The 101 on Bike Pedals

A google patent search will prompt 38,000 hits for patents issued for a bike pedal. While each patent is unique and novel, there are a handful of bike pedal types that exist in the market. The information here is intended to help those shopping for new pedals and evaluating options. Yes you can pick up a set of pedals at most big box stores for under $20 and install them in  under five minutes. This info will broaden your horizon and provide a guide before you buy.


There are fundamentally three main categories of types of bike pedals. There are more styles of pedals in the market, however for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call it three: platform or flat, clipless, cage or strap.


Platform or flat pedal. This is the pedal that we all learned to ride a bike on. This pedal is used on a variety of bike types from little children’s bikes, mountain bikes, road bikes and just about any other sort in the market. This is the most common bike pedal because of its ubiquitous simplicity allowing you to ride using just about any type of footwear or even barefooted ( not recommended). Within the flat pedal category are subsets of intended uses.  Flat mountain bike pedals are one subset. These pedals typically have either a spiked surface intended for gripping shoes on bumpy, uneven terrain, or textured surface to prevent shoes from slipping off the pedals. Platform pedals are almost always two sided meaning the pedal operates the same way regardless of which side you are using.


Another subset of platform pedals are commuter pedals. These pedals are made more for comfort and fit for a smaller variety of shoes. A commuter is likely wearing shoes that they will wear at their workplace so metal spikes piercing through the sole is not optimal. Commuter pedals usually have a rubbery composite surface that provides a surface for office type shoes while providing enough grip to hold the foot in place. They typically have a larger surface area on the pedal body and are often two sided.


Clipless bike pedal

Clipless pedals. Pedals that clip in should not be called clipless but that’s what they’re called. Clipless pedals are typically for cyclist who are more than casual riders and looking to maximize the riding experience. The main intent of clipless pedals is to increase the efficiency of cycling Clipless pedals allows cyclist to both push down on the pedal like all pedals, and to pull up which is where the efficiency comes in.  I’m an average rider who uses both clipless and flat. The biggest benefit I appreciate with clipless is on any hill climb using a pulling motion to climb the hill.


There are a variety of clipless types often referred by the shoe configuration requirement, 2-hole, 3-hole, and 4-hole. This is important to know before you buy any pedal since the correct shoe must be worn to ride correlating clipless pedal.  Buying a pedal that requires a 3-hole shoe will not work on shoes with only 2-holes or 4-hole shoe. If you do not have bike shoes, then you’ll need to buy the right shoe to match the clipless pedals. Shoes can run from $75 up to $500 with variety comprised of stiffness, weight, and other features. This may be worth a trip to a local bike shop to understand your options before you buy. I have a two different bike shoes which I use for mountain biking and road bike. The mountain bike shoes are a 2-hole system with a running shoe like look and feel. The road shoes are a 3-hole system have a rigid sole intended to maximize power transfer. Road shoes are usually for riding that is straight with few turns and smooth terrain which is why the sole has little flexibility. Mountain bike shoes are intended for many turns and uneven ground.


For those history buffs interested in the evolution of clipless pedals, here is a historic timeline to read.



Cage pedals. Sometimes called strapped pedals. This pedal system is a great transition and step up from flat pedals. This pedal has either a cage like fixture that keeps your foot in place on the shoe or a strap. Like the clipless pedal, this setup allows for pushing and pulling. While not as efficient as clipless, there are some benefits that come with cage pedals. Cage pedals are often used on indoor spin bikes or therapeutic bikes used in physical therapy.


One of the benefits of cage pedals are the ability to easily remove your foot in a quick manner. Having your foot locked into a pedal with clipless system is probably the largest fear riders have so cage pedals is a good way to test this.  You can pick up pedal straps for under $10 and add them to most flat pedals in the market.


Reach out if you have questions or need guidance for your bike.


Spin to win Spinner icon