If you are new to cycling, the notion of adopting any pedal system other than flats can seem quite daunting at first, especially considering the bikes we rode as kids always had flat pedals. Professional and competitive cycling has preached prophetically about the benefits of the best road bike pedals and the venerable clipless system, but what about commuters or cyclists that don’t need to clip in?
Below you’ll find everything you need to know about the best flat road bike pedals, including pedal and pin sizes and key considerations when buying a pair.
Best flat road bike pedals you can buy today
As the creator of the first clipless pedal system, Look is an innovator and leader when it comes to pedals. It only makes sense that Look would reach out to another industry leader to partner with on a flat pedal. The Vibram company created the first rubber lugged soles and they’ve built a reputation on traction. It’s a natural fit for Look and Vibram to work together on an urban flat pedal design.
The structure of the pedal comes from a composite honeycomb design paired with the same quality pedal bearings Look is well known for. On top of each side of the pedal is a system for bolting a cover designed by Vibram. Swap out the covers for style, four different colours and designs are available, or if you want even more grip Trail inserts are available.
The Shimano SPD-SL system wasn’t the first clipless system on the market but it’s one of the most popular in today’s world. Less people know about the urban cycling components that Shimano makes but they are just as big of a force in that market. Driven by manufacturer relationships and quality components at good prices Shimano has a big presence in every market they attack.
Shimano’s EF-205 gives a wide aluminium platform to provide comfort and stability when pedaling. A textured surface on the pedal platform and the resin pads provide grip to stop your feet slipping off
If you want to go a bit more aggressive than an urban flat pedal you are moving into mountain bike territory. The Crankbrothers Stamp 1 is an entry-level pedal with lots of open space to shed mud and debris. While some people may find mud an issue on a road bike, most people that won’t be the big draw. What is likely to be a big draw are the 9 per side 10mm traction lugs. They should provide plenty of grip no matter the shoes but if you want even more aggressive lugs 12mm are also available.
Crankbrothers is one of the leaders in size-specific pedals and if you want a smaller pedal the Stamp 1 is a good option. Thickness is only 13mm and there’s both a small and a large available depending on the size of your foot.
There is a debate over what shape is best for mountain bike pedals. On one side of the fence are those that advocate for the thinnest possible pedal even if it means a bump for the axle. On the other side is the argument that the axle bump can be a hot spot and it’s better to have a thicker design.
The OneUp composite pedal splits the difference with a convex design. There’s no clear axle bump but the pedal swells as it comes to the center and thins out toward the edges. The convex shape naturally fits in the arch of your foot/shoe and gives you a better more grippy connection between your foot and pedal. This is even more noticeable with flexible shoes. Along with the shape there are 10 pins per side and an easy to rebuild bearing system. There are no sizing options so you’ll have to decide if the 115x105mm pedal is right for your foot.
One of the reasons to choose a mountain bike-style pedal is winter commuting. Rain and snow mean big boots and less traction. The more aggressive lugs and open design are a necessity. Fyxation recognised the need and designed the Mesa Subzero just for this use.
The Mesa Subzero starts with a nylon body that’s built to take abuse and won’t ever complain about the weather. The edges of the pedals feature a chamfered edge to help reduce pedal strike. Nylon also has the advantage of not conducting the cold to the base of your foot. At the centre of the pedal body is an electroplated cro-moly spindle with a sealed bearing. The plating helps protect against the weather plus gives an opportunity for a pop of colour. The same plating shows up on the replaceable stainless-steel pins.
For many people, double-action pedals are the gateway to using clipless pedals. If you like the idea of clipping in for some rides but still want a flat pedal for other rides then the Shimano PD-EH500 is a good choice. No matter what kind of shoes you happen to be wearing, or what kind of ride, the choice to clip in, or not, is entirely up to you.
The pedals include a set of Shimano SH56 multi-directional cleats which make it easier to unclip from the pedal. Perfect if you are starting out and nervous about falling over while still connected to the bike.
The SPD design is ubiquitous and there are a lot of options on the market for SPD-compatible pedals beyond the pedal offerings from Shimano itself. If you like the idea of having the choice to clip-in or not the Bontrager Commuter Pedal is another option.
A lot of things about the two pedals are similar but the biggest difference is in the flat pedal side. While the Shimano option uses a more aggressive treatment with pins Bontrager has gone for a pinless design. If you expect to ride in softer, flatter, shoes most of the time the Bontrager design may be more comfortable.
Crankbrothers has a reputation as a mountain bike company but it also caters to the road cyclist, gravel rider and cyclo-crosser. If you ride Crankbrothers pedals on another bike the Doubleshot makes sense for a double-sided pedal. Crankbrothers offers three levels of the Doubleshot pedals but all options come standard with a stamped steel pedal body with moulded pins – they are a robust option that are up for abuse and all-weather riding. No matter which version you choose you can rest assured with the company’s 5-year warranty.
What to look for in flat road bike pedals
1. What Size Pedals?
There’s a bunch of differently sized flat pedals. How does someone decide what size pedal to choose?
The first consideration is actually terrain. On gnarly downhill terrain where control is king, a big pedal is helpful. There’s more contact with the foot and better stability but it comes with a cost though: pedal strikes. The bigger the pedal size the greater the probability of a pedal strike, so for road cycling we recommend opting for something diminutive. However, there is a catch – sometimes going to small can result in a bit of guesswork when trying to find the best position from which to pedal. Our advice: shop around and try to find something that feels natural and intuitive.
2. What Kind of Pins?
The pedal action is a complex dance that involves more than simple downward pressure. There are a variety of techniques that keep the foot connected but it all comes down to friction. Some pedals will have replaceable metal pins, some will have moulded plastic ridges while others use a high-friction material. What will work for you is going to depend on the type of shoes you are likely to wear as well as what kind of weather you will be riding in.
Sticky summer shoes against a dry pedal with some kind of high friction material will work pretty well. If you do a lot of riding in the rain the wet pedals will have less friction and something with more purchase will be required. If your shoes don’t have large lugs then either small pins or moulded ridges might be enough. If you plan on riding in winter boots with large lugs then look for something with a high pin that can make contact with the sole through the lugs.
It’s also best to avoid the temptation to choose the biggest pins possible. An overly large pin could create a hotspot on your foot and cause pain over time. Try for the right solution instead of more than needed with the idea that bigger is better.