Bike Pedals: A Complete Guide

Bike Pedals: A Complete Guide

You wouldn’t get very far without the trusty pedals on your bike, and this single part is how you transfer all of your power into the bike to propel forward.

When it comes to mountain biking in particular, making the right choice in pedals can be a gamechanger, but there are so many styles, sizes, and shapes to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start.

What are the best bike pedals for mountain biking? The two most popular options for mountain biking pedals are flat or clipless pedals.

Depending on the preference of the rider, where they ride, and the rest of their bike setup, there’s likely to be one of these that suits you better and makes for more efficient pedaling. 

Although a seemingly small part of your bike overall, your pedals are crucial to how much power you have.

With that in mind, we’ve developed a guide to answer all of your pedal-related questions and give you some insight into choosing the perfect pair to give your bike everything it needs to propel.

How Does A Pedal Work?

How Does A Pedal Work?

The pedals of your bike are an essential part and one of the key connection points that join you to your ride.

We don’t normally put much thought into how they work and usually prefer to just hop on and get going, but understanding the mechanics behind them can make you a more skilled mountain bike rider.

At their simplest, bike pedals are pushed with the force of your feet which causes them to rotate.

When they go forward, they push the gears attached to the chain forward with them which then turns the gears at the rear wheel.

This force allows the wheel to turn and push the bicycle forward, which gest you where you need to go.

The purpose of the pedals isn’t just to provide you with this force though, but they also keep you balanced and give you better control of the bike.

For a mountain bike specifically, it is the pedal that you use to help you turn, jump, take corners, and stay in control even while you’re riding over the toughest and most unforgiving terrain.

The Types of Bike Pedals

Bike pedals come in all shapes and sizes but when looking at a mountain bike’s pedals specifically, there are a few favorites.

Clipless, quill, and flat pedals are the three main types you’ll want to consider, so you need to be able to differentiate between them and what they bring to the riding experience.

Flat Pedals


A flat pedal is also called a platform or plain pedal and these are the types you see on most bikes.

When using this type of pedal, you’ll have to keep foot placement in the right spot and control it from there, but it also means you can easily take it off as needed.

Traditionally, these pedals were made of plastic so they weren’t always ideal for mountain biking.

When you’re riding on wet and slippery surfaces especially, it seemed to cause a problem, so newer models are made with more innovative materials that counteract these issues.

A flat pedal like this is designed with a larger surface area so riders can comfortably get their foot on there, as well as move it around to whatever position they need.

There are pros and cons to weigh up, but for mountain biking, this type of pedal might be preferred for uncertain terrain and for those who feel comfortable being able to take their foot off of it quickly.

Quill Pedals

A quill pedal is the least commonly used for mountain biking but still popular with other cyclists.

These pedals are designed to hold your foot firmly in place and they do so with several clips and straps, most importantly with one at the toe.

The surface of a quill pedal is smaller than others and instead of being one large part, it’s made of smaller pieces put together.

The best way to use them is with a specific cycling shoe and cleat that helps slot you into the pedal and keep you attached.

Because you’re so strapped in, it’s not always the best choice for mountain biking, but some find they prefer this level of control and security.

Clipless Pedals


The clipless pedal has a confusing name because technically they do feature clips. The difference is though, the clips from the toe have been removed, so they differ from a quill pedal.

Clipless pedals are the happy medium for people who don’t want a quill nor do they want to use a flat pedal and they’re a good choice for mountain biking.

Riders who like to perform stunts and tricks might prefer using a clipless pedal, and these types of moves are common in the MTB world.

Within the realm of clipless pedals are many different styles and the shoe that you wear is hugely important as well, so it can be costly when you add it all up.

A clipless pedal aims to deliver control without a toe clip and has a special mechanical device that you attach to the cleat of your shoe to keep you locked in.

Although helpful with control, there’s a major learning curve with these types of pedals and a good chance you’ll fall more than once while you figure them out.

Bike Pedal Sizes

Bike Pedal Sizes

A common misconception is that there’s one size of bike pedal for everyone to use, but that’s not true. These accessories aren’t universal but you’ll usually find them fitting into one of two sizes: the 9/16” and the ½”.

For children’s bikes, there are various sizes to choose from as well, and getting the right fit here is key.

The most popular size of bike pedal is the 9/16” and these are likely the ones you’ll find on your mountain bike, including clipless and flat pedals.

Although the ½” is sometimes used on other bikes, it’s not a common choice for mountain biking and would really only suit a bike that has a specific need for this size.

As your whole foot doesn’t need to cover the pedal, you’ll find that the 9/16″ is a sufficient fit for most people.

However, if you’re using a clipless or quill pedal, the sizings that will be most important are your shoes and the cleats that clip into the pedal, so this will take some further research to get right.

The Best Pedals for Mountain Bikes

The Best Pedals for Mountain Bikes

Choosing the best pedals for your mountain bike will come down to you as a rider, and there’s a lot of variables to weigh up.

People usually find they prefer one more than the other but you might have to try them out to see what class you’re in.

These are just some of the benefits possible from either type of pedal that could sway your decision either way.

The Benefits of Flat Pedals

  • There is less of a learning curve using flat pedals and if you’re new to riding a mountain bike, you already have enough to try and learn let alone figuring out strange pedals.
  •  A flat pedal is more doesn’t take any extra time to hop on your bike and get going.
  • You commonly ride in areas that are wet and slippery so prefer a pedal that’s suited to these conditions.
  • You like to experiment with how you ride including on slopes, jumps, and doing tricks where a flat pedal is better suited.
  • You like the feeling of knowing you can take your foot off the pedal at any time and place it on the ground.
  • You’d rather not commit to the use of clipless pedals and having to wear the specialized type of mountain bike shoe that works with them.

The Benefits of Clipless Pedals

  • Using clipless pedals gives you better control over your bike which can be a lifesaver when you’re riding a tough mountain terrain.
  • You feel a lot more secure and safe riding a bike while you’re clipped into the pedals, and this peace of mind gives you more confidence as a rider.
  • Riding with a clipless pedal is considered to be the more efficient option, even if it’s not always the most convenient.

Tips for Replacing and Maintaining Pedals

Tips for Replacing and Maintaining Pedals

Let’s face it, you won’t go very far without a functioning pedal on your bike, so you have to do everything in your power to keep them in good shape.

Here are some simple tips to keep in mind that’ll ensure your powers are giving you the boost and control they should be.

  • Investing in a pedal wrench or hex key is a smart idea. These tools make it easy to unscrew and remove the pedals in case they need repair or replacement, and it’s better than searching for the right wrench size to fit.
  • Always grease up a new pair of bike pedals before you attach them to your bike. This will ensure they turn smoothly and don’t get jarred up when you need them to be flexible.
  • Inspect your bike’s pedals as part of your regular servicing and maintenance and check how freely they’re moving. You don’t want your pedals to fail or stiffen up when you’re out in the middle of a ride.
  • Plastic pedals will wear out more quickly than metal pedals, so it can be worth investing in something more expensive at the beginning. Even with metal pedals though, you’ll still need to keep an eye out for problems as they can be more prone to having their pins wear out.
  • Experiment with different types of pedals to see what works best and suits your riding style. When it comes to replacing them, you might opt for a pedal that’s wider, narrower, lighter, made of different materials, or want to change up the type completely.

Making the Most of Pedal Power

Your pedals are one of the most important connections you have to your bike, and responsible for propelling you forwards no matter the terrain or trail you’re riding on.

The right choice of pedals can make a huge difference in your performance while mountain biking, so don’t discount the power that this accessory can have.

Related Questions

A quality pair of pedals can make or break your riding experience, especially when your ride of choice is a mountain bike.

If you’re still unsure about which pedals are best and why they matter, check out these answers to some commonly asked questions that people have to find out more about.

Can You Ride With Clip In Pedals and Normal Shoes?


Although it is possible to wear normal shoes when riding with clip-in pedals, it won’t be as comfortable or safe and there’ll be more risk of slipping.

The best way to use clip-in pedals is with the cleat attached to the bottom of your shoe that’s then clipped into the pedals to keep you secure and on the bike.

Do You Need a Pedal Wrench to Remove Pedals?

The flats found on most pedals are thinner than a standard open-end wrench so it can help to have a special pedal wrench to do the job precisely.

However, a wrench that’s less than the standard 15mm open-end style can also be used to remove pedals, so you don’t always have to buy a specialty tool.

What Kind of Shoes Should I Wear Mountain Biking?

You can wear any type of comfortable closed-in shoe for mountain biking, but not all of them will be as comfortable or effective.

Popular shoe types include flat pedal shoes designed to work with the pedals of your bike, otherwise, a decent skate shoe will suffice until you’re ready to upgrade.


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