Pedals are your power contact point and an oft-forgotten cycling component, until their bearings seize or the engagement mechanism fails.
Supporting weight on descents, and having to reliably mediate each crank rotation, pedals work hard for their keep on any bicycle. But how different is the idea of a gravel bike pedal, from that of a road or mountain bike? And perhaps more importantly: is there truly a case to be made, for any differentiation?
Road bike pedals are too fragile in the construction of their engagement mechanism, for sustained use on corrugated gravel routes. Raod bike cleat mechanisms are also susceptible to clogging with dirt leading to an unreliable connection between pedal and shoe, because of this most gravel riders tend to repurpose lightweight XC racing mountain bike pedals. But which are the best options?
Not only is Tom Ritchey responsible for the first production mountain bikes, but the Californian cycling legend has also been a dedicated gravel bike rider – for decades.
Ritchey components have a history in gravel bike frames and components, which predates much of the current popularity with narrow-tire off-road riding. As such, you would expect the brand to market a convincing gravel bike pedal.
Effectively a repurposed mountain bike pedal, the XC Comp has an alloy structure and spins on a chromoly axle. They are SPD compatible and cleat retention is easily adjustable on the pedal body, depending on how secure you like to feel, riding along.
In terms of actual riding ergonomics, these Ritchey XC Comps offer 4-degrees of float, and the pedal’s structural design allows for optimal mud shedding. If you are a gravel rider who is not afraid of those big weekend routes, with cloudy skies above and damp farm roads ahead, these Ritchey will certainly appeal.
The French pedal innovator has opted to evolve one of its road product designs for gravel bike duty, instead of ‘lightweighting’ an XC mountain bike pedal.
With the Cyclo range, Time is targeting its loyal customers who desire to use one shoe and cleat system, across road, gravel and mountain bikes. Enabling this is the I-clip engagement system, which offers incredible precise adjustment, allowing you to find the exact amount of engagement and disengagement tension.
The Cyclo 10 pedal body is composite and spins a steel axle, offering the benefit of low weight and durability. With a large structure, it is easy to guide yourself into these pedals, if you do come unclipped on a rough part of gravel road, whilst angular adjustability is a generous 10-degrees, paying nice with problematic knees and ankles.
Being single-sided, the Cyclo 10 pedals could be annoying for those gravel riders who have become accustomed to dual-sided clipless function and convenience.
The Eggbeater pedal has always been met with approval, from those cyclists who appreciate minimalist industrial design. It features a very simple stamped steel structure, with a highly original engagement profile.
Unlike other mountain bike and gravel pedals which feature dual-sided entry, at best, Crankbrothers offer four sides of engagement, with its Eggbeaters. If you get anxious about struggling to reengage with pedals after clipping-out, the Eggbeaters are excellent.
The minimalist design delivers outstanding mud-shedding and reduces overall pedal mass. Keeping the Eggbeaters spinning freely, are Enduro specification cartridge bearings that are proven to be robust and durable, even when riding in muddy conditions.
Crankbrothers use steel on the structure and spring mechanism, which means these Eggbeaters are sure to keep their shape and mechanical properties for years – even if you do manage to pedal strike them against the occasional rock or root.
If cost is no object, these French lightweight mountain bike pedals make an outstanding component on any boutique gravel bike build.
Designers at Look recognize that Shimano’s SPD compatible system is nearly unbeatable for any off-road cycling application. As such, the X-Track range uses an SPD compatible design, with some very impressive lightweigting.
Featuring a composite pedal body and titanium spindle, Look’s premium X-Track pedal is efficiently light, without sacrificing durability. If you desire the reliability of a dual-sided SPD mechanism and want to keep the rotational pedal mass low, look no further than these Looks.
The only potential debit with these premium French SPD pedals, is that their compact pedal body and engagement mechanism, does leave less room for mud to be expelled if you are riding in deep winter off-road conditions.
HT is best known for its mountain bike flat pedals, but the German brand’s clipless offerings are no less impressive.
With HT’s M1T range you get a very compact and lightweight pedal, with excellent German industrial design and build quality. At only 252g, these clipless pedals won’t add much to the rotational mass of your pedal stroke,
The HT M1T’s use a wound spring clipping mechanism, which offers generous adjustment. For those gravel riders who have lingering knee issues or desire the comfort of a broad range of rotational freedom when cleated-in, each set of M1T’s comes with two pairs of cleats: offering 4° and 8° of float.
Potential debits with the HT M1T’s are a relatively low rider weight limit and a possible issue with mud clearance, considering the compact pedal design. That said, the clipping interface is outstanding and provides better security and float than many rivals.
Shimano can rightly claim to have revolutionized mountain biking with its SPD clipless technology. Since the early 1990s, the SPD system has proven utterly reliable, with the lowest maintenance coefficient of any clipless pedal.
If you are on a budget and want to embrace gravel biking in all weather conditions and off-road terrain types, there is nothing better than Shimano’s PD-M520. Its simple and robust design delivers secure cleat interfacing and the sealed cartridge bearings seem to last forever.
The Shimano PD-M520’s aren’t going to win any artistic industrial design prizes for appearance, but they get the job done perfectly at an unbeatable price. Easily serviceable, although that might only be necessary after a few seasons of riding, the Shimano PD-M520’s are true fit-and-forget gravel riding pedals.
For gravel riders who are committed SPD users, Shimano's latest M9100 series XTR range is an ideal lightweight pedal choice.
It retains all the robust durability and secure engagement of Shimano’s SPD system, with a slimmed-down design. Spinning on a 3mm shorter spindle, the M9100 XTR pedals feature a narrower pedal center, ideal for the compact q-factor on most gravel bikes.
Shimano has increased the pedal body structure by widening it, allowing for a better pedal-to-shoe interface. A small but notable improvement from the M9000 to M9100 series XTR pedals is a reshaping of the pedal body outline. Shimano has rounded the M9100’s edges, which should improve mud-shedding if you are riding in sloppy terrain during winter.
Best gravel bike pedals: what you need to know
Double-sided is best
Struggling to find the right side of a single-sided clipless pedal, can vary between annoying and dangerous when riding off-road.
For most gravel riders, the best pedal is a double-sided one, enabling you to clip in easily if contact is broken over a rough section of roots or some particularly bumpy trail.
Although single-sided clipless pedals such as the Time Cyclo 10 are exceptionally light and offer great mud-shedding ability, they can be deeply annoying to reengage when you have unclipped over rough terrain.
A steel axle is fine
Some of the more exotic gravel bike pedals have titanium axles, which can impact their load ratings. A pedal that is pleasantly light and pleasing on the eye might not be able to support your weight on a harsh gravel road, especially if you are out of the saddle on a bumpy descent.
Chromoly axles are plenty strong and perhaps the best option for gravel bikers, if you are unwilling to spend a lot of money, to merely save a few grams. They are also the default option for riders over 180lb.
Buy one you can take apart without hassle
If you are going to be rolling huge mileages in all conditions, the serviceability of your gravel bike’s pedals will certainly become an important consideration. Pedals are hugely exposed to the environmental contaminants generated by off-road terrain surfaces, especially in winter.
With the adventurous nature of gravel biking, you risk a lot of mud contact with your pedals, generating possible abrasive wear on the axle bearings.
A gravel bike pedal that can easily be dissembled, without propriety tools, is much easier to service.