Still riding in your trainers? Considering an upgrade to clipless pedals? We talk you through the different options, and review the best entry-level cycling shoes and bike pedals if you're just starting out road cycling, mountain biking or a bit of both.
Clipless pedals - not just for Mark Cavendish.
Why do I need specific cycling shoes and pedals?
A helmet can save your life, a waterproof will keep you dry, cycling shorts will protect you where you will be most grateful...if you’re new to cycling, you may feel a little overwhelmed by the plethora of equipment that you can spend your hard-earned cash on. Some of it will be immediately justifiable.
But shoes and pedals? ‘I’ve got plenty of shoes and I’ve already got pedals on the bike. So why bother?’ you may ask. Well, here are some reasons why.
1. Stiffer sole = more power + more comfort
The main difference between a cycling shoe and a normal trainer is the rigidity of the sole – a trainer’s sole will flex so that the ball of your foot pushes down, while your toes are pushed upwards. A proper cycling shoe, on the other hand, will remain rigid so that the underside of your foot stays level, allowing the ball of your foot to power down on the pedals more efficiently, without straining the foot or leg.
2. The pedals that came with your bike...
Hmm, in case you hadn't noticed, the pedals that came with your bike are, frankly, quite cheap and not of a great standard. It seems strange that with many manufacturers boasting about the great quality of their products they should fit something that is cheap and poor quality. The reason for this is that at some point, every cyclist will develop a preference for the sort of pedal they use.
When this happens to you, you’ll end up discarding the pedals that came with your bike, fit your favoured pedals and invest in a matching shoe. Bike companies therefore see little point in spending more money than they need to on something that a consumer will most likely throw away. For new bikes over a certain price point, it is unlikely that any pedals will be fitted at all.
3. Clipless pedals = more pedal power
There are two main types of cycle pedals. Cleated (also called clipless pedals) and un-cleated (flat pedals).
How do clipless pedals work?
A cleated or clipless pedal means that the pedal comes in two sections:
- The pedal itself, which screws into the crank arm,
- The cleat - a plate that attaches to the sole of a cycling shoe (this is sold with the pedal, not the shoe).
When you place your foot on the pedal, the cleat and pedal snap together, securing the foot to the pedal. This enables the foot to remain in an efficient pedalling position, delivering more power to the wheels. And it is a lot more. You will be noticeably faster. The bearings also become smoother the more you spend on a set of pedals, again enhancing efficiency.
> See our blog ‘How to…ride with clipless pedals’
3. Flat pedals = better grip
If you are looking at mountain biking you may opt for a flat pedal, with no cleat. This will allow you to react fast when conditions demand, so you can get your foot down on sharp downhill corners, or remove your foot/feet to perform tricks. The cheaper pedal that came with your bike will offer limited grip, compared with better-quality off-road pedals. This poor grip will present you with difficult pedalling in wet, slippery conditions and manipulation of the bike through the pedals will be much more difficult.
4. Less weight
Weight is always at the back of a cyclist's mind and shoes and pedals are no exception. High-end road pedals and shoes can be extremely light, with Look pedals replacing the metal tension spring (the bit that causes the mechanism to grip to your cleat) with a strip of carbon to reduce the number of grams that you propel down the road. Less weight means greater speed for your efforts.
5. More durability
In contrast to ultra-lightweight road pedals, good-quality flat mountain bike pedals will be made from metal and are likely to weigh more than a cheaper plastic counterpart. This ensures they are up to taking the knocks and bangs that vigorous off-roading can present. However, higher-end mountain bike pedals will still be relatively light, and are often constructed using a CNC machined, lightweight alloy.
Choosing your first pair of cycling shoes and pedals
Now then. Before you start to absorb (confuse) yourself in the finer points of cross country vs. downhill mountain bike pedals, a word of advice for the beginner cyclist. If you're reading this and trying to decide on your first pair of cycling shoes and pedals - remember that whilst different pedal and shoe types are designed with specific styles of riding in mind, they are not limited to just these riding styles. You can, if you wish, use a flat pedal with some all-mountain shoes on your road bike, and many people use popular Shimano SPD clipless shoes/pedals on both their road/commuter and mountain bike, so they can use the same pair of shoes with both bikes. Hey – whatever works best for you!
Best entry-level cycling shoes and pedals if you do a mixture of road and off-road cycling
We asked our product manager Dom, and our Grafham sales manager Mark for their recommendations. Here they are:
Shimano M324 SPD/flat pedal:
Mark says: "These pedals are great if you commute or ride the school run during the week, but want to get out on the trails at the weekend. They're flat pedals on one side, with a cleat on the other, so they're really versatile. Decent price too."
Shimano M520 SPD pedal:
Dom says: "Another excellent value pedal from Shimano - lightweight, compact design - sold as a cross-country (XC) pedal, but great for touring and commuting too."
Specialized BG Tahoe - cleat-compatible shoe for men and women:
Dom says: "The Tahoe has a slightly flexible sole, which makes them easier to walk round in while you pop into the shops, while still making your pedalling more efficient than with a pair of trainers. Good value for money and a quality brand, so they'll wear and last well."
Specialized BG Sport MTB shoe - cleat-compatible
Mark says: "Racier look, and still at a good price point. Slightly stiffer sole than the Tahoe for increased efficiency, and velcro straps for speed and a perfect fit."
- How to…ride with clipless pedals. To master the art of riding clipless you’ll need some new kit, and a commitment to learning how to clip in and out of the pedals. The quid pro quo is, quite literally, a greater connection with your bike – giving you a more satisfying and efficient pedal...[more]
- Cycling shoes – our insider’s guide. We review the best road cycling and mountain biking shoes [coming soon]
- Bike pedals – our insider’s guide. How to pick the best mountain bike and road pedals [coming soon]
Still want more advice?
We’ve produced lots more guides to help you find out more about bikes, cycling and cycle gear. These include bike guides, sizing guides for bikes and clothing, and handy guides to cycle clothing, bike accessories, commuting with a bike, and more. Browse our full range of guides here.
And if these guides don’t answer your questions, we’re here to help – just give our friendly customer service team a call on 01572 737 624. Lines are open Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm UK time.