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Best clipless road bike pedals 2021

Cyclist magazine
8 Apr 2021

The best clipless road bike pedals along with buying advice from an expert bike fitter

Clipless pedals that mechanically attach your feet to the bike will give you improved support, security and power transfer. Combining with cycling-specific shoes, on the bottom of these will be a cleat.

Working a bit like ski bindings, you simply step on to the pedal and it'll automatically lock you into place. With a quick twist of the foot releasing you, there’s a knack to learning how to use them. But once you’ve learned, you’re unlikely to look back.

With single-sided road systems focusing on achieving maximum stiffness and minimum weight, the downside to this is greater difficulty when walking. By comparison, mountain bike or touring systems often have twin sides. Not only does this make them easier to clip into, but the smaller cleats they use make walking significantly easier.

Bearing this in mind, we’ve rounded up six of our favourite road systems, plus two mountain bike-style alternatives worth considering.

So scroll down for our favourite pedals for all occasions. Or if you want to know more, scroll a bit further for our guide covering everything you always wanted to know about clipping-in*

(*but were afraid to ask)

Our selection of the best clipless road bike pedals

Shimano Ultegra 6800 pedals


Regardless of not being the lightest, nor sporting the lowest stack height, the Shimano Ultegra pedals do an excellent job, being in our experience the most durable road pedals on the market.

The amount of force required to release your feet is easily controlled via an adjustable spring, while the extra height conceals bearings that will last years between services.

Three different cleats allow you to tune the range of float between 0 and 6°. Once engaged, the available movement feels less slippery than some, which will suit certain riders but not all. The cleats provide ample lateral adjustment. Featuring broad wings tipped with rubber bumpers, they’re also the most stable to walk on.


Look Keo Blade 2 carbon


Most clipless pedals these days still resemble the original model invented in 1984 by French brand, Look. Refined over the years, the current high-end offerings replace the steel spring release mechanism with a lightweight carbon spar.

This both looks cool and results in a very light and aerodynamic pedal, although it doesn’t allow release tension to be adjusted – instead, the pedals come preset to one of three options. Low stack height and large platforms mean transmission and stability feel rock solid.

Look cleats are resilient little buggers at the best of times with float options spanning 0-6°.

Ritchey WCS Carbon Echelon


Ritchey might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of pedals, but the WCS Carbon Echelons could change all that. Similar to Look’s design, these are compatible with Keo cleats, so there’s no need to fret about availability.

The carbon body has been whittled down to its bare bones, resulting in a low stack height, while still cramming in a sealed cartridge bearing between the axle and body. We love that they're extremely light and easily adjustable.

Perhaps the only negative compared to Look or Shimano is the fact that this pedal’s platform is a little narrower, allowing the foot to rock slightly.


Speedplay Zero Stainless pedals

A double-sided pedal, Speedplay’s brilliant design turned pedal technology on its head by placing the spring in the cleat rather than the pedal.

This opened up a number of possibilities, probably the most important of which is that the amount of float can now be up to 15 degrees – or it can be reduced to zero in either direction; this makes them ideal for those whose foot moves laterally through the pedal stroke.

Speedplay’s design also brings the two components really close together, which improves pedal dynamics, all thanks to the four-bolt cleat – through a three-bolt convertor is available to make them compatible with a wider choice of shoes. They also look splendidly minimalist on the bike – which never hurts.

Recently brought by training behemoth Wahoo this has occasioned a refresh of the entire Speedplay range. Key to this is a cleat system overhaul that’s made it both more durable and user-friendly.

This hardwearing stainless version is one of the more cost-efficient, with prices going up to the £599 titanium Nano with plenty of stops in between. Keep an eye out for an expected power meter version too.

Read our full range preview here  
Latest news: Wahoo Speedplay pedals – All you need to know

Shimano RS500 SPD-SL

We are sure Shimano used to do a cheaper set of clipless pedals but we cannot find them online. They were metal and clunky but did the job. Oh well, the next best thing is the Shimano SPD-Sl pedal.

It's around half the price of Shimano's 105-branded pedals but certainly not half the quality. In fact, if you're investing in your first road pedals it should be either these or Look's Keos to be honest.

Shimano has toned down the spring tension for easier unclipping here while also widening the platform for better stability and power transfer, too.

Time Xpresso 7

Doing without titanium axles or ceramic bearings, these are actually some of Time’s cheaper pedals. With a very large scooped section towards the front and an almost flat profile, front to back, locating the pedals and clipping-in is exceptionally easy.

Unlike most pedals which let your heels move out in an arc while fixing the front of the shoe, the Time system also allows for a degree of lateral movement, helping ensure against joint damage.

Replaceable plates on the body ensure the float remains silky smooth for the life of the pedal. Using a carbon spar in place of a steel spring keeps weight down, but means release tension is fixed.

The supplied cleats are fairly long-lasting, but their hard edges make walking slippery.

The best multi-sport pedals

Mixed terrain pedals that are simpler to clip into and make walking less of a chore.

Shimano PD-ME700 SPD

You do not buy a set of Shimano's latest trail SPD pedals for a single touring trip to the South Downs, you buy a set of SPD pedals for life.

Honestly, Shimano’s SPD system forms the most indestructible range of pedals in the known world, earning a slot alongside the likes of the Nokia 3310 and hobnob biscuits as items that will long outlast any human lifeform on earth.

Clipping in is made easy by the fact you can slot into both sides of the pedal while the open design prevents mud, sand or any other grit from really building up in the pedal or cleat. And thanks to a recessed cleat, walking with SPD pedals is a doddle, too. Slightly heavier than the standard wingless models, we like the extra security provided by the extended platform on these recently updated versions.

Crank Brothers Eggbeater 1

Designed to take a beating, the Egg Beaters are primarily intended for off-road use but thanks to their simple functionality, they make for a great system that we’d suggest for those starting out or crossing over from the dirt.

Any of the four contact points will allow you to clip-in, so getting in couldn’t be much easier – the release angle is from 15 degrees.

The predominantly steel construction makes for a tough and long-lasting pedal yet they only have a list weight of 286g.

If the Egg Beater seems a little too minimal for you then the Candy range offers the same system but with a small platform around it and starts at £74.99.

Everything you always wanted to know about clipping in (but were afraid to ask)

Bicycle cleats

Mechanically attaching your feet to a bicycle has many benefits, but how do you choose the best road bike pedals that fix you to yours?

The cleat which attaches to your shoe engages with the pedal. It’s spring-loaded and releases with a twist of the foot. Rather than fixing your feet rigidly most clipless pedals allow some movement or ‘float’.

The majority of road cycling shoes come with a three-bolt design, as pioneered by Look. Speedplay uses a four-bolt concept, whereas two bolts are used on the smaller MTB cleats, which are less cumbersome and the best option if you’ll be doing any significant walking in them.

You’ll find that above a certain price, bikes no longer come with pedals. In part, this saves money but since pedals are a such a personal thing, it means you can choose a pair that suit your needs.

Going with the first thing the shop assistant suggests or picking the ones that are half price on Wiggle might not be the best approach. We’ve rounded up clipless road bike pedals (so-called because they do away with traditional toe-clips) from the leading makers and tried them for ourselves.

See related: How to remove and change bike pedals in 5 minutes

We’ve also enlisted the help of pedal expert Spencer Wilson to explain what we should be looking for, along with the pros and cons of each system.

‘No single feature, be it weight, rotational movement, float, or whatever else makes a pedal the “best”,’ says Wilson.

‘At Personal Bikefit, the most important factor for us to understand is how the pedal interacts with the shoe, and therefore the wearer while riding. Does it provide a degree of guidance for your foot so that the union between shoe and pedal is secure? Or, is there a lack of guidance allowing the foot to move too freely?

'At the same time, you don’t want your foot excessively fixed – a frequent problem that was found with early clipless pedals – as in some cases, this can result in knee injuries.'

Wilson continues, ‘Rider biomechanics are also a crucial factor when it comes to picking a pedal. So, for example, weak glutes can force riders to drive forces across the top of the pedal instead of pushing downward and evenly onto the pedal platform.

'It’s no good having a large pedal/shoe interface if the forces are not being applied to it evenly. If the loading forces aren’t in line with the pedal spindle, for example, or your knees aren’t able to track in a vertically straight line, then no kind of pedal – no matter how well-made it is – will be able to correct this,’ Wilson added.

How to remove bicycle pedals - reattach the pedal

What to look out for

Platform size

The bigger the pedal surface area, or platform, the better the relationship between the cleat and the pedal will be. This helps keep the pedal as comfortable during the fifth hour of a ride as it is during the first, while also providing the most efficient power transfer.

Q factor adjustment

The Q factor is the distance between the centreline of the pedals, laterally. Not all pelvic widths are the same! To produce maximum power, the knee needs to track in a vertical line as this is both most efficient and reduces the risk of knee pain. Look for cleats with good lateral adjustment or, even better, use pedals that are available with different axle lengths.

Float

A cleat and pedal system with a zero-degree or ‘fixed’ float will lock your feet rigidly in place. However, most riders will prefer to have a little wiggle room. Measured in degrees, float is the amount that your heel can move side-to-side before disengaging from the pedal.

Most manufacturers sell different cleats with different amounts of float, while Speedplay cleats can be carefully adjusted to tailor their degree of movement.

Release tension

A special consideration for riders new to using clipless pedals and who need easy engagement and disengagement. More experienced riders, especially those who like to mash the pedals when sprinting, frequently prefer the security offered by a stiffer release tension.

Many high-end pedals now use a carbon spar instead of the traditional steel spring to provide tension. This saves weight but means that the effort needed to clip out cannot be adjusted.

Pedals which possess a good range of spring tension can be adjusted for novice and elite riders alike.

A good range and adjustment of rotation

Riders with biomechanical imbalances and lower-limb issues may need a more precise set-up and require more rotation. Speedplay pedals are the perfect choice for this, allowing 15° of rotation right down to zero. Time pedals also allow a large degree of float.

This not only protects your knees against potential damage but means there’s less chance of you accidentally unclipping.

Reliability

This is a sometimes forgotten factor in pedal choice. In order to slim down their pedals, manufacturers use smaller and smaller bearings and bushes. While these can be replaced fairly cheaply, doing so can be tricky and time-consuming.

For our money, you can’t beat Shimano for durability.

Stack height

The height from the pedal axle to the sole of the foot. If you choose pedals with a high stack height, you may also need to raise your saddle height in order to compensate.

Read our guide on how to fit and adjust cleats, best power meters and souplesse: the art of perfect pedalling

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