Relatively few upgrades have as lasting an effect as changing your bike’s contact points — saddle, handlebars, and pedals. Pedals in particular are often overlooked in our quest to go faster, but whether you’re a pro triathlete looking for the most aerodynamic bike out there or simply a weekend warrior trying to get as much power out of each pedal stroke so you can conquer some big mountain climbs, upgrading your pedals should be as important as splurging on that carbon wheelset. That’s because a good pair makes you forget that your feet have been locked into your bike for a few hours as you power through the toughest parts of a ride. We’ve got the best road bike pedals for every budget and type of rider so you can get the most from your effort when you turn the cranks.
Best Pedals for Race Day: Speedplay’s Zero pedal and cleat system brings your foot closer to the pedal axles than any other brand. Why is this important? Power transfer. Having an efficient pedal stroke — which the Zeros were designed to accommodate — means the difference between getting crushed by that 8% grade climb halfway through your race and cruising to the top with some gas left in the tank. Chief among its many features? The Zero system has a micro-adjustable float range (the amount your foot can move and still stay locked in to your pedals) that can give you play through 15 degrees of motion or lock you down in one position. This is perfect for advanced riders looking to dial in a perfect fit.
It also features a true locking system: once you’re clipped in, the cleat and pedal are connected mechanically (rather than through use of a retention spring like other systems) so you won’t have to worry about popping out by accident. The low profile pedals help you maintain your speed while you slalom through steep descents. Less material underfoot aids in clearing hairpin turns at full speed, and with conventional Chrome-Moly alloy pedals all the way to superlight titanium models, there’s a Zero for every budget.
Look Keo Blade
Best Ultralight Pedals: Keos have a storied history in road, triathlon, and track racing, and for good reason. Look pioneered some of the earliest clipless systems as early as 1984; ever since Bernard Hinault rode the Champs-Elysees in 1985 on his Look Automatics they’ve remained the chosen pedals for elite riders. The latest entry in this long line of perfection is the Keo Blade. Using Titanium axles and a carbon blade in place of a tradition retention spring, Look was able to improve aerodynamics and cut weight down to 95 grams (3.3 ounces) per pedal. With interchangeable blade retainers, you can easily adjust your pedals through a range of retention without worrying about special tools — or, more importantly, being stuck in your pedals when it comes time to stop. Complement your Blades with customized cleats to get your fit as dialed as Alberto Contador and start training for your next Century or Gran Fondo. Gorgeous European podium girls not included.
The Art of Clipping In and Out
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At some point, every cyclist will make that fateful mistake of stopping while they’re still attached to their pedals. Hopefully you’re lucky enough to take a fall in your driveway instead of at a busy intersection like I did. Either way, the embarrassment you’ll feel should serve as a reminder to learn the ins and outs — and to never forget them.
Working in a bike shop through college, I had the opportunity to see every kind of rider come through the door, and the same question almost always came up: “How do I work these new pedals?” This question was accompanied by a show-and-tell session of bruised hips and shoulders from unfortunate falls. The lesson here is that you can have the best pedals in the world, but if you don’t learn how to use them, your training time (and body) will suffer.
Getting into your pedals should be easy. Imagine sliding your foot into a shoe toe first. Now, instead of your foot, slide your cleat into the front of the pedal. (It should fit snugly. If not, it’s time for new cleats, or a visit to your shop to explore getting some shims for better positioning.) Once your toe is locked, simply push down with your heel until you hear and feel a solid click. Getting out is trickier, at least until you are familiar with the sensation. The easiest way to learn is to picture squashing a bug under your shoe. Push down and then pivot around the ball of your foot, turning your heel out. Your foot should slide out and come off the pedal. If your pedals feel sticky, it may be time to loosen your retention settings — that is, unless you enjoy that sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach right before you hit the ground.
– Austin Parker
Time Sport RXS Speed
Best All-Around Pedals: The RXS line from French company Time Sport is all about bringing pro level performance to the everyday rider (with the occasional ridiculously priced, drool-worthy carbon race rocket). The RXS Speed pedals provide everything that their lighter, carbon, race-ready Xpresso pedals do, only without the sticker shock. Stainless Steel and Chrome-Moly construction should give you some peace of mind, as they won’t be destroyed if you meet the pavement or make friends in a pile-up on your next race or group ride. Time’s BioPosition concept positions your cleat and pedal for natural motion of your ankle and knee while providing minimal offset from the cranks, so you can stay comfortable even when you’re pushing into the pain cave to finish the race-winning sprint.
Shimano 105 PD-5700
Best Budget Pedals You’re ready to get a bike, but don’t want to shell out your entire budget on accessories. Shimano’s PD-5700 (we know, they don’t get any points for the name) takes cues from successful Dura Ace and Ultegra components to find the balance between cost effectiveness and performance. An extra wide pedal body and adjustable retention are perfect for beginners learning to clip in while riding. The stainless steel construction also serves for efficient power transfer. It’s compatible with all 3-screw SPD style cleats, so when you’re ready to upgrade your pedals you won’t be searching for new shoes as well.
Best Pedals for Serious Training: If you live and die by performance statistics, worship at the altar of VO2 and relative power, or just have a pile of cash to burn on your next new toy, Vector pedals will set you apart from the pack at your weekend group ride. Garmin packaged an innovative power meter inside the pedals themselves, allowing riders to shave weight from traditional bottom-bracket-mounted meters and to customize analytics during and after your ride. Real-time power output, cadence, and intensity factor for each leg are made possible by compatibility with popular Garmin cycling and multisport GPS units. Plus, installing them doesn’t take any special skills (assuming you can turn a pedal wrench) so you can easily swap them between your road and tri bikes for training and race days. At $1,700, they may be more expensive than your wheels, but can you really put a price on speed?