Choosing Between Mountain Bike Toe Clips vs. Clipless Pedals – Which Ones Are Best For You?

FprosFFYour pedals are important when mountain biking because they are one of the three contact points between the rider and the bike. This is why many riders focus on optimizing their grip on their pedals through various products and techniques. While there are various options to secure the rider’s feet to the pedals, toe clips and clipless pedals are the two most popular. Although both toe clips and clipless pedals serve similar purposes, each offers unique benefits. So to help you in selecting the right type of pedals for you based on your riding style and preferred terrain we provide a thorough comparison of mountain bike toe clips vs. clipless pedals. 

When choosing between mountain bike toe clips vs. clipless pedals, select toe clips for recreational mountain biking and commuting, and clipless pedals for road biking and extreme mountain biking. 

When deciding between toe clips vs clipless pedals, choose clipless pedals like these for extreme mountain biking.
Clipless pedals secure the rider’s feet to the pedals to improve pedaling efficiency and control. Image Source: Amazon

Difference Between Bicycle Toe Clips vs. Clipless Pedals

In terms of design, toe clips look like small frames for toes that can be attached to the front of the flat pedals. On the other hand, clipless pedals feature brackets that connect to the cleats under the soles of special cycling shoes. While toe clips have been used for decades, many bikers believe that clipless pedals offer an improved design and that their grip and control features make them a significant cycling innovation. 

The differences between bicycle toe clips vs. clipless pedals are that toe clips go over the front part of the rider's shoes whereas clipless pedals attach to cleats underneath the rider’s shoes. Toe clips allow riders to reposition their feet easily on the pedals while clipless pedals keep feet in one position. It is more difficult for riders to get their feet in and out of toe clips than clipless pedals, and toe clips are more affordable than clipless pedals.

Toe clips and clipless pedals serve the same purpose. They both keep your feet secured to the pedals while cycling to improve your overall cycling efficiency. However, their functionalities differ. While it is pretty easy to clip in and out of clipless pedals, toe clips like these sometimes make getting your feet out of the cages relatively difficult. The risk of your feet slipping off the pedals is higher when using toe clips as opposed to clipless pedals. Our article about the benefits of clipless pedals discusses how they improve the rider’s safety and pedaling efficiency and will help you choose the right ones for your needs. 

Toe clips and clipless pedals are both safe when adjusted and used correctly. You need to take into account a few factors, though, when choosing between these two options. While some bikers feel safer when riding clipped in, others prefer using flat pedals or pedal straps. Our article that discusses whether pedal straps are dangerous[a] or not has some helpful manufacturer and medical information which can help you decide if this method of foot retention is right for you. Similarly, for safety's sake, you might find interest in learning about mountain bike armor pieces. Be sure to check out that article too for more information.

Last but not least, toe clips are more affordable than clipless pedals like these. Also, you do not need to purchase a special pair of shoes to use with toe clips, which allows you to save even more money. Many riders prefer the flexibility of using ordinary shoes when riding because they don’t have to bring an extra pair of shoes for walking around after their ride. 

Using toe clips will mean that you can wear just about any type of shoe.  
Carefully considering the differences between toe clips and clipless pedals will help you to select the right ones for you. Image Source: AmazonAmazon

Are Toe Clips Worth It?

Toe clips have been around for decades and are still popular across the globe. Although there are several pedal strap options available, many cyclists still opt for classic toe clips for multiple reasons. 

Toe clips are worth it because they keep feet in place, improve pedaling efficiency, can be attached to flat pedals, are affordable, and can be used with regular shoes.

Toe clips often come with an adjustable strap, allowing you to tighten the straps or leave them loose. This feature makes it possible to wear almost any type of shoe with toe clips. However, some boots or wider shoes might not fit into the toe cage. 

Toe clips are affordable and do not require special cycling shoes. You might, however, need to purchase a pair of shoes with stiff soles to prevent hot spots and blisters from developing when riding. 

According to bikers on this forum, you might have some trouble finding the right position when using toe clips. In addition, getting into and out of the toe clips requires extra effort and time, which you might not always have. 

As mentioned in this forum on Road Bike Review, some people experience numbness in their toes when using toe clips. This is because the adjustable straps sometimes constrict the feet. You can leave the toe clips loose, but your feet might keep slipping off and you will no longer benefit from them. 

Overall, when used properly with suitable bike pedals, toe clips are worth it. You save money while achieving similar benefits as clipless pedals. If you're interested, you can find additional information in our related article explaining why to use toe clips on a bicycle in addition to our detailed guide to the different types of mountain bike toe clips that are out there. Similarly, our related article containing some expert literature will help you decide whether or not bicycle toe clips are dangerous. Be sure to take a look at that one too.

Do Clipless Pedals Make a Difference?

Setting up your clipless pedals correctly will increase efficiency and improve power transfer. Failing to do so, on the other hand, could lead to knee pain or other injuries. 

Clipless pedals make a difference because they enhance pedaling efficiency, provide consistent foot placement, ensure a secure connection to the pedals, cause less flexing on the feet, and offer more comfort. 

As shared by some bikers on this forum, clipless pedals allow you to get in and out of them easier than toe clips. The quick-release mechanism also makes clipless pedals a much safer alternative to toe clips, and is why cyclists prefer clipless pedals over toe clips or other pedal strap systems. 

Many cyclists and cycling equipment manufacturers claim that clipless pedals in tandem with special cycling shoes make pedaling more efficient. This research paper from Taylor & Francis Online claims that cycling shoes coupled with clipless pedals do not enhance efficiency. However, other research from Taylor & Francis Online, concluded that clipless pedals and stiff-sole cycling shoes improve cycling performance during high-power and uphill sprints. Though, no difference was observed during lower-intensity riding tests.

When reading through popular bikers forums, it is evident that many cyclists prefer using clipless pedals over toe clips or pedal straps. Although clipless pedals do make a difference, your choice depends on your preference.

To choose between toe clips vs. clipless pedals consider the terrain that you will be riding on and the intensity that you will be riding at.
Clipless pedals attach feet securely to the pedals, making them safer and more efficient for extreme mountain bikers to ride through rough terrain. Image Source: Amazon

If you're interested, take a look at a more detailed look if pedal straps are good. You'll certainly find some useful information in this related guide. Similarly, be sure to check out our guide on how to change pedals on a mountain bike

Choosing Pedal Types Based on Riding Style

When choosing pedals or pedal straps for your bicycle, you should always consider your riding style and terrain. While some pedals are ideal for rough terrain, others work better when commuting. Selecting the right type of pedals based on your needs will significantly improve your overall cycling experience. 

Use toe clips for recreational mountain biking because they are inexpensive, offer sufficient hold for feet, and do not require special cycling shoes. Clipless pedals ensure improved performance on rough terrain for extreme mountain biking, allow for easy clipping in and out while riding, and prevent feet from slipping off the pedals. 

Clipless pedals can be used during road biking as you can push the pedals with more power and cycle faster. When commuting, clipless pedals make it easier for you to unclip your feet from the pedals when stopping at traffic lights, but cycling shoes are not comfortable enough to walk around, in which case, toe clips might be a better option. Below you can find additional tips for selecting the right pedal type based on your riding style. 

Pedals to Use for Recreational Mountain Biking

Recreational mountain biking is a very enjoyable outdoor activity, allowing you to exercise, socialize, and improve your health. Riding for enjoyment means that you can be choosy about the terrain, weather, and other factors when you plan a ride. Our article about choosing mountain bike pedals for grip maximization discusses the various terrain and conditions that different pedal types are suitable for. 

If recreational mountain biking is not an everyday activity for you, you might not want to invest in clipless pedals and special shoes. In this case, you should use toe clips instead. Purchasing toe clips like these is an affordable way to secure your feet to the pedals and increase the efficiency of your pedaling.

While toe clips keep your feet on the pedals, it is sometimes not that easy to get in and out of them. With a little practice, this will get easier to do. You can also loosen the straps so that they are still tight enough to hold your feet securely but will allow for movement. 

In some cases, recreational mountain bikers prefer using flat pedals with no straps for safety reasons. Flat pedals are beneficial for beginners, as having their feet fixed to pedal straps may lead to accidents as explained in our article about choosing pedals straps with heel support for kids. Riding a mountain bike with platform pedals also means that you won't have the problem of dust and mud clogging your toe clips or clipless pedals. 

It is totally up to you whether you ride with toe clips, clipless pedals, or with platform pedals. Even professional mountain bikers base their choices on their personal riding styles. 

If you are on a tight budget and need to choose between toe clips vs. clipless pedals, these toe clips may be better for you.
If you are on a budget and want to secure your feet to your pedals for recreational mountain biking, you should either use toe clips or ride with flat pedals. Image Source: Amazon

Pedals to Use for Commuting

Commuting by bike is a more environmentally-friendly alternative to driving that can also benefit your overall health. Bike commuting also saves you lots of money on public transportation or fuel. If you do commute by bicycle then choosing the right pedals or pedal strap system is key for improving your cycling experience. 

Although there is no specific type of terrain when it comes to bike commuting, it will probably be smooth enough with little to no roughness. However, poorly maintained streets  might feature dirt trails or rough terrain on rainy days. 

As commuters typically ride in urban areas, they have to stop at traffic lights, so taking your feet off the pedals will be necessary at least a few times throughout the ride. For that reason, many commuters prefer flat pedals that offer sufficient grip. These slip-proof pedals could be an excellent option. 

Clipless pedals are also convenient for commuting. They allow you to ride faster when necessary and you can easily release your feet from the pedals when stopping at traffic lights. The only issue with clipless pedals is that you cannot comfortably walk around in special cycling shoes. You will need to carry around a pair of regular shoes every time you ride. 

You can also use toe clips, it will probably be quite challenging to get in and out of the cages when you have to stop. You may also need to take your hands off the handlebars to re-adjust the straps from time to time. Overall, toe clips can definitely be used, but they are not the best option when it comes to commuting.

Toe clips and clipless pedals would not really be necessary for commuting where these flat pedals would make it easier to stop when necessary.
If you don’t want to wear special cycling shoes to use with clipless pedals, use these flat non-slip pedals for commuting by bike instead. Image Source: Amazon

Pedals to Use for Road Biking

Road biking is cycling on paved roads. While commuting is a type of road biking, road bikers, in general, do not always cycle from point A to point B. Instead, they might just ride a bike on paved roads for their pleasure. While the terrain for road biking is typically smooth, you may also encounter corrugated surfaces, shallow ridges, hard dirt, and pebbled roads. 

As a road biker who rides regularly, you should definitely consider investing in special shoes for cycling. The clipless shoe-pedal connection offers the best experience, no matter how rough the road surface is. Improved efficiency and better power transfer allow you to cycle faster and accelerate easily after stopping at a traffic light. 

Clipless pedals are ideal for riding on uneven surfaces since you can apply more power to the pedals without worrying about your feet slipping off. They also offer consistent foot placement and exceptional comfort that come in handy on long road biking trips. 

Clipless pedals allow for riders to unclip their shoes easily when they have to stop and then to clip them back and accelerate when they take off again.
The clipless pedal–shoe combination provides improved pedaling efficiency and better power transfer, enhancing your overall road biking experience, even on rough road surfaces. Image Source: Amazon


Pedals to Use for Extreme Mountain Biking

Extreme mountain biking is one of the most popular cycling activities that involves riding through rough terrain. Adverse weather conditions and rugged landscapes are what extreme mountain bike riders experience, so sourcing the right pedals and shoes is essential to avoid accidents. 

While attaching toe clips is a budget-friendly alternative to using clipless pedals, this pedal strap system is not quite suitable for extreme mountain biking. The main reason is that your feet may get trapped inside the toe cages and you might get injured when riding through rough terrain. 

Flat and clipless pedals are two of the best options for mountain biking. While some bikers prefer riding clipped-in, others favor flat pedals with a non-slip surface. Some cyclists even switch between flat pedals and clipless pedals from time to time. 

The main reason why mountain bikers enjoy riding with flat pedals is that they make bailing out and dabbing much easier. If you prefer flat pedals, check out this Buyer’s Guide video before purchasing yours. However, clipless pedals are also pretty popular for mountain biking. Previously, mud accumulation had been an issue on clipless pedals, but newer clipless pedal models like these include a mud-clearing mechanism, making them suitable for mountain biking. Still, clipless pedals might not work in extreme weather conditions. 

In addition, clipless pedals make pedaling more efficient, especially when riding through rough terrain. They also offer extra security on descents, preventing bikers from getting injured when riding downhill. 

Keep in mind that inexperienced mountain bikers should use platform pedals with a non-slip surface until they get used to riding through rough terrain. Having your feet clipped into the pedals can be tricky sometimes, especially if you are a newbie. Make sure to take a look at all of the different types of bike pedals in our related article too so you can find the one that works best for you.

Read our article about how to thread a pedal strap to learn more about this type of pedal which could be better for less experienced riders. Also, you might be interested in learning the difference between pedal straps vs. toe clips. If so, be sure to read our detailed guide to learn more.

Choosing Pedal Types Based on Budget

You may think that purchasing the right pair of pedals on a tight budget is challenging. However, many affordable options offer sufficient hold for your feet, as well as enhanced pedaling efficiency and comfort. 

If on a budget, buy toe clips, flat slip-proof pedals, or pedal straps to secure feet to the pedals. If money is not an issue, buy a clipless pedal-shoe combination for improved performance, especially on rough terrain. 

You can easily save money by buying pedals that are designed for the shoes you already have. Flat pedals with non-slip surfaces, toe clips, and pedal straps are ideal options if you are on a tight budget. If you decide to go for flat pedals, you could always add pedal straps like these in the future to better secure your feet. 

While some slip-proof pedals work with any type of shoe, others require special shoes with rigid or non-slip soles. Mountain bike shoes like these cost from $55 to $200. 

These clipless pedals cost around $30 while these cycling shoes cost around $85. For approximately $120, you can purchase a clipless shoe-pedal combination that would be suitable for almost any riding style and terrain. Read our article about how to install mountain bike pedal straps and toe clips on pedals to learn how these accessories can improve your riding. 

As a budget-friendly alternative to clipless pedals, you can buy toe clips, like these. They cost about $20 and offer plenty of benefits. Toe clips are not suitable for extreme mountain biking, so you should consider investing in high-quality clipless pedals to ensure your safety. 

In a nutshell, toe clips and flat non-slip pedals like these are affordable alternatives to clipless shoe-pedal combinations. However, you may still have to purchase additional equipment, such as special shoes that have rigid soles. So you should select the right pair of pedals based on your personal preferences and riding style. 

Summary of  Toe Clips vs. Clipless Pedals Comparison

Goal Toe Clips Clipless Pedals
Power Transfer  Offer moderate power transfer compared to flat pedals. Allow you to apply maximum power to the pedals and give you more control over the bike when riding through rough terrain.
Efficiency Securing your feet to the pedals significantly increases your pedaling efficiency.  Your feet are instantly firmly attached to the pedals, increasing the efficiency of cycling even more than with toe clips. 
Ease of Use It may be tricky to get your feet out of the toe cages, especially if you are in a hurry.  You can clip in and out of the clipless pedals with little to no effort after mastering the technique. 
Correct Foot Positions Secure your feet to the pedals, but your feet might still slip off, especially on rough terrain.  It keeps the feet in the right position and reduces how much you can move your feet after adjusting the clipless pedals. 
Mud and Dirt Clearance  No mud-clearing mechanism. It is not suitable for mountain biking in extreme weather conditions.  Feature mud-clearing mechanism, preventing dirt from clogging your pedals and shoes. It might still get clogged in extreme weather conditions when mountain biking. 
Performance on Rough Terrain Poor performance - not recommended on rough terrain or for extreme mountain biking.  Exceptional performance on uneven terrain. Ideal option for extreme mountain biking. 
Suitability for Beginners  A better option for beginners. Beginners might find it a bit tricky to use clipless pedals and cycling shoes initially. 
Affordability From ~ $20 to ~ $50 Clipless pedals - $30 - $70Cycling Shoes - $50 - $130
Example Product CyclingDeal Bike Toe Clips Zeray Carbon Road Bike Clipless Pedals &Unisex Cycling Shoes for Road Bike and Mountain Bike

[a]Pedal straps are dangerous.

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