Scientific studies on pedaling efficiency comparing road-style and MTB-style pedals

Does anyone know the state of the art when it comes road-style and MTB-style pedals? Are there independent scientific studies which quantify differences in pedaling efficiency? The best I could find was this video on the Bike Fit Advisor channel that discusses some potential advantages (e. g. greater surface area, different pedaling mechanics and aerodynamics) but basically claims that (1) there are no studies known to the author of the video and (2) there are no appreciable differences in his opinion as he thinks the main contributing factor is the stiffness of the sole.

Background: I have been using MTB-style pedals for years and have internalized how to clip in and out. At one point I would like to replace my current pair of shoes, and I am considering getting road shoes and road style pedals. Sticking with MTB-style pedals would mean I could continue to use all of my bike shoes with all of my bikes, I’d have the same mechanics on all of my bikes and I would retain the obvious advantages MTB-style shoes have (I can use the same shoes on all of my bikes, it is easier to clip in and out, it is much easier to walk on them without looking like a duck on ice). Plus, there is no appreciable weight difference between a pair of Eggbeater pedals and, say, Ultegra pedals (280 g vs. about 250 g).

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Yes, I’ll be interested to hear about this.

I use MTB pedals [clipping in on hills!], but I also have carbon-soled shoes [Specialized].

Not really “science” but GCN has the only thing I have seen on the topic (without a specific search).

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Given the stiffness of the shoe sole, I can’t see how one type of clip could be so different to another. I suspect marketing more than science here. I’m pretty confident that if there was any science supporting road shoes being better than MTB, a roadshoe manufacturer would be beating its chest about it. :sunglasses:

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There is no difference…at least not performance-wise. There might be some weight advantage…I think GCN weighed some pedal/cleat combos. It’s probably hard to beat an eggbeater/cleat combo for weight, though.

If there were a performance advantage 3-bolt cleat vs 2-bolt cleat, the bike industry would tell you about it non-stop! :laughing::stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: So their silence on this issue speaks volumes.

I use MTB (two bolt cleat) pedals on all my bikes. Commuter, gravel, road…and yes, even TT.

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Sadly I don’t have scientific studies to back me up, but especially with eggbeater mountain bike pedals, you will feel a huge difference when making the switch to road pedals.

For one, eggbeaters have a tremendous amount of very light float. Road pedals on the other hand are more rigid and “locked in”. They do still float as long as you are using the correct cleats, but they don’t feel like you could accidently clip out if you rotated too far. This is especially advantageous for sprinting situations or when you’re throwing down a lot of power.

Secondly, eggbeaters have an extremely small platform. This creates high pressure zones on your foot that are avoided with a road style cleat. This is especially noticable on long road rides where a little bit of extra pressure can turn into a more uncomfortable situation after 6 hours.

Lastly, for racers, road pedals typically provide a lower profile which allows for a reduced chance of clipping a pedal when pedalling through a turn.

Neither of these are directly related to pedalling efficiency, however, they are three big reasons why road pedals and cleats are the better choice for your road bike.

Disclaimer: I currently use MTB pedals on my road/gravel/cross bike. But if money was no object, I would almost certainly have a set of road shoes and pedals.

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Thinking as a scientist/physicist would, in order to measure the efficiency difference you would need to build robotic legs that model the human an anatomy able to deliver the power in each of the sectors of the robotic leg matching the contribution of each portion of the lower leg, ankle and foot and then measure the power delivered to the pedal/crank . . . a very expensive design.

From a practical standpoint, as a roadie, over the years I have gone from Look Delta -> Look KEOs -> Shimano SPD-SLs (i.e. wider and wider platforms) and have noticed the difference in ability to deliver more power (or the same power with less fatigue).
Note: On occasion, I will swap out my road pedals for my SPD MTB pedals if I am going to a place I want to walk around and can really notice the decline in climbing performance. Probably no way to measure on an apples-apples basis.

As someone who used MTB pedals on the road for many years and recently just went back to road pedals and shoes, the only time I notice a difference is during really hard sprint type efforts in the 5-60s range. For endurance efforts, I think the efficiency difference is the same and there is no particular noticeable difference in my power prs between the two.

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@Bryce
Thanks for the lengthy reply and your thoughts.

I really like having a copious amount of float in my pedals. I had Shimano MTB clipless pedals before that, which are much tighter in that regard. If I were to get road shoes, I’d probably pair them with Speedplay pedals which as far as I have read provide a lot of float as well.

While I think this is specific to Crankbrother Eggbeater pedals, this was one concern I have had where I thought that perhaps this reduces pedaling efficiency as the Eggbeaters are at one extreme end as far as the pedaling platform goes (compared to most road-style pedals).

But at least I do not suffer from the narrow platform: I have had 12-hour days on my road bike and my feet were not suffering from the narrow high pressure zone. And that is despite the fact that my Sidi’s do not have a carbon sole and are not the stiffest shoes on the market.

Is that really a factor in practice? The difference is perhaps a few millimeters at best, and that is assuming you keep your foot level while pedaling. Most people’s toes point downwards, and as soon as the toe is below the pedal axis, you nullify any advantage, don’t you?

That’s why I did what I did, too: instead of spending $150 on pedals and $300 on shoes, I just had to pay for another pair of pedals. Plus, getting wide shoes in Japan (where I live) is quite a hassle.

Since I mostly do road rides now (there are almost no trails here), I thought I could consider the switch once I buy new shoes this year or next year).

Out of curiosity, what kind of fatigue have you experienced? Was the fatigue due to pressure points? And do you also like your pedals to have very little float?

[quote=“OreoCookie, post:10, topic:10843”]

Very good questions . . .

Foot fatigue. Going from Deltas to KEOs I felt a big difference. The transition from KEOs to Shimano SPD-SLs was less dramatic, but I still felt like I was more broadly distributing the load.
Note: At that time, I was using the Giro Trans shoe with the Easton EC-70 carbon composite sole (mid-range, $225). Last summer I upgraded to the Specialized S-Works 7s (top of the line, full carbon sole, $400) and the combination has been a game changer.

Interesting question. I have always gone for about 3-6 degrees float (the cleat model of each brand with the smallest amount of float). And my theory had been to allow the knee some level of flexibility to reduce injury. However, now that I am stronger, both from cycling/TR and a fairly robust strength training program, I can sense small potential losses due to the cleat/pedal float during TR workouts (i.e. less than 100% power transfer), particularly during Coach Chad’s quadrant drills. So I am thinking about getting a pair of zero degree float SPD-SLs.

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Depending on the style of racing you participate in, pedal clearance can certainly be a factor.

In crit racing, it is really common, especially in the lower categories, to hear pedal strikes when leaned over pedaling through a turn. Road pedals taper so that the outside edge is thinner than the middle. When you are leaned over in a corner, you are going to strike the outside of the pedal rather than the toe due to the lean angle, even if your toes point downwards in that part of the pedal stroke.

All things considered, it is a somewhat minor issue for a limited portion of the cycling community, but I figured it was worth mentioning. In my experience, racing criteriums in MTB pedals can be dangerous in terms of clipping in corners as well as accidental unclips during sprints.

At the end of the day, you just gotta figure out if the value proposition that road pedals provide is worth it to you. Objectively speaking, there are a few reasons why road pedals are better for road riding, but it may not make a big enough difference to justify the expense in your eyes. It seems to me that for the kind of riding you do, MTB pedals suit you just fine :slight_smile:

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Abyear or two back Brett @ ZenTri did a thing on this, and I’m pretty sure that was based off papers at the time of you’ve got time to google/search his site.

http://www.zentriathlon.com

Long and short was that flats were as good as clipless pedals, for experienced riders.

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Thanks for the explanation regarding crit races. I have never done crit racing, so I didn’t know whether the extra few mm would actually make a difference. I don’t think it would suit my personality (it seems very stressful and prone to accidents), so at least for me that is not a factor.

I’m still trying to figure out the road bike community. It seems to me that they are the conservative uncle of the mountain bike community. So sometimes “common sense” within the road bike community is just based on tradition, but lacks any scientific basis. (Even now my ride mates are unsure about the safety and reliability of disc brakes … :wink: Ditto for tubeless.)

Thanks for the link, I think the relevant episode is 625 (although they do compare flat pedals to clipless pedals, which is a slightly different discussion). I downloaded it and will have a listen this weekend.

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I’ve been kicking this around lately too as I used to have Spd on all bikes and over the years have moved to Spd-sl on the road bike and eggbeaters on the mtb. However, I absolutely hate waddling around in road (Spd-sl, 3 bolt) shoes so am thinking about going back to all Spd.

Just discovered that I still have a pair of road SPD pedals likes this Shimano SPD road pedal - single sided entry that doesn’t have the clearance issue mentioned above that other Spd pedals (double sided) do. Might be something to consider for those that would like to stay with a single pedal type.

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I haven’t seen MTB vs Road in aerodynamics, but I have seen something on different q-factors: if you have the same cranks does the q-factor vary between MTB and Road pedals? I’m imagining my SPD-SL and eggbeaters/SPD - I think it might do. Probably in the specs sheets.

I’ve experimented with lots of different pedals. As mentioned above I find the eggbeaters are super floaty, even after I got the zero degree float. Eggbeaters and SPD are supposed to be easier to clip in to than SPD-SL. I personally noticed no difference. Ditto Time I-Clik.
SPD-SL suck if they get muddy, or rather if the cleats get muddy or snowy. The cleats also wear a lot quicker if they’re made of plastic.
SPDs on road shoes are also good for running on ice (I used to cycle up a hill that a river crossed and would jump off and run up). The metal cleat digs in.
As regards the point about pedals clipping the ground; add to criterium racing fixed wheels bikes where you have to pedal. Recreational fixed wheel riding is just fun. If you’ve not tried it do. I currently use eggbeaters (muddy canal paths), but have clipped them a few times.