In our quest for the ultimate mountain bike pedals, we researched over 40 models and bought 10 for side-by-side tests. We then took to the trails with ten pairs of shoes and six bikes through hundreds of miles of single track. We weighed, measured, and compared and contrasted these pedals for several months to find the fundamental differences. We have recommendations for any budget or riding style, from XC to enduro. We also include some of our favorite flats from our detailed flat pedal review.
The Best Mountain Bike Pedal Review
Analysis and Award Winners
This spring we added two of our favorite flat pedals from our MTB Flats Review: The Editors' Choice Deity Bladerunner and the Best Buy-winning VP Components VP-Vice. We also added a review of the Shimano M520. We still think the M530 is the best value for most people. However, the M520 is lighter and less expensive.
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. Sure, it's a bit lighter, and the finish is pretty, but is it worth the extra dollars? After only a few miles we knew we'd found a formidable challenge to the status quo. The high polished Chromoly steel axle, anodized forged body, and coated engagement mechanism are more than just talking points, they deliver noticeable improvements in performance. 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. Unlike the Crank Brothers pedals, they feature adjustable tension, allowing the rider to dictate their release tension. The float is silky smooth and we found them exceptionally easy to get in and out of. The trimmed down body allows for better mud shedding and also a lower profile height. Mountain bike pedals are two of your five contact points with the bike, and these make the most of that interface. We find them ideal for XC riders wanting a bit more surface area, yet substantial enough for all-mountain riders. Discerning consumers won't be let down.
Read review: Shimano XTR M9020
Best Overall Flat Pedal
These just edged ahead of the Race Face Atlas for our favorite flat pedal, though they are not sold at many retailers and can be hard to find. The Race Face is a little lighter and grippier, but the Bladerunner has the 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 these mainly for trail riding, they would excel in the park as well.
The broad beam in the middle of this model made them easy to reposition our feet. It also means they're not quite as grippy as others. Thought more versatile, these are not the best downhill specific pedal. It's a tough call between this and the Atlas, but we think 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 the last clipless mountain bike pedal test. It features the same basic design as the Shimano XTR M9020 at about a third of the price. You lose some of the fancy features of the XTR while picking up an additional 81 grams. If you're not concerned about the weight of your bike or riding in a lot of mud, the Shimano M530 is an excellent choice. 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 the choice for your first pair of clipless pedals. 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 narrow platform that we think most riders, especially beginners and intermediates, will much prefer the 530.
Read review: Shimano M530
Best Value in a Flat Pedal
VP Components VP-Vice
There are a lot of cheap flats out there that use usually 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 pedal, they are much less expensive than any higher-scoring model. 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 on downhill shuttle laps.
Read review: VP Components VP-Vice
Top Pick for Enduro and Downhill Riding
If you care more about performance and stability than weight and choose your bike more for its descending capabilities than its climbing prowess, we think you'll like the Xpedo GFX. The GFX is a wide-bodied clipless platform pedal with four traction pins on each side. It's built for the rigors of downhill racing. The platform is secure to catch, helping you engage quickly and provides traction for your shoe while unclipped. We prefer the Xpedo GFX to its close competitor in this test, the Crankbrothers Mallet E because it's broader, more adjustable, has a lower profile height, and costs a bit less. It weighs about 49 grams more but sits on three sealed bearings instead of one sealed bearing and a bushing. For these reasons, we awarded it the Top Pick for Enduro and Downhill Riding.
Read review: Xpedo GFX
Top Pick for Weight Savings
Crank Brothers Egg Beater 3
For the XC racers, minimalists or those wanting to put their bike on a diet, the Crankbrothers Eggbeater 3 is our choice for you. At 280 grams, it's the lightest weight mountain bike pedal in our review. It's also the smallest of all the models tested which can make clipping in a bit challenging.
Once accustomed to the unique feel of the Eggbeater style, it's not hard to engage, but the pedal's tiny platform means they work best with stiff cross country shoes. As it has a slight tendency to roll underfoot, we don't recommend it to beginners. Scoring highest in our mud shedding test, we recommend the Eggbeater for XC or cyclocross racers and those who don't shy away from riding in the mud.
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 will not come with mountain bike pedals. Even though this is a seemingly minor part of the bike, you can't ride your new bike without them. We recommend thinking ahead and getting your mountain bike pedals at the same time as your new ride, if not before. Then you won't be subjected to the painful experience of looking at your shiny new bike sitting in your garage while not being able to ride it.
The chart below plots how the scores of each model relate to price (hover over each dot to see the model name). The M530 and M520 are clearly the best values. They're a third the price of the pedals that score higher. The 520 is a better value than the 530, but keep in mind it has a tiny platform and is designed for the most weight-conscious XC rider. The 530 is a better all-around option. Best of all, both of these pedals are so widely sold that you can often find them on sale for 20-40% off. The other great value is the Deore XT M8020. It scores just behind the Editors' Choice M9020, but retails for $70 less.
Types of Pedals
As it turns out, there are a lot of things to consider when buying a pair of mountain bike pedals. There are different types of pedals for different styles of bikes, and you have to decide if you want to clip into clipless pedals (yes, that name is misleading) or ride on flats. This review is comprised completely of clipless mountain bike pedals. However, first let's make sure that is what you are looking for. To read more about the types of pedals, head over to our Buying Advice article.
We explain the metrics below, and we have a separate article that details how we test (see the How We Test tab at the top).
Ease of Entry
This metric assesses how quickly and easily a rider can get clipped into a pair of pedals. This is important because it determines how fast you can start pedaling your bike. You want it to be a simple process that doesn't require too much thinking or effort so you can focus on the trail and not fall over. Engaging the Shimano SPD or Xpedo model requires little effort and produces an audible 'click'. You know 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 we find them all relatively easy to engage but not being sure you're clipped into the pedals can feel a little disconcerting.
The mini-platform pedals were the easiest to engage. The extra bit of material helps guide your feet and the kicking the cage made them flatten out underfoot - which put them in the prime spot for engagement. We rated the Shimano XTR M9020 and Shimano XT M8020 as the fastest pedals to engage. 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 Xpedo GFX were easy to find and orient but their sticky traction pins could complicate engagement.
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 almost universally causes panic. This metric was measured by how quickly and easily a rider can unclip from the pedals. This isn't something you do only at the end of the ride, technical sections and loose corners often require a quick dab of the foot from the pedal.
The easiest pedals to get out of were 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 isn't anything for your shoe to hang up on when exiting. The most difficult models to get out of were those that allowed the most movement; if there is too much heel movement required, the toe of the shoe can engage the crank arm before disengagement occurs. The Shimano pedals, with four degrees of float, and no traction pins, were rated highest for ease of exit. The Time ATAC XC 8, with 13 or 17-degree release angles, although less than the Crank Brother's 15 or 20 degrees, were the most difficult to disengage.
The Time pedals were the only pedals in the test employing lateral float, allowing your foot to move side to side. While often touted as beneficial for those with existing knee issues, we felt the risk of falling on our knees due to difficulty disengaging would keep us off of these pedals. It wasn't just the full range of motion that made them difficult; unlike other pedals on the market, the front arch 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.
We evaluated each pedal's adjustability, analyzing each way that the rider could augment the characteristics and feel. Crank Brothers pedals have a bit of a disadvantage in this category as they do not feature adjustable release tension. The Shimano, Time and Xpedo pedals allow the rider to increase or decrease the effort required to release by adjusting the amount of spring tension holding the cleat. Some of the pedals tested allow for adjustable float, this refers to how far your heel can move freely before disengaging the pedal. 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. 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. Release tension and float are the main types of adjustment we typically refer to with pedals but the traction pins on the Xpedo GFX and Crank Brothers Mallet E are also adjustable. The pins that provide traction while unclipped can be adjusted by threading them up or down. Lowering the pins makes the pedal feel a bit less aggressive in the way in bites the sole of the shoe. Raised pins engage the soles, particularly those clad in soft rubber but can complicate entry and exit to the centrally located engagement mechanisms.
New for this year, 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 create more resistance in the float and having interchangeable pads allows you to customize the pedal to the type of shoe you use.
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 if 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 wight you're pushing, the fewer calories you expend. For many riders, there will be criteria more important than weight; performance and value certainly come to mind.
The heaviest pedals in this test were the Xpedo GFX at 468 grams and the lightest were the Crank Brothers Egg Beater 3 at 280 grams. When you factor in the additional weight of their cleats, it's almost a half pound difference between the two. These two pedals represent the lightest and heaviest in our test but there are pedals far lighter and far heavier than what we tested this round. Low weight is a known selling point and something that manufacturers advertise. For the most part, the pedals stated weights corresponded to the weights we observed on our scales. The one notable exception was the Shimano XTR M9000 that weighed 35 grams more than Shimano's stated weight.
Mud Shedding Ability
This metric evaluates how well the platform sheds mud and resists clogging in real-world conditions. When riding in mud, it's not uncommon to have to unclip to stabilize or catch yourself. Typically the bottom of the shoe and cleat clump with mud after this happens and that can prevent clipping in. The simple pedals with low surface can penetrate this mud and engage. The simple models then resist packing up with mud and allow engagement and disengagement as if the shoe was clean.
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, with lots of surface area, performed notably worse in this metric, accumulating mud as we rode.
This metric rates the effectiveness of the platform surrounding the clipless mechanism. The pedals in this test vary widely in the amount of platform provided and there are advantages and disadvantages to more surface area. Pedals with small platforms like the Eggbeater 3 are much lighter but provide little surface area for you to make contact.
If you're spending your time in the saddle hammering away at the pedals with stiff shoes and not riding much technical terrain, the platform is of little benefit. If you're riding more demanding terrain that requires more body movement and frequent unclipping, the platform becomes increasingly important. A larger platform increases your feeling of stability and provides a place to set your foot when you unclip as you may do when you're unsure of the terrain. A larger platform is also easier to find with your foot and decreases the chances of the pedal rolling 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.
In this review we rode hard, bashing rocks and stumps with the pedals. We rode them in snow and rain, mud and sand, and swapped them between many bikes and riders. In the three months we abused these things, we didn't encounter any issues with durability. Our testers have noticed that Crank Brothers pedals traditionally need bearing replacements every year or two and they sell a kit for this. Newer Crank Brothers pedals are built with an Enduro sealed bearing and Igus glide bearing (plastic bushing) and that may increase their durability; we'll have to wait and see.
The Time ATAC have a similar service timeline and they also sell a rebuild kit. The durability of the triple bearing configuration on the Xpedo GFX is too new for us to opine. Shimano pedals, however, are renowned for their durability. Many of us have owned Shimano pedals (for a decade) and never touched the bearings. Because we didn't experience any failures or issues with durability in this test, we felt that using durability as a metric was unwarranted. 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 best two-wheeled friend.
There are many factors to consider when buying a pair of bike pedals. From the style of your bike to the type of rider you strive to be. Whether you'll ride clipless or flat pedals, which models fit your budget and what properties you value in a pedal. Using the results of our comprehensive evaluation and ratings, we hope this review will help you make that decision with ease.
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.