What’s all the fuss about pedals?

Pedals are a very individual decision not unlike choosing a saddle. If your bike came with pedals, chances are they were the flat pedals. These are fine for leisurely rides around the block, but toe clips and the so called clipless pedals give you a significant mechanical advantage. This is achieved by keeping your foot in constant contact with the pedal. That means you can use your legs to pull up on the pedals as well as push down. Because pulling up uses different muscles it increases the amount of power you can transfer to the crank.
The clipless pedals all require special shoes on which to attach cleats. The cleats snap into the pedals to hold your shoe/foot in firm contact with the pedal. A quick lateral move with your heel detaches the cleat from pedal. In my opinion, the most versatile of the clipless variety are the SPD pedals. They are most commonly used for mountain bikes, but can be used on any bike. I use them on my road bikes for 2 reasons: 1) the SPD pedals typically allow cleat access from either side, no fighting to get the pedal situated to get the cleat attached. 2) the SPD shoes have recessed cleats which allows you to detach your cleats and walk somewhat normally without damaging the cleats. The reason number 1) is important is if you ride in traffic, having to start from stop signs/ stop lights. The more quickly you can attach the cleats the better and I would also argue safer. Number 2) is more about convenience on group rides where you are dismounting the bike to walk around and then again mounting the bike.
The one advantage regular road pedals have over SPD’s is they have a larger platform under the shoe. On long rides, especially hilly rides, spreading the contact over a wider area can eliminate or delay the onset of ‘hot foot’. This is a condition where the nerves in the ball of the foot become agitated and there is a sensation of heat and tenderness. Usually stopping for a few minutes allows the condition to subside and you can quickly resume normal riding. To learn more about this condition – Google – hot foot cycling.