Why Single-Sided SPD Pedals Are Perfect for Bikepacking

Dare I ask: clipless or flats? It’s a hot debate in the bikepacking world, and a conundrum I’ve wrestled with many times myself.

Many of us enjoy the feeling of riding clipless, but there’s something intimidating about heading off to a foreign country or multi-month journey with nothing but SPD bike shoes (and perhaps lightweight camp sandals).

I’ve been all the way around the full circle of bikepacking pedals and shoes. I started touring with flats and running shoes, added power grips, upgraded to flat bike shoes, took the leap to clipless, and eventually found myself back at flats for technical trails. From multi-month trips to fast-and-light races, I’ve logged significant miles with all these styles.

With that experience in mind, I’m here to boldly suggest that there is an ideal type of pedal for bikepacking and it’s the single-sided platform SPD pedal.

For bikepackers on mixed-terrain routes this type of pedal offers max versatility, reliability, and comfort. It’s the ultimate compromise pedal, the best of both worlds with very few downsides.

Read on to learn why I’m such a big fan.

Related: Pedals for Bikepacking: Find Your Spot on the Walk-Ride Spectrum

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How They Work

Single-sided SPD pedals have a dual personality: platform with SPD mechanism on one side and just the platform with traction pins on the other.

With the SPD side up they act like SPD pedals with a supportive platform. With it down they act like regular old flat pedals.

This does mean you need to rotate the desired side up. They have a tendency to stay in the orientation you put them, so if you want to change sides you need to rotate the pedal with a well-timed flick with your toe. This quickly becomes second nature, though doing it too often can be a bit annoying (I’ll talk more about this downside in a minute).

Single sided clipless platform pedals sitting on concrete
Single sided clipless platform pedals have an SPD click-in mechanism on one side and a simple platform on the other.

Single vs. Double-sided Platform SPD

If you’re familiar with double-sided SPD platform pedals, you might be wondering if single-sided is really that different. Can’t you still sort of pedal an SPD platform pedal without clipping in?

You can, but the SPD mechanism is an uncomfortable lump that interferes with good foot position. In my experience the difference between these two styles is how long you can pedal for without clipping in.

A two-sided SPD pedal can be turned for a few revolutions in unpredictable city traffic, or a short leisurely spin to the grocery store in camp sandals. But a one-sided SPD pedal with a true flat platform can be ridden on the platform side for days (pretty much indefinitely).

Clipless Confidence and Convenience

Many of us can remember the unease of attaching our feet to the bike for the first time, and the first time we fell over after failing to unclip (in my case it was on a trail, directly into poison oak). 😬

Even if we’re well accustomed to riding clipless there are still some situations where it’s more confidence inspiring, or just more convenient, to unclip and ride a platform for awhile. A couple examples:

Stop-and-go urban traffic: When navigating a loaded rig through busy city streets, clipping and unclipping at every stop gets old.

Technical trail: Wish I could say I’m a good enough mountain biker to fearlessly tackle every obstacle with my feet attached to my pedals, but when it gets gnarly I prefer to clip out for a smoother emergency dismount.

Given the varied nature of most long bikepacking routes, these situations are bound to come up eventually. For me the former comes up more when I’m touring internationally. My single-sided SPD pedals served me very well while riding in Central Asia and Morocco, for example.

The latter situation, sections of technical trail within an otherwise non-technical route, often comes up on shorter mixed-terrain backcountry routes in the US. Some routes where I’ve really enjoyed my single-sided SPD pedals for this reason are Smoke ‘n Fire 400 and Tour de los Padres.

Comfort and Biomechanical Flexibility

Not having to think about foot placement is one of my favorite benefits of clipless pedals. But on long trips where nagging overuse issues can pop up, sometimes it’s helpful to vary foot placement while working through pain or tightness. Flipping pedals over to the platform side makes this very easy to do on-the-go with no cleat adjustment needed.

Also, the large platforms on these types of pedals add comfort during long days by spreading pressure over a larger part of the foot. This allows for flexier shoes (better for walking, a frequent need of bikepackers) and can lessen foot pain and nerve issues.

It’s possible to find double-sided SPD pedals that also have a large platform, but most don’t, and pretty much all single-sided SPD pedals do.

Close up of bottom of well-used SPD bike shoes with worn rubber
Ideally bike shoes are comfortable, but when we spend a ton of time in them (as I clearly have in these) it’s easy for hot spots and blisters to develop.

Mud and Snow

If you’ve ever had a real encounter with Death Mud, you know sometimes your cleats are simply not available. Ditto for snow and ice. Both can build up on the bottom of your shoe until the thought of clipping in is a distant memory.

When slogging your way through miles of these conditions, a flat platform pedal is incredibly useful. Sure, you can sort of turn a regular SPD pedal without clipping in, but the foot placement and comfort are worse and this situation is already hard enough.

These pictures make the point better than words:

Bike tire and bottom of bicycle shoe covered in thick mud
Utah on the Western Wildlands Route
Bikepacker with mud and snow on bottom of her bike shoes
Oregon on The Big Lonely

Mechanicals and Other Weird Issues

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from bikepacking it’s that weird and unexpected sh!t tends to come up on bike trips, especially long ones.

This could be something as simple as losing a cleat (not actually unexpected – carry a spare cleat and bolts). It could be a mechanical issue with the SPD mechanism on the pedal.

Or it could be as weird as your bike shoes disappearing from outside your tent during the night. Was it a dog? A raccoon? A desperate shoeless fellow cyclist? You’ll never know.

In both those cases, having a rideable platform pedal can get you through hours or days of riding until your clipless capabilities can be restored.

Multiple Shoe Options

Ideally we would all have super-comfy cycling shoes that don’t rub us the wrong way, no matter how many consecutive days we spend pedaling and walking in them. (Side note: I’m pretty happy with my Pearl Izumi X-Alp Canyons.)

In reality it’s easy for blisters and hot spots to pop up on a long trip, especially as shoes start wearing from use. Bike shoes can also be problematic day after day in super hot weather or relentlessly wet conditions (think rashes and other skin conditions).

With single-sided SPD pedals you can comfortably ride in camp sandals or other non-bike shoes, like those emergency sneakers you just bought at the local thrift store, as needed. This broadens your options if foot or shoe issues pop up in an out-of-the-way place.

It’s also nice for rest days when you might want to pedal around town while taking a break from your bike shoes.

The One Downside

After bikepacking many thousands of loaded miles with one-sided SPD pedals, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s only one real downside (pun intended): the need to spin the pedal to the desired side when switching between clipped in and not.

It’s no big deal to do occasionally, and it quickly becomes second nature. But if the need for unclipping is really frequent or the need for platforms is rare I will use a different type of pedal. Specifically:

Sustained technical routes like Bones to Blue where I want to spend a lot of time unclipped: I just use flat MTB pedals.

Short straightforward pavement and gravel routes where I spend all my riding time clipped in and the chance of needing platforms is low: I use double-sided SPD pedals with a small platform just for support (specifically these Shimano road touring pedals).

In short, if there isn’t much to be gained from the one-sided pedal then I do have a slight preference for not having to worry about which side is up.

For completeness, there are two other minor downsides to single-sided or double-sided SPD platform pedals compared to more minimalist SPD pedals: the platform adds weight and makes shin strikes slightly harder to avoid while hiking on narrow trail. But for me the advantages of the platform definitely outweigh these issues.

Models to Consider

If I’ve managed to convince you to try single-sided SPD pedals on your next bikepacking trip, here are some models to consider.

Funn Mamba and smaller Mamba S: Big grippy MTB-style pedals with configurable pins and a handy grease renewal port. Currently my favorite (review here).

Shimano EH500 SPD Sport Road Pedals: Shimano calls these road pedals, but the platform side has 8 pins and looks suitable for gravel and a bit of light trail.

Rockbros MTB Single-Sided SPD Pedals: A decent option for smaller budgets. I would expect these to get the job done for awhile but lack in finer details of design and durability.

If you’re not convinced and want to read about other options, see my post Bikepacking Pedals: Find Your Spot on the Ride-Walk Spectrum.

More Bikepacking Resources

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Or visit the bikepacking section for lots more!

About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa, founder of Exploring Wild. I’ve traveled over 20,000 miles by bike and still can’t stop planning my next ride (and helping you plan yours). Pavement and panniers or singletrack and seat bag, I love it all. On my bike I feel free. Learn more about me here.

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    2 thoughts on “Why Single-Sided SPD Pedals Are Perfect for Bikepacking”

    1. I use the double sided as well and I love the versatility. I also commute with my bike and I don’t want to change pedals every time I want to rides in the outback or in long distances. Great article!

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