Buyer’s guide: which clipless pedal system should you choose?

What should you consider when buying clipless pedals, and which are best for you?

Ever since LOOK developed the first clipless pedal in 1984, the design has changed little, which is a testament as to its effectiveness in improving efficiency, power transfer and comfort.

Switching from flat pedals to clipless pedals, which fasten your shoe to the crankset via a cleat and pedal setup, is a rite of passage for any new cyclist, and once they’ve made the leap of faith, few (if any) go back.

Trouble is, there are lots of options for the road cyclist, all of which effectively do the same job – but each claim to be the best one for you. Here we give our breakdown of the major clipless pedal options open to you, helping you to decide which will suit you best.

However, before we get into each of the options on the market, it’s important to remember that choosing a pedal system is largely down to three main factors, each of which should be considered when choosing a system to use.

Few who switch to clipless pedals every go back to flat pedals (pic: Sirotti)

Your competence and experience

If you’re an experienced clipless pedal user, then making your decision will be about the finer points. If you’re new to clipless pedals, getting used to a particular system is an important factor to becoming comfortable with it, and many people stick with a system for many years once they take the plunge. However, don’t be afraid to try a new pedal system if you feel it may benefit you; experimentation is key.

Your bio-mechanical needs

A bike fit can help you ascertain which setup is going to suit you best from a biomechanical standpoint. Everyone’s dimensions, fitness levels and needs are different, so the pedal system you choose should complement this is some way. You’ll be able to work out, using scientific analysis, factors like how much float is best for you, which engagement system works best for you, as well as the ideal positioning of the cleats on the bottom of the shoe and how much tension you need in the pedals. If you can’t get or don’t have access to a bike fit, the golden rule is to ensure that the system you choose is comfortable over a long ride.

Your personal preference

Personal preference will also prove an important factor – especially if your choice isn’t limited by one or both of the above points. You may simply have a favourite engagement method, prefer a certain size cleat to walk on, or like the idea of having a super-lightweight or aerodynamic pedal system. For the vast majority of riders, cycling comes down to enjoyment, and enjoying riding with the kit you have. Pedal system choice also forms part of that.

Now, let’s take a look at the major clipless pedal options available to you.

Shimano SPD-SL

Shimano’s SPD-SL system is one of the most common, if not the most common, setups used by road cyclists – as you’d expect when the Japanese giant is involved.

Like the majority of clipless pedal systems, the SPD-SL setup uses a three-bolt system to fasten the cleat to the bottom of the shoe, and a simple push in, down and click engagement action, with a twist out disengagement. One of the main benefits of Shimano SPD-SLs is the sheer adjustability in the pedal system, which allows you to build tension gradually (and so the amount of force it takes to clip out) as first timers get used to using them.

Most clipless pedal systems offer ‘float’, which refers to the left and right pivoting movement afforded to the foot by the pedal before the cleat is released – this helps to reduce strain on the knees.

Shimano’s SPD-SL pedal system is one of, if not the, most common pedal systems with the range covering everything from the aluminium PD-R540 pedals through to the range-topping Dura-Ace R9100

Shimano’s cleats come in three varieties, offering zero (red), two (blue), and six (yellow) degrees of float, with the latter the standard option supplied with pedals. The clear colour indicators also double as rubberized grippers, making walking around on them a touch easier.

The pedal range is also all-inclusive of budget, from the PD-R540 aluminium model at £44.99, up to the top of the range super-lightweight carbon Dura-Ace R9100 version for £219.99, meaning the system can appeal to a great many road cyclists of varying ability.

The mechanics of the pedal system remain the same as you move up the range; it’s the material they pedals are made from, and subsequently how much they weigh, which predominantly changes.

Pedal price range: £44.99 – £219.99 RRP
Cleat price: £19.99 RRP
Float options: Zero, two and six degrees


LOOK’s Kéo system is very similar in the way it feels and adjusts, engages and disengages as Shimano SPD-SL, with similar looking pedal and cleats, too. You may even be forgiven for thinking that they’re cross-compatible at first glance, but they’re not.

LOOK’s system differs in two key ways – the size of the cleat, which is smaller in footprint, and the float options available. Like the SPD-SLs, you can buy them with zero degrees of float (black cleats, rather than red for Shimano), but then the increments change to four degrees (grey) and nine degrees (red) – so if you require a lot of float, the Kéo setup could be the one to plump for over Shimano.

Additionally, the cleats are available with or without grippers, although we’d always recommend buying them with grippers to make walking on them easier and safer.

LOOK’s entry-level pedals (the Classic 3, 2 Max and 2 Mac Carbon) are all engaged using a spring mechanism, while the more expensive Blade, Blade Carbon and Blade Carbon Ti models use a leaf spring (blade) mechanism, said to reduce weight, lower the stack height of the pedals and provide a firmer hold on the cleat.

LOOK’s Keo pedals differ from Shimano’s SPD-SL as the cleat size is smaller and offers more float

From the base Kéo Classic 3 pedals (£51.99) up to the brand new models that incorporate power strain gauges in the spindles (£TBC), there’s a pedal to suit every budget and aim, and offers easy upgrading through the range without changing your cleat type when you want faster, more aerodynamic and lightweight performance.

Pedal price range: £51.99 – £154.99 RRP (Power versions £TBC)
Cleat price: £20.99 RRP (with grips)
Float options: Zero, 4.5 and 9 degrees


Speedplay have a strong following in the road cycling scene – used by none other than Sir Bradley Wiggins, among many others. They appear very different than the others on this list, because it’s the pedal body which attaches into the cleat (which houses the mechanism), rather than the cleat-into-pedal setups listed here. As a result, the Speedplay cleat has a larger surface area on the bottom of the shoe, while the distinctive lollipop-shaped pedal that clips into it is smaller.

Speedplay cleats mount to the shoe via a two-step process: a three-bolt plate fits to the bottom of the shoe, then a four-bolt cleat housing attaches to the plate. Speedplay say their systems offers improved power transfer and aerodynamics thanks to the reduced stack height (as low as 8.5mm) their reversed system offers.

Adjustability is also excellent thanks to the micro screw system. As a result, Speedplay’s system allows for ‘free float’ within a 15 degree limit, which can be set to your ideal specification and range, so is popular with riders who suffer from knee problems.

Speedplay’s use smaller pedals but bigger cleats. The pedals are dual-sided, and the brand say they offer improved power transfer and aerodynamics

The pedals are also dual sided, which means you don’t have to fish around for the right side of the pedal to clip-in, making Speedplay pedals a good (if certainly potentially expensive) choice for inexperienced cyclists. Speedplay also offer ‘walkable’ cleats, which feature a rubber cover that gives grip on smooth surfaces, and a curved profile that makes the pedal housing below easier to walk on.

Speedplays come in many varieties – for roadies, mainly the Zero, Light Action and X pedals – and each are cross-compatible within the same range should you decide to upgrade, with various options in the Zero range alone to maximise low weight, aerodynamics or ease of entry. There’s also a stripped-back ‘pave’ version of the Zeros to encourage clean cleat engagement even when the going gets Paris-Roubaix-esque. The downside to Speedplays is the higher price for both the cleat and pedal setups on offer across the ranges.

Pedal price range: £99.99 – £599.99 RRP
Cleat price: £39.99 – £59.99 RRP
Float options: ‘Free float’ system up to 15 degrees; custom spindle lengths also available

Time Xpresso / Mavic Zxellium

Time are purveyors of some seriously striking design across their bikes, and the pedals are no exception. There are six Xpresso models that vary in their construction, as well as a range of flag versions should you be feeling patriotic. It’s also worth noting that the Xpresso pedals were designed in collaboration with Mavic, with cleats that are cross-compatible.

The Xpresso/Zxellium range is known for its light weight despite having an oversized body to clip into, and through its ‘iClic’ clip-in system is incredibly easy to engage thanks to being held open when the cleat isn’t actually in the pedal. When you push down, even gently, the lever inside the pedal is also pushed down, releasing the rear mechanism of the pedal to hold the cleat. As with the Shimano and Look three-bolt systems, it’s a simple case of twisting out to disengage.

Time’s Xpresso pedal range uses iClic engagement, and the range is topped by the Xpresso 15, which is crafted from carbon and titanium for maximum stiffness and low weight

The Xpresso range is topped by the 15 (Zxellium by Ultimate), which makes use of the latest ceramic bearing technology as well as carbon and titanium for maximum stiffness and lightweight construction, and the entry-level Xpresso 4 boasts the same design, just with a steel axle and composite body. Naturally, of course, cost increases sharply as you move up the range, with lighter and stiffer materials employed.

Additionally, float is inherent to the pedals themselves, with five degrees of angular float and 2.5 degrees of lateral float too. Other benefits include cleats that feature non-slip grips, though some riders have found the cleats wear particularly quickly.

Time Xpresso
Pedal price range: £39.99 – £339.99 RRP
Cleat price: £15.99 RRP
Float options: 2.5 degrees

Mavic Zxellium
Pedal price range: £59.52 – £360.00 RRP
Cleat price: £15.99 RRP
Float options: Five degrees, plus 2.5 lateral float

Shimano SPD (mountain bike pedals)

In this guide we’ve focused on road cycling pedals. While there are a number of mountain bike-specific systems available, Shimano’s SPD setup is the most popular and relatively popular among roadies thanks to the dual-sided design.

The cleats are also much smaller than SPD-SLs, making walking around with them much easier. In fact, team SPD pedals with mountain bike-ready shoes and the cleat mechanism will be housed within a recess in the shoe grips so you can walk around completely normally. The engagement function is incredibly easy with either a single twist-out, or a multi-directional disengagement depending on the cleats you buy.

Shimano’s SPD pedals are mountain bike pedals, but are popular with some roadies

Negatives? The reduced contact patch means there’s a slight penalty in terms of power transfer, and the pedals themselves are generally a little heavier than road-specific options on the market. It’s also not the ‘roadie’ look, but don’t let that put you off if it’s the right system for you.

Otherwise, Shimano also offer a range of SPD ‘touring’ pedals, which are the same as regular SPD pedals on one side, but have a flat design on the other for use with ‘normal’ shoes. These are a good options for new cyclists nervous (or unsure) about using clipless pedals, or those cyclists who may sometimes use the same bike with cycling shoes, and sometimes without.

Pedal price range: £49.99 – £79.99 RRP
Cleat price: £14.99 RRP
Float options: None, but with single or multi-release options

Power pedals

The number of power meters on the mark has grown significantly in recent years and pedal-based systems have come to the fore alongside crank-based systems. One of the main benefits of a pedal-based power meter is that you can easily switch it between bikes.

Power pedals can either come in single or dual-sided setups (i.e., whether one or both of the pedals measure power), with single-pedal systems doubling one of the pedal measurements to give you an average of the total. While the single-sided option is cheaper, it’s less accurate, instead working up an estimate, and also can’t provide a breakdown of left and right power to identify any imbalance in your pedal stroke.

Designs vary too, with Garmin’s Vector system housing the strain gauges in the pedal spindles and batteries in separate ‘pods’, while Powertap’s P1 power pedal is a more self-contained unit, and Powermeter24’s bePRO system sits in the middle with a bulky nodule between the pedal and crank. Because of the extra technology which comes within power-measuring pedals, they tend to weigh significantly more than other high-end non-power setups.

As an aside, if budget is an issue, the Vector and bePRO systems can all be bought as a single-sided setup, with the option to upgrade to the full two-pedal system should you wish to in the future.

Garmin Vector
Pedal price range: £549.99 (single); £899.99 (dual) RRP
Cleat price: £16.99 RRP
Float options: Zero and six degrees (plus Look Kéo 4.5 and nine degree options)
Accuracy claim: +/- 2 per cent
Upgradeable: Yes

Powertap P1
Pedal price range: £599 (single) – £1,049 (dual) RRP
Cleat price: £17 RRP
Float options: Zero and six degrees (plus Look Kéo 4.5 and nine degree options)
Accuracy claim: +/- 1.5 per cent
Upgradable: No

Powermeter24 bePRO
Pedal price range: £398.93 (single) – £601.88 (dual) RRP
Cleat price: £17 RRP
Float options: Zero and six degrees (plus Look Kéo 4.5 and nine degree options)
Accuracy claim: +/- 2 per cent
Upgradable: Yes


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