Best Clipless Pedals

Updated August 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

19 Models Considered
7 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
301 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best clipless pedals

Last Updated August 2019

One of the best ways to improve your cycling skills is to maximize your power transfer with clipless pedals. Despite the name, these pedals allow you to clip in with specialized shoes. It’s confusing, but this system is easy to use and can greatly improve your speed and endurance.

Clipless pedals come in a few different types, each of which is suited to a certain type of biking. There are clipless pedals for mountain biking, road biking, and commuting. These pedals vary in how easy it is to clip in and out as well as the amount of angular rotation — known as “float” — your feet have. Choosing the right system is important not only for your riding style but also for comfort, as different clipless pedals require different shoes. These pedals take some getting used to, but the result leaves you less fatigued after your rides.

Clipless pedals and their shoe counterparts can be expensive, so finding the right pedals the first time is important. To learn more about the styles of pedals available, read our buying guide.

Your first ride in clipless pedals may feel scary, but you will probably find that you are less fatigued than normal when you’re done.

Key considerations

The first bike pedal retention system used toe clips, which are metal clips that slip over the toes to hold them in place. When a system was developed that eliminated the need for clips and provided a system that allowed riders to clip directly into their pedals, clips went by the wayside. Clipless pedals connect to the shoes via cleats on the underside of the shoes, allowing for a seamless transfer of power that enables upward and downward pressure on the pedals.

Most clipless pedals are defined by the number of holes their cleats require. While pedals are strictly compatible with one type of cleat, cycling shoes may be compatible with multiple types of cleats.

Every manufacturer has their own pedal/cleat system, but these systems can be roughly divided into two types: two-hole and three-hole systems.

Two-hole systems

A two-hole clipless system is a popular choice among casual bikers, commuters, and mountain bikers. These pedals are easier to clip into and out of and have a smaller point of contact between the shoes and the cleats. In addition, these pedals are usually double-sided, making it easy to clip in without having to look down at your pedals.

Popular two-hole manufacturers include:

  • Shimano SPD

  • Time

  • Crankbrothers

Three-hole systems

A three-hole clipless system is the most popular choice among serious cyclists, especially road cyclists. While getting into and out of these pedals takes some practice and a bit more effort, the increased surface area between shoe and cleat offer greater power transfer.

Popular three-hole manufacturers include:

  • Shimano SPD-SL

  • Time

  • Look

Hybrid pedals

A less common third category known as hybrid pedals blend the design of traditional platform pedals with clipless pedals. These designs have a large surface area that serves two purposes: it increases your grip on the pedals and it allows you to ride without clipping in with sneakers or other cycling shoes. If you are wary about making the jump to clipless pedals, hybrid pedals can help make the transition easier.

EXPERT TIP

Hybrid pedals are designed to be used with or without clipping in, but you can always ride on any clipless pedals without clipping in for short distances.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Clipless pedals vary in their float, tension adjustment, and materials, all of which impact the feel and function of the pedals.

Float

The float of a pedal refers to the amount of lateral movement a pedal allows. In general, the more float a pedal has, the better. By allowing your feet to move back and forth as you ride, you put less pressure on your ankles and knees and reduce the risk of strain. A high-float pedal may be slightly harder to clip out of, but it is also more comfortable and allows you to find a position that doesn’t put strain on your knees.

Tension adjustment

Some clipless pedals offer tension adjustment, which controls the amount of tension the pedals apply to hold the cleats in place. More aggressive cyclists generally prefer higher tension to prevent their shoes from popping out unintentionally. Meanwhile, those new to clipless pedals may prefer a lower tension setting that makes clipping in and out easier. While adjusting the tension yourself is easy, you can also let your bike mechanic know what tension level you prefer when you have your pedals installed.

Materials and weight

While almost all clipless pedals are made of fairly durable materials, they vary in weight — and any road cyclist knows how important every ounce is when trimming down their time.

Aluminum and steel are both common and affordable options that can be moderately heavy. The most expensive (and most lightweight) pedals are made of carbon fiber or durable plastics. While these may appeal to the competitive cyclist, their price point may not appeal to casual cyclists.

Multi-angle release

Most clipless pedals release when you twist your heel outward. While this is fairly straightforward, some riders, especially mountain bikers, prefer multi-angle release pedals. These allow for a few different ways to release your cleats.

Clipless pedal prices

Inexpensive: Clipless pedals for $30 to $60 typically use heavier materials like steel or aluminum. Even in this lower price range, a variety of pedals are available, including two-hole, three-hole, and hybrid designs.

Mid-range: For $60 to $100 are high-quality clipless pedals that may be made of lightweight materials. Sets in this range may also include compatible cleats.

Expensive: High-end clipless pedals for $100 and above generally use lightweight materials like carbon fiber that are designed to reduce the overall weight of your bike and reduce fatigue. Multi-angle release pedals are more common in this range.

DID YOU KNOW?

Many clipless pedals have cleat mounts on both sides of the pedal, making it easy to clip in without having to look down.

DID YOU KNOW?

The term “float” refers to the amount of wiggling your feet can do while still clipped into your pedals. A high degree of lateral float is usually desirable.

Tips

The idea of being “locked in” to your bike may be unnerving, but it is less difficult than it appears, even if you are an inexperienced biker. Here are a few tricks and things to keep in mind as you’re learning.

  • You will fall at some point, and it will probably be within your first few rides. Resist the instinct to reach out to catch yourself — this is a good way to break an arm. Instead, tuck your head in and let your shoulder catch your weight. You will probably be moving very slowly when this happens.

  • Clip in with you dominant foot first. Then start pedaling without worrying about clipping in your other foot until you are moving at a decent speed.

  • Remember that you can pedal without clipping in, even without hybrid pedals. It won’t be entirely comfortable, but it also won’t hurt your pedals or your cleats.

  • Before your first ride, practice clipping in and out with both feet several times while stationary.

  • Unclip one foot well before you come to a stop to prevent toppling over.

  • Before coming to a stop, remember to shift to a low gear so you can get moving quickly.

Other products we considered

While we believe our top picks are among the best clipless pedals available, there are a few other options worth discussing. For a lighter alternative to SHIMANO SPD-SL pedals, Look KEO 2 Max Pedal are a reliable option with a graphite/carbon composite construction. While these are a favorite among serious cyclists, the ease of clipping in and out make them a popular choice for beginners as well.

If you are looking for mountain biking pedals, consider SHIMANO Deore XT M8020 SPD Trail Pedals for a high-end option. Customers love these pedals for their easy adjustability and mud-shedding design that make them an ideal pair of mountain biking pedals.

Whether you ride casually or are a serious mountain or road cyclist, clipless pedals can greatly increase your efficiency.

FAQ

Q. Can I install clipless pedals myself?

A. If you have the tools and are comfortable working on your bike, this should be an easy task, depending on the pedals. However, your local bike shop can quickly make the switch for you and can adjust the tension of the pedals in the process.

Q. Are clipless pedals safe?

A. Getting stuck in your clipless pedals isn’t just possible, it’s extremely likely. However, most of your falls will be at low speed. If you are moving quickly when you fall, you will likely clip out in the process anyway.

Q. How do I know if my bike shoes will fit my pedals?

A. Look at the number of holes on the bottom of your shoes. You may have two, three, or four holes, and your pedals should tell you what type of cleat they are compatible with. If you are still unsure, your local bike shop should be able to recommend compatible shoes for you.

The team that worked on this review
  • Austin
    Austin
    Writer
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Enid
    Enid
    Editor
  • Katherine
    Katherine
    Editor
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Peter
    Peter
    Writer

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