As soon as you start heading off-road and into dirt and dust, your choice of the best gravel bike pedals becomes more critical. Not only are you likely to need to clip and unclip faster and more often but the clipless mechanism of your pedal will need to cope with all that dirt and dust. You’ll also need to be able to walk in your shoes, ruling out the oversized cleats found on road shoes.
Fortunately, while gravel biking is a relatively recent discipline to emerge, the best gravel bike pedals are anything but. They benefit from more than 30 years of evolution in shrugging off these hostile conditions aboard cross-country mountain bikes.
You can easily invest four or even five figures on the best gravel bikes, but without a solid set of gravel bike-appropriate pedals, your ride could easily be reduced to a slow and slippery hike-a-bike, because that same dirt and dust will wreak havoc on less well-protected bearings and clog up the more delicate cleat mechanisms found on the best road bike pedals.
Fortunately, as gravel bike pedals have been developing their way into existence, we’ve been putting them to the test to see which are the best. With that, we’re confident that when paired with the best gravel bike shoes, the below list of gravel bike pedals will ensure you remain clipped in and ready to ride, no matter the conditions.
However, since gravel riding is still yet to be truly defined, with gravel racing, all-day-exploring, commuting and bikepacking some of the current sub-genres on offer, the best gravel bike pedals for one person is likely to differ from the next. For some, the priority will be the ability to quickly shed mud; for others, it will be maximum power transfer; while others might prefer flat pedals so they don’t need to pack a second pair of shoes to wear at the end of the journey. With that in mind, if you’re unsure of what you need to look out for when buying, head to the bottom of this page where we’ve included a guide to choosing the best gravel bike pedals for you.
Shimano’s cheapest pedal is a cost-effective component icon with epic reliability and resolute all conditions performance for a super low price, and if you’re looking for an entry-level gravel pedal that will stand up to anything and everything you’re likely to ever throw at it over the next decade, then you needn’t continue scrolling.
The SPD mechanism is easy to get into and out of, with adjustable release tension via a preload bolt on the rear spring. There’s a choice of cleats to adjust float and the cleats themselves last for ages. Mud/snow clogging is minimal and the metal body protects it from knocks. It screws in with a 15mm wrench or a 6mm hex key and the axles are extremely tough. The only downsides are that the serviceable bearings are hidden behind a plastic collar which needs careful use of the supplied tool to get in/out. There’s no way of adjusting the shoe to pedal clearance either so some setups will wobble slightly. Performance for price is awesome at RRP, but you’ll often find even better deals if you shop around.
The M540 is basically a slightly fancier M520. It gets a more sculpted axle with a larger 8mm Allen key socket on the end and an alloy collar protecting the adjustable bearings, rather than plastic. That saves 11g per pedal but it does mean you can’t use a pedal spanner to get it on/off. You can use a spanner to get into the cup and cone bearings for servicing/cleaning though when the telltale wobble or roughness starts.
Otherwise, it’s the same bombproof performance with different cleat options to tune float and only the same potential for wobble on some shoe combinations to grumble about.
The flagship of Shimano’s off-road race family, the XTR uses the same proven SPD mechanism as the rest of the range. The fixed front hook with adjustable tension rear claw makes it easy to get in and out and XTR gets an additional Teflon coating for a smoother clip-in/out action.
The minimalist forged body with machined and polished support flats is pretty close to skeleton category and weight but that means stability and support can vary depending on shoe choice. Despite riding much fewer XT and XTR pedals than 520 and 540 we’ve also had more frequent reliability issues with the bearings and hollow steel axle so don’t assume spending more will get you better durability.
It doesn’t get more ‘skeletal’ than Crankbrothers’ minimalist axle, coil spring and twin double-ended ‘X-Wing’ Eggbeater design, and the gains in the four-sided entry, instant clearing of thick mud and minimal weight can be found right through the range from budget to top-tier.
In our experience, Crankbrothers’ Eggbeater 3 comes alive in the worst conditions, thanks to its stainless steel spring and ‘wings’ to increase strength and reduce corrosion. There are three colour options for the anodised trim and even with a super-strong forged steel axle, weight is significantly lower than trail pedals of a similar price. You can adjust shoe support with supplied shims for a surprisingly surefooted feel, too.
The exposed wings are obviously more vulnerable to impact damage though and if the shims aren’t set up correctly the wings can wear through shoe soles very quickly. The brass cleats wear fast too, but that does at least save the pedals from getting worn.
Crankbrothers makes five versions of its Candy pedal from the composite body Candy 1 to the ultralight titanium-rich Candy 11. The Candy 2 has a tough alloy body with a choice of three anodised colour options.
They forego the snap-on traction pads (designed to sit on the ridged platform for improved pedal-shoe interface) that come included with the Candy 3 pedals, but the clearance between shoe and pedal can be tuned with shims under the cleat anyway.
The clipless mechanism is the classic X-Wing Eggbeater design which rotates freely in the centre of the pedal to give four-angles of engagement however filthy things get. In use, it’s a very progressive and smooth knee friendly release, with the cage and cleat giving a more grounded/less rattly feel than Shimano when you’re engaged, too. Float and release angle can be altered by switching cleats left to right or choosing from premium standard or easy release options that are both available with either zero or six degrees of float.
The double seals protecting the Enduro cartridge bearings and Igus bushings mean the reliability of our test pedals has been excellent too and they’re covered by a five-year warranty.
Look used to have its own interpretation of fellow French brand Time’s hoop clipless system but now it has switched ‘influences’ to Shimano’s classic SPD format. The Race is the second-tier pedal in the X-Track range with a 60mm wide textured composite body for a bit more grip and support outside its metal clipless heart.
That’s more area to hit than most SPD style pedals so it’s great for more on/off use like cyclo-cross. Clipless engagement and release is easy and reliable with a 13-degree release angle and six-degree float giving more mobility than Shimano too. Look’s bearings are based on decades of road and off-road experience too and the pedal system is World Cup proven and lasts very well.
Price and weight are slightly high but the Race is definitely the sweet spot compared to the ‘Carbon’ version which only saves 14g for a sizeable spend increase. The Ti version saves 75g but adds over £100 / $100 to the ticket.
While there’s no denying that clipless pedals can offer increased pedalling efficiency while in the saddle, gravel is such a diverse discipline that in-the-saddle performance isn’t always the sole priority. For those who use their gravel bike to commute to work or for overnight bikepacking trips, flat pedals are a valuable consideration and not having to pack an extra pair of ‘normal’ shoes will save valuable space and weight.
What’s more, the DMR V12 isn’t just a basic pair of flat pedals, they’re immensely popular among mountain bikers for good reason. Their concave platform, replaceable pins and alloy construction make for a durable pedal that offers plenty of grip and surefootedness on even the hardest of trails.
Available in an array of bike-matching colours, they fit into place with either a 6mm hex key or a standard pedal spanner and they are also easily serviceable, with replaceable bearings and pins, so you can be confident they’ll stand the test of time.
If you’re looking for flat pedals for your commute, check out our roundup of the best flat road bike pedals.
In typical Ritchey fashion, its take on Shimano’s SPD design is more pared away than the original. In fact the front hook and windowed rear binding cantilever out from the minimal forged body to the point where’s it’s almost a skeleton pedal. All that open space gives it excellent clearance of mud/snow etc and the adjustable tension in/out is unsurprisingly very similar to Shimano.
The latest V5 version is slightly wider and the steel axle runs on two sets of ball bearings for extra support and durability. It screws in/out with a 6mm hex key or 15mm wrench and comes in a variety of painted colour options if you’re feeling fancy. The exposed pressed metal sections do make it vulnerable to impact damage if you’re mountain biking amongst rocks and logs rather than just gravel biking though. The shoe to pedal gap is non adjustable too so you may get some wobble in certain shoes.
How to choose the best gravel bike pedals
When it comes to buying the best gravel bike pedals, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and often the best choice for you will differ from the next person. This is true for a lot of things, but especially so here since gravel riding as a discipline is so diverse.
Therefore, understanding the key features of each pedal and how that’s likely to affect the quality of the ride is the best way to ensure you are equipped to choose the best gravel bike pedals for you.
Should I use clipless pedals on a gravel bike?
You don’t necessarily need to use clipless pedals, but the same could be said in road and mountain biking. Whether or not you should is a different question. To help answer this, first let’s look at what a clipless pedal actually is.
Despite their counter-intuitive name, clipless pedals are designed to let you ‘clip in’ to your pedals. They do this using a spring mechanism on the pedal and a cleat attached to the sole of the shoe. They therefore require you to wear compatible cycling-specific shoes.
The benefits of clipless is that with your foot secured to the pedal, you have a more planted feel and control of the bike, a more efficient pedalling platform, and even a reduced chance of injury – assuming it’s setup correctly. The downside is that if you don’t already own the shoes, then that’s an extra outlay you’ll need to consider.
The benefits of flat pedals are a wider platform for a secure interface, the ability to wear whatever shoes you currently own – within reason, of course – and for any rides that don’t finish where they started – commuting or bikepacking, for example – then you don’t need to pack a second pair for use at the office/camp/pub, etc.
Can I use flat pedals on a gravel bike?
Absolutely. If you’re not comfortable with using clipless pedals, or you simply prefer to ride without them, then there’s nothing to say you can’t use flat pedals on your gravel bike – or any bike for that matter.
Of course, there are benefits to both systems, so the best way to decide is to weigh up the pros and cons of each and see how each can relate to your own riding preferences.
Clipless pedal shape differences
If you decide that clipless is the way to go, then the next thing to decide is whether you want a ‘skeleton’ pedal which is essentially just the spindle and the spring mechanism, or a ‘trail’ pedal.
Skeleton pedals are the lightest and generally clean the fastest in mud, but the lack of surrounding platform means support is reduced, so they will work best with a super stiff shoe.
Trail pedals have a small ‘body’ surrounding the spring mechanism to give some support under your shoe on either side and protect the clipless mechanism from impacts. They work with a wider range of shoes and are generally tougher but they are heavier too. They can also usually be used more comfortably with standard shoes, although if that’s how you plan on riding the majority of the time, then you’ve probably already decided to get a flat pedal.
How much should I spend on gravel bike pedals?
Spending more gets you more choice but the gains aren’t always in line with the investment. More expensive pedals get changes in axle material (usually better quality steel or titanium), and more sculpted or even composite bodies to reduce weight. Some systems also use different coatings on clipless mechanisms to potentially improve performance.
However, as with many components, more expensive/complex doesn’t always mean more reliable. The prime example here is Shimano’s SPD (Shimano Pedalling Dynamics) range. XTR (and to a lesser extent XT) are built from fancier materials and treated to smarter coatings than entry-level pedals to reduce weight and improve performance, but you’d be hard-pressed to notice any difference between those and the basic M520 model under your feet. More importantly, Shimano’s cheapest pedals outlast pretty much any pedal from anyone, despite sometimes being sold for less than a spare pair of cleats (that they come with as standard).
How does clipless action differ between brands?
Regardless of price, the ‘feel’ and operation of some pedals can make them particularly suitable for some riders.
All pedals that are compatible with Shimano SPD cleats feel broadly similar and have adjustable release spring tension. Those tension ranges and the clip in/out action can vary though, and there’s no way to adjust the shoe-to-pedal spacing.
Crankbrothers pedals don’t have spring tension adjustment but instead use pedal and cleat shims to tune the gap – and therefore connection or movement – between your shoe and the pedal. Crankbrothers uses hoop based mechanisms that give a very smooth, quiet, mud proof engagement and disengagement. In contrast, HT pedals come from a BMX background and use double sprung mechanisms with a very obvious and secure feel.
How much float do I need in my pedals?
The amount of available sideways twist before disengagement, known as ‘float’, varies between pedal brands. This can be adjusted by swapping cleats but some are more adjustable than others.
As for how much you need, this will depend on your physiology. The general rule is that a cleat a large amount of float can help with knee pain, so if that’s a concern then opting for a pedal system that allows a larger amount will potentially help down the line, but always back up any decision with a bike fit.
What is Shimano Multi release?
The Shimano pedals listed here all have ‘Multi-release’ listed as a cleat option. This is a particular type of Shimano cleat – available as an aftermarket purchase – that allows the foot to release more easily than conventional cleats.
Picturing a clock with your heel at the centre, a standard cleat would require you to push your heel to the three o’clock position to release your foot. A Multi-release cleat allows you to pull the heel outward to the two- and one o’clock positions too.
The hold it provides can be equally secure, and their compatibility is the same, but they are easier for beginners or those with ankle problems to use.