjust. Plus even only moderately enthusiastic home mechanics should be able to tackle their servicing.
Letting you securely lock yourself in, or hedge your bets for an easier escape, they’re every bit as good for new cyclists as they are for pro racers. Coming in versions to match all of the brand’s major groupsets, even the 105-level models now come equipped with fancy carbon fibre bodies.
That said, we think you can’t go far wrong with the second-from-top Ultegra versions. Not only will you save about 40 grams, but you’ll also get that smug all-the-features at two-thirds the price feeling the groupset is known for.
Look Keo Blade Carbon Ceramic
£190, Shop Look
Look created the world’s first clipless pedal back in 1983 and today it still makes some of the best you can find. Since whittled down to be as light as you can get before you start losing things that you’d rather keep, these Keo Blade pedals weigh just 110-grams per side.
To achieve this they swap the steel tension spring normal used to help snap the pedal to the cleat for a carbon leaf spring. Interchangeable to provide three different release tensions, they’re less easily or widely adjustable than Shimano’s models; mainly for the reason that you’ll need to buy and insert the different tension springs yourself. They’re also perhaps a tad more fragile. In terms of performance, there’s otherwise not much to tell them apart, except for the fact they’re around 30-grams per pair lighter.
Depending on your tastes, they probably also look a bit cooler. Like Shimano, you get three different cleat types allowing you to adjust the float between zero and nine degrees. The French brand’s cheaper models also come in more conventional configurations featuring Allen key adjustable release tension; all of which are worth investigating if you’re starting out.
Still, for weight-conscious racers, or anyone with an aversion to using Shimano, these posh ceramic bearing equipped versions are tip-top. Of course, if you really want to throw money at the thing, Look also make a titanium axle version that’s even lighter, if significantly more expensive.
Garmin Rally RS200
£969, Shop Garmin
Power meters and pedals are like the Ross and Rachel of the cycling world. It always seems like they're about to finally get together in a way that works perfectly for everyone, and then something goes wrong. For years that was the case, with many power meter pedal brands coming and going – from Brim Brothers to Polar to PowerTap. Garmin has always been at the front of the race, though, and save for a temperamental battery compartment the Garmin Vector 3 pedals had pretty sewn things up. They were, however, specific to Look's KEO pedal body and cleat design, albeit with some optional conversion kits. Garmin's rebranded Rally pedals have really mixed things up.
Now available off the peg in Shimano, Look and Shimano SPD format, Garmin offers dual-sided power analysis for almost every pedal user. That comes with Garmin's incredibly advanced Cycling Dynamics metrics when coupled with a Garmin head unit. Having ridden the Vectors for years, we can confirm they were very nice pedals too, even aside from the power reading capabilities.
For those on a tighter budget Garmin offers a single-sided power meter option for £570. In our experience, half the power still makes for 90% of the benefit.
We await a test set of Rally pedals, and look forward to getting granular with some more in-depth analysis.
Shimano XT M8100
£115, Shop Shimano
Please don’t write in; we know these aren’t technically road bike pedals. However, your ankles won’t explode if you mix and match across parts made for different disciplines. Plus, even as roadies, we love Shimano’s mountain bike pedals for two very salient reasons. One, they’re indestructible. Two, they let you walk.
How good is that? Not slip around, not stumble, not wear your cleats to a nubbin within a couple of uses, but properly stomp about. They manage this by employing small metal recessed cleats rather than large, prominent plastic ones. Meaning you’ll need to pair them to a matching set of MTB style kicks; the result is an excellent combo for gravel riders or roadies that still want to explore the world away from the tarmac.
Unlike road-specific designs, the pedals themselves are double-sided. This means if you smash your feet onto them, there’s a good chance you’ll hit your mark and clip in. Once engaged, they offer slightly less support than a dedicated road pedal, although you’ll need to be pretty perceptive to notice. Simultaneously, you’ll also lose out on the ability to control the amount of float available. Weight is increased a bit, too, with these XT level pedals weighing 343 g vs 248g for the equivalent Ultegra models. Your shoes will also weigh marginally more, although, on the plus side, they’ll last for ages.
All considered, we think they offer lots of real-world benefits and minimal drawbacks. Adequately connecting you to your bike without tethering you to it when you stop, they’re a good fit for adventurous riders of all stripes.