Why Road Cyclists Should Choose “Mountain Bike” Pedals

Lifestyle, Reviews I By Tom Martin I August 12, 2021

If you are a road cyclist, are road pedals better or are mountain bike pedals better?

Wait, what? Yes, the cycling industry loves to segment the market very finely. We recall 5 or 6 years ago looking for a bike that today would be called a gravel bike (wider tires, wider gear range, 1X). We bought a cross bike, which worked fine, but bike shops had a hard time with the mental gymnastics of selling a cross bike to a non-cross rider. Point is, categories can lock us into assuming application-specificity is tight rather than loose.

And so it is with pedals. There are “road” pedals and “MTB” pedals. Here we want to argue that a lot of road riders should use “MTB” pedals. Not all road riders, but more than is currently the case.

The reason is simple as shown above: MTB pedals are two-sided. You can clip into either side because the top and bottom are symmetric. By contrast, Shimano SPD-SL and Look Keo road pedals are assymetric (one-sided):

So what?

Many road riders end up riding in cities and suburban areas with stop signs and stop lights. Accelerating away from a stop light, we often see experienced road riders with road pedals spending time in a busy intersection trying to flip their pedals around so that they can clip in (the weighting of road pedals is such that the “wrong” side is usually “up” at a stop). In sports car racing, there is a saying “eyes up” and that applies to safety on road bikes as well. That time spent looking at your pedals isn’t ideal.

You can skip most of this hassle by using MTB pedals. Pedals that are Shimano SPD (note: different from SPD-SL) are the dominant offering here.

Are MTB shoes or road shoes better?

Now, there is some argument that road pedals plus road shoes are better for power transfer, and if you can push 700 watts like Wout Van Aert, that could be a factor. Riding well outside of cities is similarly a reason to skip the SPD option. MTB shoes tend to weigh more, but you can convert road shoes to use SPD cleats, so that isn’t really an objection.