We test the best clipless pedals that combine XC efficiency with wide-platform support
Find the best mountain bike clipless pedals. Including what to look for when buying the new breed of bigger platform trail clipless pedals.
Best mountain bike clipless pedals
- Crank Brothers Mallet DH, £149.99 – WINNER
- Crank Brothers Mallet E, £149.99
- DMR V-Twin, £130
- Funn Ripper, £100
- HT X2, £119.99
- Nukeproof Horizon CL CRMO DH, £100 – RUNNER UP
- Shimano Saint M820, £109.99
- Shimano XT Trail M8020, £94.99
For a long time, riders wanting the efficiency and security of clipless pedals had to put up with running smaller, cross-country oriented systems. While these pedals were light and performed well in the mud, they didn’t offer much in the way of foot support when riding more technical trails, and required stiff-soled shoes that were awkward to walk in.
When we last tested a batch of trail-friendly clipless pedals a couple of years ago there were limited examples, with Shimano and Crank Brothers being the front runners. But the good news is that more pedal brands are getting in on the act, and consumer choice is now fairly broad.
The advantages to these platform pedals extend beyond simply looking more appropriate on modern trail bikes. With shapes inspired by flat pedals, they also provides considerably more foot support. This improves ride comfort, pedalling efficiency and bike control. That larger platform also makes a better target to aim for when needing to clip-in after a dab, and, worst-case scenario, you can actually rest your foot on them until you get clipped in.
Crank Brothers Mallet DH, £149.99
Cruise around the pits at a World Cup Downhill race and 9/10 clipped-in riders will be running Crank Brothers’s Mallet DH pedal. There’s a reason for this; the Mallet DH does a supreme job of blending the support of a flat pedal with the security and efficiency of a clipless pedal. We’ve tested it three times now, and rated it 10/10 on every occasion.
Crank Brothers Mallet E, £149.99
Thanks to the four bar, rotating mechanism you can pretty much engage in any direction, even straight down. Plus, the open design makes the Mallet the best performing pedal in mud, the action of engagement seems to squeeze any mud away from the cleat. But it’s the shaping of the Mallet E that hinders performance, the cut away edges, combined with the added play of the mechanism leaves the foot feeling less supported even than the much smaller XT Trail.
DMR V-Twin, £130.00
DMR’s version actually allows the clip to rotate in both directions, effectively allowing the foot to float or grip the platform depending on your weight transfer. To provide a better interface with the shoe DMR provides the V-Twin with a variety of different shims and pins to tune foot stability or un-clipped grip. But in reality, the V-Twin seems to work best with the stock nylon platforms or a pin front/platform rear setup.
Funn Ripper, £100.00
Engagement is positive with the Shimano compatible cleat and they share the same level of float as many of the other pedals. The Ripper is another pedal with adjustable release tension, adjustment again come thanks to a 3mm hex bolt, but this is inaccessible without moving the mechanism manually.
HT X2, £119.99
The stepped, flat pedal-like cage comes with three forward pins and two at the rear for added grip. During setup it was noticeable how much the rear pins gripped the shoe and prevented unclipping, so the X2 is best run with just the forward pins in place. What is also noticeable is just how low-profile the body is at just 13mm deep; pedaling feels really efficient and you can really push low into corners.
Nukeproof Horizon CL CRMO DH, £100.00
The CL offers the largest platform of any pedal out there today, just shading out the HT X2 and foot support is second to none. Three pins each end help with that support and unlike many of the other systems, the pins had just enough clearance to minimise any fouling of the sole.
Shimano Saint M820, £109.99
So here it is, the long awaited Saint gravity based clipless pedal. Effectively the Saint pedal stretches out the XT Trail design to offer a wider platform and also extends the XT’s ‘wings’ into a platform that forms more of a contact with the shoe. Additionally Shimano has given the Saint additional pins to provide traction when perching on the platform.
Shimano XT M8020 Trail, £94.99
Even though the body and ‘cage’ is smaller than all of the other pedals they still feel supportive under foot thanks in part to the stiff axle and wide stance. The forged aluminium body is as tough as old boots and despite the sorts of pedal strikes that have you looking for shattered pedals they have survived relatively unscathed.
Best mountain bike clipless pedals: conclusion
With trail pedals reaching maturity there’s much less of a compromise when the terrain becomes more tech. Looking at all eight of the contenders, it’s good to see that, in the most part, they all offer a viable choice for the rider seeking the security and efficiency that this type of pedal can bring. Rather than being split fifty-fifty in terms of platform size, it’s only really the evergreen Shimano XT Trail M8020 that resembles a beefed-up cross-country pedal. All seven of the alternatives have more in common with flat pedals in terms of shape, level of foot support and grip.
One thing to consider though, before you make your ultimate choice, is your current choice of shoe. Riders who are happiest using a lighter, stiffer race shoe will be perfectly happy with the smaller XT Trail or Mallet E thanks to the better support that comes with a stiffer sole. If you prefer a softer shoe, such as a Giro Chamber or Specialized 2FO, then the extra support of the larger caged pedals is a better match.
Both DMR and Funn have produced their own take on our old favourite Shimano DX M647, with its articulated, sprung-loaded clip mechanism. Both have added their own slant, but neither has achieved a pedal that eclipses the original. They have both suffered under the debilatating effects of a British winter, and look like they’ll need more regular TLC than any of the other pedals.
Shimano’s newly-launched Saint clipless pedal has pushed its nose into the wind as the Japanese giant’s premier gravity pedal, and if you are looking for sheer durability then this is the pedal for you. Its solid bulk should have rocks quivering in its shadow. It also has one of the most positive engagements, thanks to Shimano’s highly-developed SPD design, and the mid-sized shape offers good clearance for warp-speed trail riding.
Whereas in our previous trail pedal test Crank Brother’s Mallet DH was the clear winner, this time around it sustained heavy pressure from Nukeproof’s Horizon CL. The Horizon CL offers great foot support and requires far less fettling to create a stable position. It’s also fifty quid cheaper and uses Shimano-compatible cleats. But it’s a touch heavier and a shade harder to engage the cleat, especially in muddy conditions and after a quick dab. And it’s this edge in performance, combined with the the only true flat pedal-like shoe/pedal connection, that ensures the Crank Brothers Mallet DH remains the best option on the market.
Best mountain bike clipless pedals at a glance
|Crank Brothers Mallet DH||£149.99||480g||100 x 79mm||10|
|Crank Brothers Mallet E||£149.99||423g||92 x 79mm||8|
|DMR V-Twin||£130||568g||104 x 80mm||7|
|Funn Ripper||£100||565g||98 x 89mm||7|
|HT X2||£119.99||441g||104 x 85mm||8|
|Nukeproof Horizon CL CRMO DH||£100||523g||109 x 83mm||10|
|Shimano Saint M820||£109.99||542g||98 x 77mm||9|
|Shimano XT M8020 Trail||£94.99||405g||91 x 68mm||9|
The cleat is the physical link between pedal and shoe. Normally made of steel or brass alloy, all mountain bike cleats use a two-bolt design to attach them to the shoe. They have special shaping to enable them to engage with the pedal mechanism. Many cleats are based on Shimano’s original SPD design and are cross-compatible. But some brands such as Crank Brothers use a specific, unique design.
This is how much force it takes to release your foot from the mechanism. Most of the pedals on test allow for some form of adjustment to make them easier to release or less likely to unclip accidentally. On pedals such as Crank Brothers, with its twin-bar mechanism, tension cannot be adjusted. In this case, release angle can be mounting the cleats on different sides.
The bigger the platform around the clip mechanism, the better the foot support. A larger platform will give you somewhere to rest your foot if unclipped, especially on a technical section of trail. A larger contact patch will also make pedalling more efficient and much more comfortable, especially with softer soled trail shoes.
Many of the larger, trail-style pedals take inspiration from flat pedals and include adjustable height pins to alter grip. In most cases these need to be finely-tuned to balance traction and the ability to unclip safely.
Bearings and sealing
Most pedals use a combination of bearings to keep them spinning smoothly and prevent lateral play. The typical set-up is a combination of one or two cartridge bearings combined with a plastic or ceramic bushing. Sealing is very important due to the location and forces that go through the pedals in order to keep mud and water from penetrating.
All of the pedals here have floating cleats. Float is the free movement you feel when you are clipped into the pedal. For the majority of systems float is a good thing, as it helps to reduce the stresses of being clipped in on your joints and can prevent unwanted release.