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Which system is right for you?

Clipless pedals are popular because they provide a firm, secure connection between bike and rider that's easier to release than the previous system of straps and slotted cleats. But which of the many systems is best for you?

Because they hold your feet in the right place on the pedals and keep them there, clipless pedals are more efficient than regular shoes and flat pedals. They're also much easier to get out of than the clip and strap pedals enthusiast riders and racers used before the 1980s

Shoes for clipless pedals have stiff soles, which also improves efficiency and comfort.

Count the bolts

There are two types of clipless pedal. Pedals for road racing follow the original concept introduced by Look in 1984. The cleat stands proud of the sole and is attached by three bolts. This allows an uncomplicated, very rigid sole, but is awkward to walk in.

In 1990, Shimano introduced its SPD (Shimano Pedalling Dynamics) design. A smaller metal cleat is mounted to the shoe with two bolts, and fits in a recess in the sole. The recessed cleat makes it easier to walk in SPD shoes, and helps guide the cleat into the mechanism, making it easier to clip in. Originally intended for mountain biking, it's become very popular with commuting and recreational riders too.


Look's three-bolt standard dominates road pedals and shoes

Many companies now make pedals whose cleats fit three-bolt and two-bolt shoes.

Three-bolt clipless pedals are single-sided, with one exception that we'll get to shortly. To get into them you have to catch the front tip of the pedal with the cleat. This is a bit fiddly at first, but becomes second nature after a bit of practice.

Two-bolt pedals are usually double-sided. This makes entry very easy; after a very small amount of practice you learn to just stomp on the pedal and away you go.


Soles for two-bolt cleats have a recess to allow walking

That difference is a factor in which system's best for you. If you're clipping and unclipping a lot — while commuting, for example — then the easier clip-in action of two-bolt systems means you won't find yourself fumbling with the pedals as you set off from the lights.

If sheer performance is more of a priority, then a three-bolt system is the way to go. The larger cleat spreads the pedalling load over more of the sole, which is more comfortable and efficient, and three-bolt shoes are lighter because there's no extra rubber around the cleat to make them walkable.

For example, a pair of size 40 Shimano XC61 two-bolt shoes weighs a claimed 632g. Shimano's R170 road shoes have the same £150 RRP, but weigh 500g per pair in size 40.

Gaerne Carbon G Chrono Speedplay road shoes - sole detail

Speedplay pedals work best with shoes that have their special four-hole fitting

One company, Speedplay, has bucked the consensus. Its pedals are double-sided, the mechanism is part of the cleat and that cleat has a four-bolt mounting. A three-bolt adapter is included with them, as few shoemakers have a suitable shoe in their line. More about Speedplay below.

The earliest clipless pedals held your feet in a fixed position on the pedals. This soon turned out to be a problem for some riders whose knees got sore, leading to serious problems in some cases. The answer was to slightly modify the design so that the foot could move a little. This rotational float is a feature of most modern clipless pedals. In some it can be adjusted either by choice of cleat or by adjuster screws.

Stack it up

The distance between pedal axle and shoe sole is known as the stack height. A lower stack helps make your foot more stable on the pedal, and by lowering your position on the bike will make it slightly more stable in corners.

What's in a name?

Pedals with clips and straps (CC-BY 2.0 by ktk17028:Flickr)

Old school pedals with clips and straps (CC-BY 2.0 by ktk17028:Flickr)

In case you're wondering why they're called clipless pedals, it's because pedals used to have metal cages, called toe clips, and leather straps to hold the shoe in place. Racing shoes had cleats that were slotted to fit the cage of the pedal. To get out, you had to loosen the strap. Falling over at traffic lights behind a busload of schoolkids was not unknown.

Clipless pedals get their contradictory name, then, because they don't have the metal clips of yore. Some favour the term "clip-in pedals" which has the advantage of making more sense, but a couple of quick Google searches shows "clipless pedals" is over four times more common. It looks like we're stuck with it. 

Recommended pedals

We've mentioned a stand-out model or two of every major pedal design here, but you really can't go wrong with any of the current systems. The one you choose will reflect your own personal requirements.

Browse all road.cc pedal reviews

Shimano PD-M520 — £19.99

shimano-m520-black-pedal.jpg

For a mere 20 quid, these double-sided mountain bike pedals are a brilliant entry into clipless pedals. The low price is not reflected in the build quality, which is excellent, or the performance, which is also excellent.

Entry and exit is positive and easy, tension adjustment is simple and you can use them for everything from commuting to cyclo-cross.

The small cleat means that there's a small contact patch but that's a minor disadvantage unless speed and performance is paramount.

Read our review of the Shimano PD-M520
Find a Shimano dealer

Shimano Click'R PD-T400 — £24.81

Shimano Click'R pedals PD-T400

Shimano's PD-T400 Click'R pedals have a mechanism that's incredibly light, so it's very easy to release your shoes from the pedals. They're a useful option for cyclists keen to try clipless pedals for the first time.

You're held firmly in place against an upwards exit, but only very slight pressure down and sideways is necessary to get you out, and the pivoting pedal body inside the plastic surround makes it very easy to get in too. They come with Shimano Multi-release cleats, which make things even easier.

Read our review of the Shimano Click'R PD-T400
Find a Shimano dealer

Time Xpresso 2 — £29.99

Time Xpresso 2 pedals 2 crop.jpg

The relatively low price of Xpresso 2s makes them a sensible place to start if you're a newcomer to road-specific click-in pedals. They're light, easy to use and very easy to adjust to different foot position and release preferences, though they're not the most durable.

Time Xpresso pedals are popular because they're easy to click into, offer just the right amount of float adjustment for many riders and they're light. At about 220g per pair the entry level Xpresso 2s only weigh 25g more than the carbon Xpresso 8s at £124.99.

Read our review of the Time Xpresso 2
Find a Time dealer

Shimano PD-M324 — £32.99

Shimano PD-M324 pedals

The M324 is a solidly built and dependable commuting pedal for riders who want to switch easily between cleats and flats. If you're a big mile commuter or tourer they won't disappoint.

The guts of the pedal is a well-finished Aluminium body that houses serviceable cup and cone bearings. A metal cage is bolted on for riding in flats, and on the other side you get an adjustable tension SPD binding for when you've got your cleats on. The pedals are very well finished and run smoothly from the off, and the fact that they're easy to strip down is a bonus.

The SPD mechanism is the same as you'll find on many of Shimano's other pedals, with a good range of tension adjustment and enough float for most knees. The cage is nice and grippy and performs well in the wet as well as the dry.

Read our review of the Shimano PD-M324s
Find a Shimano dealer

Look Keo Classic 3 — ~£32.50

Look Keo Classic 3 Road Clipless Pedal.jpg

The Look Keo Classic 3s are good mid-level pedals that offer a decent base for power transfer, have an easy-to-use adjustable mechanism, and are well made and robust. 

You can buy cheaper pedals, but the £40 RRP is a really good price, especially bearing in mind that they are genuine Look units. Overall the Classic 3s are really good pedals. They look good on the bike, perform well and have a good contact area for better power transfer. 

Read our review of the Look Keo Classic 3
Find a Look dealer

Shimano PD-R7000 — £68

R7000 pedal

Shimano's cheapest carbon-bodied pedals have an old-school steel spring for the retention plate, but are nevertheless reasonably light. The SPD-SL design provides tension adjustment so you can make it harder or easier to release, and like the Look Keo it has a large, broad contact patch with the cleat for stability.

Read our review of the very similar Shimano PD-5700
Find a Shimano dealer

Look Keo Blade — £54.95

Look Keo 2 Max Blade 12 pedals

Look invented the first successful clipless pedal, and has spent 30 years refining it. These pedals use a fibreglass spring rather than a steel one to save weight. That means you can't adjust the release tension, so for riders who want an easier exit, Look also makes another version with an 8Nm spring. If you get the wrong version you can get a dealer to change the spring.

The Keo Blades are a decent weight for their price, and have a wide platform that gives a stable interface between cleat and pedal.

Read our review of the Look Keo 2 Max Blade 12
Find a Look dealer

Speedplay Zero Stainless Steel — £138-£195.99

Speedplay Zero pedals

Those who love Speedplays rave about the low weight, adjustability, and shallow stack. A recent redesign of the cleat added a rubber aero cover that makes them far easier to walk in than the previous version, or many other systems.However, it's undeniable they need more looking after than most pedals and they're susceptible to clogging from even the smallest amount of dirt.

But if you have knees that are in any way fragile, or you want pedals that are incredibly easy to enter and release but fit stiff-soled road racing shoes, their free float and double-sided designs make Speedplays well worth considering.

Read our review of the Speedplay Zero Stainless Steel
Find a Speedplay dealer

Time Xpresso 15 pedals — £304.99

TIME Xpresso 15 pedals

The Time Xpresso 15 pedals are extremely light and clipping in/twisting out could hardly be easier. The downside is the price, and the cleats wear noticeably faster than those of other brands.

At just 140g for the pair, they're phenomenally light thanks to carbon bodies, titanium axles, aluminium top plates and ceramic bearings. Clipping in is very easy thanks to a spring mechanism that stays open after you click out.

Read our review of the Time Xpresso 15 pedals
Find a Time dealer

Speedplay Zero Titanium Nanogram — £594.99

Speedplay Nanogram

At just 120g/pair these race-day-only pedals are Speedplay's demonstration that the Zero design can be made extraordinarily light. Speedplay has often displayed superlight bikes at trade shows; these pedals help make bikes like those even lighter.

The low weight is achieved by the use of every lightweight material you can think of: carbon-reinforced thermoplastic bodies; ceramic bearings; titanium axles; titanium bolts; and aluminium top plates. The cleats have been lightened too with carbon fiber replacing the plastic and aluminium fasteners instead of steel. They're bonkers expensive, but you have to admire the fanaticism.

Find a Speedplay dealer

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Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

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The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

53 comments

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grumpygramp [16 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes

One Speedplay model not mentioned in the article is the 'Frog'. This is a mtb/touring pedal with no springs and lots of float. The pedal is small and light, easy to get in and out of, but secure when riding. The cleat is not obtrusive and there is little to go wrong - as long as you give the pedals a dose of grease every few weeks, particularly in bad weather.

For me, they are an ideal commuting / touring pedal and I have them on several bikes.

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Samtheeagle [17 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Couldn't find any mention in the comments section about SPD-R pedals and cleats. I converted to these when a Look red snapped under sprinting pressure and I threw myself over the handlebars. I moved over to SPD-R and still have multiple sets and cleats. Pros: metal cleats that appear not to wear, outriggers that stabalise your shoe for walking, range of rotation available in the choice of cleats. Cons: pedals and cleats generally only available on fleabay, almost impossible to buy shoes that are drilled for SPD-R (had to drill my most recent pair to accept cleats).

 

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fennesz [159 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes

I *heart* Speedplay.  I'm not so keen on the new MRRP of the cleats - £49.99.  Yikes!  

Online prices are cheaper - get 'em while you can.

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biketime [37 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Love my 105s! They seem to be the reasanably priced workhorse of the lot; sort of like a trusworthy tool that takes forever to wear out. There are few sounds more satisfying than hearing cyclists click into them (except maybe a steam train). I still have toe clips on my "slow" city bike for short (5-10 mi) runs around the 'hood or to the store. Ditto my combo 1987/1999 Cannondale road beater/trainer bike.

 

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festina [62 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes

As the pedal war has begun I'll stick my boot in too. I love my speed plays too and over the years I've used look, time spd-sl, time atacs and MTB SPD's.
I've had no problems clipping in and I love that I can set float independently for each foot (without having to buy special cleats). Agreed that I shim my cleats to get a comfy foot position, which is easy with the speedplays, but they are the best for getting a totally dialled fit. If you have perfectly linear functioning legs then you're probably fine with any pedal system. As for the cleats; yes they are expensive but as they have a metal plate on the bottom and you don't wear any of the mating parts when you walk on them you don't need to replace them as often as look or time cleats.
One pedal that I think should be here and is under rated is the shimano A520. It uses a 2 bolt cleat so can be used with shoes you can walk (or even run in) but is single sided with a larger platform like a road pedal.

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DoctorFish [204 posts] 2 years ago
1 like
BJWheeler wrote:

One Speedplay model not mentioned in the article is the 'Frog'. This is a mtb/touring pedal with no springs and lots of float. The pedal is small and light, easy to get in and out of, but secure when riding. The cleat is not obtrusive and there is little to go wrong - as long as you give the pedals a dose of grease every few weeks, particularly in bad weather.

For me, they are an ideal commuting / touring pedal and I have them on several bikes.

 

I used frogs on my touring bike, and now I've moved them over to my adventure bike (or whatever you want to call it).  They are a fantastic pedal.  I have zero's on my road bike which are also fantastic and have solved knee pain that I had before.  However if I break my zero's I'd be very tempted to replace them with frogs.

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gmrza [36 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I use entry-level Shimano SPDs  for commuting - those pedals have clocked up 48000km.  I bought new shoes about a year after the pedals, so I got new cleats as I was keeping the old shoes.  The cleats have thus done nearly 35000km and are still fine.

The pedals have not ever got any maintenance, apart from spraying the springs with WD-40 to wipe the muck off.  The bearings have never been lubed.

I recently rebuilt my wheels with new rims, so I hope to do at least another 30000km with the bike, so I am looking forward to doing those kilometres with the same pedals.

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badbadleroybrown [19 posts] 2 years ago
3 likes

Speedplay are easily superior to every other design. All the others were adapted from ski binding designs while the Zero was designed as a bike pedal. You can't accidentally pull out of the pedal with too much upward force, adjustable float, two sided entry, complete serviceability by the end user, lowest stack height, lowest weight, greater cleat adjustability... there's literally nothing you can ask for in a pedal that they don't do better than Look, Time, or Shimano

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ConcordeCX [1117 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

Those Marcel Berthet pedals under the heading What's in a name? are considered by many to be the best ever made. I have a pair, and they're excellent, although in need of a service.

MKS make a modern version called Urban Platform, which are also very good.

Wear with flat touring shoes, toe clips and straps. No chance of toppling over in view of a bus full of school kids.

confession: I've never used clipless.

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BBB [502 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

...

 

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bigblue [32 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I second the post way up recommending the Shimano A600's - two bolt (SPD), single-sided, slightly bigger platform than MTB pedals, quite light, somewhere vaguely around Ultegra level I suppose. Main advantage - look good on a road bike, let's you use SPDs if that's what you prefer  1 The single-sidedness rapidly became a non-issue, very easy to clip in and out of whilst commuting, it became second nature.

Of course I had to fiddle with things, and eventually (after years) I bought a three bolt set of Ultegra SPD-SL's. It took me ages to get used to clicking in and out of these after the A600's, and for them to loosen up a bit (I'm very light, so I've set them to the lowest tension). Still not 100% as instinctive and easy as the A600's, but getting  quite close now.

I like both alternatives.

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asinglecrumpet [26 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes

I initially used Look Keo pedals but switched to Speedplay Zeros on advice of my brother (who rides a lot more than I do) and much prefer them. The new walkable covers are a big improvement for café stops, better cleat wear rate and walking safety,  and although there is some maintainance required I just fit it in with regular bike care.

 

Also have a set of mtb shoes with 2 bolt spd's for the winter hack and find them pretty good too, so basically have a punt and see what works.

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Strangertothelight [7 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Keo Max 2 Blade are NOT that great!!

 

Just a tiny piece of grit can jam under the blade meaning you can't clip in until you perform roadside surgery on the pedal.

And you need a completely different blade to get a higher clip-in tension.

 

Also, even with ZERO degree float cleats, there's still about as much float as on the Shimano 6 degree cleats, give or take a fraction.

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davel [2722 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
DoctorFish wrote:
BJWheeler wrote:

One Speedplay model not mentioned in the article is the 'Frog'. This is a mtb/touring pedal with no springs and lots of float. The pedal is small and light, easy to get in and out of, but secure when riding. The cleat is not obtrusive and there is little to go wrong - as long as you give the pedals a dose of grease every few weeks, particularly in bad weather.

For me, they are an ideal commuting / touring pedal and I have them on several bikes.

 

I used frogs on my touring bike, and now I've moved them over to my adventure bike (or whatever you want to call it).  They are a fantastic pedal.  I have zero's on my road bike which are also fantastic and have solved knee pain that I had before.  However if I break my zero's I'd be very tempted to replace them with frogs.

I've gone back to frogs after a few years on SPDs on my commuter/CX, due to a slight hint of inner knee dodginess (I think caused by running, not riding, but feeling it on my commutes). Cracking pedals, knee fine now.

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Fish_n_Chips [596 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Bought a set of Xpresso 6’s.

I love how you get larger surface area road cleats reducing pressure and hot spots.

Some spd trail and touring pedals have a large surface for reduced pressure.

Still use my XTR 970 spds on my CX.

 

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WashoutWheeler [124 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
Batchy wrote:

Shimano A600 spd one sided pedals have a large light weight cage and make a good alternative to Durace SLs. At around £50  discounted​ the A 600s only weigh a few grams less than Durace and look the part on any road bike. Spd cleats wear a hell of a lot longer than their plastic counterparts.

I have looked at these but have concern as to which way they naturaly fall, I like SPD becase of their double sided nature but would like a pedal that gives me a bit larger area to spread the load on my now aging trotters. I am not a racer just a very average club clubby.

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hawkinspeter [3735 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
WashoutWheeler wrote:
Batchy wrote:

Shimano A600 spd one sided pedals have a large light weight cage and make a good alternative to Durace SLs. At around £50  discounted​ the A 600s only weigh a few grams less than Durace and look the part on any road bike. Spd cleats wear a hell of a lot longer than their plastic counterparts.

I have looked at these but have concern as to which way they naturaly fall, I like SPD becase of their double sided nature but would like a pedal that gives me a bit larger area to spread the load on my now aging trotters. I am not a racer just a very average club clubby.

I've got a pair of PD-A600s on my road bike and they're great, but single-sided. If you want double sided SPDs with a bigger cage you'd be better off looking at the MTB style pedals. The PD-M530 might be suitable.

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kil0ran [1511 posts] 11 months ago
0 likes

I've just got a set of these for my best bike

https://bike.shimano.com/en-EU/product/component/deorext-t8000/PD-T8000....

For an SPD pedal with reflectors they still manage to look the part and are very, very comfortable. Wide platform on the SPD side, and a nice concave pedal on the flat side with adjustable pins.

Good alternative to the A600/A520, rebuildable, lightweight, and you've got reflectors. Good strong action compared to other SPDs I've tried killed over the years.

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dave_t [30 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

I've just bought my second pair of Shimano A520's and see that they now supply a screw on reflector unit so you can now be stylish, safe and legal.

Reflector can also be purchased seperately:

https://www.sjscycles.co.uk/pedals-cleats/shimano-pda520-smpd59-reflecto...

I've yet to fit mine to my pedals though, maybe I'll do it at the weekend   3

Avatar
vonhelmet [1353 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes
dave_t wrote:

I've just bought my second pair of Shimano A520's and see that they now supply a screw on reflector unit so you can now be stylish, safe and legal.

Reflector can also be purchased seperately:

https://www.sjscycles.co.uk/pedals-cleats/shimano-pda520-smpd59-reflecto...

I've yet to fit mine to my pedals though, maybe I'll do it at the weekend   3

I do wonder whether I ought to get some pedal reflectors, lest I get hit by a car from the front in broad daylight and they let the driver off because I didn’t have any.

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hawkinspeter [3735 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes
vonhelmet wrote:
dave_t wrote:

I've just bought my second pair of Shimano A520's and see that they now supply a screw on reflector unit so you can now be stylish, safe and legal.

Reflector can also be purchased seperately:

https://www.sjscycles.co.uk/pedals-cleats/shimano-pda520-smpd59-reflecto...

I've yet to fit mine to my pedals though, maybe I'll do it at the weekend   3

I do wonder whether I ought to get some pedal reflectors, lest I get hit by a car from the front in broad daylight and they let the driver off because I didn’t have any.

I'm surprised that more clipless pedals don't come with reflectors seeing as it's a requirement on UK roads between sunset and sunrise.

According to https://www.cyclinguk.org/cyclists-library/regulations/lighting-regulations , you need reflectors on both the front and rear of pedals - good luck doing that with SPDs.

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vonhelmet [1353 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

My overshoes have reflective trim all over them. I’m complying with the spirit of the law, if not the letter of it.

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Smartstu [19 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

Given this is a recycled article with 1 yr old comments... my thoughts... lazy article which doesn't review all the alternatives. I have dodgy knees and the only 2 systems that I have used in the past 15 years are Time Atac (which are great for float and release) and Crank Bros. Currently using Egg Beaters and they are great (for my knees). For my cycling - always cleats I can walk in and SPD's seem to eat my knees. Neither Time or CB's mentioned in this article - not good enough Mr S.

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