Of the three points of contact between you and your bike – the saddle, bar and pedals – your pedals have the most work to do. As well as keeping your feet in place as they spin at up to, and sometimes, over 100rpm, they also have to provide a solid platform to push against so you can generate the power needed to propel you and your machine forwards.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that choosing the best road bike pedal for your riding style is crucial.
Clipless pedals evolved out of the old pedal and toe-clip setup. But while toe-clips rely on a clip and strap to hold your foot on the pedal, clipless pedals use a cleat that's fastened to the sole of your shoe that engages with the pedal mechanically, similar to a ski binding.
To clip into your pedals, you step on the pedal's face and push your foot forwards to engage the cleat. To release your foot, you simply rotate it outwards.
Although most clipless pedals use similar technology, there are plenty of differences between them in terms of their designs, constructions and prices. Here we have a brief guide outlining what to look for when choosing a clipless pedal, as well as our pick of the top road pedals currently available. You may also like to see our guide on how to use clipless pedals.
The best clipless pedals for road bikes
- Shimano Ultegra SPD-SL 6800
- Speedplay Zero stainless
- Time Xpresso 15
- Shimano SPD-SL R540
- Shimano PD-M520
This is just a small selection of our favourite road pedals from those we've reviewed, but there are many more available and you can read about them here.
What to look for when buying clipless pedals:
Cleats vary in design depending on the pedal, but the majority fasten to the soles of your shoes with three bolts.
Speedplay is the notable exception, with its four-bolt pattern (but then the American company effectively reverses the entire system by mounting the clip mechanism onto your shoes, leaving the pedals to act as the cleats). To use these, you'll need four-bolt shoes or an adapter.
Float is measured in degrees and refers to the amount your foot can move before it's released from the pedal.
It's there to allow your feet to fall into the most natural, comfortable position while pedalling and to reduce the stress on your knees if your cleats aren't perfectly positioned.
Some cleats are 'zero-float', or fixed, which means they release your foot with only the slightest of movements. They need to be very carefully set up for the sake of your knees. Most cleats, however, offer something in the range of 3-9° of float.
The thing to bear in mind is the more float you have, the further you have to twist your foot in order to release it.
If you're unsure about how much float you need, don't worry. Your pedal choice won't lock you into one particular setting: you can experiment by running different cleats and adjusting the settings on your pedals.
Most pedals allow you to adjust the pedals' release tension – the amount of force required to disengage your foot from the mechanism. If you're a beginner, start off with a low tension for easier release. This will also make it easier to clip into the pedal. As you become more confident riding with clipless pedals you can increase the tension for a more secure connection between you and your bike.
This is measured from the middle of the pedal axle to the sole of the shoe. The lower the stack height the better, as it places your foot closer to the axle for the best possible efficiency. You may need to adjust your saddle height if you change pedals as every model has a slightly different stack height.
Below is a selection of some of the best road bike pedals BikeRadar's experts have tested. It's only a short list but should give you a good idea of what to look for.
Shimano Ultegra SPD-SL 6800
The best all-round road bike pedals
- £149 / €178 / $186 / AU$209
- Great all rounder
- Virtually maintenance free
There are a few great things about Shimano SPD-SL pedals: they're dependable, they require virtually no maintenance, the wide platform gives a sure-footed connection to your bike, you have three choices of cleats for float options (fixed, 1° and 6°), tension is easily adjustable and, perhaps best of all, they're not fussy – even if your shoe is covered in mud or snow, you can just kick it on the pedal a couple of times, clip in and go.
Ultegra components are often seen as being almost as good as those from the top-end Dura-Ace groupset, just a bit heavier and much cheaper. The Ultegra SPD-SL 6800 pedal exemplifies this.
The SPD-SL 6800, features a carbon body that spins on two sets of bearings around a stainless-steel spindle. Up top, the stainless-steel contact plate is replaceable, but good luck wearing that thing out.
Shimano's cheaper road pedals, such as the R540, R550 and the PD5800 typically use heavier materials in their construction and slightly less durable internals than the SPD-SL 6800, but their performance is pretty much indistinguishable when you're actually on the bike.
The SPD-SL 6800 has been replaced by the Ultegra R8000, which has a 0.6mm lower stack height and a slightly longer axle to try and reduce heel rub, and we have no doubts the new pedal will perform every bit as well as the previous generation.
Speedplay Zero Stainless pedals
The best pedals for those that want the most adjustment
- £199 / €236.99 / $213 / AU$348.79
- Massive range of adjustment
- Said to be the most aero pedals out there
Speedplay's pedals reverse the normal arrangement, so the clip mechanism is bolted to your shoes and the pedals act as the cleat.
Bike fitters love Speedplays as they have far more adjustment than any other pedal, allowing anything between 10-15° of float as well as plenty of fore/aft and lateral adjustment.
If aero concerns tickle your pickle, these Speedplay pedals are reputedly the most slippery through the air, especially if you pair the Zero Aero model and its golf ball-like dimples with the company's Walkable Cleat covers .
The pedals run on needle bearings, which we've found to require some maintenance in the long run. When used on three-hole shoes, the pedals have a stack height of 11.5mm.
Time Xpresso 15
Best road bike pedals for weight weenies and racers
- £348.99 / €402.99 / $600 / AU$550
- Weight: 142g
- Stupendously light (and expensive)
- Very smooth action throughout range of float
Since their launch, Time’s Xpressos have always been lighter and more expensive than the competition – shedding grams costs money.
Central to the Xpresso design is its carbon flexion blade, which, unlike pedals that use a steel spring, keeps the clip mechanism open until cleat entry snaps it shut.
You can easily adjust between its three tension settings by using a screwdriver to turn a triangular eccentric cam against the blade. This alters the resistance of the built-in +/- 5° of float that's always been a major selling point for Time pedals to riders with knee concerns.
The Xpresso 15 shares the Xpresso 12 Titan Carbon’s hollow titanium axle, carbon body and interchangeable alloy plate to protect the body from cleat abrasion. The price difference is down to the 15’s use of CeramicSpeed bearings, which are very low friction and save around 11g per pedal, bringing the Xpresso 15 pedals in at an amazing 142g per pair – although two cleats plus six bolts add another 87g.
If you aren't made of money, you could always go for the significantly cheaper and equally well performing Xpresso 10 pedals.
Shimano R540 pedals
Best road bike pedals for people on a budget
- £45 / €54 / $62 / AU$79
- Weight: 330g
- Inoffensive price and performance
- Can often be found for far less than RRP
In use, Shimano's entry-level R540 pedals are almost indistinguishable from their more pricey siblings. The only difference between them is that instead of a lightweight composite body, the R540s' have an alloy one that makes them about 80g heavier.
The internals are largely identical, but you do need the splined TL PD-40 tool (or a set of sturdy mole grips) to take the R540 pedals apart for servicing.
The engagement action isn't quite as refined feeling as it is on Shimano's more expensive pedals, but you'd be hard pushed to notice any difference once you're actually riding.
If you can find a bargain, the slightly posher R550 pedals, with their larger composite body are probably worth the extra cash, but you certainly won't be disappointed with the R540s.
- £35 / €42 / $48 / AU$61
- Weight: 374g
- Ideal if you already have a set of MTB shoes
- Great performance in mucky conditions
If you already have a pair of MTB shoes, like the idea of double-sided entry, see yourself riding in particularly unpleasant conditions and prefer the walkability of regular SPD pedals, these are a great shout.
The pedals can be left well alone for years at a time with nary a complaint and will perform far better than any 'road-specific' pedal should the going get grimy.
If the slightly higher weight offends you, you can always plump for the considerably lighter XT or XTR pedals. But for most, the extra 40g over Shimano's cheapest road pedals will probably never be noticed.
Last updated November 2018