road cycling shoes water bottle

When you first start cycling it can be difficult to see the advantages of road pedals, because they just seem to impede people from being able to walk normally when they're in the pub after a ride.

But in reality using clipless pedals can make a huge difference to your comfort and performance, and if you pick the right system for your needs you'll feel more confident.

The demystifier: Everything you need to know about pedals

Road cycling pedals allow you to put down more power because in general the cleat will be wider with a bigger contact area and it will sit out from the shoe's hard sole. This allows for the best energy transfer possible because they have greater stability. They do make you walk funny, however.

Of course, not everyone needs clipless pedals specifically designed for road use. If you're an off-roader, or even just a commuter that likes the idea of a recessed cleat, it's worth reading up about mountain biking pedals and the other options available.

Look KEO Classic 2 Pedals

You're most likely to see people using Shimano SPD SL, Look or Time pedals on their road bikes.

These all operate by using a three bolt standard to attach to the cleat. Road cycling shoes come drilled for these kinds of pedals. Other bolt arrangements require adaptor plates, or for you to re-drill your shoes.

[related_articles]The cleats are much bigger than those on MTB SPDs and are made of plastic instead of metal. They sit out from the sole of the shoe.

Also, the cleat only fits into one side of the pedal, so you'll have to learn how to flip the pedal and catch the mechanism.

As for which brand you choose, it's mainly to do with personal preference. Many people opt for Shimano if they've had experience of using their off-road SPDs in the past.

Look created the first ever automatic pedals in the 1980s, so many people like to go with the originals. Their Keo range is very popular.

Time pedals are also popular – many people find them lighter than Shimano and easier to clip in. But again, it comes down to your personal preference and style of use.

Your choice between these pedal systems is a lot to do with price and how much you value longevity and the pedals being lightweight. Your best bet it using a site like Chain Reaction or Wiggle to compare things within your price range. Bare in mind that within these systems all the pedals operate in the same way – a higher price is reflective of the cost of materials used (like all things to do with bicycles, there's always a carbon option) rather than the mechanism style.

SpeedPlayFour RCUK

Speedplay pedals are radically different in how they operate, but they're still a popular choice for road cyclists. Instead of the normal set up where the mechanism is in the pedal, with a Speedplay system all the springs are in the shoe.

The advantages are interesting: firstly it means that, unlike most clipless pedals, they are double sided and can therefore be engaged more easily. It also means that the pedals sits in the cleat rather than below it, reducing the stack height and giving a more natural pedalling sensation.

How to: Change your Pedals

Speedplay pedals also provide a more generous amount of float than their 3 bolt counterparts – that means you have more rotational, side to side movement. This is particularly sought after by those with bad knees.

On the bad side, Speedplay's unique system is more susceptible to dirt getting into the mechanism and making engaging difficult.

They are also quite expensive – up to double the price of some comparable three bolt systems.

keywin pedal system

There are also some more avant-garde options when it comes to pedals and cleats for your road bike.

Keywin pedals, for instance, have a unique design: the float (or the angle you can move your foot before the pedal releases) is between the pedal and axle rather than between cleat and pedal. They're light and cheap, but can be hard to engage because they aren't weighted, meaning you'll have to look down in order to see the correct side to clip into until the bearings have broken in.

How to: Master clipless pedals

There are also Aerolite pedals, which have a very simple but incredibly light mechanism. They don't, however, provide much float and remain a niche product.