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Home » Cycling » Are Road Pedals Better than Mountain Pedals (spd) on Road Bikes?  (The Question is NOT are they more Efficient)

Are Road Pedals Better than Mountain Pedals (spd) on Road Bikes?  (The Question is NOT are they more Efficient)

November 2017
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I’ve been watching “The Bike Fit Adviser” series on YouTube and I like a lot of what John has to offer.  Put simply, he has a tendency to go off the reservation on a topic every once in a while.

Pedal efficiency, the difference between a Look style vs. SPD, is one of those topics.  

It’s easy to pooh-pooh the notion that road pedals offer greater aerodynamics or offer an advantage in actually getting the pedals around the cranks – you’re talking about such a small gain, it becomes inconsequential unless you’re a pro where every little difference matters.

That’s not the end of the narrative, though.

I’ve ridden both, and over long distances, enough to know that there exists a huge difference between the two and it has nothing to do with aerodynamics or pedaling efficiency.

Grocery-getter or cyclist?

The first thing to determine is what style of cycling will we be taking part in, because this matters in the decision-making process.  If you’re going to commute or take rides up to the grocery store, if you’re talking about trips up to 30-40 miles (48 to 65 km) at reasonable efforts, what difference there is between the two pedal styles won’t matter.  It’ll be more advantageous to not walk like a duck when you get where you’re going.

Where the discussion gets interesting is when you look at changing up the style of cycling and/or increasing the distance and pace (50+ miles, 18+ mph average [80 km @ 29 km/h]).  

At that point, it’s time to ditch the mountain bike shoes and pedals and go for a road setup – and for some reason John just skips right over this….  The spd mountain bike pedals have a tiny cleat contrasted against a Look or Shimano road cleat so the load is transferred from the foot to the pedal over a smaller surface area with a mountain pedal/cleat rig.

The smaller cleat causes “hot spots” of pain on the ball of the foot.  I know this happens because I’ve ridden thousands of miles on the spd pedals.  The further and faster one rides, the more the feet will hurt with the effort.  

It’s not about position of the cleat, either.  It’s about stiffness of shoe and the size of the cleat.  More cleat surface area will cause less deflection in sole of a shoe, will cause less pain over a long, fast ride.

Period, end of story.

Spd pedals on the road rig, circa 2012.

I rode mountain pedals on the road rig because I was too poor, at the time, to afford mountain and road shoes.  Today times are better and I can afford both, so I ride Look pedals and cleats on my two road bikes and spd’s on my gravel and mountain bikes.  

The road rig favors how I ride road bikes, the spd pedals and cleats on mountain shoes mean I can walk on dirt roads and in fields without worry of gumming up the cleats/pedals.  

Finally, the pain associated with riding spd pedals on road bikes isn’t so bad it can’t be lived with, I’d simply rather not with as many miles as I ride on the spd’s. 

That’s the short and curlies of the pedal debate.

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11 Comments

  1. fastk9dad says:

    I disagree slightly. Most MTB shoe treads will contact the pedal which takes out a lot, if not all, of the flex issue. Combine that with stiff carbon soles and you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference (in my experience having rode both). But if you have a shoe that has a poor shoe/pedal interface or has a more flexible composite sole than a rider could experience issues.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Yeah, I could give you that, if you got better pedals and the carbon shoes. However, if we are talking about the standard spd’s he refers to in the video, or even worse, egg beaters, they leave a lot to be desired on the longer rides.

      That said, good equipment always trumps cheap stuff. 👍

  2. wanderwolf says:

    I’m just a grocery getter. Still interesting. 🙂

  3. Bill Chance says:

    I’m the world’s slowest cyclist (and grocery-getter) so it’s SPD for me. I’m even looking at ways to change – what are the thinnest shoes I can carry? Or I’m looking into overshoes with stiff soles and SPS cleats that I can take off.

    Interesting article, thanks for sharing.

    • bgddyjim says:

      They make shoes that are only a few layers of carbon fiber thick. Those are ultra-stiff.

      On the down-side, they’re like $2,000-$3,000 a pair. And the slowest cyclist in the whole world wouldn’t have a use for those. Chuckle.

      Ride 💪 brother. If slow makes you smile, then slow as she goes.

  4. To my deep roadie shame I still run SPD pedals on all my bikes (not eggbeaters mind you but road-looking single sided jobbies). I’m not fast, but in no means slow and never had an issue with comfort or hot spots. Just lucky I guess. I also like to carry my post-ride cappuccino without wobbling like a toddler on ice. 😉

    One day I’ll upgrade.

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