Clipless pedals not only transmit leg power efficiently, but they also bond cyclist and steed
From seamless power transfer to preventing foot bounce, there are plenty of reasons for going clipless — but can the originators Shimano stay ahead of the pack? We put plenty of pedals to the test…
Clipless pedals are extremely efficient, providing a secure connection with the bike and zero power loss when climbing or sprinting. It’s much harder for your feet to bounce off the pedals than with flats, and you can better utilise the whole pedal stroke to even out your cadence.
Mountain bike clipless pedals are all double-sided, and use metal shoe cleats for strength and durability, although the binding mechanisms can be subtly different. To clip-in, you simply place the cleat on the pedal and press down. The best systems make this process instant and smooth, so that it quickly becomes instinctive.
All the mechanisms have built-in float. This is basically a bit of wiggle-room between the cleat and binding, so you can use more body English when riding through technical sections without your foot unclipping accidentally.
Disengaging should happen in a smooth and predictable manner. Inconsistent release is a big worry, particularly for first timers, as toppling over can hurt — even if it’s just your pride.
All the pedals in this test have a mechanism surrounded by a minimal platform. They work best with stiff-soled shoes and favour power transfer over off-bike performance. Don’t expect much of a platform to support your foot if you don’t manage to clip-in first time.
The benchmark for this style of clipless pedal is the classic Shimano XT SPD — it’s lightweight, great value and has good all-round performance. No wonder it’s been a test favourite at mbr for the past few years. So, let’s see how it stacks up against the rivals.
Get to know your pedals with this handy glossary.
Even on these trail pedals, the small platform can give support, allow easier cleat location and act as a temporary base for those occasions when you haven’t quite clipped in.
To allow your shoes to clip into the mechanism, a pair of metal plates (or cleats) is included with every pedal. These attach to the bottom of the sole via a two-bolt interface, standard on all mountain bike shoes. Cleats are pedal-specific, so one system will not work with another. They also wear out, so it’s worth replacing them every 12-18 months.
Pedal float refers to the amount of free movement of your foot before the mechanism releases. There are two types of float — lateral (side-to-side) and angular (twisting). A small amount of float is a good thing, because if your foot is locked too solid on the pedal this can cause premature release and lead to knee problems.
As with anything that spins on your bike, the pedal needs good seals to protect the bearings and bushings. Even with the best of seals, it is a good idea to pull the pedal apart now and again and force some grease through the body to repel water and dirt.
On some clipless pedals you can adjust the force needed to release the cleat from the mechanism — this is called release tension. If you are riding fast on hard or technical ground, increasing the tension can prevent unwanted releases, but you might prefer it set lower if you are new to clipless pedals or are breaking in a fresh set of cleats.
Time MX 6
It’s fair to say the Time MX6 is not a great looking pedal, especially in this insipid Plasma yellow, but it uses the company’s proven ATAC mechanism, is lightweight and offers tons of support.
Shimano XT M8020 Trail
What’s good about the XT is that the pedal body is forged aluminium, so can really handle abuse, making it great if you ride regularly on rocky terrain. The amount of support is similar to most of the other mid-sized pedals tested, but with a steel axle it feels super-solid under foot.
Shimano DX M647
The DX pedal is probably 10 years old, but even up against far more modern competition it’s still a great caged clipless pedal. It’s not the lightest, and the plastic platform only really offers support towards the rear of the shoe, but the unique feature of the DX is the floating mechanism.
The X2 is another downhill pedal, and this one was developed with the help of two-time World Cup champion, Aaron Gwin. The aluminium platform is 5mm longer than the Mallet DH, but it’s thinner at either end and has fewer pins.
With the same sized platform as Shimano’s XT pedal, direct comparisons are inevitable. The T1 is lighter, has excellent cornering clearance and works better in muddy conditions. However, the Shimano XT is more robust, has a more positive and audible engagement and is, crucially, £20 cheaper. The only reason we can see to buy the T1 over XT is for the colours, of which there are seven.
Crank Bros Candy 2
The Candy 2 spins on a simple bushing and we’ve found this can suffer from premature wear. But, Crank Bros has recently made a running change to the bearings in all of its pedals and the Candy now feature a better quality IGUS bushing and Enduro cartridge bearing.
The S-track is the only clipless pedal on test that can be ungraded by buying an aftermarket cage which bolts on the outside. It all adds up to a tremendously versatile pedal system that is the lightest on test and worth consideration whatever type of riding you favour.
Funn Tactic MTB
The Tactic is available in black, blue, orange, red and silver and everyone agreed it would be a particularly handsome addition to any bike, but at £80 it’s the most expensive pedal on test, and there are better value options available elsewhere.
Mavic Crossride SL
The plastic body gives a modicum of support; for more foot stability you could always opt for the caged Crossride XL model, which is — weirdly — £6 cheaper.The Crossride SL really did everything to a superb standard, it’s also lightweight and great value at £65.
Ritchey Comp V4 Mountain
With such a small platform, the Comp V4 Mountain provides less support than the XT or Funn pedals, but that did mean it tended to react more favourably when ridden in sticky mud. A few well-placed kicks soon cleared the open mechanism and narrow axle of gloop, ice and snow. With better quality bearings we would find it easier to recommend the Comp V4 Mountain as a budget SPD-compatible option.
Shimano XT Race PD-M8000
The XT is not the lightest, or cheapest option on the market, but if experience is anything to go by you can guarantee it will last and last, continuing to perform to a high level over years of service.
Crank Bros Mallet DH
Ignore the DH label because this is the best caged clipless pedal for trail riding and easily deserves top marks. Great purchase on the pedal for improved control. Can ride on the pedal when not clipped in. Works well with shoes such as Giro’s Chamber, Five Ten’s Impact SPD and Shimano’s DX. Plenty of float.
The only reason we haven’t given the M540 a 10 rating is because you can pick up the excellent Shimano PD-M520, which functions nearly as well, lasts just as long and weighs only 30g more, for £27 (and perhaps even less if you shop around a little).
HT has made a pretty good first attempt at a clipless DH pedal, and if you don’t like Crank Brothers’ rather vague mechanism, you’ll probably love the X1. On the downside, we found clipping in more difficult, and the aluminium body didn’t quite give the same level of grip and support as the Mallet DH.
On the trail, testers were pleased with the consistency and force needed to clip in and out, once the tension was increased sufficiently. Though some riders reported an occasional poor release, when they were momentarily kept in the pedal beyond the release ‘click’, no one considered it a great problem.
Crank Bros Candy 1
The light action and lack of adjustment makes us think this pedal would be ideal for clipless newcomers, who could either continue down the Crank Brothers line as time went on, or switch to another system if their riding became more aggressive.
The platform doesn’t really give a huge amount of extra support when you’re not clipped in, but the fact that the front of the mechanism is always tipped up and ready to receive the cleat definitely helps engagement.
If you ride in all conditions, the E-PM824 may not be the best pedal for you, but if you are more of a fair weather rider and are after a solid, supportive pedal that can take some abuse, it’s a safe bet. It’s also half the price of the Mallet DH and the similar-looking, HT Components X1.
Crank Bros Eggbeater 1
s with the Crank Brothers Candy, by the end of the test, the bearings had begun to show a tiny amount of play in our sample pedal. It hasn’t got any worse, but it set off alarm bells as some of the Eggbeaters we’ve tested in the past also had issues with the bearings.
Crank Bros Mallet E
While the DH Race model still offers the ultimate combination of flat pedal feel and clipless security, the Mallet E is a great choice for anyone who rides with a stiffer-soled shoe and wants improved pedal clearance on rocky trails.
For a long time Shimano has dominated the clipless pedal market, and rightly so. Crisp entry and exit, easy adjustment and a bombproof design have all contributed greatly to that market dominance — not to mention almost universal availability. But things move on, and there are now several challengers after its clipless crown.
We loved the finish on the Funn Tactic pedal, with its funky colours and high-quality materials. Like the Ritchey, it’s also SPD-compatible, and while entry and exit is sharper than we would like, it was easy to get in and out of, and that goes a long way in terms of promoting rider confidence. At £80, we felt it was a little pricy, especially when you can get the well-proven, bombproof Shimano XT for £5 less.
It was the excellent resistance to mud clogging, firm activation and unwavering consistency of the twin-bar system, used by Look and Mavic, that really shone during the winter test period. There was much debate between testers about which one should take the win, with many opting for the Look’s unquestionable quality and versatility. The ability to bolt on a few different trail cages widened its appeal greatly, and meant it could be transferred happily between a diverse stable of bikes.
However, combining all the positive traits of the two-bar system with ease of fitting — no messing around with shims or adjustment screws — we decided that Mavic deserved the title this time round. The Crossride SL is a fit-and-forget pedal. It works perfectly out the box, with no tweaking necessary, the quality is excellent, the price is right, and with such a great action, it had many of our dyed-in-the-wool SPD users questioning their allegiance.