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There are two main types of mountain bike pedals, flat or platform pedals and clipless pedals. Most people are familiar with flat or platform pedals - they’re found on tons of bikes. Clipless pedals, meanwhile, are a bit more confusing because they are functionally “clip in” bike pedals, which use cleats to connect your shoes to the pedals.

Flat, or platform, bike pedals are what most riders are used to. These pedals have a flat platform, allowing you to ride in any type of shoes. Flat pedals don’t have any cleats, cages, or clips tethering you to the pedal - you’re free to step on or off. Mountain bike flat pedals have small spikes, known as pins, that help to keep your shoes from slipping off the pedals - a painful and scary experience. Most beginner mountain bikers will choose to use flat pedals because of the familiarity, no special shoes required and low commitment. There are a couple of important features to consider when choosing which flat pedals are right for you, we’ll cover these below.

Counterintuitively, clipless pedals use a mechanical attachment between your shoe and the pedal (the term "clipless" refers to the lack of a toe clip or "basket"). Mountain clipless pedals use a shoe with lugged soles and a recessed cleat that enables walking, which can make them an ideal choice for casual road commuters too. Most mountain clipless pedal systems use a "2-hole" design and have adjustable tension to fine tune the release to your weight and strength. Clipless systems connect you solidly to the pedal and release when you twist your foot; many styles offer some degree of lateral “float” which can be great for those with knee problems.

As mentioned above, clipless mountain bike pedals work with two-bolt mountain bike style cleats and are most often dual-sided, with a larger platform than clipless road bike pedals. This wider platform offers better feel on the pedals when you’re standing, like when you’re descending. Some clipless mountain bike pedals even have wide platforms with pins, similar to flat pedals, for supreme traction, power transmission, and feel.  Many clipless mountain bike pedals use Shimano’s SPD cleat system, however, there are a couple of alternatives as well. SPD stands for Speed Pedaling Dynamics, and has emerged as the near-ubiquitous system for mountain bike clipless pedals. Other systems do exist, so make sure your cleats and pedals are compatible while shopping.

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