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Plastic vs Metal Mountain Bike Pedals

The debate about plastic and metal pedals is centered on strength and durability, especially on rough terrain. This comprehensive review of both pedals will give you insights into what exactly they're made of, what features they possess, and which among them is worth your bucks.

Thin metal pedal of a bike.

When the debate between plastic and metal bike pedals ensues, different people have their preferences. Some take their stand influenced by price offerings of either the metal or plastic pedals.  Durability is another factor that comes up a lot in such debates. Furthermore, some love aesthetics. 

As for me, practicality is my go-to. I stand on the pedal, which improves the riding experience. But let’s explore what a bike pedal really is.

What Is a Bike Pedal?

Pedals of a electric mountain bike.

A bike pedal is a platform a rider pushes with their foot to make the bike move forward.  A pedal contains two parts: the platform upon which the rider’s foot or shoe rests and the spindle attached to the bicycle’s crank. 

When a rider pushes the pedal, the spindle rotates and translates that rotational movement to the crank, the crank transmits the same rotation through the chain to the rear wheel, and the bike gains forward traction.

Pedals come in different shapes and forms. There are two main materials used to make pedals, though. These materials are plastic (composite or nylon) and metal, also known as an alloy. 

These two materials are used for different purposes, but mostly, the choice comes down to personal preferences.

Plastic (Composite) Pedals

Plastic pedals of a mountain bike.

Every amateur bike or kid’s bike comes with plastic pedals. Although quality varies, most of these pedals are nylon, carbon-reinforced plastic, or polycarbonate.

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Plastic pedals are preferred for their relatively favorable prices and their aesthetics. Those who do not champion these pedals cite durability.

Metal (Alloy) Pedals

A metal alloy pedals.

Metal pedals are mostly made of aluminum. Aluminum is a convenient metal as it is light and very sturdy. A metal pedal is a high-end pedal. The prices of such pedals are higher in comparison to plastic pedals. Riders prefer metal pedals because of their durability, especially for off-road riders. 

In addition, they are mostly a one-time purchase, meaning that when you purchase a metal pedal, you might not have to go back to shop for a while. That said, their price encloses them to the high-end market.

How Are Plastic and Metal Pedals Different?  

Each material used to make bike pedals has its benefits. We shall learn more about the differences between these two types of pedals.

Material

By now, you know the two materials used to make bicycle pedals.

Plastic Pedal

Rustic plastic pedals of a bike.

Plastic pedals are the most basic pedals, though their technology has significantly improved to make them competitive. Many beginners start with plastic pedals, and when they wish, they upgrade.  However, it is worth noting that there are plastic pedals that are also high-end, so when upgrading, one can still go for premium plastic pedals.

There are also some plastic pedals with metal studs to increase their grip and make them more durable. Therefore, if you have the budget, you can undoubtedly find a plastic pedal that works for you.

Metal Pedal

Metal pedals are made of aluminum. Aluminum is a remarkably light metal which makes it suitable for pedals—the lighter the pedal, the better a riding experience.  In addition, aluminum is strong; therefore, it is unlikely to break even when you have a hard strike in your off-road riding. 

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Finally, aluminum makes the metal pedal outlast the composite pedals.

Durability

No one wants to buy a pedal and, after a few days, go back to the shop to get replacement pedals. Let’s talk about the durability of both the plastic and metal pedals.

Plastic Pedals.

Plastic pedals vary in durability depending on the composite material used to make them. Simple pedals such as those are kid’s bikes, and entry-level bikes do not last that long. A simple strike is enough to take them out. There are composite pedals whose technology and the composite material used are very sturdy. These pedals deliver the same value as alloy pedals but cheaper. 

Moreover, they are not particularly fragile. They can take a pretty strong strike and still hold their own.

Metal Pedals

Durable metal mountain bike pedal.

Metal pedals are the most durable when it comes to pedals. The possibility of a metal pedal breaking is very low. In addition, the wear and tear on aluminum are also low, therefore guaranteeing you the longevity of the pedals.

Cost

We all have different budgets to commit to when getting the right components for our bikes. Some of us are ready to dig deeper in our pockets, and some need something functional for the least amount possible.

Plastic Pedals

Premium plastic bike pedal.

Source: Ebay

Plastic pedals are the most affordable pedals in the market. However, cognizant of the quality, you can go for premium plastic pedals, which cost around $20. These premium pedals allow you to experience quality at pocket-friendly prices. 

But if you can’t afford such and need a pedal and be on your way, you can find cheap plastic pedals for as low as $6.

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Mountain Bike Pedals, HENGXIA Antiskid Bicycle Cycling Pedal, Plastic MTB Pedals, 9/16 Inch, 1 Pair

Metal Pedals

Metal pedals are at the premium level. Still, there are price ranges too for metal pedals. These prices depend on the technology used in the pedal. The quality of the material and the bearing used also matter. 

The coating of the metal also contributes to the pricing. Colorful, well-coated pedals are pricier compared to basic metal pedals. CXWXC Road/MTB Bike Pedals - Aluminum Alloy Bicycle Pedals - Mountain Bike Pedal with Removable Anti-Skid Nails (Black-Gray)

Nevertheless, even the cheapest metal pedals are pricier than premium plastic pedals. For example, affordable metal pedals can cost about 20, whereas premium metal pedals can cost upwards of $100. OneUp Components Aluminum Pedal Orange, One Size

Aesthetics

Riding a bike is not only a physical activity; it is an identity to some. Avid bike fanatics identify their bicycles with themselves. You can easily catch them speaking about their bikes in a personified manner. Hence, the aesthetics of their bike is pertinent to them.

Plastic Pedals

Old plastic pedals of a mountain bike.

Plastic pedals stand out because they don’t have a coating. Instead, the plastic that makes the pedal is colored before manufacturing. The inside of the pedal is the same color as the outside. 

Therefore, when you strike something when riding and your pedal is scratched, or a small chunk breaks off, the pedal doesn’t lose its coloring. As a result, the dent is not visible unless someone zero’s in.

Metal Pedals

As for the metal pedals, they are anodized to give them the different colors that they come in. When new, they are very colorful, but after taking a few rough rides, they get scratched, and the added coating wears off. 

As a result, the pedal doesn’t look like a consistent, colorful pedal anymore. It looks battered. Though durable, they do not look good as they age.

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Weight

When riding a bike, the weight of the components that make up your bike matters – the lighter the bike, the better it rides. Therefore, riders are keen on the weight of simple things as their pedals.

Plastic Pedal

Plastic pedals tend to be heavier, especially if they are premium. On the other hand, basic plastic pedals may be lighter, but they sacrifice a lot of quality, making them less ideal. 

So any plastic pedals that are considerable tend to be a little heavier due to the extra material that has to go in to improve their sturdiness.

Metal Pedals

The metal pedals are very light. First, metal pedals are made of aluminum, a very lightweight metal. In addition, aluminum is very strong.  Therefore, when making a pedal, they use just enough aluminum, and it gets the job done. So, with metal pedals, you get strong and light pedals.

Thickness

The thickness of the pedal also affects the riding experience. Thick pedals are less pleasant compared to slim pedals.

Plastic Pedals

Thick plastic pedals of a bike.

Plastic pedals are usually thick. They are thick because of the extra material added to make them study. The sturdier the plastic pedal, the bulkier it feels, and the more it takes away from the riding experience. 

Therefore, before choosing a plastic pedal, you have to understand the right balance of such components.

Metal Pedals

Metal pedals do not need any additional material to make them strong and sturdy. A small piece of aluminum alloy is enough to make a functional pedal. 

Therefore, most metal pedals are slim—the slimmer the pedal, the better the riding experience.

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Injury

A cyclist with leg injury.

As a seasoned bike rider, you will have an injury at one time or another. Some injuries are from a slipping pedal that hits you in the shin. For beginners, they should put on a shin guard to protect them against such things. But even experienced riders get shin injuries.

Plastic Pedal

Although a plastic pedal can still cause a shin injury, the composite used to make plastic pedals absorbs a bit of the shock, and the injury is not as severe. This is also why beginner bikes have plastic pedals. It serves as a safety precaution for shin injuries.

Metal Pedals

Before graduating to the metal pedals, make sure that you are well experienced. An injury by a metal pedal can be severe. The metal used to make the pedals might have a coating, but that does not take away the severity of a possible injury.

Grip

The grip of a pedal determines its traction. A better grip offers better traction. It can also help prevent shin injuries.

Plastic Pedals

Cyclist in a mountain bike.

Plastic pedals have good grip when new. Nonetheless, they tend to wear out fast. The plastic pedals lose grip fast, especially for off-road riders who ride long distances.

There are plastic pedals with replaceable metal studs. These pedals last a lot longer than plastic pedals with plastic studs.

Metal Pedals

Metal pedals have better traction for a long time. In addition, it takes longer for the metal studs to wear out. This is another reason why experienced riders prefer metal pedals. These pedals give one value for money.

Conclusion

In bicycle riding, experience matters. For an ultimate experience, for an experienced rider, the metal pedals are the best. These are premium pedals, and they give value for money. They are light, less bulky, have better grip, have better traction, and are very durable. 

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Nevertheless, one must wear a shin guard to prevent shin injuries as they can be devastating.