Choosing Shoes and Pedals for your Mountain Bike

Navigating shoe and pedal systems for maximum comfort, efficiency, and power.

Your shoe-to-pedal interface is extremely important. It is one of only three touch points between you and your bicycle, but, unlike handlebars and saddles, your pedals convert your work to power. For that reason, it's worth spending a little extra time to decide what system is right for you. Ideally, your choice should be comfortable, easy to use, and help you feel connected to your bike in all riding conditions. Read on to learn more about pedal types and various clipless systems!

Pedal Types

There are two kinds of mountain pedal types: flats and clipless.

Flat pedals

Basic flat pedals, sometimes called platform pedals, come standard on new bicycles. Made of hard resin or aluminum, the flat pedal type is a simple design that does not require special footwear. Many are equipped to take clips and straps, if desired, but Performance recommends you avoid clips and straps for trail use, because they can both snag on trail hazards and complicate emergency stops.

Some flat pedals are made of more durable materials like aluminum, and feature small pins that grab your shoe's rubber tread to promote foot retention when the trail gets rough. This style helps keep your foot on the pedal and is good for emergency bail outs, but is not as efficient as a clipless interface. Many downhill-oriented riders use these.

Clipless pedals

Clipless pedals combine maximum foot retention, easy and safe pedal entry/exit, and superior power transfer. The epitome of performance and comfort, clipless pedal systems will reduce foot fatigue, but have a small learning curve and require special footwear. Many uphill-oriented mountain bikers eventually graduate to one of the clipless interfaces featured, below.

Flat pedals Shoes

Your shoes should keep you comfortable, injury-free, and ready to put down power no matter the trail ahead or the miles behind. They should be durable, lightweight, stiff to provide a stable platform for power transfer, and built from materials to regulate your foot temperature and adjust shoe fit. Flat shoes will be slightly less stiff, but easier to walk in and a bit more fashionable off your bike. Two-hole clipless mountain shoes have cleats screwed into the bottom of their soles, are more rigid, and benefit from the efficiency of clipless systems.

Clipless Systems

Mountain clipless systems consist of three parts: pedals, cycling shoes, and a removable cleat screwed into the bottom of your shoe. Mountain-specific cleats are attached with two screws, so road-specific shoes with three holes are not interchangeable with mountain systems. Before you buy, make sure your shoe, cleat, and pedal will all work together!

Popular two-bolt mountain systems include Look, Crankbrothers, and Shimano SPD.

All clipless systems function in the same way; the rider pushes their cleat into the pedal's clamping mechanism to clip-in. To unclip, the rider gently pivots their foot a few degrees on the pedal to make it release the cleat. With a little practice, these actions become habit. Proficient clipless riders can clip-in and unclip as quickly as riders using flat systems.

Remember: components of two-bolt and three-bolt systems are not interchangeable, this includes Shimano's SPD-SL (three-bolt road) and SPD (two-bolt) systems. The removable cleat screwed into the sole of your shoe must match the clip mechanism on the pedal.

Clipless Cleats

Your new pedals will include clipless cleats, but the cleats eventually wear out and need replacing. When pedal entry and exit feels sloppy, or too easy no matter how you adjust your pedal's tension, it's time to replace your cleats. Check out our selection, here.

Staff favorites



Brandon’s choice for clipping in was to improve his climbing ability. Here in Chico there is a lot of steep technical climbs that the clipless combo make much more rideable.

Shoes: SHIMANO SH-XC701 MOUNTAIN SHOES
Pedals: LOOK X-TRACK EN-RAGE PEDALS


When at bike parks or during a shuttle day Jack will rock some Ride Concepts Vice flat pedal shoes and Race Face chester pedals. A great combination of grip, but also the ability to bail when things don’t go as planned.

Shoes: RIDE CONCEPTS VICE FLAT PEDAL SHOE
Pedals: RACE FACE CHESTER COMPOSITE PEDALS

Ryan’s set up is to maximize pedal efficiency with a very stiff shoe. This will increase the amount of power he puts out that actually goes into the drivetrain. But, he might slip around when it is time to hike a bike.

Shoes: SHIMANO RX8 GRAVEL SHOES
Pedals: SHIMANO DEORE XT M8120 TRAIL SPD PEDALS W/ CLEATS