It goes without saying that good quality, sturdy and high performing pedals are a crucial element of any bike, transferring every bit of power from your legs into forward motion.
‘Clipping’ into your pedals via bike shoes and cleats, creates a stable platform to transfer power from your legs, improves pedaling efficiency and cadence, holds your feet in the correct position and allows a rider to apply force to a pedal in the full 360 degrees of motion.
What is a clipless pedal?
A clipless system is a feature of road bike pedals, referring to the lack of a ‘toe clip’ (and straps). Clipless pedals allow a rider to ‘clip’ their shoes directly into a pedal via cleats, which are bolted to the bottom of road cycling shoes. The majority of road cycling shoes have three bolt holes in the sole to allow for cleat attachment.
Although the appearance of some road pedals may be different, they all have the same mechanism.
To ‘clip in’, a rider needs to step down on the pedal platform.
To ‘clip out’, a rider needs to twist their ankle outwards/away from the bike frame.
Features of road bike pedals
Cleat Design and Attachment: Each brand uses a slightly different cleat system, but the majority connect to the soles of your cycling shoes with three bolts.
The three-point fastening system created by Look is the standard for road pedals. The cleat can be moved up and down or side to side, and the cleat angle can be adjusted at the same time. Look, Shimano, Speedplay and Time all use this arrangement.
Speedplay also utilize a four-bolt system. Speedplay have reversed the entire pedal system. The clip mechanism is attached to the shoes, leaving the pedals to act as the cleats.
Cleat Float: Refers to how many degrees your foot can move side to side when clipped into a pedal.
Knowing your neutral foot position, defined as the most natural or efficient angle whilst pedaling, is very important. Every rider is different, therefore different cleat float options are available. It is important to pick one that allows you to move your legs and feet into the most natural and comfortable position whilst pedaling.
Increasing the degrees of float helps to accommodate different riding styles and can help with biomechanical issues such as knee pain, past injuries or a lack of flexibility. Although increasing the degrees of float can help to reduce the stress on joints and allows for a more comfortable pedaling style, it can also result in less power transfer to the pedals as a rider’s foot moves around more.
The majority of riders prefer a few degrees of movement where as pro peloton riders prefer zero to low degrees of movement, effectively being ‘locked in’, with only the slightest of movements to ‘clip out’.
The above image (courtesy of Shimano) shows the available Shimano cleat float options
Pedal Platform Size: It is an important factor to take into account. The larger the pedal platform surface area, the more efficient the power transfer will be. Larger pedaling platforms distribute force over a larger section of your foot, making longer rides much more comfortable as it helps to avoid uncomfortable hot spots on your feet.
Release Tension: Refers to the amount of force required to disengage or ‘clip’ your foot out of the pedals. The release tension can be adjusted with most pedals via a spring.
For beginners, it is best to begin with low tension, allowing for easier foot release from the pedals. This will potentially save you from the embarrassment of falling over if you need to stop at traffic lights or stop quickly.
For more experienced riders who race, tend to push a bit harder on the pedals and want a more secure connection with the bike, it is best to have a higher release tension. This should help to prevent your feet from pulling free from the pedals.
Stack Height: Refers to the height or distance between the pedal axle and the sole of your foot.
It is better to have a lower stack height because it allows for greater pedaling efficiency. There will be a smaller distance for your legs to move when you spin the cranks, which reduces energy loss. Also, a lower stack height can help to lower your overall body position which can very slightly improve aerodynamics.
Q Factor: The Q factor (also known as the ‘stance width’) refers to the distance between the centerline of the pedals, or the distance between your feet on the pedals.
Everyone has a different pelvic width. In order to produce maximum pedaling power and efficiency, whilst also reducing stress on your knees and joints, your knees need to maintain a straight vertical line whilst pedaling. A Q factor that is too narrow or wide can result in your knees moving too far inwards or outwards respectively.
It is important to use cleats that have good lateral movement adjustability. Some companies have pedals that are available with different axle lengths.
Power Meter Pedals
Pedal-based power meters have strain gauges incorporated inside the pedal.
They are one of the more popular power meters available as they are easy to install, simple to use, can measure left and right leg power independently, can be swapped easily between bikes and are compatible with almost any crankset. They only add a few extra grams compared to non power meter road pedals.
They are available as either a single pedal or dual system. The only downside of the pedals is that they are vulnerable to damage because of their location.
They can also be useful when swapped onto an indoor or gym bike which is compatible with cycling software such as Zwift. Some examples are the Favero Assioma Duo, Garmin Vector 3, Look Exakt and Quarq PowerTap P2 pedals.