That is a common question in many of my conversations with new road bike customers. This comes up since most new road bikes above entry-level no longer include pedals. Here is a quick primer on the three pedals "systems" to choose from for road cyclist: the traditional pedal with toe-clip and strap, step-in road pedals, and SPD or off-road pedals.
Toe Clips and Straps – Ideal for: Riders who don't want, are not ready for, a specialized cycling shoe.
As technology goes, toe clips and straps had an 80-year run on the top of the hill. Alas, as is often the case, perfection in a technology is soon followed by obsolescence. The newest nylon toe clips don't rust or get bent out of shape, and nylon straps last longer than the finest leather ones. A basic road pedal with clips and straps is available for $20 for any bike sold without pedals at Bicycle Garage Indy.
Step-in Road Pedals – Ideal for: Athletic and competitive riders, with little off-bike time during their riding
The French company Look introduced the first racing oriented step-in and twist-out pedals in 1985. At its simplest, the design is based on downhill skiing technology, and in effect, you wear a shoe with a 2" long ski boot attached to the sole, and step into a 2" long ski binding for a pedal. The result is a much more secure, yet safer, no-hands release system. This started a revolution in shoe design as well, increasing comfort dramatically . Bicycle Garage Indy offers road pedals from Look, Speedplay, and Shimano.
Step-in Off-Road Pedals – Ideal for: Sport, touring and commuting riders looking for efficiency and walk-ability.
Shimano's SPD came along a few years after the Look road pedal. The 2 bolt SPD cleat is much smaller than the Look cleat, and can be recessed into a walkable shoe. While this was initially intended to give mountain bike riders more secure footing in tough trail situations, many road riders like the combination a step-in pedal with a walkable shoe. SPD compatible pedals from Shimano, Speedplay, Crank Brothers and Look are available at Bicycle Garage Indy. (I particularly like the SPD pedals and shoes for tandem bicycling.)
That covers the basics in road bike pedals systems. The staff at all three Bicycle Garage Indy locations, North (Indianapolis, Dean Road at 82nd St.), Greenwood (just west of I-65 on County Line Rd.) and Downtown, in the Indy Bike Hub YMCA @ City Market, will be glad help you find the pedals and shoes that most fit your riding style.
– Jay S. Hardcastle, Marketing Manager for Bicycle Garage Indy and BGI Fitness