As soon as you start heading off-road and into dirt and dust, your pedal connection becomes more critical. Not only are you likely to need to unclip faster and more often but the clipless mechanism of your pedal will need to cope with all that dirt and dust. Fortunately, while gravel biking is a relatively recent addition to the sport, the best gravel bike pedals are designed with the same goals as XC MTB pedals, which have benefitted from 30 years of evolution in shrugging off these hostile conditions.
You can invest four or five figures on the best gravel bikes in the world 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 delicate cleat mechanisms found on the best road bike pedals.
Paired with great gravel bike shoes, the below list of best gravel bike pedals will ensure you remain clipped in and ready to ride, no matter the conditions.
If you're unsure on what you need to look out for, head to the bottom of this page for our guide on how to choose the best gravel bike pedals for you.
The best entry-level gravel pedal that won't let you down
Weight: 374g | RRP: £39.99 | Float: 4 degrees | Cleats: 4 degrees or ‘Multi release’
Shimano’s cheapest pedal is a cost-effective component icon with epic reliability and resolute all conditions performance for a super low price.
The SPD mechanism is easy to get into and out of, with adjustable release tension via a preload screw 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.
- Check out our roundup of the best gravel bike deals
The best option for bombproof use and ease of serviceability
Weight: 352g | RRP: £62.99 | Float: 4 degrees | Cleats: 4 degrees or ‘Multi release’
The M540 is basically a slightly fancier M520. It gets a more sculpted axle with an 8mm Allen key socket on the end and an alloy collar protecting the adjustable bearings. That saves 11g per pedal but means 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 race day gravel pedal with a smooth cleat interface
Weight: 310g | RRP: £124.99 | Float: 4 degrees | Cleats: 4 degrees or ‘Multi release’
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 non-stick slipperiness. 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.
Crankbrothers Eggbeater 3
The best option for mud lovers or weight weenies
Weight: 278g | RRP: £129.99 | Float: 0 - 10 degrees | Cleats: Standard, Premium or Easy Release
It doesn’t get more skeletal than Crankbrothers minimalist axle, coil spring and twin double-ended ‘X-Wing’ Eggbeater design. The gains in the four-sided entry from a wide-angle range, instant clearing of thick mud and minimal weight apply right through the £56.99 - £399.99 range though.
Eggbeater 3 proves it’s worth in the worst conditions with 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 saves the pedals getting worn.
Crank Brothers Candy 2
Best gravel pedals for easy access combined with rugged durability
Weight: 374g | RRP: £39.99 | Float: 4 degrees | Cleats: 4 degrees or ‘Multi release’
Crankbrothers makes five versions of its Candy pedal from the composite body Candy 1 at £56.99 to the ultralight titanium-rich Candy 11 at £399.99. The Candy 2 has a tough alloy body with orange or silver anodised colour options, but it doesn’t get the clip-on ‘platform spacers’ of the £129.99 Candy 3. Clearance between shoe and pedal can be tuned with shims under the cleat anyway though.
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 give 0-10-degrees of float and 10-20-degree release angles. Double seals protecting the Enduro cartridge bearings and Igus bushings mean reliability of our test pedals has been excellent too and they’re covered by a five-year warranty.
Look X-Track Race
Best for a wider pedalling platform
Weight: 365g | RRP: £65 | Float: 6 degrees | Cleats: Standard or easy release
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 so they should last 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 £34 more. The Ti version saves 75g but adds £115 to the ticket.
The best for maximum engagement on a budget
Weight: 360g | RRP: £39.99 | Float: 4 - 8 degrees | Cleats: Standard or extra float
HT’s entry-level clipless pedals look like a lot of other generic SPD copies but they’re actually significantly different in how they work and feel. Rather than just a rear hook, the BMX based brand maximises connection tension with a sprung bar up front too. The unique cleat design is also shaped to gradually force the release open in a progressive manner rather than popping out quickly. That’s great if you want more sprint security and/or more twist and warning before coming unstuck. It can cause a panic if you need to get your foot down fast though and it’s not a smart choice for feeble or injured ankles.
They run on non-adjustable bearings and a solid bushing but reliability is decent and they come in black or silver. Pricing is good too and you can get extra float cleats to save stress on your knees.
Ritchey Comp V5
A pared down SPD alternative with a splash of colour
Weight: 333g | RRP: £62.99 | Float: 4 degrees | Cleats: Standard
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.
Time ATAC XC6
The go-to gravel bike pedals for owners of delicate knees
Weight: 290g | RRP: £89.99 | Float: 5 degrees | Cleats: ATAC and ATAC Easy
The ATAC design from French brand Time has always been popular with riders who have knee issues. That’s because there’s not only a useful amount of float in the cleat, there’s also 6mm of sideways float between the two stainless steel ‘hoops’ of the clipless mechanism. The design also means smooth and reliable engagement or disengagement however filthy the conditions.
The latest XC6 finally has adjustable release tension too. A composite body around a hollow steel axle makes it weight competitive with skeleton pedals but with better mechanism protection and shoe support. The bearings have better sealing than previously too. The short tall body does require a bit more practice to hit accurately rather than roll over at first though. The soft rather than snappy in/out feel won’t suit everyone either.
How to choose the best gravel bike pedals
There are a few things you need to know when buying clipless pedals for gravel, cyclo-cross and XC MTB riding.
The first thing to decide is whether you want a skeleton pedal like a Crank Brothers Egg Beater or a ‘trail’ pedal like Crank Brothers Candy. Skeleton pedals are the lightest and generally clean the fastest in mud, but the lack of surrounding platform support means they work best with a super stiff shoe.
Trail pedals have a small ‘body’ surround 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.
If you’re looking for even more surrounding support, then our friends over at BikePerfect have a guide to the best MTB pedals which includes a few more of this type of pedal.
Expensive isn't always better
Spending more gets you more choice but the gains aren’t always in line with the investment. More expensive pedal 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 them 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).
Regardless of price, the ‘feel’ and operation of some pedals can make them particularly suitable for some riders. All Shimano cleat compatible designs (Ritchey etc.) feel broadly similar and have adjustable release spring tension. Those tension ranges and clip in/out action can vary though, and there’s no way to adjust shoe to pedal spacing.
Crank Brothers pedals don’t have spring tension adjustment but use pedal and cleat shims to tune the gap - and therefore connection/movement - between your shoe and the pedal. Crank Brothers and Time use hoop based mechanisms that give a very smooth, quiet, mud proof engagement and disengagement. In contrast, H2 pedals come from a BMX background and use double sprung mechanisms with a very obvious and secure feel.
The amount of sideways twist before disengagement, known as 'float', varies between pedal designs too. This can be adjusted by swapping cleats but some are more adjustable than others with Crank Brothers winning with a range of 0 to 20 degrees by using different shapes of cleat, or switching the cleats from left to right.
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