How to Choose Mountain Bike Pedals for Grip Maximization

When optimizing your mountain bike for speed and safety the first modification you should consider is your pedals. The pedals are one of three contact points that the rider has with the bike and are the means by which the bike is propelled forward. Your pedals can mean the difference between having an enjoyable ride and a frustrating one with a serious injury. This article offers some helpful tips about what factors to consider when choosing mountain bike pedals for grip.

For pedaling efficiency, mountain bike pedals for grip should be wide enough to accommodate the width of a foot, have cleats, have a tacky sole, and allow for the balls of the feet to be centered on the pedals so that the feet rest over the axle arm of the pedal. 

The seat should be adjusted so that the rider’s knees don't lock when the pedals are at their lowest point when riding for optimal push-and-pull action. An experienced mountain biker could also change their pedals to clipless pedals compatible with shoe cleats, for a better grip. 

Check out our article that gives tips on how to choose mountain bike tires for grip maximization. Your pedaling, ability to maintain grip effectively, and level of comfort when mountain biking will improve as you master your own technique and adjust to your bike’s customization. You can read about this in more detail in this article from the Journal of Applied Ergonomics.  

Choose clipless pedals to use with cleats as mountain bike pedals for grip maximization.  
Mountain bike pedals have aluminum cleats that improve grip when riding. Image Source: Amazon.

Why Do Feet Slip Off Pedals?

Many mountain bikes come with standard plastic pedals that are typically smaller and less durable than pedals that professional riders prefer, so it goes without saying that changing your pedals could be a good idea. 

A rider’s feet may slip off pedals if the pedals are too small, the Q-factor is unsuitable, if the feet are incorrectly positioned on the pedals, if incorrect shoes are worn, if the cleats cannot connect to the clipless pedals, and if the height or position of the seat is incorrect. 

If you want to learn about other areas where you can improve grip for better control of your mountain bike then read our articles about choosing gloves for better grip.

A rider’s feet may slip off the pedals if the pedals are too small.
A mountain bike pedal should be large enough to accommodate the width of the foot. Image Source:

The Pedal is Too Small

If your feet are constantly slipping off the pedals this could be an indication that the pedals are too small. You should replace these small pedals with ones that accommodate the width of the shoe like these ones so that your feet don’t teeter over the edge of the pedal or continually scrape the pedal crank.  

Q-Factor Width is Too Wide or Narrow

The Q-factor is the horizontal width between the pedals and is also known as the inter-pedal stance width. The Q-factor measurement can affect a rider’s comfort and control, and if not correct for the particular rider’s stance, can cause accidents and injury which this article from the American College of Sports Medicine explains.

If the horizontal distance between the pedals is too wide or too narrow it can cause pain in the rider’s knees or feet during riding could cause fatigue and result in the feet slipping off the pedals. Depending on your preferred riding stance and level of comfort you could use pedal extenders like these, you could buy these pedals with longer spindles to move the pedals outwards, or you could buy these pedals with shorter spindles to move the pedals closer to the bike frame. 

Incorrect Foot Position On the Pedal

The ideal foot placement on the pedal is to have the ball of the foot on the pedal axle to maintain control of the bike and for the most efficient pedaling power. When pedaling keep your forward foot heel down, and your rear foot heel up, to maintain a grip on the pedals. Keep the pedal axle just under the arch of the foot rather than the forefoot so that you don’t end up pedaling with your toes, which can cause numbness and is not a good foot position.  

Wearing the Wrong Shoes

Wearing ordinary running shoes or athleisure shoes will cause your feet to slip off the pedals because their soles don’t provide adequate grip for the strenuous trails when mountain biking. Skateboarding shoes like these typically have soles that are tacky enough and can be used with pedals that have cleats on them, but the ideal riding shoes are mountain bike shoes like these because they can be fitted with cleats like these that fit into the brackets on clipless pedals. 

The Clipless Pedals are Worn Down

Many riders prefer to ride with clipless pedals and the reasons for that are explained in our article about the benefits of clipless pedals. The bracket on a clipless pedal allows for the cleats under mountain bike shoes to clip into them. They can wear down over time which can adversely affect the grip of the rider’s shoe on the pedal, and the plastic pedals that come standard with mountain bikes are not clipless. Replace standard plastic pedals with clipless ones or replace old ones with new functional clipless pedals like these ones, that are compatible with cleats.  

Incorrect Seat Height and Position

Seat height and position are other highly personalized adjustments that can be made on a bike to prevent your feet from slipping. When the seat is too high it causes strain in the knees and when it is too low it causes aches in the hips, both of which cause discomfort and fatigue in the rider, which can lead to slipping feet. Also, if the seat is too high then your knee may lock when the pedal is at its lowest point which will make it difficult to keep gripping on the pedal. According to this article from The Physician and Sports Medicine Journal, setting your seat to the correct height will maximize speed and stability, as well as prevent knee injuries. 

If your seat is too far forward you will put a lot of strain on your upper body causing muscle tension in the shoulder area and if your seat is too far back you will be forced to stand more to pedal with force. It is actually very important that your center of gravity should be over the pedals for optimal pedaling power as explained in this handy video tutorial.

We also provide some great advice on where to hold your mountain bike grips to maintain proper posture while riding. So once you have gained some experience and have your entire bike set up for maximized comfort and enjoyment you will get to see how beneficial cycling out in the open can be which is explained in this article by Imperial Health + Wellbeing. 

Mountain bike pedals that are wide enough for the rider’s feet will allow for grip maximization for the rider.
Extra-large pedals with pronounced grips are great for mountain bikers with broad feet. Image Source: Amazon.

Features That Optimize Mountain Bike Pedals for Grip

Wider Pedal Sizes

This wider pedal platform gives the rider more stability and control on most kinds of terrain and is a great choice for beginner to intermediate riders. Mountain bike pedals are usually wider than ordinary pedals unless you’re looking at specialized cross-country pedals like these XC step-in pedals, which are perfect for more advanced riders.  

Spikes for Better Grip

Some pedals feature spikes or protrusions which help the rider to have a much better grip on the pedals. They can be arranged in various patterns. Some pedals like these ones have longer grip protrusions around the edges and short ones in the middle of the pedal, while other pedals, like these, have some around the edge of the pedal but none in the middle. A rider with a narrow foot would benefit from using pedals that have both inner and outer cleats. 

Open Design

The open design of mountain bike pedals ensures that sand, mud, and water easily pass through the pedals so that the rider maintains full control of the bike in all types of weather and on various terrain. 

Thinner Platform Design

Mountain bike riders encounter all kinds of uneven terrain so a pedal with a thinner platform like this one ensures the rider gets good clearance when the pedal is in a downward position, and the pedal doesn’t connect with protruding rocks or tree roots.  

Clips for Shoe Cleats

Specialized mountain bike pedals have a clip system that ensures the rider’s feet stay planted on the pedals. The rider disconnects the shoe from the pedal by slightly twisting the foot and pulling it off the pedal, this allows the rider to still have some float—side-to-side shift of the foot—on the pedal when riding. 

Mountain bike pedals like these that have raised anti-skid nails are perfect for grip maximization.
The open design, raised anti-skid nails, and wide platform of these mountain bike pedals help the rider maintain a stable grip when riding on all sorts of trails. Image Source: Amazon.

Make sure to take a look at all of the different types of bike pedals so you can choose the right one. Similarly, you might be interested in learning how to choose mountain bike tires for maximum grip. If that's the case, be sure to read our related article to find out more information.

Pedal Types for Minimizing Slippage

Pedals are a highly personal choice for bike riders depending on the rider’s foot size, preferred terrain, and riding technique. While many professional riders prefer using clipless pedals because they allow you to secure your feet to the pedals, there are almost as many who favor dual-platform pedals because of the feeling of freedom they offer the rider. 

The three most popular pedal types for mountain bikes are dual-platform pedals, flat pedals, and clipless pedals. 

The three main types of mountain bike pedals are dual-platform pedals, flat pedals, and clipless pedals. Image Source: Amazon. ALT: Mountain bike pedals are available in these three popular designs. 

Dual Platform Pedals

Dual platform pedals have one side that has a bracket that engages cleats like these that fit under mountain bike shoes, and the other side that has raised protrusions for grip. This dual-platform pedal offers the rider the option of using either side of the pedal according to the type of terrain. 

Flat Pedals

Flat pedals can be made of plastic or aluminum, or a combination of both. They have small spikes—known as non-slip nails—on both sides of the pedal that assist with grip. Riders can wear regular skateboard-type shoes with a tacky sole, or mountain bike shoes when using flat pedals. 

When using flat pedals like these riders can lift their feet off the pedals or move their feet to different positions on the pedal—many riders feel this offers more freedom than having their feet clipped into place. 

Clipless Pedals for Mountain Biking

When using clipless pedals the rider will need to insert the cleats on the soles of their shoes into the brackets on the pedals. You will need to work out where to place your foot on the pedal to attach the cleats under your shoes. 

The benefit of using clipless pedals like these is the superior grip you will have on your pedals, especially when riding on rocky terrain and uphill trails. The one slight downside is that you will need to master the technique to disengage the clips so that you can easily loosen your feet when necessary.

If clipless pedals are not quite right for you then perhaps pedal straps would be a better option. Check out our article that explains how to a thread pedal strap and how to install pedal straps and toe clips to find out all about these options for riding with more control. Also, you might wonder if pedal straps are dangerous. If you are, make sure to read our related article to find out more.

Summary of Mountain Bike Pedals For Maximizing Grip

Grip Problem  Pedal Features to Improve Grip Amazon Product Price
Pedals are too small A larger pedal size provides more surface area for the foot to rest  Corki Extra Large Mountain Bike Pedals Flat, Aluminum Alloy MTB Pedals ~$30
Pedals are too close to the frame A longer pedal spindle moves the pedals outward Crankbrothers Mallet MTB Bike Pedal ~$120
Pedals are too far from the frame A shorter pedal spindle moves the pedals inward Mountain Bike Pedals Non-Slip Bike Pedals Platform Bicycle Flat Alloy Pedals ~$25
Feet keep slipping off More and longer anti-skid nails or protrusions on the pedal provide extra grip  PDX D10 Flat Wide Mountain Bike Pedals MTB Pedals BMX Pedal Composite Pedals ~$25
Feet slip on muddy trails Open design of pedal displaces mud and water Rockbros Advanced 4 Bearings Mountain Bike Pedals  ~$35
Pedals connect with or scrape against rocks on uneven trails Thinner platform size ensures adequate clearance when pedaling Rockbros Mountain Bike Pedals MTB Pedals CNC Non-Slip Lightweight Aluminum Alloy ~$30
Feet shift around on pedals too much Clipless pedals with extra grip ensure feet are fixed to the pedal Mountain Bike Pedals Sealed Clipless 9/16" Crank Compatible with Shimano SPD Cleats (Cleats Included) ~$30

Additionally, you might be interested in learning how to choose mountain bike toe clip compatible shoes. If so, be sure to take a look at our related article for more information.

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