Pedals have a difficult job to do. For starters, they’re one of the three contact points where your body and your bike meet, so have to provide a suitable interface as well as an element of control. But they’re also the means by which you transmit the power in your legs into the bike’s drivetrain to propel you along the trail.
They’re a crucial part of any bike but they come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and styles. And as far as choosing a mountain bike pedal is concerned, the most important decision you need to make is whether you want flat or clipless ones.
Flat pedals are essentially just a platform for each foot. They’re double-sided so it doesn’t matter which way up they are and there’s usually some extra grip provided by pins dotted around them. The bigger the pedal’s face, the greater the area you have to plant your foot on and the greater the contact between you and your bike.
Clipless pedals, on the other hand, are a bit of a misnomer, since they clip onto special cleats mounted on the soles of your shoes. (The confusion with the name boils down to the fact that when this sort of pedal first appeared, their main selling point was how they enabled riders to discard the uncomfortable toeclips and straps they’d been using up until then.) They’re also double-sided (unlike road-specific clipless pedals) but since they rely on a mechanical attachment, rather than the surface area and pins, to keep you and your bike connected, they’re typically a lot smaller than flats.
But don’t worry if you can’t decide one way or another because ‘trail’ pedals provide a halfway house between clipless and platform models. They marry a mechanical cleat-attachment device with large pedal body for a ‘best of both worlds’ option.
• Price: £40
- Massive platform offers loads of grip
- Magnificent value
- Made in the UK
The Nano-x pedals are CNC machined in the UK from 6082 aluminium alloy, which is stronger than the traditionally used 6061.
The massive platform measures 101x110mm, providing more than enough room for even the bulkiest of shoes. Both 8mm and 10mm pins are included and they screw in from the underside of the platform. All in, with steel axles (Ti spindles are available for £40 more) and the shorter pins fitted, they weigh in at a reasonable 435g.
On the bike, the wide, concave body provides a stable platform and a huge target to aim for when slapping your feet back on after a loose turn. Grip is impressive too, and we never lost our footing even on rough sections of trail. For the price, there’s a lot to like here.
Shimano XT M8020 Trail
• Price: £90
- Great all-rounder
- Secure and familiar cleat and clip mechanism
- Slight increase in contact area for your foot
Designed for trail, all-mountain and enduro riders, Shimano’s XT Trail pedal encases the SPD mechanism within an alloy platform. The new M8020 is 3.3mm wider than its predecessor, resulting in a claimed 11.7% increase of contact surface. Additionally, the pedal body is now .5mm shallower, getting you a hair closer to the axle.
The pedals weighed 402g on our scales (408g claimed) and Shimano’s traditional steel cleat and clip mechanism means engaging and disengaging retains its familiar consistency (spring tension is easily adjusted with a 3mm Allen key).
The additional pedal-to-shoe contact surface of the Trails is subtle, but the extra width does help to prevent foot roll when tilting the bike into corners.
CrankBrothers Mallet E
• Price: £130
- Superb mud-clearing capability
- Wide cage provides plenty of support
- Traction pads hep you fine-tune your foot contact
While they look like miniaturised Mallet DH pedals, CrankBrothers’ Mallet E pedals actually have a similar width cage to their downhill siblings. This means careful cleat spacing is required on clumpier, skate-style shoes to ensure adequate crank clearance.
The E pedals have six adjustable pins per side, which come in handy if you’re struggling to clip in, and enough girth to offer decent support for flexier shoes.
One significant new feature is the ‘Traction Pads’. These small plastic inserts sit on either side of the spring mechanism and let you tailor the contact between the pedal and shoe. Though they’re tight to get off after use (a tyre lever is recommended), switching between the different thickness pads (included) does have a subtle effect on feel when clipping in and out.
But where these pedals really shine is in the mud. The big openings in the platform clear crud well and we had no issues clipping in or out even when our shoes were caked.
Nukeproof Horizon Pro
• Price: £75
- Plenty of pins for masses of grip
- Wide platforms provide a stable footing
- Shallow designs provides decent ground clearance
The Horizon Pro pedals have 10 pins per side, a slightly concave, 100mm-wide platform and a reasonable weight of 444g for the pair (with chromoly axles).
The platforms are roomy enough to accommodate clumpy Five Ten soles and make for a nice big target to get your foot back onto after a quick dab. They’re approximately 12mm deep so there’s plenty of ground clearance.
When it comes to grip, the 10 pins coupled with the foot-cupping shape make for a glue-like connection between pedal and shoe. Add to that the decent price and we think Nukeproof is onto a winner with these pedals.
• Price: £120
- Scale-defying featherweights
- Big platforms with secure grip
- Durable despite being light
Weight weenies with a penchant for flat pedals need look no further that HT’s ME05, which tip the scales at a minimal 292g.
Despite their feathery weight, the platforms will happily accommodate the biggest feet out there, while the 10 pins per side will keep your feet planted in pretty much all situations. And while the grip on offer is impressive, they aren’t so claw-like that you can’t adjust your stance as you ride.
The deeply concave platforms cup your feet securely, boosting grip and giving you that surefooted feel, even when the trail gets rowdy. And although they’re made from lightweight magnesium, the pedal bodies are tough enough to shrug off everyday scrapes, bangs and hits.
CrankBrothers 5050 3
• Price: £77
- Large platform with plenty of grip
- Good at coping with gloopy mud
- Come with CrankBrothers’ five-year warranty
The 5050 3 pedals may be CrankBrothers’ top quality offering but they’re also pretty good value.
The platform is large and has a comfortable amount of concave shaping, which provides plenty of grip in combination with the 10 grub-screw type pins on each side.
The pedal body sits far enough from the crank arm that you can really make the most of the large 96x95mm platform too, even with wide feet or clumpy shoes.
The 5050s do well in thick mud, with the machined cutouts in the pedal body allowing dirt to fall through and keeping the surface slip-free. CrankBrothers’ five-year warranty helps with peace of mind too.
• Price: £110
- Among the grippiest flat pedals available
- Durable design keeps them spinning smoothly
- Pricey but worth the money
At just shy of 100mm wide, the Boomslang platforms offers a decent-sized surface to sit your foot on, though the bearing housing that sits close to the cranks cuts into the available space a little. It’s also worth noting that pedal washers must be used with certain cranks to ensure the Boomslangs get the clearance needed to spin freely.
The pair weighs 437g and their concave platforms and 11 viciously grippy pins per side produce staggering amounts of grip, even when your soles are caked in mud.
What else does your money get you? Well, in short, durability and spares. After months of abuse Specialized's bearing/needle bearing combo is still spinning smoothly with zero play in either pedal, and there are four spare pins stowed neatly in each pedal platform should you manage to rip any off.