Bike pedals are ⅓ of the contact points between you and your bike, so you shouldn’t overlook their importance, especially to a triathlete, since they affect biking speed.
It’s through your pedals that you transfer power from your legs to your drivetrain through to the wheels.
With this in mind, these are my top 5 pedals for triathlon bikes:
But first, check out my guide on choosing the best pedal for your needs.
In general, picking bike pedals comes down to the type of bike you have and what you intend to do with your bike.
What To Consider When Buying A Bike Pedal
So these are the main bike pedal features to pay attention to when deciding:
Pedal float is the amount of mobility your feet have when you’ve clicked them into the bike pedal. This is only relevant for clipless pedals.
If you have a low-degree pedal float, you can maintain force on the pedal and maximize riding performance.
A higher-degree pedal float is easier on your knees, and many beginners use high degrees of float.
For competitive bikers and triathletes, a lower-degree pedal float is more beneficial since it exerts more force, making the bike faster.
Ease of Mount and Dismount
New riders are typically more comfortable with a pedal that’s easy to get out of, which allows for putting your feet on the ground easily. This is especially the case when in the bike/run transition, where flat pedals are easier for beginners.
Clipless simply means that the pedals don’t use toe clips but click into cleats for more security for increased power and safety.
This also means that it’s more difficult to quickly put your feet on the ground while using a clipless pedal. Some pedals can be quite tricky to clip-out for beginners, so most standard road bikes use flat pedals.
Triathletes should consider clipless pedals as soon as possible because of their high-performing nature. However, it’s understandable for beginners to stick with flat pedals.
The stack height refers to the height and thickness of the pedal and the cleats.
The taller stack you have on the pedal, the higher you have to raise your saddle, which will make your pedal stroke less efficient.
You have four main pedal material options here:
- Plastic: generally cheaper and more lightweight. However, they aren’t as durable.
- Aluminum/steel: A bicycle pedal made from metal such as aluminum or steel is heavier but more long-lasting due to high corrosion resistance.
- Carbon fiber: very lightweight and durable bike pedal material but also quite expensive.
Different Types of Bike Pedals
There are three main types of bike pedals used on triathlon bikes:
These are the most common pedal types on road bikes. Flat pedals are cheap and make it easy to put your foot down on the ground, and you don’t need specific shoes to use these pedals.
However, what the pedals give in comfort, they lack in performance. Flat pedals are less high-performing than clipless ones and are less ideal for power transfer and preventing injury. Elite athletes don’t use them because of this.
MTB-Style Clipless Pedals
Did you know you can also use mountain bike-style clipless pedals on triathlon bikes?
The MTB clipless pedal was designed with special cleats so that mountain bikers can get off the bike and walk without damaging them and clip-out easily if they need to put their feet down.
Your feet are securely fastened with this pedal, improving power and efficiency. However, some studies show that a clipless pedal doesn't improve pedal efficiency that much, especially when pedaling on flat surfaces.
They have double-sided pedals so that you can put your feet on either side of the pedal, but have a lower pedal float than flat pedals but not as low as road-style clipless pedals. You can’t put your feet down as easily as on a flat pedal, either.
Some riders don’t have the confidence to be clipped to their pedal. You also need special footwear for MTB pedals, so a clipless MTB pedal isn’t as much of a viable option for triathlons.
Road-Style Clipless Pedals
Road-style clipless bike pedals are the most popular pedals among triathletes. They use a large plastic cleat that clicks to the shoe and are usually made so you can only clip in one side of the pedal.
These pedals allow for the most power transfer and efficiency due to the low pedal float. But, this also means that these pedals are harder on your knees.
Having your feet secured in place also prevents injury and provides more comfort than MTB-style pedals because of the wide platform.
Again, note that there’s research questioning the claim that a clipless pedal is more efficient than a flat pedal when pedaling on the flat. In fact, this study shows that submaximal oxygen consumption only increased by 2.1% in clipless pedals.
Also, the road-style clipless pedal requires the most effort to clip in and out from the pedal, making it more difficult to put your feet on the ground. You also need special cycling shoes, and some triathletes aren’t that comfortable being clipped to their pedals.
The Best Pedal for Triathlon Bikes in 2021
These Shimano SPD SL pedals are durable stainless steel road-style clipless pedals with a wider platform than its competitors, adding comfort for your feet. The pedals are also easy to assemble and adjust.
Cleats are included with the pedal, and you can choose between three cleats with different amounts of float:
- Yellow: 6 degrees of pedal float, meaning you can move your feet more freely.
- Blue: 2 degrees, granting a little bit of float.
- Red: No float.
The choice of different cleats makes the bike more adjustable to your needs. While beginners inexperienced in using clipless pedals might want to choose more pedal float, elite triathletes might opt for the red cleat that doesn’t facilitate any pedal float to maximize power.
The pedals are optimized for beginner riders with lighter spring tension and a large entry area. Being able to secure your feet on a larger platform gives more confidence to bikers new to clipless pedals.
Even so, the SPD SL pedal weighs approximately 320 grams, which isn’t the most lightweight pedal on my list, but that doesn’t stop customers from being happy with them.
You need the correct bicycle cleats to use these pedals. For example, the SPD SL pedal needs three-bolt cleats, which are quite difficult to clip in and out of, but less so than other road-style clipless pedals because they’re designed for beginners.
- High power road-style clipless SPD SL pedal.
- Wide platforms for added comfort.
- Specifically designed for newer riders.
- Cleats with different available floats make the SPD SL pedal customizable.
- Made from long-lasting steel.
- Budget-friendly option.
- More difficult to clip in and out of the SPD SL pedal.
- Slightly heavy.
These pedals are made from lightweight carbon fiber, making them weigh only 125 grams each. The Look Keo 2 Max pedals are also made with cup and cone bearings, offering excellent durability.
This combines well with the 500mm2 large stainless steel platform surface, offering lots of comfort because of increased foot stability. The Look Keo 2 Max pedal also optimizes power transfer from your legs to your bike due to this.
In addition, these are road-style clipless pedals, so they’re single-sided pedals and quite difficult to clip in and out of.
The Keo 2 Max is the most lightweight clipless pedal on my list and is a high-performing bike pedal that’s great for triathletes. However, these pedals are difficult to clip out of and are best-suited to more experienced cyclists.
- Very lightweight and durable carbon fiber body.
- Clipless road-style pedal with a lot of power.
- Large platform surface for increased feet stability.
- Cup and cone bearings for longer durability.
- High-performance pedals for maximized speed.
- Difficult to clip out of the pedals.
- Not very beginner-friendly.
The Dura-Ace pedals contain carbon composite with steel platforms. This makes them rather lightweight, weighing about 228 grams each, but they’re still highly durable. They’re also made with wide platforms for increased stability and power.
Note that these pedals also have hollow cleat bolts, which are weight-saving and offer even higher performance.
Customers like the adjustable tension settings in these pedals, offering excellent customization to suit different rider preferences.
These Shimano pedals also have three steel plates fastened across the center to protect the pedal from wear. This makes the pedals even more long-lasting.
Be aware that while these Shimano pedals are of exceptional quality, resulting in a more expensive price tag.
- High-quality carbon composite pedal.
- Wide platforms that offer comfort and more power efficiency.
- Low stack height further increases power.
- Durable, high-performing hollow cleats.
- Adjustable tension settings.
- Not the most affordable pedals.
These Speedplay pedals are clipless and come in both three-bolt and four-bolt versions, meaning that they fit more bicycle shoes. The pedals also have a low stack height—only 11.5mm for the three-hole mounting and 8.5mm for the four-hole—offering more power transfer.
Built from chrome-moly, the pedals and the walkable cleats only weigh about 208 grams for each pair. A more lightweight bike basically means that you get more performance for less pedaling.
The SpeedPlay pedals are also double-sided, meaning they’re easier to clip into than the other clipless pedals on my list.
Even though these pedals have a rather low float, it’s still higher than some other options. This means that they’re better for your knees but decrease maximum efficiency.
- Low stack height.
- Comes in both 3-hole and 4-hole versions that fit more bicycle shoes.
- Double-sided pedal for easy entry and exit.
- Don’t put as much pressure on your joints.
- Not the most maximization of power.
- Quite pricey compared to competitor pedals.
For those new to triathlons or perhaps new to biking in general, flat pedals are a good option.
These flat pedals are made from plastic with a steel bindle, making them cheap but not the most durable triathlon bike pedals. However, they’re lightweight, making the bike easier to pedal.
A handy inclusion is the reflectors on both pedals for increased night visibility. But, due to problems in the quality control process, some individual pedals don't come with reflectors.
Additionally, the bearings on the bike pedals are exposed. This means that they collect dirt easier, resulting in more friction between surfaces inside the pedals, wearing them down faster.
The BV Bike Pedals are good for your standard rider or a new triathlete. As a more serious racer, opt for more high-performing pedals.
- Very affordable pedals.
- Great for beginners.
- Decent weight.
- Reflectors make you more visible in the dark.
- Exposed bearings might cause the pedals to tear faster.
- Quality control issues cause varied quality in individual pedals.
And the Winner Is…
As a triathlete, choose bike pedals that will maximize power and efficiency: clipless pedals.
For me, the best of these pedals is the Shimano PD-RS500 SPD SL Road Bike Pedal.
It has high power transfer as well as a wide platform for added stability and comfort. In addition, the pedal has a greater entry area for better contact as well as lighter spring tension, making it excellent for beginner triathletes.
Also, the SPD SL pedal is the second-most affordable option! Considering what you get for your money, the Shimano PD-RS500 SPD SL pedals are a great choice for beginners who want to venture into clipless pedals.