I’ve been riding both road and mountain bikes for many years now, and I can assure you there is a big difference between road and mountain bike pedals. For something that is essentially designed to do the same thing, they are very different and for good reason as this article discusses.
There is a ton of information in here, so use the table of contents to help navigate to your specific question. Or read the full article to become an expert on the topic.
What Is The Difference
Both types of pedals are designed for different purposes, but they certainly are very different.
Mountain Bike Pedals
Mountain bike pedals are designed to be durable, shed mud, and be easy to clip and unclip from.
Mountain bike pedals can either be flat (standard) pedals or clipless pedals. Flat pedals don’t have a clip-in mechanism, and therefore can be ridden with regular shoes. Clipless pedals require clipless mountain bike shoes to work. They run off a two-bolt cleat system of which the most common is Shimanos SPD system.
Clipless mountain bike pedals are much easier to clip in and out of than road bike pedals. They also have a cleat on both sides of the pedal with brands like Crankbrothers having an eggbeater style that has four different sections to clip-in.
While mountain biking, it is common to have to unclip for individual sections of trail and so the mechanism to clip and unclip is much easier.
Clipless mountain bike pedals have a much smaller contact area with the shoe than road bike pedals. Smaller pedals help in reducing rock strikes and hitting other objects while out on the trail. It does mean that for long, intense rides the smaller pedals won’t be as comfortable. However, for the majority of the population, the smaller pedals will not be an issue.
The shoes that mountain bike pedals are paired with are much more flexible than their road counterparts. They are designed so that you can still walk in them and some can have plenty of grip for when you have to get off and walk in the mud.
Mountain bike shoes also look a lot more like regular shoes, and that makes them a popular choice for commuters.
Road Bike Pedals
Road bike pedals on the other hand, are designed for power transfer and weight savings. Road bike pedals and cleats run off a three-bolt system and are much larger than mountain bike cleats and pedals.
The larger pedal size means that they are much more comfortable when putting a large amount of power through the pedals for an extended period.
Road bike pedals are not designed to unclip and clip back in often, as for many road rides you won’t unclip at all. For that reason and to save weight, you can only clip in on one side, which is much more challenging to do than the two-sided system used on mountain bike pedals.
Road pedals also secure your feet into the pedals much more than mountain bike pedals and therefore are much harder to unclip. This is great for power and speed but not so much if you need to unclip in a hurry. In saying that you do get used to it over time, so it is by no means dangerously stiff.
The shoes that road bike pedals are paired with are much stiffer and most certainly not designed for walking in. You can always tell when a road biker is walking around in their shoes by the classic clip-clop of the shoes. It is worth noting that the cleats on-road bike shoes will wear out really quickly if you walk in the shoes a lot.
For more on shoes, check out our road bike shoes vs mountain bike shoes.
Can You Use Mountain Bike Pedals On a Road Bike?
Using mountain bike pedals on a road bike is really common and is completely fine. If you are not a serious road biker using mountain bike pedals on a road bike has some significant advantages.
For starters, they are much easier to clip in and out of, which is great for around town and at traffic lights if you haven’t mastered the track stand yet.
You can also walk around in mountain bike shoes, which again, is really nice to have, and they are typically more durable.
What you do compromise by having mountain bike pedals on a road bike is the power transfer. Road bike shoes are much stiffer and therefore convert more of your energy into power for the bike. However, the difference is relatively negligible, and unless you are seriously into your racing, it won’t be noticeable.
Check out our best mountain bike pedals for road biking.
Can You Use Road Bike Pedals On a Mountain Bike?
Although using mountain bike pedals for road biking is absolutely fine, it is definitely not recommended to use road bike pedals on a mountain bike.
First of all, while mountain biking, you tend to unclip a lot and sometimes in an emergency. Therefore, you want a pedal that is easy to unclip from which road bike pedals are certainly not designed for.
Your position on the bike changes a lot while mountain biking and so having a more flexible shoe is desirable as road shoes will hold you very tight into the pedal. It will not be comfortable or safe as it could put unnecessary stress on certain joints and so is not recommended.
While out mountain biking it can get very muddy and road bike pedals are not designed for this, so using them on a mountain bike will result in them not lasting very long at all.
Finally, you can’t walk in road bike shoes which will be problematic if you come across a tricky section of trail or just an obstacle in your way.
So, in conclusion, it is not safe to use road bike pedals on a mountain bike and shouldn’t be done.
There you have it, mountain bike pedals are much more flexible in what they can do and can offer the best of both worlds for many people. You can walk, road bike, and mountain bike in the pedals and shoes with no issues.
Road bike pedals on the other hand are pretty much designed for one purpose, and that is transferring power from your legs into the bike. This is great if you are into your racing, but they are definitely not as versatile as mountain bike pedals.
Therefore, in my opinion, if you don’t do a lot of road biking and you don’t race road bikes, then you are much better off getting mountain bike pedals and shoes as they are much more versatile and easy to use.
Mountain bike pedals are an excellent option for commuters and the weekend warrior.
Check out our picks for the best beginner clipless mountain bike pedals.