A recent survey of riders at Whistler Mountain Bike Park points out that almost 4 out of 5 riders ride on flat pedals. Though this may be biased towards the gravity side of the sport, it is undeniable that flat pedals are a part of mountain biking that isn’t going away any time soon.
I would even go as far to say that it is something every mountain biker, even those who exclusively ride clipless pedals, should try.
While trying out grippy flat pedals for the first time can be a painful experience for your shins and calves, the skills and habits you pick while adapting to flat pedals will make anyone a better rider.
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Adapting to and riding flat pedals is much more fun and much less painful experience when you’re on good pedals.
Best mountain bike flat pedals can be identified by several key criteria listed below.
This is the single most important performance measure of a flat pedal. It is made to keep your shoe in place and never let it slip.
Through rain, mud and the rough, best mountain bike flat pedals must keep a rider’s foot firmly stuck to the bike.
There are several factors that define how grippy a pedal will feel under your foot.
This may sound technical but it is simply the measure of how much lower the middle of the pedal is relative to the outside edges, where the tallest pins are.
The ideal shape of a pedal is a small concave power where the lowest part is right where the ball of your feet should be.
A concave pedal has a huge advantage over a, literally, flat pedal when it comes to grip.
The lower center makes your footing much more secure. Downward pressure from your body will naturally center your foot on the pedal allow the pins to provide the most grip while a flat or concave pedal will give you the sensation of your feet sliding off the pedal when you put your weight on it.
This is especially important in situations where grip might be in short supply, such as a rough stretch of trail or in rainy and muddy conditions.
Pins: Construction, Distribution, and Height
The scariest part of the flat pedal are the pins. They do the dirty work of giving your pedals grip by biting into your shoes, and sometimes your shins.
While they may not usually get a second thought, the pins of a pedal come in many shapes and sizes which greatly affects a pedal’s performance and lifespan.
Generally, the taller the pins are the more grip they will provide. But pins that are too tall can provide so much grip that it is impossible to even shift your foot around to get it to a comfortable position. They can also tear up your shoes much quicker than standard pins.
The pattern of the pins can also drastically influence how a flat pedal feels. Generally, there will always be pins on the front, back, and the outer edge of the pedal, but some pedals have a collection of pins in the middle of the pedal.
These pins can increase grip greatly by resisting the twisting motion of your bike or your feet.
On the downside, they can reduce the concavity of the pedal and they can make it more difficult to adjust your foot once you’re on the bike.
I personally prefer a good set of pins in the middle of the pedal since it allows for the greatest amount of feedback from bike to rider and vice versa, even more than in clipless pedals.
It helps me feel “one” with the bike but it can also be a headache in rock gardens where a bump can shift my foot slightly and it may be difficult to shift it back into a position, I’m comfortable with.
Pin construction is an often-overlooked aspect of the pedal. Pedals will hit rocks, it’s inevitable.
How the pins are built will determine how inconvenient it’s going to be when trying to repair your pedal after that fortuitous pedal strike that leaves you with a broken or bent pin.
Most pins are simple setscrews with Allen keys on top that screw inward on the pedal.
These are the pins you basically leave it there if they get damaged.
The Allen keys will fill with hard dirt and will likely deform upon impact. They also don’t have support on the other side of the thread making the likelihood of damaging the thread in an impact higher.
This makes it almost impossible to remove the pin. Other pins screw from the underside of the pedal outwards and have a wider head providing more support for each pin.
These are actually replaceable since if the pin deforms or breaks. You can just saw off the top and screw out what’s left.
You can simply screw in a new pin afterward. The metal the pins are made of is also important but this will be discussed with the overall durability of the pedal.
The size of a pedal is often where you will easily the difference between quality and cheap pedals. A large platform is essential for a solid foothold.
Pedals sizes will often differ from model to model and brand to brand, some brands will even offer different sized pedals of the same model.
The rule of thumb to choose what’s best for you is to choose that largest pedal size wherein your shoe can be in contact with all the pins at the same time.
Pedals that are too large can become an issue when the pedal has no pins in the middle.
If your foot is too small, you may not be able to utilize all the pins on the sides and instead by relying on the flat, gripless, surface in the middle of the pedal.
Larger pedals also tend to be heavier and are more likely to impact trailside features. Pedals that are too small will be something familiar to most cyclists.
Remember your first bike where the pedals were so small your foot was essentially draped over it and folding over both front and back? You want to avoid pedals small enough to put you in that position.
Materials, Durability, and Reliability
Durability in flat pedals doesn’t generally come down to whether it will break or not but rather what will break first.
Pedals with platforms made out of softer aluminum will often deform and deflect impacts better than pedals made out of harder aluminum alloys.
Pedals made of a softer material than their pins may also fail where the pins thread in, making replacement impossible.
Also, pedals with platforms made from harder material are more resilient to impact damage but will result in a failure at the axle if the forces are strong enough.
If they’re built too light, the platform itself might break. In my experience, the kind of pedal which yield the least headaches are pedals made out of harder alloys but aren’t built too light.
Replacing axles is also often cheaper than replacing the platforms unless you have a model with a titanium axle.
Some pedals go the complete other direction with composite platforms.
They’re light and cheap but just not as durable as aluminum pedals. These can be worth it if you are a gentle or light rider because they perform just as well as their metal counterparts in the grip department, they just can’t take a beating.
The material the platforms are made out of and the material the pins are made out should also be something you consider.
Most pins are made out of steel, which in some cases can make them harder to damage than the platform they thread into.
If a steel pin is too durable, they will deform the hole they thread into when a pedal strike occurs.
This can leave you with a permanently damaged pedal instead of just having to replace a pin or two.
The reliability of a pedal is the sum of the manufacturers’ quality control and the serviceability of the pedal.
These are well reflected in the long-term reviews of pedals and the reputation of their manufacturers.
Models don’t change often so there is usually a fairly large pool of user reviews for any given pedal model from a reputable brand. If they break easily, it will show.
The weight of a pedal is a performance factor that isn’t high on the priority list.
Unless it is a very expensive model (over $300), low weight is an indicator of less material and usually less durability.
Most mid-range flat pedals will weigh in at 400g to 500g for the set, with higher-end, titanium axle models, weighing in at 300-400g.
The added weight from the pedals on the bike is the weight you will have a hard time noticing.
They are down low on the bike and are in direct contact with your feet.
There are enough benefits to sturdy pedals that going for lightweight models is generally not worth it, unless you want to shell out for lighter titanium axles.
The premium price that you pay to lose 100g to 150g on the bike is just not worth it to most riders.
Pedal thicknesses of the best mountain bike flat pedals usually vary just a few millimeters of each other.
Such a small difference may seem trivial but a thinner pedal has massive benefits and is one of the main advantages of flat pedals over their much thicker clipless counterparts.
It essentially lowers your entire center of gravity just a little bit, and at the same time, gets you a tiny bit more clearance under the pedal to make it less likely to scrape the bottom of the trail or to snag on a rock or root.
It has all the benefits of dropping the bikes bottom bracket while actually improving the ground clearance of the bike.
A thinner pedal will make you feel more connected to your bike and, in turn, the trail.
A thinner pedal also brings your feet closer to the point of rotation making the motion feel more natural.
Thin pedals come with a lot of compromises, though.
They have to reduce the concavity of the pedal, the pin height and sometimes even axle size and clearance to get pedals to the thinnest dimensions they can be.
Despite this, many riders swear by them and say that all the compromises are worth it and one of the best mountain bike flat pedals
Best Mountain Bike Flat Pedals Recommendations
Grippiest Flat Pedal
The Vault flat pedal is a monster with teeth to match and one of the best mountain bike flat pedals.
The combination of massive pins and a deep center yields a very concave shape that grabs the soles of your shoes and keeps them secure.
The extremely grippy nature of this pedal may make adjusting your feet on the fly almost impossible, especially if you’re also wearing grippy shoes.
The deep concave shape of this pedal means that it is quite a bit thicker than other low-profile pedals.
DMR stocks the Vault in a myriad of different colors and builds in various price brackets.
Best Thin Flat Pedal
HT Components AE03
The AE03 from HT components is their thinnest pedal which comes in at just 11mm at its thickest point.
While it doesn’t seem like much, every millimeter matters when flat pedals are designed to grab on to things and you need as much clearance as possible.
While the thin design of the pedal makes it this pedal have very little concavity, the pins make it adequately grippy.
If there is any lack of grip, some sticky shoes can more than make up for the difference.
These pedals are also come in at an above-average price, but, thanks to their thin design, they are also relatively light at just 350g.
Best Budget Flat Pedal
OneUp Composite pedal
Composite pedals are an excellent option to consider and one of the best mountain bike flat pedals if you’re not the kind of rider that routinely introduces their pedals to rocks at speed.
The OneUp Composite pedal is one of the best mountain bike flat pedals. It is lighter than most of the mid-range aluminum pedals, at just 355g, and has great grip with an impressive array of pins.
Its biggest advantage is that it just $57, more than half the price of most pedals of equivalent performance from the competition.
The compromise for this low price is a loss in impact resistance and the flex that some heavier riders can feel.
Best Overall Flat Pedal
Crankbrothers Stamp 7
The best of the best mountain bike flat pedals, in my experience, is the new Crankbrothes Stamp 7 pedal.
Crankbrothers have come along way from their two-piece 5050 flat pedals, which wasn’t the best showing from Crankbrothers.
The Stamp is a solid performer in all aspects. It has a very open design, which can help get rid of mud quicker.
It has pins in the middle and along the outside of the pedal.
The Stamp also has a relatively thin profile at just 13mm at its widest, which leaves some room for a concave shape.
The Stamp 7 is their mid-range variant which is priced only little higher than offerings from competitors but comes in quite light at under 400g.
Crankbrothers is also one of the first companies to offer their pedals in sizes, specifically small and large.
This lets you choose the right pedal for your foot size which makes this pedal an easy recommendation and one of the best mountain bike flat pedals for anyone regardless of how big or small their feet are.