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There might be no more heated debate in all of  mountain biking than the great “clipless vs. flat” pedals debate. Advocates of flat pedals can frequently be heard reciting the saying “flat pedals win medals,” while the clipless faithful point to research suggesting that clipless pedals result in better pedaling efficiency.
This article does not aim to solve that debate. In fact, I ride with both flat and clipless pedals and appreciate the benefits of both. In this article, we give a comparison and review of some of the best clipless mountain bike pedals available. Our aim is to help you choose the best pair of clipless mountain bike pedals for your riding style. And if you decide you want to try out flat pedals, you can find a similar review of the best flat mountain bike pedals (here).

What are “Clipless” Pedals?

“Clipless pedals” has to be one of the most confusing terms in mountain biking. Clipless pedals are those which you clip your shoes into, as opposed to flat, aka platform, pedals, which you do not. Why then are clipless called “clipless” rather than “clip” pedals? Historically, bicycles used what we now refer to as “toe clip” pedals. The fact that modern-day clipless pedals do not have a toe clip is where the name clipless comes from. Today, it is not uncommon for “clips” and “clipless” to be used interchangeably, but both refer to modern “clipless” pedals.

Types of Clipless Pedals

Fundamentally, clipless pedal mechanisms are fairly simple. A metal plate attaches to the bottom of a shoe. This plate locks into a spring loaded mechanism on the pedal and is held in place. The only way to extricate the shoe from the pedal is by rotating your heel outward.
The two main players in the clipless mountain bike pedal game are Shimano and Crank Brothers, and they both use their own unique clipless pedal system. Some smaller brands, like Xpedo offer their own setup, but most small brands use the Shimano SPD system.
Like clipless vs flats, there is no clear winner between the Shimano SPD system and the Crank Brothers Brass, aka egg beater, system. However, each system has a few pros and cons.
One advantage to the SPD system is that the release tension can be adjusted. This is particularly popular with those new to clipless pedals, who want an easier time unclipping. They also offer a very satisfying “click” when clipping in or out. This can be quite reassuring for those who are not used to clipless pedals. Finally, SPD is the most widespread clipless system, so finding compatibility is no problem.
Crank Brothers clipless pedals tend to shed mud much better, which is a huge consideration if you frequently ride on wet and muddy trails. They also tend to have significantly more float and have a less defined “click” when clipping in or out than SPD pedals do.
Finally, for years Crank Brothers struggled with bearings that needed to be frequently replaced. These issues have been worked out, and a good pair of Crank Brothers pedals should last nearly, if not quite, as long as their Shimano made counterparts.

What to Look for in Clipless Mountain Bike Pedals

When choosing a set of clipless mountain bike pedals, consider what type of riding you will be doing. Ultralight, XC racers will want a lighter pedal, such as the Crank Brothers Egg Beater 3 or Shimano XTR M9100. If more aggressive, technical trails and high-speed descents are your thing, then a more robust pedal with a more substantial platform like the Shimano Saint M820 or Crank Brothers Mallet E might be a better choice.

Contact Area and Cages

At first glance, it seems clear that a pedal like the Shimano Saint or Crank Brothers Mallet E would have the largest contact area, due to the large cage that surrounds the clipping mechanism. However, the cage might or might not contribute a great deal to the contact area, based on what shoes you are wearing. Some shoes interface well with certain pedals, while others do not. Typically, you will want to pair a stiffer soled shoe with a smaller pedal because the sole will provide the power transfer, rather than the platform. Pedals with larger platforms meanwhile tend to work best with a softer soled shoe, which can flex to exert maximum force against the pedal.
Finally, people often think that a pedal like the Mallet E could be suitably used as both a clipless and flat pedal, due to its large cage. However, we do not recommend this for anything but an easy spin around the neighborhood, or a desperation spin after coming unclipped on the trail. For the most part, clipless pedals should be used as clipless pedals, not as flats.

Which is Best for You?

If you race enduro or XC, or if you ride big, rowdy lines on the regular, then you will probably choose a pedal aimed at that purpose. But what if you are just a regular gal or guy who likes to tear up the local trails after work and on the weekends?
In this case, and assuming that you are not  terribly concerned with having the lightest pedals on the market, we recommend a pedal that leans more toward the all-mountain/enduro end of the spectrum. The larger platform will leave you something to stand on rather than completely losing your footing, should you accidentally unclip. This can also be helpful when you need to get in a frantic pedal stroke or two in an unclipped situation.

How We Judged

 

While a great deal of what makes a pedal good or bad is subjective and unique to each rider, we did our best to evaluate the objective and subjective features of each pedal. We based our rankings on ease/feel of entry and exit, platform and float feel, mud shedding ability, and weight.

The Best Clipless Mountain Bike Pedal of 2020

 

Top Picks

 

Crank Brothers Candy 7

  • Platform feel 60% 60%
  • Ease/feel of entry 80% 80%
  • Ease/feel of exit 80% 80%
  • Mud shedding ability 100% 100%
  • Weight 90% 90%

Pros

Great performance for a reasonable price, excellent mud shedding, best weight to cost ratio available

Cons

Small platform compared to the similarly priced Crank Brothers Mallet E

Weight: 320g

Cleat Type: Crank Brothers Brass

Use: All-Mountain, Enduro XC

Shimano XT M8020

  • Platform feel 70% 70%
  • Ease/feel of entry 80% 80%
  • Ease/feel of exit 80% 80%
  • Mud shedding ability 70% 70%
  • Weight 80% 80%

Pros

A high-end pedal for a mid-tier price

Cons

Significantly heavier than the Crank Brothers alternative

Weight: 404g

Cleat Type: SPD Mountain

Use: All-Mountain, Enduro XC

Crank Brothers Mallet E

  • Platform feel 100% 100%
  • Ease/feel of entry 90% 90%
  • Ease/feel of exit 70% 70%
  • Mud shedding ability 80% 80%
  • Weight 70% 70%

Pros

Lightweight for the size of the platform

Great pedaling platform

The most adjustable Crank Brothers pedal

Easy to clip into

Cons

Vague sense of clipping in and out

Heavier than Candy 7

Pins can make clipping out more difficult

Weight: 420g

Cleat Type: Crank Brothers Brass

Use: All-Mountain, Enduro, Downhill

Shimano Saint M820

  • Platform feel 90% 90%
  • Ease/feel of entry 90% 90%
  • Ease/feel of exit 70% 70%
  • Mud shedding ability 60% 60%
  • Weight 30% 30%

Pros

The most adjustable pedals that we reviewed

Great pedal platform

Satisfying SPD feel

Cons

Heaviest pedals in our review

Not the best for extremely muddy conditions

Weight: 545g

Cleat Type: SPD Mountain

Use: All-Mountain, Enduro, Downhill

Crank Brothers Candy 1

  • Platform feel 60% 60%
  • Ease/feel of entry 80% 80%
  • Ease/feel of exit 80% 80%
  • Mud shedding ability 100% 100%
  • Weight 90% 90%

Pros

Extremely lightweight and well-rounded pedal for the price

Cons

Lack of traction pads found on higher end Candy pedals

Not the most solid platform

Weight: 294g

Cleat Type: Crank Brothers Brass

Use: All-Mountain, Enduro, XC

Shimano M530

  • Platform feel 70% 70%
  • Ease/feel of entry 80% 80%
  • Ease/feel of exit 80% 80%
  • Mud shedding ability 80% 80%
  • Weight 70% 70%

Pros

Virtually the same pedaling and clipping experience offered by the much more expensive Shimano XTR M9120 and XT M8020 at an entry-level price

Cons

Heaviest mini platform pedal in review, painted cage is slippery when wet

Weight: 453g

Cleat Type: SPD Mountain

Use: All-Mountain, Enduro, XC

Crank Brothers Eggbeater 3

  • Platform feel 30% 30%
  • Ease/feel of entry 50% 50%
  • Ease/feel of exit 90% 90%
  • Mud shedding ability 100% 100%
  • Weight 100% 100%

Pros

A high-end pedal for a mid-tier price

Cons

Significantly heavier than the Crank Brothers alternative

Weight: 404g

Cleat Type: SPD Mountain

Use: All-Mountain, Enduro XC

Shimano XTR M9100

  • Platform feel 50% 50%
  • Ease/feel of entry 60% 60%
  • Ease/feel of exit 80% 80%
  • Mud shedding ability 90% 90%
  • Weight 90% 90%

Pros

Lightest SPD pedal in test

Fairly large contact area for an SPD pedal

Cons

Pricey and heavy compared to Crank Brothers alternative

Weight: 310g

Cleat Type: SPD Mountain

Use: XC

Crank Brothers Eggbeater 1

  • Platform feel 30% 30%
  • Ease/feel of entry 50% 50%
  • Ease/feel of exit 90% 90%
  • Mud shedding ability 100% 100%
  • Weight 100% 100%

Pros

Unbeatable weight for budget XC pedals

Cons

Difficult to clip into

Weight: 280g

Cleat Type: Crank Brothers Brass

Use: XC

Shimano M520

  • Platform feel 50% 50%
  • Ease/feel of entry 60% 60%
  • Ease/feel of exit 80% 80%
  • Mud shedding ability 90% 90%
  • Weight 70% 70%

Pros

The same pedaling experience of the XTR M9120 for a third of the price

Cons

Heavier than the Egg Beater 1

Weight: 310g

Cleat Type: SPD Mountain

Use: XC

Shimano XTR M9120

  • Platform feel 70% 70%
  • Ease/feel of entry 80% 80%
  • Ease/feel of exit 80% 80%
  • Mud shedding ability 70% 70%
  • Weight 80% 80%

Pros

All of the great features of the XT M8020 in a lighter package

Cons

Heavier than Crank Brothers alternative and not enough difference to justify the price increase over the Shimano XT M8020

Weight: 398g

Cleat Type: SPD Mountain

Use: All-Mountain, Enduro, XC

Crank Brothers Candy 7

Best All-Around Pedal for Mud and Weight Savings

  • Platform feel 60% 60%
  • Ease/feel of entry 80% 80%
  • Ease/feel of exit 80% 80%
  • Mud shedding ability 100% 100%
  • Weight 90% 90%

Weight per Pair: 320g

Clean Type: Crank Brothers Brass

Use: All-Mountain, Enduro, XC

Price: ~$120

What We Like: Great performance for a reasonable price, excellent mud shedding, best weight to cost ratio available

What We Don’t: Small platform compared to the similarly priced Crank Brothers Mallet E

If you don’t have an SPD bias, and want a pedal that is lightweight, durable, and a top performer in the mud, then the Crank Brothers Candy 7 is a great all-around choice. The Candy 7 is a do it all pedal. Plan to hit an Enduro, Cross Country, and Downhill race this year, or do you just plan to play around on the local trails? In either case, the Crank Brothers Candy 7 has got you covered.

With prices in the neighborhood of $120, the Crank Brothers Candy 7 hits a sweet spot of weight and money savings that is hard to match in a mid to high-end pedal. If you prefer the extra floaty feel of Crank Brothers pedals, frequently ride in the mud, or a just want a lightweight pedal at a great price, then the Crank Brothers Candy 7 might be the best clipless mountain bike pedal for you.

Shimano XT M8020

Best All-Around SPD Pedal

 

  • Platform feel 70% 70%
  • Ease/feel of entry 80% 80%
  • Ease/feel of exit 80% 80%
  • Mud shedding ability 70% 70%
  • Weight 80% 80%

Weight per Pair: 404g

Clean Type: SPD Mountain

Use: All-Mountain, Enduro, XC

Price: $199.99

What We Like: A high-end pedal for a mid-tier price

What We Don’t: Significantly heavier than the Crank Brothers alternative

Our pick for best SPD mountain bike pedal, the Shimano XT M8020 is a great all arounder. Like the Crank Brothers Candy 7, this is a do it all pedal. Whatever your discipline of racing or preferred trail type, the Shimano M8020 is guaranteed to feel right at home.

When it comes to mountain bike components, the value is often best in the mid-tier, and the Shimano XT M8020 is a perfect example of this. These pedals hit a sweet spot between weight savings, performance, and price that is unmatched across the Shimano SPD lineup.

Crank Brothers Mallet E

Top Pick for Best Downhill, Enduro, and Aggressive Trail Riding Clipless Mountain Bike Pedal

  • Platform feel 100% 100%
  • Ease/feel of entry 90% 90%
  • Ease/feel of exit 70% 70%
  • Mud shedding ability 80% 80%
  • Weight 70% 70%

Weight per Pair: 420g

Clean Type: Crank Brothers Brass

Use: All-Mountain, Enduro, Downhill

Price: ~$120-$169

What We Like: Lightweight for the size of the platform, great pedaling platform, the most adjustable Crank Brothers pedal, easy to clip into

What We Don’t: Vague sense of clipping in and out, heavier than Candy 7, pins can make clipping out more difficult

The Crankbrothers Mallet E is Crank Brothers’ enduro focused pedal. It is also a great all around pedal for pretty much everything shy of cross country racing. While a bit heavy for a cross country purist, they are extremely light for a very substantial full cage clipless mountain bike pedal.

They are also among the most adjustable in the Crank Brothers lineup. If we were going to ride everywhere and in all conditions with only one pair of pedals, it might very well be the Crank Brothers Mallet E.

Shimano Saint M820

Best Clipless SPD Mountain Bike Pedal  for Downhill, Enduro and Aggressive Trail Riding

  • Platform feel 90% 90%
  • Ease/feel of entry 90% 90%
  • Ease/feel of exit 70% 70%
  • Mud shedding ability 60% 60%
  • Weight 30% 30%

Weight per Pair: 545g

Clean Type: SPD Mountain

Use: All-Mountain, Enduro, Downhill

Price: $159.99

What We Like: The most adjustable pedals that we reviewed, great pedal platform, satisfying SPD feel

What We Don’t: Heaviest pedals in our review, not the best for extremely muddy conditions

The Shimano Saint M820 is Shimano’s enduro and downhill focused pedal. While heavier than most, they provide a pedaling platform unmatched by other SPD pedals, allowing for a level of contact and control that is difficult to beat.

Some will be put off by the heft of the Shimano Saint M820 pedals. This pedal was not made for those people. The Saint M920 is a pedal made for those who live for the downhill and view climbing as nothing more than a necessary evil to be endured in order to earn their turns.

Crank Brothers Candy 1

Best Bang for Your Buck Clipless Pedal for Mud and Weight Savings

  • Platform feel 60% 60%
  • Ease/feel of entry 80% 80%
  • Ease/feel of exit 80% 80%
  • Mud shedding ability 100% 100%
  • Weight 90% 90%

Weight per Pair: 294g

Clean Type: Crank Brothers Brass

Use: All-Mountain, Enduro, XC

Price: $49.99

What We Like: Extremely lightweight and well-rounded pedal for the price

What We Don’t: Lack of traction pads found on higher end Candy pedals, not the most solid platform

When choosing an all-around budget clipless mountain bike pedal, we looked for a well-rounded pedal that was lightweight and provided the features of its more expensive counterparts. The Crank Brothers Candy 1 and Shimano M530 both check most of those boxes.

However, the inherent weight advantage of the Crank Brothers design really helps to set the Candy 1 apart from the Shimano M530.

Shimano M530

Best Bang for Your Buck All Around SPD Mountain Bike Pedal

  • Platform feel 70% 70%
  • Ease/feel of entry 80% 80%
  • Ease/feel of exit 80% 80%
  • Mud shedding ability 80% 80%
  • Weight 70% 70%

Weight per Pair: 453g

Clean Type: SPD Mountain

Use: All-Mountain, Enduro, XC

Price: $54.95

What We Like: Virtually the same pedaling and clipping experience offered by the much more expensive Shimano XTR M9120 and XT M8020 at an entry-level price

What We Don’t: Heaviest mini platform pedal in review, painted cage is slippery when wet

The weight advantage of the Crank Brothers Candy 1 will be nothing for those who live and die by the patented feel of Shimano SPD pedals. For those people, the Shimano M530 offers almost the exact same pedal as the more expensive mini platform style SPD pedals, though with a significant weight penalty.

If you are not one for counting grams, the Shimano M530 offers an amazing, well rounded, extremely durable pedal that is impossible to beat for the price.

Crank Brothers Egg Beater 3

Best Ultralight Pedal for Cross Country Racers and Gram Counters

  • Platform feel 30% 30%
  • Ease/feel of entry 50% 50%
  • Ease/feel of exit 90% 90%
  • Mud shedding ability 100% 100%
  • Weight 100% 100%

Weight per Pair: 280g

Clean Type: Crank Brothers Brass

Use: XC

Price: ~$85-$135

What We Like: Lightest pedals in test, best mud shedding in test

What We Don’t: Difficult to clip into, no hope of standing on these unclipped

The look of the Crank Brothers Egg Beater pedal is classic. It is simple, yet elegant. It is renowned for its mud shedding ability and light weight, and the Crank Brothers Egg Beater 3 features both of these aspects in spades.

While it might not be the easiest pedal to clip into, you cannot beat the Crank Brothers Egg Beater 3 if you are looking for an ultralight, minimal, mud shedding cross country race pedal.

Shimano XTR M9100

Best Ultralight SPD Pedal for Cross Country Racing

  • Platform feel 50% 50%
  • Ease/feel of entry 60% 60%
  • Ease/feel of exit 80% 80%
  • Mud shedding ability 90% 90%
  • Weight 90% 90%

Weight per Pair: 310g

Clean Type: SPD Mountain

Use: XC

Price: $179.99

What We Like: Lightest SPD pedal in test, fairly large contact area for an SPD pedal

What We Don’t: Pricey and heavy compared to Crank Brothers alternative

With a weight of only 314g, the Shimano XTR M9100 is within ~40g of the Crank Brothers Egg Beater 3, although they are a bit pricier. The XTR M9100 forgoes the mini platform found on most of the Shimano SPD lineup. Instead, you get only the clipping mechanism itself, which actually offers a surprisingly solid pedalling platform.

The lightest pedal in Shimano’s SPD lineup, the XTR M9100 is a great pedal for cross country racers who love the SPD feel.

Crank Brothers Eggbeater 1

Best Lightweight Budget Cross Country Pedal

  • Platform feel 30% 30%
  • Ease/feel of entry 50% 50%
  • Ease/feel of exit 90% 90%
  • Mud shedding ability 100% 100%
  • Weight 100% 100%

Weight per Pair: 280g

Clean Type: Crank Brothers Brass

Use: XC

Price: $45-$59

What We Like: Unbeatable weight for budget XC pedals

What We Don’t: Difficult to clip into

The Crank Brothers Egg Beater 1 is the perfect pedal for riders on a budget who love the style and light weight of the Crank Brothers Egg Beater 3. It might not be quite as refined, and a bit heavier than the Egg Beater 3 but, at only 290g it is still lighter than the Shimano XTR M9100 and costs less than one third as much!

 

Shimano M520

Best Budget Cross-Country SPD Pedal

  • Platform feel 50% 50%
  • Ease/feel of entry 60% 60%
  • Ease/feel of exit 80% 80%
  • Mud shedding ability 90% 90%
  • Weight 70% 70%

Weight per Pair: 310g

Clean Type: SPD Mountain

Use: XC

Price: $54.95

What We Like: The same pedaling experience of the XTR M9120 for a third of the price

What We Don’t: Heavier than the Egg Beater 1

The Shimano M520 is a great pedal for cross country racers who want a budget SPD pedal. It incorporates nearly the exact same pedal that can be found in the Shimano M530, but without the mini platform. This makes it very similar in practice to the much more expensive XTR M9200, for a fraction of the price.

Shimano XTR M9120

Great All Around SPD Pedal with a Premium Price Tag

  • Platform feel 70% 70%
  • Ease/feel of entry 80% 80%
  • Ease/feel of exit 80% 80%
  • Mud shedding ability 70% 70%
  • Weight 80% 80%

Weight per Pair: 398g

Clean Type: SPD Mountain

Use: All-Mountain, Enduro, XC

Price: $199.99

What We Like: All of the great features of the XT M8020 in a lighter package

What We Don’t: Heavier than Crank Brothers alternative and not enough difference to justify the price increase over the Shimano XT M8020

The Shimano XTR M9120 is Shimano’s top of the line SPD offering, and it features Shimano’s very well rounded mini platform. While it is a few grams lighter than our top pick for best all-around SPD pedal, the Shimano XT M8020, the difference does not seem to warrant the price tag. That is why we gave the nod for best all-around SPD pedal to the Shimano XT M8020 over the XTR M9120.

Still, if you have a few extra dollars that are burning a hole in your pocket, the Shimano XTR 9120 is a great all around pedal, worthy of being Shimano’s flagship SPD offering.

We participate in affiliate programs to help us fund Gear Hacker. Some of the links in this website are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase a product using our link, we will earn a small commission. Don’t worry! This comes at no additional cost to you, and we will never base our reviews on whether or not we earn a commission off of a product. With that said, if you find our review helpful and decide to purchase an item we review, we would be very appreciative if you use our links to do so. It will help us bring you more awesome content in the future!