The Five Best Road Bike Pedals You Need To Know About

Well, let me start by saying there are really only two manufacturers I would recommend and that’s Look and Shimano.

These manufacturers are the market leaders with a proven track record for winning races and reliability. 

Quick links for more information:
Clipless pedal reviews
Clipless pedals what to look for
Clipless pedals overview

Clipless pedals explained

So, you may be wondering what exactly are clipless pedals. This is a term to describe a pedal that uses a locking mechanism (Clip) to lock your shoe to the pedal.

To use this type of system you need to have shoes that’ll accept a cleat (the part that clips into the pedal). If you are riding less than 5 miles a day then I wouldn’t recommend a clipless pedal.

If you do decide to go the clipless pedal route you won’t regret it. These systems make cycling more efficient. With traditional pedals, you can only apply the power to the downward part of the crank rotation.

Using a clipless pedal allows you to apply power on the upward part of the rotation as well. This is better for helping you to climb hills and also to maintain a higher speed on the flat roads.

Clipping your feet into a pedal is straight forward. If you have ever clipped in a ski boot then you already know how these work.

With most pedals, you put the toe in first then push the heel of the cleat down to hear a click. This informs you you’re clipped in.

When you want to remove your foot from the pedal you move your heel to the outside of the pedal in a twisting motion. This releases the locking mechanism and your foot is free.

When you first start out this takes some getting used to especially when you’re stopping. The trick here is as you start to pull the break unclip your foot so you’re ready to put it down.

I would recommend you spend some time to practise this (clipping in and out). Ideally a cycle track free of traffic or a quite road so that you can get used to this and build muscle memory.     

Clipless pedals reviewed

Look Keo Blade Carbon

keo Carbon Pedals

The Keo Blade carbon is the most aerodynamic pedal you can currently buy. The slim profile and lightweight carbon body showcase Look’s cutting technology

They’re not the lightest that at 228g that goes to the Keo blade carbon-ceramic at 220g, but they’re wider and cost a lot more.

These are lighter than all Shimano’s pedals except for the dura-ace which are the same weight.

The blade utilises a leaf spring under the body of the pedal to clip you in. Almost all other pedals use a coil spring. By using the leaf spring Look can create a more aerodynamic pedal.

You can’t adjust the tension; you have to change the leaf spring. The pedals come with a 12Nm spring fitted, this should be fine for most racers.

If you want more tension, you can buy the springs separately. They do a 16Nm and a 20Nm spring leaf. The tools are provided to change these when you buy the pedals and it’s pretty straight forward.

The end cap has been improved over the previous version to stop water intrusion to the bearings. It now has a double seal that is rated to withstand a pounding from a jet washer.

However, I’ve discovered a few downsides to this racing pedal. It can squeak, when riding in the wet the noise wasn’t loud but on a quiet road, you can hear it.

The other thing I noticed was a slight rocking from side to side. This could be because the pedal is so narrow, or it could’ve been down to me not setting it up correctly. However, it didn’t impact the performance of the pedal.

 Overall an excellent choice for a racing pedal.

Pros

  • Lightweight carbon pedal
  • Aerodynamic design
  • Positive engagement

Cons

  • You don’t get the adjustability of a coil spring
  • Only fixed release tension options

Shimano Ultegra R8000 pedal

Shimano Ultegra R8000 pedal

This pedal shares a lot of the Dura-ace pedals features but not the cost. Thanks to Shimano’s trickle-down technology program these will utilise most of the last version of the Dura-Ace pedal technology.

The R8000 is also a step up from the R6800. The pedal is slightly wider offering you better stability for your foot while decreasing the pedals stack height by 0.7mm.

Stack height determines your pedalling efficiency, with a height of 13.7mm your foot is essentially on the spindle. Ground clearance is also good for these, enabling you to pedal through corners.

The solid design of these pedals also means that if you clip something performance isn’t affected. But they’ll scratch as they’re carbon.

The tension spring is fully enclosed in the pedal and adjustable using an allen key, no buying extra parts here. Gone too is the steel plate from the previous version.

This time they’ve bonded on 3 tiny steel plates in place of the big screwed in one on the last version. This will have contributed a lot to the weight saving made.

The bearings Shimano use is very durable and I see no reason these won’t last as well. But should you need to service them you can follow the manual to do so.

All in all, these are great pedals for the more serious amateur. They can do everything from your training rides to a competition ride and do it well.

Pros

  • Decreases in weight and stack height over R6800 and the 105 pedals
  • Increased platform width
  • Quality durable components
  • Benefits from Dura-ace technology but not the cost

Cons

  • More expensive than Shimano 105

Shimano 105 R7000 SPD SL

Shimano 105 R7000 SPD SL

These are the workhorse of the Shimano range. In my opinion, they provide the best value for money thanks to the durability, quality, and price.

These benefit from trickle-down technology. As such the R7000 shares some of the improvements that you find in the top end Dura-ace and Ultegra pedals.

The build quality as you’d expect from Shimano is excellent. The bearing used is cone-shaped better to transfer the power you put into the pedal. They’ll also last a very long time.

The body of the pedal is wider than the ultegra and dura-ace allowing for good power transfer. They’ve also added a couple of steel plates onto the pedal to reduce the wear.

The tension spring is integral to the pedal and thus protected from the elements. It’s fully adjustable using a 2.5 allen key.

There’s a second spring for release tension and it’s also enclosed and adjustable.

Like all Shimano pedals they come shipped with a set of yellow cleats. These give you 6° of float. Shimano also has a blue cleat with 2° of float and red with no float.

You’ll need to decide which one you need based on your pedalling style.

These pedals are what I’d consider changing up to once you have got used to clipless pedals. The all-round durability, build quality, and cost ensures you get a great pedal without breaking the bank.

Pros

  • Very durable able to take curb clipping without
  • impacting performance
  • Excellent bearings very low maintenance
  • Adjustable release tension
  • Multiple float options

Cons

  • quite heavy when compared to Ultegra or Dura-ace

Look Keo 2 Max

The pedal I’d consider to be your first fully clipless pedal. The platform area is large at 500mm², Look has also made the width large at 50mm.

The platform has a steel plate fixed to the top to ensure minimal wearing of the pedal’s composite body.

Unlike the Looks carbon blade pedals, the Keo 2 max uses an adjustable internal coil spring. They’re adjusted using an allen key so finding the right tension for you is simple.

The pedals come shipped with Look’s grey cleat that offers 4.5° of float. The cleats are smaller than Shimano’s and don’t last as long if you do a lot of walking in them.

They do sell a cover to protect them whilst walking. I’d recommend them as it’s a lot cheaper than constantly replacing the cleats.

These are a great step up from normal flat pedals. With the wide body and small cleat clipping into the pedal is very easy. This is what you need for a first-time user of clipless pedals.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Wide platform for stability
  • Ease of entry and exit from clip

Cons

  • Cleats don’t last as long as Shimano’s

Shimano A530 SPD

If you’re not sure you want to go fully clipless then this hybrid offering from Shimano could be the answer. One side is a flat platform that can be used with a normal trainer the other is for a cleat.

These really come into their own if you commute to work over 5 miles where you use a cycle shoe and clip into the pedal. Yet at lunchtime, you want to pop out on your bike and use normal shoes.

I’ve noticed that this pedal is smaller than a standard flat pedal. Not an issue, it was just an observation, something to be aware of.

As with all Shimano’s pedals, they’re well made and will last a long time. However, I’ve discovered a few downsides to this pedal.

When it’s raining the flat side becomes a little too slippery for my liking. Even though they’ve got teeth it’s not enough to stop my foot from slipping. A good trainer with grippy soles helps stop the slipping.

For a pedal they’re also quite heavy. I believe this isn’t a bad trade off if you’re looking to try a clipless pedal but don’t want to go all in.

I was really happy with this pedal when I used them. I used them on my MTB for years when I was commuting to work and would recommend them to anyone. 

Pros

  • Inexpensive for this type of pedal.
  • Best of both worlds.
  • Great for short trips and longer rides.
  • Great build quality

Cons

  • Heavy for a pedal

Clipless pedals what to look for

Cleat adjustability

This is important as you need to set the angle of your cleat. This ensures you have the correct position for pedalling efficiency.

Shimano cleats use a three-bolt system. This allows you a limited movement of the cleat on your shoe in any axis, allowing you to achieve the perfect cycling position.

Float

Is the movement of your heel from side to side before you come unclipped from the pedal. As mentioned earlier, the manufacturer’s offer different cleats with different degrees of movement on them.

While some riders argue that being locked in with no movement is better, I’ve found that not to be the case. Most cyclists benefit from a little movement, but this will be down to your cycling style and personal preference.

Platform Size

This is more important than you might think. The wider the platform the easier it is on your foot, due to the distribution of pressure on your sole.

Unless you are a pro rider or taking part in a race, time trial, etc you’ll want something that means your feet don’t get fatigued three hours into an all day epic ride.

Tension

For a beginner this is important, being able to unclip your foot from the pedal in desperation when you have misjudged a traffic light. Putting your foot down not only helps prevent injury but also prevents your ego taking a bash at the same time.

Most pedals have a spring that you can adjust with the turn of a pinch bolt. Others like Look’s Blade carbon use a leaf spring and the whole thing has to be changed to achieve the tension you want.

Stack Height

This is the distance between the bottom of your foot and the axle of the pedal. Ideally you want to be on top of the axel as this is the most efficient position and prevents loss of power as the pedal twists.

This also helps to set you up for a lower riding position aiding in a more aerodynamic riding position. If you swap your pedals out and change the stack height you may need to adjust your seat to compensate for it.

Reliability

To save weight manufacturers may slim down their bearings or swap them out for different materials. While they may be ok at the beginning you may need to change them in the long run.

While swapping out a set of sealed bearings is straightforward it’s not for everybody. Buying from a manufacturer that’s known for reliability is a must. For me, Shimano offers the best durability for your money.

Cycling Ambition Recommendations

The five pedals that have been reviewed are what I believe to be the best in certain areas. But at the end of the day, you need to find a pedal that is comfortable and right for your style of riding.

Best for racing: Look Keo Blade Carbon, with a proven racing winning formula and the winner of the Tour de France. It’s more aerodynamic than Shimano’s dura-ace pedals. If you buy the ceramic version of this blade it’s even lighter.

Best all round: Shimano’s Ultegra R8000, you’re not paying for Shimano’s cutting edge technology that’s in the dura-ace. Yet you’re benefiting from it due to the trickle-down policy at Shimano. The Ultegra range is lightweight and good for racing to club rides giving you a wide range to benefit from with these great pedals.

Best value for money: Shimano 105 R7000 these truly the best value on the market right now. You can clearly see the trickle-down benefits from the top pedals to the 105. These are the most popular pedal that Shimano does proving that they’re not only reliable but great value for money.

Best for first time users: Look Keo 2 max, with their wide base and long pedal length that make for clipping in and out easy. Easy to adjust the tension and with a wide range of movement on the cleats it should be easy to find a comfortable cycling position.

Best for commuters: Shimano A530, combines the best of both worlds. One side is clipless and flat. As these are inexpensive it’s a good way to decide if you want to go clipless or not. And if not, you have just upgraded your plastic pedals to ones that will last and are of a higher quality.

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