The number one upgrade any cyclist can make to improve their performance is undoubtedly riding with cleated shoes and clipless pedals. Pedals come in all shapes and styles, and everyone has their opinion for what they look for in a pedal. The common attributes that most riders should consider when shopping for a new pedal: stability, durability, weight, resistance, stance width and, of course, aesthetics. While high-end racing pedals can cost as much as $400, in the end they do the same thing that cheaper pedals do. Here are three low-cost options for riders looking for their first real performance upgrade.

A manufacturer for many basic pedal brands, VP has two road pedal designs and the R73H is the carbon composite body (versus the $73 aluminum version). VP’s Look-style cleat is unique, as it comes apart like a puzzle piece, which allows you to remove half of the cleat so that when you replace the old cleats you can easily retain your same cleat position. The R73H uses a single-spring retention system, which minimally saves weight and allows for a stronger spring tension. VP uses a clip-in abrasion guard on their R73H pedal to save some weight, unlike the lower-line R73 that uses a bolt-on guard. The R73H uses bushing and cartridge bearings for a smooth and stable turn of the pedal.

The cheapest out of the three pedals tested, the VP R73H has a very basic, minimalistic body design. The VP cleat does not have a rubber contact patch for non-slip walking. The cleat sits flush with the pedal, resulting in only cleat float and no tilt, which results in a stable platform with no play. While these pedals have the largest cleat contact platform (6.2 x 2cm) of the three tested here, they also have the shortest axle, which resulted in test riders repeatedly scraping their shoes against the crankarms. The VP is the least expensive pedal of our test group.

• Carbon body pedal under $100
• Innovative cleat design
• Largest platform

Price: $95
Weight: 261 grams

By far the lightest in the bunch, the Xpedo brand has been synonymous with lightweight pedals for a fraction of what most will charge for a comparable pedal. A chromoly axle provides a strong platform for even the heaviest of riders. Three cartridge bearings between the axle and body reduce the friction of pedal rotation. The Xpedo cleat meshes with the pedal body to provide a perfect contact platform for the cleat to remain stable on the pedal. The crank to mid-pedal width is 5.2cm and 6cm for the cleat contact patch, and the NXS splits the difference of the other two pedals for a mid-range fit.

Minimal play between the cleat and pedal provides extra confidence when getting out of the saddle for hard accelerations and those high-power efforts. The lack of sloppiness gives a better feeling for the bike through high-speed turns, especially when pushing off the outside pedal. While pedaling, the super-low friction feels incredibly smooth. One small annoyance of the low-friction bearings: when you are not clipped in, the pedal spins freely, causing an inconvenience when trying to clip back in.

• Lightest pedal system of the three
• Lower-resistant bearing, but…
• … although smooth, not the smoothest around

Price: $100
Weight: 224 grams

Exustar has had a 21-year history of designing quality pedal systems, and among their large range of pedals, the E-PR3ST rates high in the affordability category. The E-PR3ST uses a thermoplastic body to help reduce weight, with durability found with a heat-treated chromoly axle. The rear binding is reinforced with fiberglass to cut down on wear. The axle uses three different bearing types—bushing, cartridge and needle—all which play a specific role when it comes to low resistance, durability and decreasing play in the pedal.

The robust pedal body allows for a confident platform under your foot. Though heavier than the other pedals tested here, the Exustars have a full contact feel that could only be an attribute of the bigger platform and front pedal hook. The screw-on steel abrasion guard can help minimize wear from contact and can be replaced. That’s a good feature. Though it has the narrowest platform at 5.8cm in width, the Exustar E-PR3ST has the widest pedal stance at 5.4cm.

• Longer axle for wider stance
• Hidden springs give a clean look
• Heaviest of the three

Weight: 311 grams

With the price all being about equal between the three pedals, focusing on the minute differences between them is all that remains to provide an overall rating. In regards to cleats, while both the Xpedo and Exustar provide cleats with 6 degrees of float, the VP pedal runs with a 7-degree float cleat. All three pedals have a 0-degree/fixed cleat option, but only the Xpedo includes the extra cleat. If you are looking for the most durable pedal, our vote would be the Exustar due to its three-bearing system and enclosed tension-spring mechanism. For optimum stability, the VP tops our chart, thanks to the minimal cleat rock and the wide platform. The lightweight crown goes to the Xpedo Thrust NXS, and we liked the three cartridge bearings, which allow for a super-low-resistant rotation. If you have a wider pedal position, the Exustar is the best option. If you are in need of a narrower stance, the VP is for you. Our “desert island” choice? The VP due to the wide and stable platform.

shootoutpedalsvalue pedalsVPVP pedalsVP R73HXpedoXpedo pedalsXpedo Thrust NXSThrust NXSExustarExustar pedalsExustar E-PR3ST