Choosing Pedals for Cycle-Touring

Before going on a cycle-tour or a long distance cycle the most important thing is that your bike is well adjusted and you like your components. Pedals play an important role in this. There are many different types of pedals to choose from, each have their own pro’s and con’s which suit different people and riding styles. Here are the few main types which I think the choice is between when preparing for your cycle-tour.

Flat Pedal cycling review

Traditional Flat Cycling Pedal

Standard Flat Pedals:

These are the type of pedals which are most common on bikes. Everyone is used to them and they are cheap and easy to get a hold of no matter where you are in the world. These types of pedals will appeal to cyclist who like wearing ‘crocs’ or sandals to cycle in. They are comfortable and allow you to wear any type of footwear, or even none –though I wouldn’t recommend this. They allow a wide variety of foot positions as well, so this can help if you are prone to tendonitis or similar injuries. However the biggest con in my eyes is that they only allow you to push down. This limited movement means that you are just primarily using your quads therefore they are more inefficient. Also because you will likely not be using a rigid sole with these pedals this can make you more prone to straining your calves. All in all, good for the occasional cyclist or for low mileage cyclists who enjoy wearing sandals. However they are inefficient and can cause calf strains. If you go for this option I recommend going for a metal pedal because they will last longer and tend to have better bearings.

Flat Pedal with Toe-Strap review cycling pedals

Flat Pedal with Toe-Strap

Flat Pedals with Toe Straps: If you are bound by a budget and don’t want to fork out huge amounts of money on special shoes for clipless pedals these are the ones to go for. They are identical to standard flat pedals (only with a cage or strap) and have very much of the same pros and cons. If you want to ride in your trainers these are for you. They do allow a slightly more circular range of movement due to the strap so you can engage more muscles with these pedals. I would choose these over standard flats because the strap allows an extra option even if you don’t use it you can always just take it off.

Road Clipless Pedals: These are great. If efficiency is what you want, go for these. The road shoes will often have carbon soles giving you a very rigid surface to push on. The shoes also clip into the pedals meaning that you can pedal in a completely circular motion, pulling as well as pushing. This is really useful whilst cycling as it lets you use your glutes, quads and hamstrings. The use of all of your leg muscles means your legs won’t tire as quickly and mean you can cycle faster for longer. However the big con for these types of pedals is that you have a large ‘cleat’ on the bottom of your shoes. This combined with the rigid sole makes walking very hard. Therefore you will almost certainly have to take another pair of shoes with you, which can add to weight. This can be combated by buying ‘cleat covers’ which are available and not very expensive. I have not tried these yet but will do when I go on a week long lightweight cycle-tour in Scotland this summer using my road pedals. I will report back on how easy they were to use as up to now I have chosen not to use road pedals because of the difficulty in walking. The cleats are also traditionally plastic which are not as robust as other styles and I have heard a few stories of them breaking, however all cleats will wear out over time.

Shimano SPD Pedals review

Shimano SPD Pedals

MTB Clipless Pedals:

In my eyes, the best. You get almost all the benefits of road pedals but none of the negatives. You clip in so can use all of your muscles in your legs yet they have recessed cleats meaning you can walk around easily. There are several different types of shoe with these pedals; you can use MTB shoes which have a harder more rigid sole slightly harder to walk in but much easier than road pedals. However you can also get touring specific shoes these are a doddle to walk in and often have rubber soles, although they are still very rigid. This is why I chose this option. It means you don’t need to take an extra pair of shoes; you can walk without looking silly and clattering around. Performance and comfort. You can also get MTB pedal variations that are the size of normal pedals so can be used with trainers yet also can be clipped into (picture below). These are perfect for if you enjoy cycling in different types of footwear.

Flat/SPD Clipless Pedal review shimano

Flat/SPD Clipless Pedal

There are many different variations of pedals and shoes. My road pedals are shimano 105 and my MTB pedals are shimano SPD. Both are fantastic and I recommend either to anyone. However I think for touring the MTB pedals with cleats are the winners. I think it is definitely worth spending ~£100 on a good pair of pedals and shoes; it will go a long way and last for years. Although a word of warning if you decide to go clipless, it does take a bit of getting used to. I myself had a few embarrassing moments falling over at traffic lights. However now it is totally natural and very easy. A final word of advice make sure you have your cleats properly adjusted, if you are unsure I am sure there will be videos on YouTube or just pop down to your LBS. Keep pedalling.

13 responses to “Choosing Pedals for Cycle-Touring

  1. Can I recommend you try Time MTB pedals? I’ve found that the SPD pedals wear out just as fast as the cleats so I have switched to time and they are far longer lasting. They have a greater float so you are less likely to pop out under load and are less likely to develop associated health problems as well as the better build quality.

    So what shoes do you have? I’ve got Shimano WM61 which are really good, wide and comfy and have lasted a long time. The sole is also really natural for walking in (good for tours) and has a lot of grip for a bike shoe, I’d recommend Shimano shoes (not the lace up types though) but not pedals! I’ve also got some carbon MTB SIDIS which are totally extravagant but now I’m not a courier will be a shoe to last the next 5 years at least.

    Courier work is really demanding on shoes and pedals as you clip in and out far more often than the average cyclist, are out in terrible weather (salt + spray = corrosion) and walk around a lot more in the shoes too. Riding fixed also destroys shoes as there is a lot more torsion in the sole and uppers due to the leg braking.

    • My SPD pedals and cleats have done over 15000km I’d estimate and are still going strong. I will look into it when I eventually have to swap them. Are they more expensive than the Shimano SPDs?
      I have Bontranger SSR shoes, they are very cheap as shoes go. However I bought them not knowing much about cycling shoes just talking to my LBS and they have been superb. They are not the most efficient shoe by far but they are unbelievably comfy, for cycling and walking. Perfect touring shoe.
      I also have Louis Garneau Revo XR3 road shoes, they are very rigid with a carbon sole and have great ventilation. Also comfy for cycling in although much trickier to walk in.
      Yeah I can imagine, I commute about 24 miles every day of the week into school so have to wash my bike almost weekly as they seem to just dump huge amounts of salt and grit on the roads near me!

  2. Even though my carbon shoes have MTB treads they are still slippery and really difficult to walk in I havn’t tried Bontrager shoes, although I like them as a tyre manufacturer, i’ll bear them in mind if I need to replace my cheaper shoes. I’m not sure that I’ll ever “upgrade” to a proper road shoe and cleat, maybe if Im rich one day. I like having the same gear across all my bikes though.

    • Yeah my brother has slippery soled MTB shoes. He likes them however I am happy and prefer my Bontranger ones for touring.
      Exactly it was a big call choosing to go for road pedals on my Cannondale SuperSix however I wanted to try them out and for the pedals to match my groupset. Although it would have been SO much easier to go for MTB pedals and have the flexibility of using either pair of shoes. I do not regret my decision to choose road pedals because they are a lot more efficient and faster!

      • The carbon shoes aren’t actually any more slippery than specialized shoes though (I have given up on that brand for shoes).

        Yeah, definitely more efficient than SPD MTBs, Time MTBs do fit that little bit better, there’s a weird payoff between the action of the springs holding you better but there being more float so you can change the angle of your foot a lot more.

        But I haven’t tried road cleats at all. Maybe I’m not being practical, maybe I just being stubborn about putting road pedals on my road bike. But when I have enough pedals to go round and am mostly planning touring and cross riding its an expense I can’t justify.

      • See if you can borrow a pair first see what you think? The clip in and general feel of them is a little bit different. Shimano seems to be the norm within bike shops as it probably easier for them to get the shimano parts from their suppliers as most bikes have a shimano group and therefore would come with shimano pedals……

        Ive found ribble does a good price on time pedals and then they have that extra 20% off online prices thing too!

  3. Pingback: Cycle Touring Kit List | Alex's Cycle·

  4. I have toured in every condition using various systems, sandals, road, clip-less, you name it. I have concluded that most men and women will benefit from the Shimano SPD with MTB shoes. If you need that walk of shame up a steep grade, MTB shoes will suffice although the Shimano M520 uses a non-metalic barrel that surrounds the bearing assembly. This will wear out on the drive side in one year of heavy touring. Shimano did not design this pedal for heavy touring although it is a very good entry level pedal system. I recommend the XT or XTR grade pedal for longevity and ease of maintenance. Just make sure that any of the “upgraded” models that you purchase does not use a non-metalic barrel. There is always this danger when finding weight saving upgrades, etc. Beware of the extremely rare XT 770 right spindle problems (early production model only). If you have the 770 and do not know what I am talking about, do not worry about your set. If there is a problem, it will happen almost immediately. For an example of metalic barrels, here is one grade up from the 520 model:

  5. Can you recommend a clipless pedal that is the easiest to get in and out of ? Let me explain, I am 62, when I was young we had courier pedals with leather straps, clipless was experimental back when I was riding a “10 speed” Raleigh”. I like the idea of clipping in but one day when I was riding up a hill with Shimano SPD clips (I had been riding with them for a month), I came up on a driveway with a very high hedge close to the sidewalk, as I got to the edge of the driveway I noticed a small pickup parked in the driveway with the engine running (unfortunately the windows were tinted and I couldn’t tell if anyone was in it), I immediately hit the brakes and as you can imagine going up hill the bike came to a complete stop, in my panic I could not get out of the clips so over I went on my left side bike and all, after I hit the ground hard I was able to get up and found that the truck was idling, I was able to finish the ride home but later I had to go to the emergency room as I thought I had cracked my hip (fortunately I hadn’t but I was in pain for a couple of days), so you see I love the idea of the added power of a clip but my muscle memory in a panic says either move laterally to the side or straight back (I have a hard time in a panic remembering to twist me hell out ) so any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated, currently I am using a pair of courier pedals (straps), so if you have a recommendation for a good set of pedals that I can convert to courier I would also appreciate that info

    • Hi Richard, Sorry for not getting back to you sooner! That does sound like a very unfortunate incident! Have you perhaps considered a type of turing pedal such as the shimano A530, this has one side as a flat pedal and one side as a clips pedal. Therefore when going up really steep hill you could unclip one of your feet and ride with that foot on the flat side so that if you did have to stop you could very easily put that foot down? I had quite a few falls too when getting used to clips pedals however if you start off with the tension really low then they are very easy to get in and out of it just takes a bit of practice to get the action second nature. Good luck and I hope you can find something that is suitable for your needs!

  6. Pingback: Bike Components for a Cycle Tour | Alex's Cycle·

  7. Hi, do you have any preference for a flat pedal with toeclips as that what I like but not sure what to get. I am off around Europe for about a year soon, so want to get it as right as possible 🙂


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