MTB vs. Road Pedals: Which Are Better?

A set of Shimano SPD pedals. MTB vs. Road pedals: do you use both?

If you have more than one bike in your fleet (and if you’re reading this, we kind of assume you do) then you might also have more than one set of cycling shoes designed for each kind of pedal. How much better are road pedals than mountain bike pedals on the road?

When it comes down to it, the road vs MTB clipless pedals come down the performance, preference, and weight. First, some definitions.

What Are Road Pedals?

Road pedals are designed to clip in securely and stay clipped in for long, steady road rides. Aside from stop signs (and the occasional crash), most riders never clip out during a road ride. In many ways, that makes designing a road pedal simple.

As a result, road pedals:

Clip-in on one side only. Only one side of a road pedal has the “binding” mechanism. This reduces weight and complexity; there’s no need for dual spring systems or additional material for a second side.

Wider platform. The wider pedal platform of a road pedal is designed to reduce pressure points on your foot and improve power transfer. A road pedal cleat is three-bolt and triangular in shape to maximize the surface area contact between pedal and shoe.

Smooth bottom. If you’re off your bike running or walking on a road ride, something unexpected happened, because these are NOT comfortable. Since the majority of walking most road cyclists plan on doing in their shoes is to get to the garage or maybe run into the coffee shop, road shoes don’t have traction. (Yep, that’s why you look so funny walking around in road shoes)

Best Road Clipless Pedals

The most common road pedals come from three-component manufacturers. Shimano, Look, and Time have been making road pedals for decades. If you’re looking at a pair of road pedals or cleat on any given bike or road shoes, it’s a safe bet that the pedal/cleat combination are either Shimano SPD (typically 105 or Ultegra) or Look KEO, which appear nearly identical to Shimano but have subtle differences in dimensions.

What Are Mountain Bike Pedals?

Mountain bike involves much grittier conditions and exposure to sand, mud and rocks. Mountain bike pedals are designed to function smoothly even when completely covered in mud, and it matters that they work; mountain bikers are much more likely to get off their bikes to walk, run, or at least dab a foot down to maintain their balance.

You can spot a mountain bike pedal pretty easily:

They have two bolts. Because riders need to walk or run, mountain bike shoes rely on a much smaller, two-bolt cleat and a smaller, two-sided pedal for easy access without having to look down and flip the pedal over.

Traction and tread. Mountain bike shoes will have molded rubber or plastic souls to provide traction off the bike. That makes mountain bike shoes heavier, but also much more comfortable to walk around in.

Best Mountain Bike Pedals

There are more flavors of mountain bike pedals, but Shimano tops the list here, too. Most riders used the mountain bike version of Shimano’s SPD, with Crank Brothers and TIME the next most common types of mountain bike pedals. The top mountain bike pedal around are:

  • Shimano XT/Deore
  • Crank Brothers Egg Beater
  • Crank Brothers Candy

MTB vs. Road Bike Pedals: Which Are Better?

“Better” comes down to what you’re doing. Both road and mountain bike pedals have their perks, but when it comes to speed, road pedals are the better option for performance or competitive road cycling.

  • Road pedals are lighter, more secure and offer a wide platform.
  • Mountain pedals are more versatile, easier to walk in, and better in dirt and mud.

If you have multiple bikes and want to stick to one pair of shoes, opt for mountain bike pedals. You’ll cede a few grams in weight and possibly a minuscule amount of power, but you’ll have fewer headaches.

When it comes to MTB vs road pedals, pick the ones that work best for what you do the majority of the time; in most cases, you’ll be you can use MTB pedals on your road bike without worry.

Looking for road pedals or mountain bike pedals in Traverse City? Support a local bike shop from wherever you are!  

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