Find the best mountain bike clipless pedals. Including what to look for when buying the new breed of bigger platform trail clipless pedals.
We’ve test the best mountain bike clipless pedals designed for both XC efficiency and wide-platform stability for trail and enduro riding. 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 much improved.
If you’re looking to sharpen up your pedaling power then you really need to think about pedals – head over to our famed buyers guide section for the best mountain bike shoes advice.
Best mountain bike clipless pedals
We have shortlisted five caged clipless pedals and five non-caged (or traditional) clipless pedals.
- Crank Brothers Mallet E – Caged winner
- Shimano XT Race M8000 – Non-caged winner
- Nukeproof Horizon CL CrMo DH
- Shimano XT Trail M8020
- Shimano M540
- Funn Tactic
How we tested the best mountain bike clipless pedals
Each pedal we tested and evaluated for hwo 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 Specialized 2FO Cliplite (EU size 44). 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.
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Crank Brothers Mallet E
Price: £149.99 / $169.99 | Weight: 445g | Platform: 80 x 90mm
Pros: Not too hulking. Great in the mud.
Cons: Pricey. Cleat setup often requires spacers.
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.
Shimano XT Race PD-M8000
Price: £74.99 / $125 | Weight: 390g
Pros: Long life pedal partner
Cons: Not a mud specialist
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.
Nukeproof Horizon CL CrMo DH
New brand that really knows what it’s doing
Price: £100 / $162.99 | Weight: 523g | Platform: 109 x 83mm
Pros: Large platform, positive engagement and good durability
Cons: Large platform – watch for pedal strikes!
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 XT Trail PD-M8020
Great bumpers for rocky riding
Price: £94.99 / $130 | Weight: 405g | Platform: 91 x 68mm
Pros: Typically crisp clicks combined with rock-protection
Cons: Cage offers minimal foot support
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.
Arguably all you need in a SPuD
Price: £44.99 / $85 | Weight: 405g
Pros: Does everything it needs to
Cons: Possibly outshone in value by its slightly heavier M520 sibling!
The PD-M540 pedal continues that tradition, 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.
A stylish pedal with extreme hold
Price: £79.99 | Weight: 364g
Pros: A colourful addition to any bike. Super strong retention will be prized by racers in particular.
Cons: The aforementioned strong retention qualities may rule them out for more casual riders.
Be warned: these pedals come boxed up and set up with their engagement dials turned up to maximum. Before you attach them to your bike, spend a couple of minutes with a 3mm Allen key unwinding the adjuster screws a few turns (NB: each pedal has two adjuster screws). Even unwound of a bit of tension these are still definitely strong grasping pedals, which is fine if that’s what you like/want. They are certainly some of the better made clipless pedals out there and available in plenty of pleasing colourways.
What to look for with mountain bike clipless 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 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.