Kit Guide & Questions Answered: Road Cycling Pedals

Kit Guide & Questions Answered: Road Cycling Pedals

To get into road cycling, all you need is some kit, time and a can of shaving foam. We’ll take a look at the best way to aero-up those legs in another post, but for now let's visit the misunderstood world of road cycling pedals, cleats and compatibility with a pocket-sized question and answer session. Prepare to be enlightened.

Why are they called clipless pedals?

Once upon a time, cycling pedals consisted of a flat, grippy pedal, furnished with straps and a cage or ‘toe-clips’ attached to the front. The idea was to push your foot into the toe-clips and tighten the straps to secure the foot.

Clipless pedals (simply, 'without clips') replace the fussy straps and the awkward cage of toe-clips with an integrated ‘ski-like’ mechanism (the first clipless pedals were manufactured by ski-binding maker Look). When paired with a cleat affixed to the sole of the cycling shoe, clipless pedals snap into place, securing the foot for the entirety of the pedal stroke. To exit the pedal, a simple outside ankle twist releases the mechanism.Road Cycling Pedals Buyer's Guide

What are road cycling pedals?

Road cycling pedals are a variant of clipless pedals designed for the fast-paced world of bike racing: light, aerodynamic, confidence-inspiring and built with a certain level of ‘float’. Measured in degrees, float refers to the allowed twisting motion of the foot (imagine the action of putting out a cigarette with your shoe) before it engages the pedal’s release.

While some road pedals are zero-float, most cleats offer somewhere between 3-9° of movement.

Should I buy a pedal with float?

Even the pros agree that having some level of float in the system is desirable. Not only does float make positioning the cleat slightly less critical, but it also removes the potential for niggling leg problems: Hips, legs and feet don’t like to be constrained to a fixed point, and to avoid the potential for injury, the addition of pedal float goes some way to prevent problems.

One word of caution - too much float can be as bad as no float. If in doubt, consult your local bike fit business and pop in for some expert advice.

What are road bike cleats?

Road bike cleats are the connecting part of the clipless pedal system. The cleat bolts onto the sole of the road cycling shoe, usually with what's called a 3-bolt type design in the shape of a triangle. To 'clip-in', the rider simply slides his or her foot forward and down onto the pedals to engage the connection.

Are cleats supplied with the pedals?

Yes, always.

Do all cycling cleats fit all pedals?

Sadly not. Unlike batteries, which are invariably the same standard world over, bike pedal systems from different manufacturers are not usually compatible with each other.

What are the different types of road bike pedals?

There are four popular types of road bike pedals from four different manufacturers: Shimano, Look, Time and Speedplay.

Shimano, Time and Look pedals use a 3-bolt cleat attachment and look very similar, but they are not compatible with each other. The only way this would ever be a problem is if you tried to use a cleat from one brand with a pedal from another.

Often referred to as a ‘3-bolt type’ system, Shimano, Look and Time road cycling cleats provide a larger, more stable platform on the pedal than their smaller mountain bike cousins. A larger surface area tends to improve performance and stability, but it does come at the cost of walking ease (witness the weekend scene at the coffee shop, where road cyclists resemble first-time skaters tentatively emerging onto the ice, lattes in hand).Road Cycling Pedals Buyer's Guide

What are Speedplay pedals?

Speedplay pedals are also not compatible with the Shimano, Time or Look systems. But whereas models from these brands are visually similar, Speedplay’s road pedals use a completely different design.

The Speedplay system is double-sided (unlike the others), so you can enter from either side of the pedal. However, unless you purchase a pair of road cycling shoes specifically designed for the Speedplay system, you may find its 4-bolt cleat quite large and complicated. Some riders though, swear by the Speedplay system, which is exceedingly popular in the pro peloton. 

Why don’t Time, Look and Shimano make their systems compatible?

That is a very sensible question. We can only hope that one day they decide to come together and push forward with a common standard for the betterment of the product and final price to the consumer.

Are there any road pedals designed for ease of travelling with a bike?

There sure are. Originally designed for the ‘Rinko’ Japanese system of packing bikes for train travel, the MKS clipless pedals can be removed tool-free in seconds. And what’s more, they are compatible with Look-type pedals. So if you’d like to ride with clipless pedals one day and platforms the next, the MKS range is well worth a peek. 

Can I convert my road bike pedals to flat pedals?

Thanks to a handy invention by Fly Pedals, converting road-going (or mtb) pedals to the delights of casual cycling is as easy as fit, click and ride.

Once you attach a compatible cleat for your pedals, the Universal Clipless Platform Adaptor clips in place of your shoes, leaving you with a grippy, flat platform for about town adventures.


Words by Peter Harrington Photos by @quocshoes

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