Clip-in or foot-out flat out, there's a pedal for you in this lot
Looking for the best mountain bike pedals, no matter whether you clip-in or ride flats? Here’s our comprehensive buyer’s guide to all things pedal.
Flat pedals first. Scroll on down for clipless pedals.
The best mountain bike pedals: flat pedals
Long-term refinement of this basic design has seen flat pedals improve incrementally over the years, and today’s models are better than ever. Platforms have become slimmer to lower rider centre of gravity, eliminate pedalling flat spots at either end of the stroke and improve ground clearance, and also stretched out for more surface area and support. Bearings and traction pins designs have evolved too to offer better grip, and also more durability and ease of servicing.
As mentioned, the evolution of flats has been a continual quest for thinner platforms, and with riders and engineers agreed on the benefits, multiple ways to achieve this goal have developed. Broadly speaking, there are two dominant styles: standard offset parallelograms that fully envelop axles and bearings and are marginally taller, and super-slim platforms that use tapered axles or special bearing setups and raised inboard bearing housings to achieve slimmer platforms. The pedals here span a broad range of widths, prices and shapes, so we’ve done the footwork for you, put the miles and picked out the star performers.
Slimmer, lighter platforms have become a priority in modern flat pedal design. Taller pedals offer less ground clearance and aren’t as stable, and don’t benefit from reduced rider centre of gravity, resistance to flipping, and improved efficiency by spinning closer to the centre of the pedalling axis.
Using axles without pedal flats means platforms can sit tighter into the crank arms and the closer the pedal body sits to the bike, the greater the ground clearance and the more efficient your pedalling stroke. Stubby axles allow brands to position pedals further in-board, but one compromise can be some rubbing where feet catch the crank arms.
Stud size, layout and shape affect traction and grip. It’s inevitable pins suffer abuse as they’re in the firing line for any ground strikes, so bottom mounting pins are harder to strip out in an impact, and also easier to move or replace because the Allen key heads don’t get damaged or rammed with crud. Some pedal brands also offer a choice of traction studs, and the height, width and thickness of these pins are critical to grip and performance.
The best mountain bike flat pedals: reviews
The HT PA03A has good support and grip that’s close to the very best alloy pedals. Overall, it’s easily the best plastic pedal we’ve tried to date, and at £35 it’s also fantastic value for money.
Nukeproof Horizon Sam Hill
This Sam Hill Horizon is a perfectly rounded package that isn’t the lightest or the thinnest on test, but any pedals that rate higher on these fronts also have greater compromises elsewhere. It’s proven tough and simply feels so solid and secure underfoot for all shapes and sizes of rider, the Horizon is hard to beat.
There are cheaper pedals, but the Vault’s platform profile is impeccable and very durable. Our only criticism is their weight and the way that the outer edges stick out more than some rivals, which could lead to more ground strikes when leant over. Totally sorted in terms of feel and surefootedness.
The Contact doesn’t have the deep scalloped platform of the DMR Vault, but the finish and bearings are way better quality. It may not be the thinnest either, but it’s stiff, solid underfoot and the multiple pin placement allows you to really tune the grip level to match your riding style and preference.
Nukeproof Neutron EVO
The Neutron has the performance to compete with some of the best metal flat pedals. The price and weight also make them very appealing. It’s only the fragile nature of the pin material that stop the Neutron from being a perfect option.
The best mountain bike flat pedals: winners
The best mountain bike flat pedals: Nukeproof Horizon Sam Hill (it’s worth noting that you can get significantly cheaper non-Sam Hill branded Horizons that are virtually the same in performance).
The best mountain bike flat pedals on a budget: Nukeproof Neutron EVO.
The best mountain bike pedals: clipless pedals
Clipless pedals not only transmit leg power efficiently, but they also bond cyclist and steed.
For a long time, riders wanting to clip-in have had to put up with running smaller, cross-country oriented pedal systems. Whilst these pedals are light and perform well in the mud, they don’t quite offer the levels of foot support and confidence that many riders require when riding more technical trails. And that’s where the new breed of bigger platform trail pedals come in.
That larger platform also makes a better target to aim for when needing to quickly clip back in after putting a foot down. Yes, they do suffer a weight penalty when compared to XC clipless or flat pedals and do tend to cost more. But there is nothing better for garnering confidence and security for everything from trail riding to downhill racing.
The bigger the platform around the clip mechanism, the better the foot support. A larger platform will give you somewhere to rest your foot if unclipped, especially on a technical section of trail. A larger contact patch will also make pedaling more efficient and much more comfortable, especially with softer soled trail shoes.
All of the pedals here have floating cleats. Float is the free movement you feel when you are clipped into the pedal. For the majority of systems it comes Float is a good thing as it helps to reduce the stresses of being clipped in on your joints and can prevent unwanted release.
This is how much force it takes to release your foot from the mechanism. Most of the pedals on test allow for some form of adjustment to make them easier to release from or less likely to accidentally unclip. On pedals such as Crank Brothers with a twin-bar mechanism tension cannot be adjusted. In this case release angle can be changed by switching the cleats between shoes.
Many of the larger trail style pedals take inspiration from flat pedals and include adjustable height pins to alter grip. In most cases these need to be fine tuned to balance traction and the ability to unclip safely.
The best mountain bike clipless pedals: reviews
Nukeproof Horizon CL CrMo DH
Nukeproof’s Horizon Sam Hill is our go-to flat pedal, and has been since its launch, but if you prefer to lay down horsepower on the climbs and stay smooth as silk on the descents, this clip-in version is the one for you. The machined and anodised body offers plenty of support and bristles with six pins each side for maximum grip and feel, while the clipless mechanism has independently adjustable spring tension to tune engagement and disengagement.
Crank Brothers Mallet DH
Cruise around the pits at a World Cup Downhill race and 9/10 clipped-in riders will be running Crank Brothers’s Mallet DH pedal. There’s a reason for this; the Mallet DH does a supreme job of blending the support of a flat pedal with the security and efficiency of a clipless pedal. We’ve tested it three times now, and rated it 10/10 on every occasion.
Look X-Track En-Rage Plus
After a few months of solid abuse the Look X-Track En-Rage Plus has proved to be a solid and dependable set of pedals for trail and enduro use. Consistent engagement and disengagement gives you one less thing to worry about. Finally the robust build quality and smooth bearings ensure that the pedals will provide bombproof (dare we say Shimano-like) levels of reliability over long term use.
In this era of hybrid flat/clipless pedals, the chunky, pin-free composite body of the Time MX6 looks a little out-dated. But spend some time with it and you’ll find that it has the performance and function to compete with the best. The only downside to the pedal is just how tatty and tired the body looks after just a few rides thanks to the odd choice of colour.
Shimano XT M8020 Trail
Although it’s perhaps not a pedal for riders wanting the added reasurrance of a large grippy cage when unclipped but for sheer reliability and unfussy performance it’s still a contender.
The best mountain bike clipless pedals: winners
The best mountain bike clipless pedals: Nukeproof Horizon CL CrMo DH.
The best mountain bike clipless pedals with more float: Crank Brothers Mallet DH.