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Best mountain bike pedals 2023: Trail-friendly flat and clipless MTB options

Gusset Slim Jim CNC pedals after a muddy ride

Ride more confidently with our favourite mountain bike pedals for flat pedal fans and clipless converts alike

Pedals are the crucial interface between man and machine. They link you and your bike together, providing grip, control and efficient power transfer. Buy the right ones, and they can help take your trail riding to new heights, offering you the confidence to push your MTB skills to the max.  

MTB pedals come in two main different types: clipless and flat. Despite the name, clipless pedals require you to clip in with compatible shoes, while flat pedals work with any flat-soled shoes. We cover both types in this article, but we also have a dedicated guide to the best flat pedals if you don’t like the idea of your feet being attached to your bike.   

Read on and you’ll find our Best Buys for both clipless and flat pedals in the at-a-glance list below, a buying guide to answer all your key questions and bite-sized reviews of each pedal. 

Best MTB pedals: At a glance

Best value flat pedalOneUp Components Composite (~£50) Buy now from Amazon
Best high-end flat pedal DMR Vault (~£90) Buy now from Chain Reaction
Best value clipless pedalShimano PD-M520 (~£40)Buy now from Chain Reaction
Best value caged clipless pedalShimano PD-ME700  (~£50)Buy now from Tredz
Best clipless pedal for trail/enduroCrankbrothers Mallet E LS (~£150)Buy now from Chain Reaction

How to choose the best MTB pedals for you

Should I buy clipless or flat MTB pedals?

There are two key types of MTB pedals: flat and clipless. Flat pedals are exactly what they sound like. They have a flat, caged body, with studs that bite into the soles of your shoes for grip. They’re the preferred option for beginners, as they allow the rider to put their foot down quickly if needed, but even some experienced riders swear by them, as they allow the most flexibility in terms of foot positioning.

Clipless pedals, on the other hand, lock rider and bike together. Confusingly, they do this through the use of a clip and cleat system, which connects the pedal directly to the rider’s shoe. The term “clipless” is an old name that has stuck from when this type of pedal was first introduced and over-toe “clips” were the norm in cycling.

What are the pros and cons to clipless pedals?

Clipless pedals require special shoes that allow cleats to be fixed to the soles, which makes them the pricier option. It’s worth noting that there are different types of clipless interface, too, so you’ll need different cleats attached to your shoes depending on which pedal you buy. It’s worth checking whether these are included.

However, clipless pedals do have some advantages over flat pedals, including increased control, more efficient power transfer by allowing the rider to utilise the entire 360 degrees of the pedal stroke, and less effort getting the bike off the ground. That said, they can encourage lazy form when performing manuals and bunny hops, so it’s worth having some flat pedals in the cupboard for when you want to hone your technique.

The biggest drawbacks of clipless pedals are that they require careful setup to ensure comfort and avoid injury. You need to take great care to position the cleat on the shoe so that your foot is positioned comfortably, as the cleats only provide a small amount of side-to-side wiggle room once you’re clipped in. A further downside is that, once clipped in, you can’t shimmy your feet around on the pedal as you can with flat pedals.

Another clipless pedal concern is learning to unclip successfully. Get it wrong, and you’ll perform an embarrassing slow-motion tumble to the floor with your feet still stuck to the pedals. Thankfully, many clipless pedals allow you to adjust the amount of force required to unclip, so beginners can escape with a tiny flick of the heel while experienced riders can dial up the tension to make sure their feet don’t pop out when the going gets gnarly.

Should I buy clipless MTB pedals with a cage?

Traditional clipless pedals are small, relying on a stiff-soled shoe to act as the platform for power transfer. This type of pedal is great for XC or gravel, but offers very little support once your foot is unclipped, intentionally or otherwise, so is best suited to confident, speedy riders.

When it comes to rougher trail and gravity riding, where you want to be clipped in while wearing a softer shoe, caged clipless pedals offer riders the best of both worlds: the support and increased surface area of a flat pedal, and the security and control of a clipless pedal. This type of pedal surrounds the clipless system with a large, flat-platform pedal body, making it possible to ride and control your bike more effectively even when you’re unclipped. They’re also better for quick rides to the shop or pub when you can’t be bothered to wear your dedicated MTB shoes.

What other features should I look out for?

Pay attention to a pedal’s Q-factor. This is the measurement from the outside of the crank arm to the middle of the platform, and it dictates how wide your stance will be. A wider stance will give you greater stability and clearance, which is good for aggressive downhill riding, while a narrower stance is better for pedalling. It will also affect cleat positioning on your shoes, which may need to be adjusted for optimal power and comfort.

Platform size is also very important. A bigger platform on a flat or caged pedal gives you better weight distribution and makes it easier to locate the pedal and get your foot back on it. Bigger platforms are essential for big-footed riders, who need larger pedal platforms to get the most comfort and grip. On the downside, though, larger platforms tend to increase weight and the likelihood of pedal strikes.

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The best MTB pedals you can buy in 2023

1. Shimano PD-M520: The best-value clipless pedal

Price: £29 | Buy now from Chain ReactionShimano M520 SPD pedals on white backgroundWe would say we’ve ridden these no-frills, budget-friendly pedals to death, but the truth is they’re still going strong even after years of regular abuse. They’re wonderfully simple, cheap as chips, and completely and utterly bombproof.

Granted, the M520s are a tad heavier than some of Shimano’s more sophisticated premium options, but we’ve found them to be more durable on the whole, and the performance out on the trail is every bit as good as pedals twice or even three times the price. What’s more, adjustable spring tension allows you to decide how tight or loose you want the release mechanism to be.

One downside is the platform size. Still, if you’re running hard-soled SPD shoes, it ceases to be an issue. All in all, it’s an excellent little pedal that will happily take a beating and just keep doing what it does.

Key specs – Weight: 380g (pair); Clipless: Yes, SPD

Buy now from Chain Reaction

2. Crankbrothers Mallet E LS: Best trail and enduro MTB pedal

Price: £150 | Buy now from Chain ReactionCrankbrothers Mallet E LS clipless pedals on white backgroundBritish brand Crankbrothers bills this as “the ultimate pedal for enduro riding and racing”, and you know what? We’d be hard-pressed to disagree. The Mallet E LS is a seriously sturdy piece of kit, featuring a longer spindle for increased stability, a super-grippy platform and Crankbrothers’ classic Eggbeater clip in the centre. In other words, all the things you need to tackle the gnarliest downhill sections and the most technical of trails. The Mallet E LS looks great, too, and comes in a bevy of eye-catching colours.

One potential issue for some is that while this pedal is of the clip-and-cage variety, it can’t be used as a flat pedal due to the way the wings stick out from the middle. It’s not the cheapest pedal on the market either, but if you like to push your bike to its limits on technical terrain, this is one of the best tools for the job.

Key specs – Weight: 424g (pair); Clipless: Yes, Eggbeater

Buy now from Chain Reaction

3. Shimano PD-ME700: The best-value caged MTB pedal

Price: £47 | Buy now from TredzShimano PD-ME700 SPD pedals on white backgroundThis clipless pedal from Shimano combines the value and simplicity of the Japanese brand’s M520 pedal with the increased platform size of a caged pedal. It’s essentially the exact same indestructible pedal, surrounded by a mid-sized platform.

It’s good news for budget-conscious trail and enduro riders who want the ease of use and affordability of the M520, but need to ride in flat-soled shoes. The catch? It comes with a not insignificant weight penalty. Still, if you’re spending most of the time letting gravity propel you forwards, it’s not really much of an issue, and at such a reasonable price we’re really just splitting hairs.

Key specs – Weight: 480g (pair); Clipless: Yes, SPD

Buy now from Tredz

4. Garmin Rally XC100: The best power-meter MTB pedal

Price: £496 | Buy now from Sigma SportsGarmin Rally XC100 SPD power meter pedals on white backgroundIf you’re the type of rider that spends hours sifting through ride data, analysing performance metrics and comparing stats on Strava, then this feature-packed pedal from Garmin will be right up your street. The XC100 is a single-sided power-meter pedal that links with your head unit and Garmin Connect app to give you detailed performance feedback, including everything from seating/standing time to pedal-offset data that helps you to determine your optimal cleat position.

Granted, it falls firmly into the “nice to have but by no means essential” category, and the price is not exactly wallet-friendly. That said, if you want to spend even more money, you can opt for the double-sided version, the XC200, which will provide the most accurate data possible.

Techy stuff aside, the pedal itself performs beautifully out on the trail, with adjustable spring tension and smooth engagement when clipping in. It’s very robust, too, which is just as well, as you really don’t want to be forking out to replace something this expensive on a regular basis.

Key Specs – Weight: 451g (pair); Clipless: Yes, SPD; Power meter: Single-sided

Buy now from Sigma Sports

5. DMR Vault: The best flat MTB pedal

Price: £94 | Buy now from Chain Reaction CyclesDMR Vault V2 pedals on white backgroundThis lightweight yet durable option from DMR is about as good as it gets in terms of flat pedals. It’s available in plenty of anodised colour options to add a touch of flair to your whip, and the adjustable pins make it easy to dial in the grip to your desired level.

The platform is large without being cumbersome, and when pedal strikes do occur, they’re nicely deflected by the pedal’s chamfered edges. There’s a slightly concave profile to the pedal too, which aids grip by increasing pressure on the front and rear pins. This makes it one of the grippiest and confidence-inspiring flat pedals we’ve come across.

Key specs – Weight: 430g (pair); Clipless: No

Buy now from Chain Reaction

6. OneUp Components Composite: The best-value flat MTB pedal

Price: £59 | Buy now from AmazonOneUp Components Composite pedals on white backgroundMetal pedals are the best bet in terms of all-out strength and durability, but there’s an argument to be made for nylon-composite pedals too. These particular ones are surprisingly durable, and the plastic construction keeps the price down while reducing weight at the same time.

Performance-wise, the OneUp Composites are surprisingly good given the modest price tag. The pins are sufficiently grippy to keep feel secure for the most part, and while the convex profile might not be for everyone, if you ride in a mid-foot position, it’ll follow the arch of your foot and provide excellent contact under load. For a cheap, lightweight flat pedal that outperforms many metal alternatives, this is simply the best there is.

Key specs – Weight: 355g (pair); Clipless: No

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Best Buys