Pedals have a difficult job. 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 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
Strong, light and cheap: you no longer have to pick just two Russell Burton / Immediate Media
- Large platform with plenty of grip
- Lightweight nylon bodies
- A very nice price
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.
DMR Vault Brendog Ice
Brendog’s signature Vaults feature bigger ‘Moto’ pins MBUK/Steve Behr
- Offset platform makes pin removal easy
- Chamfered edges deflect ground strikes
- 11 perfectly-placed pins
The totally concave platform and 11 well-placed pins make the Vault a BikeRadar staff favourite, and they do a fantastic job of keeping your foot in place.
The pins can be changed or removed from the underside of the pedal, which means that damage won’t hamper removal and the pedals’ angled edges help to deflect them over rocks and ruts.
The Brendog edition comes with sharper pins than the standard ones, dubbed Moto pins, but they weren’t as grippy as DMR’s standard offering.
There’s also a halo edition which has a super-lightweight body, but it’s pretty expensive at £220.
Latest deals for the DMR Vault Brendog Ice
Nukeproof Horizon Pro Sam Hill
The pedals that won the Enduro World Series need no introduction MBUK/Steve Behr
- Excellent shape
- Enduro World Series winning flats
- 10 pins per side offer great grip
Sam Hill, Enduro World Series 2018 champion, uses these exact pedals. It’s hard to argue with their performance given how successful they’ve been under his stewardship.
The pedals have a perfectly-sized body that strikes an inimitable balance between grip, support and size.
The more expensive Sam Hill signature pedals are the same shape as the cheaper standard model but have a machined look.
With 10 pins per side and a concave shape, the pedals are a top performer. The pins can be adjusted from 5mm to 6mm by removing the supplied shims using a 2.5mm Allen key.
Two sealed bearings and two DU bushes keep the pedals spinning, and while they’re not the most durable solution, they’re cheap and easy to replace.
Latest deals for the Nukeproof Horizon Pro Sam Hill
These are freeride legend Tyler McCaul’s signature pedals MBUK/Steve Behr
- Large pedal platform
- 14 pedal pins
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
The HTs are highly chamfered to keep rock strikes at bay MBUK/Steve Behr
- Concave platform
- Removable and adjustable pins
- Very light at 376g a pair
These pedals are designed with extremely angled edges with a noticeably concave shape.
The hexagonal design helps to brush off rock and floor strikes with ease and keep your foot planted in rough terrain. The sharp pins contribute to making these exceptionally grippy.
The pins’ length is adjustable by 1mm, from 5mm to 6mm, and the 12mm axle length puts your feet in a comfortably wide position. At 376g, these pedals are one of the lightest out there.
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Pedaling Innovations Catalyst
With the biggest and most radical looking platform on offer, it’s no surprise these were a team favourite MBUK/Steve Behr
- Biggest rectangular platform around
- 30-day satisfaction guarantee
- Not refined, but good performance
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
Made and designed in the UK, the Superstars are great value MBUK/Steve Behr
- Designed and made in the UK
- Well priced
- Pins are easy to replace
With a relatively large platform and plenty of replacement pins supplied in the box, these pedals represent great value for money and are manufactured in the UK.
The pedal’s surface provides good levels of grip and performed best with the smaller pins rather than the 7mm monsters.
Thanks to the offset design, the pins are easy to replace from underneath the pedal platform using a 3mm Allen key. The angled edges also deflect rocks well.
The best mountain bike SPD / clipless pedals
Shimano PD-M520 pedals Oliver Woodman / Immediate Media Co
- Excellent value for money
- Straightforward adjustability
- Simple to maintain
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.
Latest deals for the Shimano PD-M520
Crankbrothers Mallet E LS
Crankbrother’s Mallet pedals are one of our most-loved clip pedals MBUK/Steve Behr
- Best suited to DH-style shoes
- Concave, low profile cage
If money’s no object and you’re looking for a high performing trail, enduro or DH pedal, the Mallet is a great option, especially when used with DH-style shoes.
The low-profile cage is concave, giving solid engagement between the shoes and the six pins located on the pedal’s body.
With changeable ‘traction pads’ and cleat shims, you can fine-tune the fit to suit different types of shoe.
On the trail, the pedal’s body offers flat pedal support with the added security of being clipped in, so you can focus on riding fast.
Latest deals for the Crankbrothers Mallet E LS
Shimano’s PD-M530 is a solid option for those who are looking for a little extra support BikeRadar / Immediate Media
- Popular for very good reason
- Simple to maintain
- Rugged and durable construction
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.
Latest deals for the Shimano PD-M530
Shimano XT M8020 Trail
Shimano’s XT M8020 Trail is a better choice for the weight conscious and aggressive trail rider
- 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 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.
Latest deals for the Shimano XT M8020 Trail
The V-Twins are almost too grippy! Now that’s a compliment MBUK/Steve Behr
- Flat-pedal-like support and lateral grip
- Super-grippy pins
The V-Twins come supplied with a variety of pins so that you can fine-tune the pedal’s feel.
Wearing skate-style DH shoes, the pedals provided plenty of grip and support when set up with all of the extra pins.
The SPD mechanism makes clipping in easy, but because of the high levels of grip on offer, getting unclipped can be more troublesome. But that’s a nice problem to have, right?
Latest deals for the DMR V-Twin
Nukeproof Horizon CS
Easy to clip in, and loads of grip thanks to the four well-placed pins MBUK/Steve Behr
- Four removable pins
- SPD-compatible mechanism
With four removable pins per side, which extend up to 4mm above the wide platform, the Horizon is an incredibly grippy pedal.
The pins can be shortened if required, using washers, but the overall feel is akin to that given by a flat pedal.
The SPD-compatible mechanism means you can clip in forwards, backwards or from above. Just watch out for the narrow contact area of the cage, wearing certain shoes you can feel the edge of the pedal.
Latest deals for the Nukeproof Horizon CS
This article was last updated on December 2018