The best road bike pedals will usually fall into the “clipless” category. This means they use a system where a cleat fixed to a cycling shoe locks into a pedal body to maximise pedalling efficiency and pedalling power. There are multiple systems and brands on the market and most riders will have a favourite.
Most clipless road bike pedals are low maintenance and should last several years when cared for. Lower and mid-range models are low maintenance and most are easily serviceable with long service intervals. The best road bike pedals will come with higher-quality bearings and internal parts which should last longer particularly when serviced and maintained correctly.
Clipless pedals focus on maximising speed and pedalling efficiency, while the best flat road bike pedals focus on a slightly different set of requirements. Clipless road pedals are often a little tricky to walk in off the bike. If you plan on doing some walking in your shoes, or if you ride gravel bikes or race cyclocross, you will probably want to look at a set of pedals that use recessed cleats that can be easily walked in. If this is the case have a look at our guide to the best gravel bike pedals.
We also have a group test of Shimano vs Look vs Wahoo Speedplay pedals, which are the three most popular and commonly used pedal systems for a road bike, as well as a breakdown of Shimano SPD pedals and an associated head-to-head of SPD and SPD-SL platforms.
At Cyclingnews we’ve logged thousands of miles in each pedal system to work out and understand which are the best performers when it comes to amongst other things: performance, weight, aerodynamics and durability. If you still want some more information about choosing the right pedal system for you, head to our buyer’s guide at the bottom of the page.
Best pedals for road bikes available today
Ultegra components are significantly cheaper than top-end Dura-Ace but offer most of the same performance benefits, and the R8000 road bike pedals are no exception. They borrow heavily from the Dura-Ace pedals and feature a wide composite body for a stable and supportive pedalling platform. With a stack height of 10mm, they are 0.7mm lower than their predecessors and gone is the removable stainless steel plate; instead, you get three stainless steel pads bonded onto the pedal body to prevent wear.
Tipping the scales 37g lighter than the 105 version, the R8000 pedals are supplied with six-degree-float yellow cleats and standard mounting hardware. They spin on a stainless steel axle and two bearings, rather than the three you’d get with Dura-Ace, which nearly always settle the right way up for clipping in. As introduced with the 6800 version, the Ultegra pedals are also available in a +4mm axle version if your hips and knees need a bit of extra distance away from the crank.
Check out our Shimano Ultegra pedals review if you want the full story.
On their own, the Dura-Ace pedals aren’t the lightest around at 234g a pair (Wahoo’s Speedplay Nano are an impressive 170g). However, once you factor in the cleat too, Shimano’s top-tier pedals become a real eyecatcher for weight weenies at 272g combined, while Wahoo tumbles down the table with a combined heft of 332g.
But it’s not all about the weight. Based on a moulded composite body, the old screw-on stainless steel plate is replaced with three smaller plates that are bonded on (as with Ultegra). The Dura-Ace pedals also get an extra needle bearing to provide better support and long-term durability. This also results in a super smooth bearing and an improved balance, which means they always hang the correct way up, making the Dura-Ace pedals consistently easy to clip into.
What’s more, the stack height is roughly 2mm lower than the R8000 Ultegra version, and the Dura-Ace pedals come in the standard and +4mm axle for those who need a slightly larger Q factor. Along with the Ultegra R8000 pedals, they’re the only pedal model to offer this, since the Wahoo Speedplays now only offer one spindle length.
It is worth mentioning that the top-end Shimano pedals come with the brand’s blue cleats as standard, which only offer two degrees of a float instead of six, although if you’ve paid the Dura-Ace price for your pedals, you’re unlikely to baulk at the price of a set of yellow cleats. Dura-Ace also gets an extended warranty of three years, as opposed to two years on other Shimano goods.
Take a look at our full review of the Shimano Dura-Ace pedals for more details.
The Wahoo Speedplay pedal has one of the most recognisable silhouettes in the cycling world, with its lollipop-shaped double-sided clip-in design and incredibly comprehensive cleat adjustability. At just 170g for the pair, the Nano pedals are ridiculously lightweight, so it’s no wonder they’ve garnered a cult following among weight weenies, competitive amateurs and WorldTour professionals alike. However, it is worth noting that while the pedals themselves are feather-light, the cleats add an extra 81g per side.
With that extra heft, the Wahoo cleat system does things very differently to Shimano and Look. Not only does the retention system reside within the cleat, but it also provides an adjustable amount of float and allows you to move the cleat forwards, backward, left and right without loosening the whole thing and potentially losing your position. However, there’s no adjustment of the retention itself, so if you want to make getting out of them easier, you’ll need to swap to the ‘easy’ cleats.
They come with a huge price tag, and initial set-up takes time, but once you’re past those two hurdles, durability has been great, and it’s hard to find any fault with the pedal system and how it all works.
If you want to find out more then head to our Wahoo Speedplay Nano pedals review.
Shimano road bike pedals have become some of the most popular on the market for good reason; they are some of the most user-friendly and reliable of the bunch. The silky smooth bearings will spin for ages before they get crunchy, they’re easily serviceable when they do, and the retention mechanism on the rear of the body means they usually hang right side up.
Using large plastic cleats available in 0, 2 or 6 degrees of float, Shimano SPD-SL road cleats are easy to walk in, don’t break the bank, and last quite some time even without café covers.
When we are talking in terms of how we spend our hard-earned cash on bike components, for Shimano pedal users, the 105 pedals are the winning ticket because they borrow tech from the range-topping Dura-Ace pedals at a fraction of the cost. Yes, the higher-end models offer lower weight, increased ground clearance and an extra set of bearings, but these have little effect on stability and security. You still get the same wide pedalling platform, stainless steel plates on the top of the pedal body to prevent premature wear and plenty of adjustability through the cleats and release tension, but get to keep more of your hard-earned cash.
Want to hear more as to why we rate them? Then read our Shimano 105 pedals review.
Another entry for Wahoo’s Speedplay range, the Aero pedals are the only model in the line-up to not feature dual-sided entry. Instead, the underside has a dimpled surface like a golf ball to improve airflow over the underside of the pedal (although Speedplay doesn’t actually provide any evidence that the pedals are more aero than its standard pedals).
Since Wahoo’s acquisition of Speedplay, and the relaunch of the Speedplay pedal range this summer, it was always expected that the new line-up would come with updated technology and the Wahoo touch. The Speedplay Aero pedals, according to our reviewer, are very purposefully designed with performance in mind. Their low stack height of 11.5mm and increased steel surface area, resulted in an incredibly efficient and long-wearing piece of kit.
While we obviously weren’t able to put all the aero claims to the test, it’s always worth noting that Dan Bigham used them to break Sir Bradley Wiggins’ British hour record time, and since Bigham is known to be meticulous in his attention to aerodynamic detail, his choice to use Wahoo’s Speedplay Aero pedals in this attempt speaks volumes in favour of them.
Want to wring every watt of aero out of your setup? Check out our Wahoo Speedplay Aero pedals review to find out more.
Speedplay Zero pedals are commonly called lollipops because of their small circular pedal body. With dual-side entry, the big difference in this system is that the tension adjustment is located in the cleat rather than on the pedal. These pedals are ostensibly the same as the Speedplay Nano, but utilise less exotic materials (stainless steel, rather than titanium), and as such are heavier on the bike but much lighter on the wallet. They represent a lower barrier to entry to try the system out, without the additional weight that the lower tier cromoly ‘Comp’ version represents.
Speedplay has been acquired by Wahoo, so there’s now a brand-new range of pedals. The design is more or less the same, with a couple of improved features.
Speedplay pedals stand out because of the amount of float adjustability, which can be altered from 0 to 15 degrees. The release tension, however, cannot be adjusted except by replacing the cleats, with Speedplay selling ‘standard tension’ or ‘easy tension’ cleat options.
See why we think these are the Goldilocks of the Speedplay range in our Wahoo Speedplay Zero pedals review.
With all the buzzwords of a premium cycling product, the Keo Blade Carbon Ceramic pedal is only eclipsed at the top of the French brand’s pedal hierarchy by the titanium axle version, which would give you a full house in Buzzword Bingo.
Used extensively in the professional peloton by riders such as Romain Bardet, the Keo Blade Carbon Ceramic uses the same 67mm wide platform from the Keo Blade Carbon but adds ceramic bearings for an even smoother feel, and reduced weight.
The downside comes when adjusting the pedal tension away from the preset 16Nm. To do this, you’ll need to replace the carbon leaf blade with either the included 12Nm or the optional extra 20Nm blade. It’s easy enough to do, but not nearly as easy as turning an Allen key bolt as is the way with Shimano systems.
Want to know if ceramic bearings are worth it? Head to our Look Keo Blade Carbon Ceramic pedals review.
The Keo 2 Max Carbon pedals follow the same design as the brand’s higher-priced Keo Blade, but instead of a carbon leaf spring for cleat retention, you get a standard steel coil spring. While it adds a bit of weight and loses some cool factor, this system allows more release tension adjustability without having to physically disassemble the pedal, as is the case with the Keo Blades. The added weight at the back of the pedal also helps the body to settle in the right orientation for easy clip-ins.
It’s available in carbon and non-carbon versions, the difference between them being about 10 grams – less than that extra emergency gel you always carry but never use.
They use the same cleats as the Keo Blades, available in 0, 4.5 and 9 degrees of float, and ship with the 4.5-degree option.
Take a look at our full review of the Look Keo 2 Max Carbon pedals for more details.
How to choose the best road bike pedals
What are clipless pedals?
The term “clipless” pedal can often seem confusing to newer cyclists as it seems contradictory to the pedal system it is describing. The “clipless” term comes from the change from the older style of metal toe clips and straps road cyclists used. Modern pedal systems that don’t use this toe clip or cage are thus termed clipless.
These pedals allow you to ‘clip’ directly into the pedal for a mechanical connection between the pedal and a cleat, which is bolted to the underside of a purpose-built cycling shoe. Most shoes designed for road cycling feature three bolt holes in the sole, while mountain bike shoes rely on two. There are also four-bolt shoes explicitly designed for Speedplay cleats, which otherwise need an adapter plate between the four-bolt Speedplay cleat and the three-bolt shoe.
While each pedal system varies slightly, the mechanics are more or less the same; step down on the pedal platform to clip in, and twist at the ankle to unclip. Where they do vary is the release tension and adjustability, float, platform size, stack height and reliability.
Depending on your confidence and experience as a rider, what you’re looking for in a pedal will vary slightly. You can buy an “easy release” version of the major pedal systems.
Which cleats should I use?
You’ll need to use cleats that are compatible with the road bike pedals you choose, so you should factor your cleat preferences into your decision-making process. Most new pairs of pedals will come with a set of cleats included.
Cleats come in different shapes and sizes, depending on the brand that makes them, as well as different mounting methods and adjustability. If you’re new to clipless pedals, you might want to favour cleats with a good amount of adjustability so you can fine-tune your fit to help you get used to them.
Each brand uses a slightly different cleat system, with some offering more refined adjustments than others. For example with Shimano and Look-style cleats, fore and aft, side-to-side and cleat angles are all adjusted at the same time, while Speedplay uses a separate set of bolts to modify each axis.
What are the easiest clipless pedals to get out of?
For beginners, being able to kick your foot out of a pedal in desperation when you misjudge the timing of a traffic light is vital to help prevent an embarrassing topple. Conversely, the last thing you want when responding to an attack in a road race or in a bunch sprint is for your foot to unclip.
Most pedals that use an actual spring will allow for the release tension to be adjusted with a pinch bolt, while others that use a carbon leaf spring for retention may offer some degree of adjustability, but often with a few extra steps. The release tension of Speedplay pedals can’t be adjusted.
Your needs in this regard will dictate which are the best road bike pedals for you.
Does the size and shape of the pedal matter?
To a degree, yes, because it impacts the amount of surface area you have to lay your power into when you pedal.
When it comes to the best pedals for road bikes, each brand makes claims about their system offering the biggest pedalling platform or surface area. It is an essential factor to take into account, as a pedal with a larger surface area will distribute your pedalling force over a bigger section of your foot, meaning five hours into your all-day epic, you shouldn’t get those uncomfortable hot spots in your feet, although the best cycling shoes will have stiff soles to help distribute pressure more evenly and increase pedalling efficiency.
What is pedal float?
Float refers to how many degrees your heel can move side to side when clipped into the pedal. Depending on your pedal brand of choice, you can buy fixed cleats with zero degrees of float all the way up to 15 degrees with Speedplay (which can also be adjusted).
While some pro riders talk about the benefits of being ‘locked in’ with a zero float cleat, the majority of people’s joints benefit from some degree of movement. Most pedal systems will have a bit of friction built into the float while others have a resistance-free feel to them — which is right for you will depend on your personal preference, but the best pedals for road bikes will come with cleats that offer a middle-of-the-road float.
What stack height should my pedals have?
Stack height refers to the distance between the pedal axle and the bottom of your foot. Ideally, you want your foot as close as possible because as the crank goes around it’s easier to stay on top of the axle the smaller the distance, and it also reduces the loss of energy to twisting. It also sets you up for a lower overall position, aiding aerodynamics.
It’s also essential to note stack height if you’re swapping pedal systems because you may have to adjust your saddle height as well.
Which road bike pedals are the most reliable?
Pedals are often the most neglected and least maintained part of a bike by a lot of riders but they will need maintenance too from time to time. Wear often happens in the bushings and bearings and composite pedal bodies. Some only require an application of grease here and there, while others need to be fully disassembled with some purpose-built tools and rebuilt. You can check the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance intervals and procedures for most pedals.
It’s important to stay on top of cleat wear and ensure you replace your cleats before they become too worn. Worn cleats can accelerate pedal body wear, lead to injuries and incorrect foot placement or even cause a crash if you pull your foot out of the pedal at the wrong moment. Consider the correct pedal system for your needs if you think you will be walking a lot in your shoes, or invest in a set of cleat covers which can protect your cleats when walking off the bike.
How we test road bike pedals
Upon receipt of each pair of road bike pedals, we first take them out the box, making a note of the amount of plastic used for environmental friendliness. We weigh them (with and without cleats), photograph them, make notes of any build quality concerns and check for how bearings are serviced and retention is adjusted where necessary. We then have a brief read of the instructions for recommended torque levels, before fitting them to a bike, fitting the cleats to our shoes too.
In testing, we usually spend a few days riding them ‘blind’, noting our experience, likes and dislikes before we read any of the marketing materials. This is so our feelings and opinions aren’t subconsciously affected by the marketing claims. Upon reading the product descriptions, we then ride with them some more.
For this guide, we acquired three pairs of Specialized shoes, onto which we fitted Look, Shimano and Wahoo cleats, so that we could not only compare the stack heights, but also so that we could quickly swap from one pedal system to another to get a feel for how they compare. Given pedals comes in pairs, in some instances we also split them up and rode competitor pedals at the same time – where stack heights allowed – to try to note any minor differences. We also spent time attempting to service the pedal bearings, adjust the retention and any other adjustments that were made available, to see how difficult a process it is.