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 flats or clipless.
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 strategically placed on them.
The bigger the pedal’s face or platform, the greater the area you have to plant your foot 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, its main selling point was how it enabled riders to discard the uncomfortable toeclips and straps they’d been using up until then.)
Clipless pedals are 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 rider and 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 a large pedal body for a ‘best of both worlds’ option.
The best mountain bike flat pedals
5.0 out of 5 star rating
Strong, light and cheap: you no longer have to pick just twoRussell Burton / Immediate Media
These curiously named little pedals are some of the best we’ve ever tested.
Contrary to the popular quote, these are genuinely light, cheap and strong. They’re only a little bit smaller than some of the largest flat pedal designs on the market yet weigh just 349g for a pair.
The unusually flat pedal bodies are made from nylon rather than alloy and feature enough cut-outs to shed the worst of mud. Ten aggressive pins per side mean that we had no grip issues regardless of shoe choice and conditions.
The only real bad thing we have to say about these is that they tend to look scruffy before other pedals do — but that’s really being picky.
Freeride superstar Tyler McCaul’s signature pedals feature a large platform area, 14 pins located around the pedal’s peripheries and three bearings coupled with a DU bush to keep them spinning smoothly.
The large platform means they’re fairly susceptible to strikes from rocks, but they’re robust enough to keep any damage at bay.
The pins are screwed in from the pedal’s platform, which means that if you’ve hit them and damaged the pins you’ll need to find an alternative way of removing them from the pedal body.
At $168.99, these are some of the priciest pedals around at the moment, but they’re worth it for the performance they offer.
HT Supreme ANS10
4.0 out of 5 star rating
The HTs are highly chamfered to keep rock strikes at bayMBUK/Steve Behr
The large rectangular 95x128mm platform can raise eyebrows, but Pedaling Innovations claims that the large platform will support your whole foot, helping with control and pedalling power input.
The impressive levels of grip and stability of these pedals dispelled any doubts we had about the design and meant the pedals inspired confidence on the trail.
The pedal has enough space for 14 pins, which can be configured in a combination of long and short to suit your needs. Unfortunately, the pins can only be tightened from the platform side, which does mean that if they get damaged they’re hard to replace.
Pedaling Innovations is so confident about the design that it offers a 30-day money back guarantee if you don’t like them.
Superstar Nano-x EVO
4.0 out of 5 star rating
Made and designed in the UK, the Superstars are great valueMBUK/Steve Behr
One of the most popular mountain bike pedals out there due to their simplicity and reliability.
Double sided entry makes them easy to use, and therefore also very popular with commuters as well as mountain bikers.
While the RRP is around £36.99, they are frequently found online with prices as low as £20 — not to be sniffed at!
The PD-M520 uses the same mechanism as the more expensive XT and XTR versions, but down-specced to reach the lower price point. However, if well maintained and well lubricated, they are hard to distinguish from either of the pricier versions on the trail.
Simple cup and cone bearings make maintenance easy and quick.
If you prefer your SPDs with a cage, then Shimano’s M530s are not to be ignored — in fact, we’d consider them a modern classic. The cage doesn’t offer the same level of support as some competitors, but there’s still enough side support for most trail shoes.
They’re also cheap and — thanks to their simple cup and cone bearings — will last you for years. When they do eventually get tired you’ll be able to easily service them at home too.
If weight bothers you (these are 446g for a pair) then you may be better off with the XTs that feature a little further down this page, but the M530 tends to keep most trail riders perfectly pleased.
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 percent increase in contact surface. Additionally, the pedal body is now 0.5mm 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.