Gravel biking is becoming an increasingly popular pursuit for your natural-born adventurer. Lying somewhere between urbane road biking and the more treacherous mountain biking, gravel biking is distance-travel over unpaved roads, often seeking scenic sites of rural or historical interest that can’t always be reached by car.
But navigating nontechnical and unsurfaced roads will provide its unique challenges and you want to be prepared for anything these bumpy terrains have to throw at you.
Nobody wants to be stuck down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere because they set out with shoddy equipment!
From beginner gravel pedals for those on a budget to those more experienced bikers who don’t mind forking out the extra dough for that extra grip, we cover the spectrum of gravel bike pedals!
Don’t forget that when shopping for pedals you’re looking to get the most out of what you're willing to spend, particularly when it comes to the more expensive ones!
Now, let’s race straight into our top 6 gravel bike pedals currently on the market!
Top 6 Gravel Bike Pedals
OUR TOP PICK
This is the go-to flat pedal for those starting on the slippery gravel slopes! The genius of its design is that it has ten replaceable pins each side! That’s right! A flat pedal with all the benefits of a clipless!
This grippy plastic pedal allows for higher control when changing direction as well as increased power transformation between the foot and the pedal itself, perfect for those tricky shale or stony pathways!
Its wide base can be adapted for mountain biking and is racing-ready, giving you the extra speed needed on the track!
However, possessing the properties of a clipless pedal does have its drawbacks as it might take that additional second or two to prize your foot off the pedals, which might prove tricky when you hit a particularly rough section of terrain.
Having said that, this is the ideal budget pedal for beginners (coming in at around the $50 mark), with HT offering rebuild kits that are also very competitively priced. You can have this pedal for years and still not feel the need to upgrade to a clipless!
This nifty little pedal is amazing for both gravel and mountain bikers, a rigid and durable pedal that comes with a chrome-moly spindle with an 8mm hex wrench mount. The lower platform height also allowed for a high degree of stability when pedaling, solid retention claws providing smooth engagement and release.
Its open binding design means that any mud or dirt that is accumulated on a long gravel cycle can be easily pushed out as soon as the rider’s foot comes into contact with the pedal.
The XT apparatus gives it mountain bike quality and power, offering dynamic power transfer between foot and pedal, it responds quickly to sharp braking. This is the ideal intermediate gravel pedal for those with a few miles already under their belt, which may deter a beginner who is reluctant to splash out over $150 on this high-precision piece of equipment.
For those who have already decided that a clipless pedal is the one for them, then look no further than this stealthy little design.
The Shimano Deore XT M8020 is an incredibly comfortable pedal, with its 8mm hex twisted mount, this is the very best in rough-riding pedals, the lower platform giving it a stable, calm ride.
Cleat in and cleat out with ease, enabling the rider to gain maximum foot/pedal power transfer. These pedals are easily adjustable and provide two-bolt SPD cleats that give the rider an effortless paddle.
The open design of the Shimano allows for much mud-shedding, the paddle has an extended platform that makes the release tension settings very, very effective. For those who want to practically float over gravel paths, this pedal is the one to pick, making great riding, whether it’s climbing uphill, coasting downhill, going over bumps, or through sketchy areas of trail.
The price of this pedal hovers around the $150 mark, which, as with the previous pedal, might be a little steep for starters. Also, attaching these pedals to your bike might be a bit fiddly, so make sure you read the instructions beforehand.
Now we move onto the ATAC XC8, simply one of the best lightweight gravel pedals on the market, with its carbon fiber pedal body and titanium spindle, this pedal is a finely-balanced mix between lightweight, durability and strength, adding roughly 248g to the weight of your bike.
Time has fabricated a very easy-to-use cleat, which you can set up in one direction for 13° of movement, or you can unclip and reverse it for 17° of movement. If you are intending to use this on a gravel path, we would recommend the 13° of movement for greater control. You’ll only want the 17° if you intend to race down very steep hills!
The front body of the pedal has been effectively ‘cut-out’, so you’ll find that your foot is free to push all the dirt, mud and other gunk out through this gap as you ride, increasing the ease of getting clipped-in for your next one!
The ATAC XC8 is also much cheaper than the previous two pedals, so is the perfect option for beginners looking to upgrade their cycling kit!
The SPD EH500 pedal is a perfect choice for gravel bike beginners. It is a dual-sided pedal, with pins on its one side for those looking for the classic clipless pedal for roads and mountains, whereas it has a simple flat base on the other side for the more casual, freeform rider. With this pedal, you’re simply spoilt for choice!
Its aluminum material makes this the pedal for all weathers, with an SPD built-in unique design for easy paddling, this pedal will last longer than any other!
Also, it has an easy operator for adjusting pedals with a simple clip-in and clip-out option.
With its flexibility of use, the beginning gravel rider can try both flat and clipless options to see which one they prefer! And with its $100 price tag, there couldn’t be much more to recommend this utterly astonishing gravel paddle!
This interestingly-shaped, minimalist pedal is our final pick and is certainly the one to go for if you’re planning on tackling a particularly muddy gravel path.
The Eggbeater 3 is crafted from stainless steel, so this bad boy won’t be breaking anytime soon, with a low-profile design that gives the biker a more powerful and efficient pedal stroke for grooving through those muddy lanes.
The distinct slender body means that you have 4 entry points for your cleats, making it faster to clip-in for those competitive riders who have no time to waste! The Eggbeater is also extremely light, weighing in at 280g.
SPD pedals can easily get clogged up with mud and grit, making it hard to get clipped-in again, but the lack of surface area makes the Eggbeater shed mud like no other pedal!
Adapted to the race trail, the Eggbeater is one for the competitive gravel track rider, and is perfect if you’re thinking about entering the high-octane gravel races like the Dirty Kanza.
Best Gravel Bike Pedals Buying Guide
Along with a decent gravel bike and the right protective equipment such as shoes with a hefty cleat, you need to think about which pedal will be most suited to you and the type of biking you’re going to be doing.
Compared to road and mountain bikes, gravel bikes have a very relaxed geometry, with a wider wheelbase and larger tire clearance for traversing those jagged gravel paths. So when choosing gear for gravel riding and racing, you must have pedals that complement these very specific features.
However, with so many pedals out there, it can be hard to navigate through the bumpy world of bike essentials and accessories.
What is the difference between clipless and flat pedals? Am I going to need to take my feet off the pedals much or do I want to be fastened into my bike? Should I spend more on an expensive pedal and will a cheaper option be detrimental to my gravel biking?
Don’t worry, we’re here to help! We’ll break down what you need to think about in each genre of riding, glancing over the differences between clipless and flat pedals.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Type Of Riding Will I Be Doing?
The first thing you need to consider before purchasing a pedal is what kind of riding you’re going to be doing. Remember: you’re always looking for the smoothest, most controlled ride in relation to the surface you’re riding over.
What’s The Difference Between Gravel, Road and Mountain Biking?
Road biking is a pretty flat, casual affair and some people will opt for a pedal that secures their foot to the frame during those long, strenuous rides across mostly smooth surfaces.
However, mountain biking is a much different story, with riders probably opting for a flat pedal that gives them the versatility to jump on and off the bike quickly if they cannot negotiate a fallen log or a rocky outcrop.
We assume that if you are reading an article on gravel bike pedals then gravel biking is going to be your chosen genre. As we have mentioned above, gravel biking sits somewhere between road and mountain biking, so you have a much broader, more versatile set of options for your pedals.
What Am I Looking For In A Gravel Bike Pedal?
Gravel riding is full of abrupt turns, which makes a high degree of control all the more important if you want to conquer that gravelly terrain!
Gravel is also a very unpredictable substance. Turning the handlebars on your bike too sharply can result in skidding and a loss of bike control, which could get hairy if you’re traveling downhill at high speeds! Smooth transitions and gentle leans should be kept in mind on these surfaces and you’ll want a pedal that will help you achieve both!
So, having discussed the unique characteristics of gravel biking, we’ll now outline the main distinctions between flat and clipless pedals and what they might have to offer for the gravel biker.
What Types Of Pedal Are Out There?
When purchasing pedals, you need to make sure that your shoes, your cleats - the raised ‘teeth’ that come with the pedal that gives the shoe its grip - and your pedal work together as a system. If one is not compatible with the other, you might find yourself struggling with a continually slipping foot, aching in your calf muscles or injury to your shins.
So you can either shop for shoes first and then pedals or vice versa. The cleats can be sold separately or they can come with the pedals.
Clipless pedals are a very misleading term, as technically the cleats allow you to ‘clip-in’ to the pedal.
Clipless pedals work by mounting a small plastic or metal cleat on the sole of your shoe that typically snaps into a set of spring-loaded ‘clips’ on the face of the pedal. Clipless pedals feature cleats with a 3-hole or 2-hole design, both of which depend on how firmly you want your foot to be attached to the pedal.
But why would a gravel rider choose clipless pedals? Well, these can help you execute certain moves like log-hopping or vaulting sidewalks, preventing your feet from bouncing off the pedal and giving you more efficiency and control over your bike.
The push and pull of a clipless pedal will simply give you higher power transfer between your foot and the pedal, however, if you’re on a relatively easy gravel path, you might not find this necessary or want to shell out the additional costs that come with a clipless pedal. You may also want the freedom of motion that comes with a flat pedal.
Flat pedals are exactly that - a simple flat surface, wide enough to give your foot plenty of support.
A lot of mountain bikers prefer using flat pedals with a grippy shoe. This gives the mountain biker sufficient grip and control over their bike, and will also enable them to quickly dismount in case of a crash to avoid further injury.
Recreational road cyclers would also prefer a flat pedal, for comfort and ease in getting on and off the bike quite frequently.
It All Depends On The Gravel Path You Take
Gravel riders might want to make their pedal purchase depending on what grade of gravel they plan on traversing. Low-level, smoother gravel paths are generally not the most extreme surfaces, so gravel bikers won’t see the necessity in having pedals that will allow them to exit the bike in case of an accident.
However, some gravel paths can be tricky to negotiate and have the potential to cause injury, especially if someone is ‘clipped-in’ to their bike. Before setting out on your gravel ride, it is probably worth researching your route first. You can then judge whether the grade of the surface will require the freedom of a flat pedal or the control and power that comes with a clipless pedal.
Hopefully you might now have a better idea of the pros and cons of flat and clipless pedals and might already be formulating an idea about which one will be more suitable for your particular gravel trek.
So, whether you’re a beginner looking to hit the dirt for the first time, an experienced gravel rider looking to upgrade their plain plastic pedal or a keen racer wanting a pedal that isn’t going to put them in last place, we have covered every base in our list of the very best in the gravel pedal game!
Remember: shoes are also crucial in getting the most out of your pedal and cleats, with less bulky, slender shoes needed for the gravel path. Shop for shoes that look like ordinary road shoes but with a thicker removable sole so that you can get on and off your bike without tripping over!