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. Or, if you fancy a more playful ride experience, check out our buyer’s guide to the best mountain bike flat pedals.


crank brothers mallet e

Crankbrothers Mallet E

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. 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.

Read our full test review of the Crank Brothers Mallet E


Shimano XT Race PD-M8000

Shimano XT Race PD-M8000

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.

Read our full test review of the Shimano XT Race PD-M8000


Nukeproof Horizon CL CRMO DH

Nukeproof Horizon CL CrMo DH

New brand that really knows what it’s doing

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 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.

Read full review of the Nukeproof Horizon CL CrMo DH


shimano xt m8020 trail

Shimano XT Trail PD-M8020

Shimano XT Trail PD-M8020

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 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.

Read our full test review of the Shimano XT M8020 Trail pedals


Shimano PD-M540

Shimano PD-M540

Arguably all you need in a SPuD

Weight: 405g | Rating: 9/10

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.

Read our full test review of the Shimano PD-540 clipless pedal


Crank Brothers Mallet DH

Crankbrothers Mallet DH

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.

Ignore the DH tag, the Crankbrothers Mallet DH is a great pedal for trail use. The platform is the large and concave, 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.

Read our full test review of the Crankbrothers Mallet DH pedal


DMR V-Twin

DMR V-Twin

DMR V-Twin

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 Shimano DX caged SPD. Well, technically that pedal is still available although Shimano don’t really talk it very much. Anyway, the V-Twin can be seen as the modern version of the ol’ DX SPuD. 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 their 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 do offer full rebuild kits for all their pedals. So you can run their pedals for years and years. Which is nice 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.

Read our full test review of the DMR V-Twin pedal


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.

What to look for with mountain bike clipless pedals:

best mountain bike clipless pedals

Grease the bolts beforehand!

Cleats

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.

best mountain bike clipless pedals

Tension scale

Release tension

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.

best mountain bike clipless pedals

Midder or bigger?

Platform size

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.

best mountain bike clipless pedals

Pins need fine-tuning to be worthwhile

Grip

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.

best mountain bike clipless pedals

Looking frsh – but for how long?

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.

Float

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.