Find the best mountain bike clipless pedals. Including what to look for when buying the new breed of bigger platform trail clipless pedals.
Whatever style of mountain biking you prefer, we’ve tested the best mountain bike clipless pedals designed for both XC efficiency and wide-platform stability. Our list of recommended clipless pedals (or clip-in pedals, if you prefer) includes platform and non-platform options.
As part of a system, remember to think about the other half of the pedalling equation; the shoe. Head over to our famed buyer’s guide section for the best mountain bike shoes advice. Or, if you fancy a more playful ride experience, check out our buyer’s guide to the best mountain bike flat pedals.
Fantastic intersection between clip-in pedal and flat
Weight: 445g | Platform: 80 x 90mm | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Not too hulking. Great in the mud. Decent foot stability from platform. Good durability.
Cons: Pricey. Cleat setup often requires spacers. Brass cleats wear faster than steel versions.
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 muddy conditions; the action of engagement seems to squeeze any mud away from the cleat. For maximum foot stability the Mallet DH is the ultimate choice, but the Mallet E’s platform and pins make it a good option if clearance through rock gardens and stump fields is an important consideration.
Classic racer’s favourite
Weight: 390g | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Secure. Snappy engagement. Durable.
Cons: Not a mud specialist. Small platform area.
Shimano pedals tend to be a benchmark for value, durability and performance at any given price tag. Basically, you can’t go wrong buying a Shimano SPD pedal, and this XT model (or its newer PD-M8100 version) is no different as we have found out time and time again. The XT is not the lightest, or cheapest option on the market, but it will continue to perform to a high level over years of service.
Our favourite flat pedal goes clip-in
Weight: 523g | Platform: 109 x 83mm | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Large platform, positive engagement and good durability
Cons: Large platform – watch for pedal strikes!
The Nukeproof Horizon CL offers the largest platform of any clip-in pedal out there, just shading out the HT X2, and foot support is second to none as a result. Three pins each end help with that security, and unlike many of the other systems, the pins had just enough clearance to minimise any fouling of the sole. The mechanism engages with a nice positive action that will be appreciated by fans of Shimano’s clip-in pedals.
Best for durability
Weight: 556g | Platform: 100 x 75mm | Rating: 10/10
Pros: Large platform. Easy to service. Common cleat type. Good mud clearance.
Shimano’s latest Saint-level SPD is one of the biggest and heaviest clipless pedals on the market, but that meaty cage is pretty invisible when your foot is on it. The speed of engagement and release is comparable to the Crankbrothers Mallet – the only difference is the Saint needs a bit more force to unclip, but that does mean it is a bit more positive. When it comes to platform SPD pedals it’s close call between the Shimano Saint and the Crankbrothers Mallet E. However, the Saints may well be heavy but they are easy to set up, offer impressive performance and are great value.
Great bumpers for rocky riding
Weight: 405g | Platform: 91 x 68mm | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Typically crisp clicks combined with rock-protection
Cons: Cage offers minimal foot support
Even though the body and ‘cage’ is smaller than most DH/enduro-specific clip-in pedals, Shimano’s XT Trail still feels 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 receiving the sorts of pedal strikes that had us looking for shards of metal, they have survived relatively unscathed.
Arguably all you need in a SPuD
Weight: 405g | Rating: 9/10
Pros: Does everything it needs to at a great price
Cons: Possibly outshone in value by its slightly heavier M520 sibling!
Shimano’s PD-M540 pedal continues the Japanese brand’s tradition of building superb, reliable XC clip-in pedals, and we couldn’t fault its dependable bearing quality, durable materials and positive action. Clipping in results in a definite click, while the release is predictable, with plenty of feel and feedback when you twist out. The tension adjustment works a treat too, with a wide range, from extremely light to almost locked.
The best clipless pedal for any gravity riding
Weight: 480g | Platform: 100 x 79mm | Rating: 10/10
Pros: The feel and connection of a flat pedal with the security and efficiency of a clip-in pedal
Cons: Soft engagement – no audible click. Brass cleats take careful set-up and wear faster than steel versions.
Ignore the DH tag, the Crankbrothers Mallet DH is a great pedal for trail use, especially if you enjoy the characteristics of a flat pedal, but want extra efficiency and security. The platform is large and concave, so your foot wholly contacts the body. The Mallet DH is a standout pedal when it comes to foot stability and confidence. You can really feel the platform supporting all of your foot, no matter how much pressure you put through it, creating probably the only true flat/clipless hybrid on the market.
Adds a bit of colour to your ride
Weight: 553g | Platform: 82 x 100mm | Rating: 8/10
Pros: Excellent pivoting cage design really works well
Cons: A bit expensive and a bit heavy
Riders of a certain age may remember the classic red Shimano DX caged SPD. Well, Shimano’s patent on the sprung/pivoting external cage expired a few years ago and DMR were quick to pounce on the opportunity to produce its own take on it.
When not clipped-in, the internal mechanism stands slightly proud, popping its head out of the platform, which makes it easier to locate when clipping-in. Once found, the cage rotates to lie in the same plane as the mechanism. It’s a great system that we’re surprised more companies don’t use.
The system does obviously involve more bearings and moving parts but DMR does offer full rebuild kits for all its pedals. So you can run its pedals for years and years. Which is to be commended in this age of ‘disposable’ parts.
In one regard we actually prefer the V-Twin’s indexed tension adjustment system compared to other Shimano cleat-friendly engagement mechanisms which lack indexing. It’s just easier and more reassuring when attempting to get each of the four mechanisms behaving in the same way.
How we tested the best mountain bike clipless/clip-in pedals
We tested and evaluated each pedal to find out how well the pedal engages with the sole unit of our test shoes. Sole engagement mustn’t compromise cleat engagement, however, something that is dependent on the thickness of the rubber and the depth of the cleat recess. To provide a fair comparison, every pedal was tested using the same pair of Specialized 2FO Cliplite (EU size 44) shoes. Of equal importance is the platform size; pedaling and cornering testing helped determine the ground clearance and practicality as well as determining how easy the pedal is to locate in a hurry.
What to look for with mountain bike clipless/clip-in pedals:
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 Crankbrothers, use a specific, unique design. Brass cleats will wear out faster than steel ones.
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 spring tension adjustment to alter the force needed to clip and unclip. On pedals such as Crankbrothers, with its twin-bar mechanism, tension cannot be adjusted.
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.