We’re not going to try and explain why you should ride flat pedals. You’re clearly already sold on the concept. That’s why you’re reading this in the first place. Flat pedals are simply more joyous than clips.
This guide is for flat pedal trail riders. Not jibbers. Not jumpers. Trail riders alongers. With that in mind we’re going to prioritise grip first and foremost. Closely followed by the ever elusive factor know as ‘feel’ (essentially being able to tell what’s happening under your feet and respond accordingly).
Grip-wise. We recommend going for the grippiest peal you can. You can always make a pedal less grippy if you feel the need to. You can lower/remove/install pins. You can run shoes with firmer compound sole rubber. What you can’t do is make a mediocre-grip pedal any grippier.
Go for the grippiest flat pedal you can afford. Buy some shin pads if you’re worried about your poor little shins!
There is an argument out there for getting the smallest platform you can get away with (to avoid pedal strikes presumably). It’s not an argument we hold much truck with. Flat pedals should be as broad and long (fore-aft) as you dare. One of the whole points of going to flat pedals is the larger platform. Easier, comfier, grippier, betterer. Embrace the platform. If you’re concerned about pedal strikes, well, read the next bit about ‘Thickness’.
Although it is possible for flat pedals to be too thin, it’s very rare for that to be the case. We recommend avoiding any flat peal that’s thicker than 17mm (in the middle). What’s wrong with going very thin (sub 15mm)? The pedals start to lose feel (and grip) through lack of concavity. They have no dip in the middle for your foot to sit into. Thin pedals also tend to wear out their bearing/bushings much faster than thicker pedals.
Speaking of which. It’s a good idea to go for abrand/model of pedal that offers decent rebuild-ability. Spar bushings, spare bearings, axle nuts, axles themselves, pins etc etc. It’s not unknown for well-treasured pedals to end up being the mountain bike equivalent of Trigger’s Broom; every part has been replaced over the years as it’s worn out leaving no trace of anything original yet it’s still the ‘same’ pedal (the brilliant DMR Vaults are the classic example of this phenomenon).
Again, there is some guff talked about pins. Sure, we’d probably go for a pedal that has pins that load from underneath but there is actually a point to top-loading pins. They aren’t just used to annoy you or to be deliberately difficult to replace! Top loading pins, usually with a 2mm Allen key hole in them, are grippier than bottom-loading pins with no holes in them. Why? Two words. Core sampling. Top-loading pins stick into the bottom of your shoe just like a handlebar without a bar-plug sticks into a thigh (ouch!)
For ultimate grip, a pedal with top-loading ‘core sampling’ pins combined with a sticky sole shoe is unbeatable.
Plastic or metal
There’s not a lot in it. But we’d probably go plastic. Plastic is usually lighter. Plastic pedals don’t seem to be any more fragile than metal pedals (I’ve bent more aluminium pedals that I have damaged plastic ones). Plastic pedals do seem to glance off rocks and roots better than metal pedals. But plastic is not very ecologically sound is it? And metal pedals look cooler. Hey ho.
Best Mountain Bike Flat Pedals
Overall: “The worst named flat pedal of all time just happens to be the best plastic – sorry, composite! – flat pedal of all time too. Good platform size. Sensible thickness. Great feel. Tough as old boots. Impressive bearing life. Loads of colours (although they all get disappointingly tatty very quickly to be honest). Just great pedals. Can be hard to find though.”
Overall: “Excellent grip and superb finish. You might discern an ever so slight clue as to what kind of riders these are aimed at by the fact they don’t have a Nino Schurter special edition, but there are Brendog and Lacondeguy ones. With such aggressive grip and a weight over 400 grams, these are great for those who live for the descents. Rebuild-able too.” Read our review
Race Face Atlas
Overall: “Total traction monsters. Borderline too grippy (although it’s perfectly straightforward tio de-tune them with the supplied pin washers etc. The bearing bulge in the axle may bother some old-skool riders who pedal with the ball of the foot over the axle (such a bad idea for control by the way) but we don’t mind it. An excellent choice for heavy ebikes that require utmost pick-up grip. Try to find the 2022 version if possible.”
Overall: “Cheap to run, durable all weather flats. They’re not the lightest, nor the cheapest, nor the fanciest on test, but the Horizons are a decidedly good flat pedal. In terms of good, solid all rounders, they’re definitely a contender. Avoid the plastic versions (pins can rip out a bit too easily)” Read our review.
Burgtec MK5 Penthouse
Overall: “This is a high-quality pedal with ample mud clearance and exceptional grip. We’ve not run them long enough to comment on durability but from our experience using other Burgtec products we have no concerns in this department either.” Read our review.
Overall: “If you’re in the market for a pedal that takes its job as a contact point with your bike very seriously, but you aren’t wanting to clip in, I’d put these high on your list. Showing little sign of wear after 6 months of daily use and seeming to suit most flat pedal shoes, they’re pricier than the likes of a DMR Vault but once pointing downhill you can, in my opinion, justify that extra cash.”
Crank Brothers Stamp 7
Overall: “While these pedals might not be optimal for tight tracks where you need that bit of extra clearance, unless super tight bike width tracks are all you ride, this pedal won’t really hold you back. I found them perfectly manageable when it does get a bit tighter, but someone with smaller feet may disagree.” Read our review.
Overall: “Modest in platform size (100 x 100mm) but tenacious in grip thanks to the pin design and layout. Double bush axle system. Extruded 6061 alloy body. Chromoly axle. Sealed bearings with DU bushings. 1.25mm body concave which creates 2.3mm concave at the pins. The best option if you want/need smaller platform size pedal.”
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