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by Daniel Atlas
Finding the right pedals for your commuter bike might seem like an afterthought after you’ve invested in a bike, but having the best commuter pedals can make a big difference in the comfort and efficiency of your ride.
In this article, we’ll introduce the different types of bike pedals and highlight six of the best commuter bike pedals you can use for your ride to work.
The big divide in the world of pedals for commuter bikes is between platform pedals and clipless pedals. Many commuter bikes come with platform pedals, which provide a grippy surface to hold your feet on the pedal but otherwise do not securely attach your foot to the pedal. Clipless pedals, on the other hand, are used by the majority of more experienced road and mountain cyclists and require special shoes that directly attach your foot to the pedal.
To help you decide whether platform or clipless pedals are better for your commute, we’ll take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each type of pedal.
When it comes to cycling efficiency – transforming every bit of power your legs put out into forward motion of the bike – clipless pedals easily win out over platform pedals. Because clipless pedals attach your feet to the bike, you can put power into the pedal stroke as you lift one leg up in addition to pushing the other leg down. This added power allows you to bike to work more quickly without putting a lot of extra strain on your knees or quads.
Some platform pedals come with toe clips, essentially webbing that covers your toes and can be cinched down over your shoes, that can be used to add power on the upward part of the pedal stroke without clips. However, being able to pull up on the pedals with toe clips requires cinching them down uncomfortably tight – and even then, the power benefit is not the same as going with clipless pedals.
The major disadvantage of clipless pedals is that they require specialized cycling shoes that have a bracket in the bottom that attach to the clip. Different types of clipless pedals require correspondingly different shoes – which can be infuriating if you want to change pedals or shoes. In addition, cycling shoes can often be difficult to walk in because of the bracket underfoot, although some commuter-specific cycling shoes alleviate this by placing the bracket inside the sole of the shoe.
Having to wear cycling shoes can also be problematic if you work in a formal office where dress shoes are required – you’ll need to change shoes between your commute and the start of your day, which means leaving a pair of shoes at the office or carrying them with you on your bike. In the summer months, cycling shoes can get stuffy and hot compared to your favorite summer shoes, while in the winter you will likely need overshoes to keep your feet warm in a pair of highly breathable cycling shoes.
Platform pedals may offer convenience because you can hop on the bike and start pedaling without worrying about changing shoes or clipping in, but that convenience also comes with some drawbacks. Without being clipped into the pedals, it is highly likely that your feet will slowly slip back and forth while you are pedaling, or even slip off the pedal entirely. This slippage greatly reduces your ability to handle the bike, especially when quickly turning to dodge potholes or traffic.
On the other hand, it’s important to remember that there are times when being able to put your feet down quickly can save you from an accident. Clipless pedals release with a quick twist, but reacting to get your feet free does take a moment – and longer for riders who are new to these pedals. However, note that using toe clips to achieve the power benefit of clipless pedals can be even more dangerous, since they make it quite hard to remove your feet from the pedals in case you stop quickly or unexpectedly.
Platform pedals are almost always cheaper than clipless pedals, and not just in the direct cost of the pedals. Clipless pedals require the purchase of cycling-specific shoes, as well as accessories for those shoes like overshoes for when it gets cold in the winter.
These platform pedals from Meetlocks are the quintessential platform pedals with a few updates that make them perfect for your commuter bike. The pedals are constructed from magnesium alloy that keeps their weight under 200 grams per pedal, which improves your overall efficiency of pedaling compared to heavier aluminum alloy pedals.
The metal construction is also highly durable and the bearings are sealed to keep the pedal functioning smoothly for at least the lifespan of your bike.
The platform itself on these pedals is quite large, at 4” by 4”, making it easy to fit any type of shoe from formalwear to heavy winter boots onto these pedals. Both sides of the pedal platform are studded to make it easy to keep traction while riding with rubbery sneakers, although you should still expect thin-soled dress shoes to slip frequently on the pedals.
The slightly concave design of the pedal surface also works quietly to keep your feet from sliding around. Plus, each side of the pedal has a built-in reflector to add to your visibility when riding early in the morning or at night.
These inexpensive platform commuter bike pedals from Imrider are perfect for commuters who are on a budget after putting money into a new bike. You can be sure that these pedals will outlast your bike thanks to their durable polyamide construction, which is somewhat heavier than other types of aluminum and magnesium pedal materials.
However, the polyamide is resistant to corrosion and scratches so that your pedals will look like new even if you bang them against the curb or road surface during your ride. In addition, the bearings are sealed to keep out weather and prevent any damage to the pedal axle itself over time.
The platform is quite large to fit any size of foot or shoe, and the pedal surface features small studs to help keep your feet in place. Compared to other pedals, the narrow size of these studs actually allows them to do a better job of creating friction against even thin-soled formal shoes in addition to rubbery sneakers. Even on steep descents and around sharp turns, these studs work extremely effectively to keep your feet from sliding out of place.
For commuters who prefer the added efficiency of pedaling with toeclips and don’t mind their drawbacks for safety, there is no better option than this set of pedals from Newsty.
The pedal bases are constructed from lightweight aluminum alloy and the toeclips themselves from plastic resin, so the overall weight of these pedals is kept to a minimum and both the pedal base and the toeclip pieces are highly durable.
The toeclips themselves are easy to adjust and cinch down, with just a simple nylon webbing and a one-way clip that allows you to pull down on the webbing until the toeclips are tight against your shoes.
The pedal platform is not as large on these pedals as on platform pedals without toeclips, so don’t expect to be able to fit boots onto them in winter. In addition, rather than narrow studs, grip on these pedals is provided by wide metal teeth.
While these teeth do a good job at holding rubberized sneaker soles in place, they can struggle to catch on shoes with smooth or thin soles and the back half of your foot that is not captured by the toeclip may slide around to a significant degree during turns and descents. The pedal also has a built-in reflector on the rear to make you more visible when riding.
These SPD pedals from Shimano are an economical option for commuters looking to make the switch to clipless commuter pedals. They feature an open binding mechanism that makes it easy to step into and out of the pedal for clipping in and stepping out. The tension for release can be quickly adjusted with a screwdriver or bike tool according to your preference. Best of all, both sides of the pedal have clips so that there is no fussing over which side of the pedal is facing up when you’re trying to start riding and clip in at the same time.
The construction of these pedals is lightweight aluminum alloy and the design is minimalist to keep their weight down as much as possible. At the same time, they provide just enough surface to keep your feet comfortable when pushing down hard against the pedal over a long ride, although some riders might wish for the larger surface of other clipless pedal styles.
The SPD clip type is also advantageous for commuters, since this is the type of clip that many commuter-specific cycling shoes, such as those that have inlaid brackets for easier walking, use. The SPD clip is also compatible with the widest range of cycling shoes, including those for mountain biking and gravel or dirt riding.
These hybrid clipless and platform pedals from Shimano offer the best of both worlds. On one side, the pedals feature a standard SPD clip that resembles Shimano’s standard SPD pedals.
On the other side, the pedal opens out into a full platform to be used with any type of shoe, including work shoes. At just 383 grams, these pedals are lighter than Shimano’s dual-sided SPD pedals and are lighter than most of the platform pedals on the market as well. The pedals are made of steel with a chromoly spindle, so you can be sure that they’ll stand up to any scratching or banging you do to them during your commute.
The downside to these pedals is that they are a compromise. When using them with clipless cycling shoes, it does take some attention and effort to get them to flip over to have the SPD side up so that you can clip in.
Likewise, when riding on the platform pedal side, the platform is significantly smaller than any standard platform pedal and there are no studs to prevent your foot from sliding around. Thus, these pedals are best for the commuter who truly does switch back and forth between work and cycling shoes depending on the day of the week or the season.
These SPD-SL pedals from Shimano are best for riders who have a long commute to work and are fully willing to commit to changing shoes between their ride and work. The SPD-SL design is a favorite among road cyclists because it provides even more foot surface to distribute pressure evenly over the pedal compared to SPD pedals. The SPD-SL design also provides a significant degree of float, leaving your feet feeling like they are hovering over the pedals rather than smashing down onto them. However, note that SPD-SL cycling shoes always have a large bracket underfoot that is extremely difficult to walk around on.
The pedal itself is constructed from highly durable and lightweight aluminum, which is sure to last for at least as long as your bike no matter how much abuse the pedals take. The SPD-SL design makes it extremely simple to clip in and release with a twist of the foot, but first-time users should be warned that getting the clip side of the pedal facing up (they are one-sided) so that you can clip in can take some practice. The release tension on these pedals can be easily adjusted with a screwdriver or a bike tool.
Yes! Although pedals don’t weigh much compared to your bike overall, pedal weight has an outsized effect on your cycling efficiency because it directly affects how much work your legs need to do to push the bike. Slightly heavier pedals will force your legs to do much more work with each rotation of the pedals compared to lighter pedals.
In general, platform pedals that do not come with a toeclip will not accept one after-market because they do not have any eyelets in the pedal construction to hold a toeclip in place. On the other hand, many pedals that do come with toeclips allows you to remove the toeclip with a screwdriver.
The choice between SPD- and SPD-SL pedals comes down in part to what type of shoes you plan to wear. If you can wear commuter-specific cycling shoes that are somewhat informal but comfortable to walk around in to work, SPD pedals may be a better option because these shoes typically have SPD brackets. On the other hand, if you will plan on changing shoes between your bike and your office anyway, SPD-SL pedals may be more comfortable because they offer a larger surface area for pedaling and more float.
Having the best commuter bike pedals can make a big difference in your daily ride to work, both in terms of your cycling efficiency and how many pairs of shoes you have to take with you on your trip.
We feel the Shimano PD-A530 Dual Platform SPD Pedals are the best commuter bike pedals for the majority of riders because they offer the ability to choose between riding with clipless cycling shoes or standard work shoes.
This can be a major advantage if different days of the week require different types of attire or for switching to warm boots in the winter rather than buying overshoes for your cycling shoes.
Having this flexibility also allows you to try clipless cycling shoes and feel their increased efficiency later without having to purchase a new set of pedals later.
Meanwhile, the construction of these pedals is extremely durable and lightweight so you can get the most power out of your ride.
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