In Issue #113 of Singletrack Magazine, we tested 17 different pedals as part of our Flat Pedal Group Test
‘Flat pedals are for beginners’, goes an insult I’ve only rarely heard. People can get staunchly tribal about it, pointing all the way up the leader boards to justify their stance. It used to be that downhill World Cup podiums were dominated by flat pedals, but, it seems, no longer, with more riders nowadays running clipless (Sam Hill being a notable exception). At the same time, bike geometry has become more aggressive, and cross-country courses, mostly dominated by clipless riders, have become more extreme than they used to be. In the midst of all that there seem to be plenty of recreational riders who prefer flats.
I’d like to not argue doctrinal points, and World Cup leader boards aren’t necessarily a great place to look for data to apply to people who aren’t racing World Cup courses. The fact is that both pedal systems have advantages for mere mortals. If you’re already a flats rider, feel free to skip ahead to the reviews, though if you’re flat-curious, then let me take you through a couple of points to help you unclip that toe and dip it in the water.
Advantage 1: Flats are unforgiving. Things you’d just be able to do with your feet clipped in, you might not be able to at first with flats. Any flaws in your technique will show up more with flats than clipless pedals. If either your weighting or foot position is wrong, the chances of foot and pedal separating are massively increased, and, as a result, over time, this will teach you to ride in a way that keeps you more connected to the bike: weight down in the bike rather than on top of it, reading trail feedback, and smoothly guiding the bike where you want it to go rather than just pulling on it.
Any flaws in your technique will show up more with flats than clipless pedals.
Advantage 2: Flats are forgiving. While they may readily show flaws in your technique, they also give you a saving grace: you can dab, even at speed, without having to worry about clipping back in. When cornering, you can throw your inside foot out moto-style to get your centre of gravity further forward, giving more grip to your front tyre. If things go really wrong, you can even throw the bike away. If you’re trying something new, flat pedals are ideal for giving you the security to bail.
Even if you find you don’t like flats, all of the things you’ll learn from them you’ll take back to clipless pedals as a better rider. The snobby ‘flats are for beginners’ insult is only true in the sense that we’re all beginners at something on a bike, and flat pedals are an absolutely great tool for learning and having fun with that.
Step inside my lab
You might think flat pedals are a solved problem, but the answer is ‘not quite’. In mountain biking and BMX history, flat pedal design has zeroed in on a couple of distinct pedal shapes, but is still evolving. Let me take you through a few bits of terminology and engineering.
Usually a variant on one of two basic shapes: full-length axle and three-quarter (ish) axle. Full-length axle bodies have an end cap on the outer end, then a hole all the way through it to the crank end (the DMR, Superstar, and Spank pedals in this grouptest are examples of this). It’s a simple and time-tested design that’s typically, but not always, built around bigger and more long-lived moving components than thinner pedals have.
Shorter axle designs usually conform to some kind of Y-shape, with the upper stalks of the Y supporting the outer corners (for example the Hope, Gamut, and 45NRTH pedals we’ve tested). The shorter axle can save some weight and allow construction of thinner pedal bodies, but packing smaller moving internal parts into them can mean more frequent servicing to keep them running well.
Thinner bodies reduce weight, place the soles of your shoes closer to the axle, and lower your centre of gravity just a little bit too. A thinner body is also inevitably flatter, which can reduce concavity and grip.
Many flat pedals use commonly available steel M4 socket caps or grub screws, which makes replacing pins cheap and easy. Some companies are pushing at the limits of pin design though, tweaking them to maximise grip, lower weight, or sometimes to be less aggressive.
Along with pins, the pedal surface is key to the amount of grip. A concave surface lets your shoes settle in more under your weight, better resisting any forces that try to push them off the pedal.
Most flat pedals run on a cromoly steel axle, though fancier ones may come with titanium ones. Between that axle and the body will be an assortment of bearings and bushings, plus a load of grease. Most modern flats run a combination of one bushing near the crank end and a bearing or two on the outside end. While there are exceptions, more expensive pedals tend to run fully on bearings, and cheaper ones might run entirely on bushings.
Bushings are self-lubricating sleeves, usually made from metal or tough plastic, and in either case are much cheaper than bearings. They tend to require less maintenance, but they also have a small amount of stiction to overcome as they start moving. Bearings roll, so have no stiction, and may be easier to keep in service as they near the end of their lives, but tend to be more expensive then bushings.
Before buying a pair of flat pedals, it’s well worth looking into the internals and how much it’ll cost you to service them. It’s no use having the best pedals in the world if they break and you can’t get spare parts.
Sealing is a crucial aspect of flat pedals for UK riders and, like a lot of bike components, this aspect tends to vary, perhaps according to where they were designed. Poor seals might not matter so much in sunny locales, but in UK filth you’ll only get so long before you hear a grinding noise pulverising your pedals from the inside out.
So, which pedals? Balancing all of these things depends on how you ride, where you ride, and in what weather. This grouptest should help you decide which pair of flatties might be the right ones for you.
- Price: £99.99
- From: Charlie The Bike Monger
“Heiruspecs is an unusual name for a flat pedal, as it seems to be entirely derived from a Minnesota hip hop band. What these pedals have to do with hip hop, I don’t know, but 45NRTH do also come from the same US state, and they get plenty of snow there, which these pedals are specifically designed for. Bearing that in mind, I gave the pedals a little…” Read the full review here.
Crank Brothers Stamp
- Price: £129.99
- From: Extra UK
“Crank Brothers is most notable for its line of clipless pedals that utilise the Eggbeater mechanism. The brand also makes flat pedals too, having previously offered the 5050 for those who prefer not to be clipped into their pedals. The 5050 is long gone however, and in its place is the Stamp pedal that we have here. One of Crank Brothers objectives in developing the Stamp was increased…” Read the full review here.
Funn Black Magic
- Price: £40.99
- From: Decade Europe
“These Funn Black Magic pedals are one of only two plastic pedals in this grouptest. The pedals arrived unpackaged and with pins already in. Apparently, retail ones come with a pin pack and nice little socket key for installing them. If you get some, I’d recommend using that to tighten them all right down, as ours lost most pins on the first ride, which certainly made for…” Read the full review here.
- Price: £129.99
- From: Madison
“With a claimed weight of just 298 grams, Gamut’s Podium flat pedals are the lightest we have on test. They’re also the thinnest, with the slenderest part at just under 9mm, average at the edges around 10mm, and axle housing at the centre of the body still only 13.5mm. That’s not much space to pack moving parts in, but they’ve managed…” Read the full review here.
Nukeproof Horizon Pro
- Price: £74.99
- From: Nukeproof
“Designed with Sam Hill and knocking around since late 2015, Nukeproof Horizon flats come in a plethora of options, ranging from very wallet-friendly plastic bodied editions in bright colours, to the ultra fancy Horizon Pro Ti edition with machined surfaces and lightweight axles (shedding almost 70 grams from the weight of the standard pair, which is 430g). We reviewed the mid-range Horizon Pro, with metal…” Read the full review here.
Pedalling Innovations Catalyst
- Price: €99
- From: Pedalling Innovations
“With the largest platform of any flat pedal I’ve ever used before, the Catalyst from Pedaling Innovations is unlike anything else on the market. I’ll admit I was extremely sceptical when these arrived, but read up on and diligently practiced the technique and foot position you’re meant to use. After the first few rides in Calderdale, I wasn’t really…” Read the full review here.
Race Face Chester
- Price: £49.95
- From: Silverfish UK
“With nylon bodies, the Race Face Chesters were one of only two plastic pedals on test. Nylon isn’t the absolute toughest plastic, but it is cheap, tough, and can be molded in a lot of different colours. I don’t think anything else in this grouptest comes in the seven colour array Chesters do, so if you’re primarily looking for…” Read the full review here.
- Price: £59.99
- From: Madison
“With a claimed weight of 500g (492g on our trusty workshop scales) they are certainly not the lightest flat pedals on the market. In fact they are one of the heaviest pedals on test, but Shimano have put a lot effort into making sure the pedals are robust and super reliable...” Read the full review here.
- Price: €159.50
- From: Sixpack Racing
“Sixpack Racing makes a lot of its own CNCed components in house. The Skywalker is the brands flagship pedal, and as such packs in a lot of features with a premium price. The most distinctive feature is the exposed axle, with a sealed compartment at each end for bearings. Those cutouts on the centre of the axle help…” Read the full review here.
- Price: £70
- From: Hotlines
“Spank isn’t the only pedal manufacturer offering pedals in different sizes, but the brand is still very much in a minority, and these Spoon pedals are one of the cheaper options with sizing options. All sizes have a platform length of 105mm, but varying widths, respectively 90, 100 and 110 millimetres for the small, medium and large sizes…” Read the full review here.
Speedplay Brass Knuckles
- Price: £139
- From: i-Ride
“These were the shiniest pedals in the grouptest, both literally and metaphorically, as they were polished to a mirror finish and loaded down with almost all of the features you’d expect from a high end flat pedal.They run fully on bearings with no bushings. The crank end contains two…” Read the full review here.
Superstar Components Nano-X
- Price: £44.99
- From: Superstar Components
“The Nano-X is one of Superstar’s most recent pedal designs. It used to be they’d badge generic components, such as the old style Nanos that are so familiar are a mainstay of budget mountain biking – I have a pair that still run okay after six years. The Nano-X is an altogether shinier beast though, made in house on Superstar’s own CNC mill. That they sell direct rather than through distributors...” Read the full review here.
- Price: £49.99
- From: i-Ride
“Taiwanese company Wellgo tend not to be the first name off someone’s lips when you ask a mountain biker about pedals, but they are in fact the worlds largest manufacturer of them. Of course, much of that is through OEM sales, but they also have a large array of budget, after market components. The rather unromantically named B144 flat pedals…” Read the full review here.
Winner Best Grip: DMR Vault
- Price: £114.99
- From: Upgrade Bikes
“If you ask a gaggle of bike journalists to recommend some flat pedals, chances are they’ll say DMR Vaults. That’s because their grip is unparalleled. DMR pioneered high-quality concave pedals around 20 years ago with the V8, originally based around an open mould design, with improved bearings. It has been making refinements ever since; the Vault is DMR’s current flagship pedal…” Read the full review here.
Winner Best Engineered: Hope F-20
- Price: £119.99
- From: Hope Technology
“First introduced in 2012, Hope’s F20 flat pedals have been relatively unchanged in the past five years, with just a tweak to the pin shape changing the tips from slightly rounded, to a much sharper, pointier, hollow design. At 15mm these are among of the thinnest pedals we have on test, but the bodies are good wedges of aluminium with no horizontal cutouts, keeping them suitably tough while the weight sits below 400g…” Read the full review here.
Winner Best Budget: DMR V8 V2
- Price: £37.99
- From: Upgrade Bikes
“The original DMR V8s, now referred to as the DMR V8 Classic, have been around for longer than some of us have been mountain biking. They are indeed a classic design, but nowadays with so much choice, and so many sleek pedals around for the choosing, perhaps that design is looking a little long in the tooth. Enter the DMR V8 V2, a revision for 2017, more on trend and more in line with its current V12 and Vault pedals…” Read the full review here.
Winner Overall: NS Radiance
- Price: £89.99
- From: Hotlines
“When people ask ‘What flat pedals?’ on the internet, these aren’t an option I’ve seen put forward before. More’s the pity, because I’m finding them great – even in the worst weather the UK has to offer. Perhaps that’s because NS Bikes’ home in Poland has a less temperate climate than the UK. First introduced in 2014, Radiance flat pedals seem to have had few to no revisions apart from the colours and a five gram reduction in claimed weight (395 down to 390g)…” Read the full review here.
During this test, we rode 17 pairs of flat pedals, with many being passed out to Singletrack contributors for a while to get as much wear on them as possible. None of the pedals we tested were bad, just different to each other, with varied price points and feature sets, and some more suited to certain types of riding or grip preference over others. As the bike industry gets more experience, it’s getting better at designing pedals than it’s ever been.
Even the cheapest pedals have never really been better than now, and prove they don’t have to be generic to come in under a budget.
Even the cheapest pedals have never really been better than now, and prove they don’t have to be generic to come in under a budget. At the more expensive end of the scale, companies are engineering everything right down to the smallest details, experimenting with and creating features that might become standard in future.
Right now though, you’re spoilt for choice and there will be a flat pedal to suit both your feet and your pockets. So much of what we’re told and sold in bikes is about extremes, and it’s easy to take that into assuming you need the stickiest shoes combined with the gnarliest pedals. You might, but you probably don’t.
One divide showed up really clearly among the people riding these pedals, and we’ve tried to reflect it in our category picks: Some riders vastly prefer thinner, flatter platforms such as the Hope F20 and say these feel like they have more grip. Others have a massive preference for the kind of bowl shape and feel you get from something like a DMR Vault. These are quite polarised and well cemented preferences, likely coming from differences in riding style, terrain, anatomy, technique and shoe construction – in other words, a lot of variables that mean you’ll only get so far without some real world experimentation to find which flats are right for you.
As you explore, you’ll find that shoe stickiness, sole stiffness, pedal shape, pin length and pin shape all contribute to (or detract from) grip. Extreme combinations of pins and shoes can create so much grip that you can’t even reposition your foot without lifting it, and preference on this varies between riders. Particularly if you’re practising tricks, when you may find you want to get off the bike faster than an extreme pedal-shoe combo allows.
The main factor on grip for mountain biking is technique though. Pushing heels down resists most of the forces trying to unstick you – try riding in a standing position, weaving from side to side with your toes pointing down, then again with your heels down instead and you’ll immediately feel the difference in bike handling.
Flat pedals have not yet evolved into the One True flat pedal design, but things have never been better for those of us who ride them. The best pedals in the world turn out to have a zone of fuzzy personal preference around them and, once you find yours, they won’t make you into a riding god by themselves, but they’ll certainly help.
|Price:||£37.99 - £139.99|
|Tested:||by David Hayward for 3-36 months|