Clipless Mountain Bike Pedals for Beginners

SPD bicycle pedals offer greater power and efficiency but can be tricky to use. Here's a simple guide to the best clipless mountain bike pedals for beginners.

Clipless pedals (so called because there is no toe-clip) are something of a misnomer, especially when mountain bikers talk about riding "clipped-in." In the mountain bike world, these pedals are more often known as SPD pedals or Spuds, an abbreviation of the most commonly used pedal system called Shimano Pedalling Dynamics.

Riding clipped-in allows the foot to be held firmly on the pedal and, aside from stopping feet slipping off pedals on rough terrain, clipless pedals allow the rider to pedal far more efficiently as power is maintained on the upward stroke of each cycle revolution. Experienced SPD pedal users hardly think twice about clipping in and out while riding but for novices, getting used to riding in Spuds can be tricky to say the least.

Learning to Cycle with Clipless Pedals

Shimano SPD pedals attach to a small cleat (see picture below) recessed into a bike shoe that must be compatible with the pedal. The novice should avoid rough rocky trails when learning to ride with clipless pedals for the first time; the most important initial step is to first practice getting in and out of the pedals using a wall as a support.

Make sure the pedals are loose enough to allow easy entry and exit from the pedal; it is far better to accidently slip out of the pedals while learning than risk being glued to the pedal at a crucial moment. Read this How to Cycle with Clipless Pedals article for more detailed instructions.

Mountain Bike Clipless Pedals

Mountain bike clipless pedals vary widely in size, weight and cost but the beginner should ideally look for a low-cost pedal initially, just in case riding clipped-in is just too difficult. The cheapest pedals, unfortunately can be a little stiffer than mid-priced SPD pedals but a good compromise is to choose what is known as a downhill type pedal. These clipless pedals, also known as platform-type pedals, have a cage around the actual clip-in mechanism; this allows the novice to rest his/her foot on the pedal on rough terrain (in case a quick exit from the bike is required) and/or to practice clipping in and out on the most favored side during a ride.

Caged pedals also give more comfort at the point where the cleat attaches to the pedal; many beginners find balancing the foot on a normal 2 inch clip-in pedal uncomfortable so a caged option is far more preferable.

MTB Clipless Pedal Brands

Shimano is the most widely used brand and their SPD cleat system is compatible with most other brands of cycling shoes. Popular alternative brands among mountain bikers are Crank Brothers who produce the innovative eggbeater pedal which has an open design shaped like a whisk to prevent mud build-up.

Riders who find any type of Shimano pedal uncomfortable may want to look at ATAC. Their pedals are aimed at riders with knee problems and pedals are designed to allow more lateral movement of the knee to prevent aggravation of existing injuries.

Whether buying the cheapest product money can buy just to test clipless pedals, expect to pay at least 30 ($40) for SPD's and around 52 ($70) for a caged pedal.

Beginner Clipless Pedals

Novices should look for clipless pedals that are easy to clip in and out of and, for additional safety, consider a caged pedal for easier learning. Once experienced at wearing them, riding clipped-in will seem like second nature.

Related Articles:

How to choose clipless bike pedals. Understanding the different options out there; the difference between road and MTB pedals.

How to ride with clipless pedals. Gives a few pointers on safe practice ideas before commiting to the trail in clipless pedals.