In the ongoing search for the ultimate mountain bike pedal, we watch for the latest products, trends, and technology. When a compelling product emerges, we snatch it up and send to our Sierra Nevada gauntlet where it spends months undergoing rigorous testing. To uncover all of the performance differences, we ride the pedals hundreds of trail miles using a bevy of shoes and bikes. We focus on metrics related to ride quality — does the pedal make you feel faster, more confident, or more comfortable? We have recommendations for every budget and riding style from XC to Enduro. In case you're not committed to clipless, we also include some of our favorite flats from our detailed flat pedal review.
The Best Mountain Bike Pedal Review
We spent late summer testing four more mountain bike pedals for our Clipless Pedal Review, including two flat/clipless hybrids. The Crankbrothers Double Shot 2 and the HT Components D1. The HT comes out ahead. The Shimano Saint SPD M820 shakes up our ratings a bit. It's insanely heavy but offers unparalleled performance, making it our Top Pick for Enduro and Downhill riders. Keep reading for all the grimy, trail tested details.
Shimano XTR M9020 Trail
The Shimano XTR M9020 doesn't immediately seem all that different from its chunkier and less expensive cousins, the XT M8020 and M530. After only a few miles though, we knew we'd found a formidable challenge to the status quo. The high polished Chromoly steel axle, machined body, and coated engagement mechanism are more than just talking points, they deliver noticeable improvements in performance. The float is silky smooth, and we found them exceptionally easy to clip into and exit. The trimmed down body allows for better mud shedding and also a lower profile height. These pedals offer the additional stability and ease of entry that we've come to associate with mini-platforms in a highly polished and well thought out package.
While they'll cost you a little extra, we think the increase in performance was worth the cost. We find them ideal for trail riders wanting a bit more surface area and a pedal substantial enough for all mountain and enduro riders. Discerning consumers won't be disappointed.
Read review: Shimano XTR M9020
Best Overall Flat Pedal
These just edged ahead of the Race Face Atlas as our favorite flat pedal. The Raceface is a little lighter and grippier, but the Bladerunner has a better platform and mobility. While we didn't rate these on looks, the Deity would have led that metric as well. It was the easiest to reposition our foot into the right spot. While we used mainly for trail riding, they would excel in the park as well.
The Bladerunners can be hard to find, they're not sold in many retailers and are rarely on sale. While the broad beam in the middle made it easy to reposition our feet, it also means it's not quite as grippy as others. It's more versatile, but not best for downhill specific use. It's a tough call between this and the Atlas. But you'll likely be thrilled by either choice.
Read review: Deity Bladerunner
Best Bang for the Buck
Shimano M530 SPD
The M530 swooped up our Editors' Choice award in our previous clipless mountain bike pedal test. It features the same basic design as the Shimano XTR M9020 at about a third of the price. The standard cleat, adjustable tension, and stable platform create a valuable package that deserves our Best Bang for the Buck award. They're ideal for a wide variety of bikes, hardtail to all-mountain, and a great choice for your first pair of clipless pedals.
You lose some of the fancy features of the XTR while picking up an additional 81 grams. If the weight doesn't scare you and you don't frequent muddy trails, the Shimano M530 is an excellent choice. The only model we tested that is less expensive is the Shimano M520. The M520 won Best Buy a few years ago and is lighter and less expensive than the M530. However, it has such a small platform, and we think most riders, especially beginners and intermediates, will prefer the M530.
Read review: Shimano M530
Best Value in a Flat Pedal
VP Components VP-Vice
There are a lot of cheap flats out there, and they often offer low durability and poor traction. The VP-Vice bucks this trend with solid scores across the board. While they're not as cheap as a $40 pair of pedals, they come in at much less expensive than any model that scored higher. Those $40 options usually have horrific durability and poor platform design. The VP-Vice both holds up to a beating and performs well. Adding to their value is just how versatile they are. These are equally at home on dirt jumps as downhill shuttle laps.
While they don't have the best grip and have a smaller platform than many of our favorites they offer a solid value.
Read review: VP Components VP-Vice
Top Pick for Enduro and Downhill Riding
Shimano Saint SPD M820
Stealing the gravity-focused Top Pick Award from the Xpedo GFX, we found the Shimano Saint M820 even more stable and confidence inspiring on the trail. If you care more about your trail bike's performance and stability than how much it weighs, you might want to check out the Shimano Saint M820. The Saint is a wide-bodied, fixed mechanism, clipless platform pedal with four traction pins on each side. The forged body pedal is appropriate for the rigors of enduro and downhill racing. The platform is substantial, helping you engage quickly and giving you secure footing. We prefer the Shimano Saint M820 to its closest competitors in this test, the DMR V-Twin because they're slightly smaller, lighter, and have a lower profile height.
The Saint pedals are porky though. While the DMR's have a similar weight before you install the Saint's pins and shims, doing so adds 60 grams to the M820s. Both pedals offered excellent traction, but the Shimano pedals dealt with the mud better and cost a bit less. Not the most attractive looking pedal of the bunch, it will find its audience far beyond enduro bikes. For these reasons, we awarded them the Top Pick for Enduro and Downhill Riding.
Read review: Shimano Saint M820
Top Pick for Weight Savings
Crank Brothers Egg Beater 3
Cross-country riders or those wanting the lightest weight gear will appreciate the Crank Brothers Eggbeater 3. At only 280 grams, it's the lightest weight mountain bike pedal in our review. Scoring highest in our mud shedding test, its open design resists clogging and allows entry on all of its four sides.
The smallest of all the pedals tested, we don't recommend the Eggbeater to beginners. They're not difficult to engage, but the small cage does take some skill and patience. Best enjoyed with stiff soled shoes, these pedals well suited to cross country and gravel riders.
Read review: Crank Brothers Egg Beater 3
Analysis and Test Results
There are few things as exciting as buying a brand new bike. However, even if you buy a complete bike from the floor of your local bike shop, it typically comes without pedals. Although a seemingly minor part of the bike, you won't be riding without them. If you're looking for new pedals to go with your new bike, we recommend thinking ahead and buying them in advance. Then you can get used to them and get any warm-up crashes out of the way on the old bike.
The chart below plots the scores for each model against their price. Hover over each dot to see which pedal it represents. The M530 and M520 are clearly the best values. They're a third the price of the pedals that score higher. The 520 is less expensive than the 530, but it has a small platform and isn't as easy to engage. The 530 is a better all-around option. Best of all, both of these pedals are so widely sold that you can often find at a 20 to 40% discount. Another great value is the Deore XT M8020. It scores just behind the Editor's Choice M9020 but retails for $70 less.
Types of Pedals
There is no shortage of things to consider when buying a pair of mountain bike pedals. There are many different types of pedals for different styles of bikes. You'll have to decide if you want to clip into clipless pedals or ride on flats. This review is comprised mostly of clipless mountain bike pedals. If you're not sure that's what you're looking for, read more about pedal types in our Buying Advice article.
Ease of Exit
Ease of exit dictates how likely you are to fall over. If you're unable to unclip when you want to, it creates an unsafe situation that can easily cause panic. As such, we weight this metric a bit heavier than others and measure it by how quickly and easily a rider can unclip from the pedals. Unclipping isn't something you do only at the end of the ride, technical sections and loose corners often call for a quick foot dab to maintain balance.
Generally speaking, the easiest pedals to exit are those with the least amount of float, as moving your heel a short way to disengage is faster than moving further. Also, the pedals without traction pins are easier to disengage because there's nothing for your shoe to hang up on when unclipping.
The most difficult models to exit are those with the most movement. If too much heel movement is required to disengage, the toe of the shoe can engage the crank arm before the cleat releases. The Shimano XTR and DMR V-Twin pedals are the easiest to exit. The Shimano pedals have four degrees of float and no traction pins. The DMR's have pins, but they aren't aggressive enough to catch. The Time ATAC XC 8 is the most difficult pedal to disengage as it has 13 or 17-degree release angles. Though the Crank Brother has 15 or 20-degree releases, it is still easier.
The Time and HT D1 pedals are the only ones in the test to use lateral float, allowing your foot to move side to side. While often touted as beneficial for those with existing knee issues, we didn't feel the consistency of release was worth the potential upside. It wasn't just the full range of motion that made them difficult — it was the lack of consistency.
The Time pedals feature a front arch that is responsible for release tension. If you're pedaling or standing on the pedals with toes pointed downward, you're exerting pressure on the release spring. This can create an inconsistent release which makes them hard to trust. The HT pedals have spring tension on both sides of the engagement mechanism, which is less troublesome but still not as consistent as we'd like our pedal to feel.
Ease of Entry
This metric assesses how quickly and easily a rider can clip into a pair of pedals. It's important because it determines how fast you can start pedaling your bike. You want clipping in to be a simple process that doesn't require too much thinking or effort so you can focus on the trail and on not falling over.
Engaging the Shimano SPD or Xpedo models requires little effort and produces an audible click. This helps you know that you're engaged and ready to roll. Clipping into the Crank Brothers or Time pedals doesn't reliably produce the same audible confirmation. There is a dull, somewhat vague sound that often accompanies the engagement — but not always. Overall, all of these pedals are relatively easy to engage, but knowing that you're securely clipped in aids confidence.
The mini-platform pedals are the easiest to engage. The extra bit of material helps guide your feet and kicking the cage flattens them out underfoot, putting them in the prime spot for engagement. We rated the DMR V-Twin and Shimano XTR M9020. The Shimano XTR M9020, with its slippery coating and mini platform, felt almost magnetic with the cleat. By contrast, the small Time ATAC contender was a hard target to hit, and when you did, the pedal wasn't always oriented toward engagement.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Crank Brothers Mallet E and HT D1 were easy to find and orient, but their sticky traction pins could complicate engagement.
We evaluated how much we could change the feel and function of each pedal. Some pedals allow us to adjust their release tension. Some allow for different levels of float (that is, how much you can move your foot around, or float, before the cleat releases). Others have adjustable pads or pins that interface with the sole of the shoe.
The most adjustable pedals are the DMR V-Twin, HT Components D1, and XPedo GFX. These pedals all featured adjustable release tension, adjustable float and had traction pins, allowing you to choose various configurations.
The pedals that didn't score well didn't allow us to personalize the feel or adjust for performance. The Crank Brothers pedals don't allow you to adjust the release tension, which is likely fine for the average rider. Beginners and lightweight riders, however, can benefit from less release tension, allowing an easier exit from the pedal. Similarly, heavy or aggressive riders will lessen their chances of accidental release by increasing spring tension.
The Shimano, Time, DMR, HT, and Xpedo pedals all allow the rider to increase or decrease the effort required to release by adjusting the amount of spring tension holding the cleat. Crank Brothers pedals have a bit of a disadvantage in this category as they do not feature adjustable release tension.
The Time ATAC cleats can be mounted to provide 13 or 17-degrees of float depending on the orientation that they're mounted. Time also sells an easy cleat that allows for 10 degrees of float. (In our minds, that's not very beginner friendly.) The Crank Brothers standard cleats provide 6 degrees of free float and a 15 or 20-degree release angle based on how they're mounted, more on that below.
Crank Brothers also offers a zero degree or no-float cleat that enhances pedal efficiency. The Xpedo cleat allows for six degrees of float, and the Shimano cleats provide four degrees. Xpedo does not have an additional cleat option for the GFX, but Shimano sells a multi-release cleat that allows for release in any direction without changing the float, a great option for beginners.
Traction Pins and Pads
Traction pins on the Xpedo GFX and Crank Brothers Mallet E are adjustable. The pins provide traction while unclipped and can be raised or lowered by threading them up or down. Lowering the pins makes the pedal feel less aggressive, with less bite into the sole of the shoe. Raised pins engage the soles more, particularly on soft rubber shoes, but can complicate entry and exit to the engagement mechanism.
Crank Brothers Candy 7 and Mallet E pedals feature texturized traction pads. These are polyurethane bumpers that sit adjacent to the cleat interface on the pedal. The pedals include 1mm and 2mm thick pads and swapping them out will create more or less interface between the shoe and pedal platform. The thicker pads offer more resistance to float, and having interchangeable pads allows you to customize the pedal to the type of shoe you use. The DMR V-Twin uses nylon bumpers that sit fore and aft of the cleat mechanism, under the traction pins. Spacers beneath the bumpers will raise the pads and pins toward your shoe.
You can adjust the feeling of the Crank Brothers by swapping the orientation of the cleats on your shoes. There is a small indentation on just one cleat. If you put the one with this indent on your right shoe, you will have a 15-degree release angle. If the cleat (with the indent) goes on your left shoe, you will get a 20-degree release angle.
Weight is an important metric for certain riders and riding styles. Those who prefer pointing their bikes downhill probably don't mind adding some ounces here and there, particularly when there is a performance benefit. Cross-country riders and racers, on the other hand, tend to be less keen on picking up any unnecessary grams. The less weight you're pushing, the fewer calories you expend. For many riders, though, there are criteria more important than weight — performance and value come to mind.
The heaviest pedals in this test are the DMR V-Twin, at 610 grams. The lightest are the Crank Brothers Egg Beater 3, at 280 grams. When you factor in the additional weight of their cleats, it's a 351-gram difference between the two. That's a big gap between two parts that have the same function. In general, the manufacturers stated weights corresponded closely to the weights we observed on our scales.
Mud Shedding Ability
This metric evaluates how well the pedal sheds mud and resists jamming in muddy conditions. The muddier the trail, the more likely you are to put a foot down. When this happens, you'll start transferring mud to the pedal and clogging the mechanism. The best mud shedding pedals have some way of evacuating mud to allow engagement. Simple designs are often rewarded here.
The Crank Brothers Egg Beater 3, with its large spring and wide open design, is well built for the challenges of mud. The Shimano XTR M9000, with its slippery coating and ovalized body, also did remarkably well when our soles got muddy. Surprisingly, the Time ATAC XC 8, with its solid body design, does incredibly well and is renown for its ability to keep riders going through the mud. The unique design of the Time allows for mud to exit the front.
Pedals like the Xpedo GFX and the DMR V-Twin, with lots of surface area, are notably worse on wet trails. Both accumulated mud as we rode.
This metric rates how effectively the presence or absence of a platform surrounding the clipless mechanism supports performance. The pedals in this test vary widely in the amount of platform provided, and there are advantages and disadvantages to more surface area. If you're spending your time in the saddle hammering away at the pedals with stiff shoes and not riding much technical terrain, a platform might be of little benefit. If you're riding more demanding terrain that requires more body movement and frequent unclipping, a platform becomes increasingly important. Pedals like the Eggbeater 3, with small platforms, are light and resist mud well, but don't give you much footing.
A larger platform increases your feeling of stability and gives your feet more control. The Shimano Saint M820 and Xpedo GFX both offer wide, stable surfaces that are easy to find with your foot and are less likely to roll beneath your shoe. The downsides of the larger platform include added weight, increased incidence of pedal strikes, and more surface area for mud to accumulate.
We rode these pedals hard, bashing rocks and stumps. We rode them in snow and rain, mud and sand, and swapped them between many bikes and riders. In the three months we spent abusing these pedals, we didn't encounter any durability issues. The triple bearing on the Xpedo GFX seems exceptionally durable. We've been on the pedals for a year without developing any play in the axle. Shimano pedals are also renowned for their durability. We have some that have been in service for a decade.
Throughout their riding careers, our testers have noticed that Crank Brothers pedals often need bearing replacements every year or two. (Fortunately, they sell a kit for this.) Newer Crank Brothers pedals are built with an Enduro sealed bearing and an Igus glide bearing (plastic bushing). That may increase their durability, but we'll have to wait and see. The Time ATAC XC 8 pedals have a similar service timeline, and they also sell a rebuild kit. Because we didn't experience any failures or issues with durability in this test, we didn't rate the pedals on their durability.
After months of riding around conjuring adjectives with our feet, chatting with each other, and compiling information, we've formed our opinions and awarded our winners. Hopefully, our hard work and pedaling make it easier for you to make an informed decision about the pedals that you'd like to hang on your whip. Using the results of our comprehensive evaluation and ratings, we hope this review will help you find your pedal with ease.
— Joshua Hutchens