Best Mountain Bike Clipless Pedals

Riding style and ease of use are key considerations

News Pedals
mountain bike clipless pedals

Shimano dominates the mountain bike clipless category but there are other good options too.

At first glance, mountain bike clipless pedals lose out to flat pedals on flexibility and confidence. With flats you don’t have to worry about clicking in and out, and when things go sideways you won’t have to swivel your heel to unclip or worse yet get stuck in the pedal on the way down.

But there’s a reason — actually a lot of them — that the best mountain bikers in most disciplines use clipless pedals (trials and dirt bikes excepted).

Mountain bike clipless pedals are lighter than flats, sometimes by half.

If in a crash or other mishap the crank arm spins around and catches you with the pedal on the shin or calf, it won’t gouge you like the pins on a flat pedal do (although it’ll still sting).

Pedaling efficiency is better. Your power transfer is greater during the entire rotation. Your shoe won’t slip. Your pull-through on the upstroke is better during sprints and your foot position is always in the ideal pedaling spot.

For a dramatic example of what a difference mountain bike clipless pedals can make, ask World No. 1 cross-country pro-Nino Schurter about losing the final sprint at Stellenbosch earlier this year seen here.

TIME pedals set an early standard for shedding mud that has lasted to this day.

Once you decide to go with mountain bike clipless pedals, you have quite a few choices. You can even go bi — one side clipped, one side flat, as with Crank Brothers’ convenient Double Shot 3. For most riding, though, you’ll want dedicated clipless if for no other reason than your cleated shoes are more comfortable clipped in.

What to look for

Within the mountain bike clipless pedal universe, you’ll face several decisions.

Foremost is how firmly attached you want your foot to feel. This typically translates to heel rotation. The firmer the feel, the harder you have to work to unclip.

To unclip from a mountain bike clipless pedal, you usually swing your heel out. You can vary the amount of heel rotation it takes to unclip. Some riders like as little as possible, although that risks unintentional unclipping. Others like more, particularly if they ride somewhat pigeon-toed.

Shimano and compatible mountain bike clipless pedals address the tension firmness issue with allen-key adjustments of spring tension. Crank Brothers, TIME and others offer fixed engagement but different cleat mounting angles.

You also want to think about how much platform area suits your riding style. For typical cross-country or trail riding, minimal platform like Crank Brothers classic EggBeaters and Shimano SPDs works fine. As you move to flow trail, enduro, and bike park riding, you’ll want more platform surface along the lines of Crank Brothers Candies or Mallets, and Shimano’s Saints.

There’s also the concept of float which some pedals support in varying degrees. Float is the amount of angular rotation the pedal allows before releasing the shoe from the pedal. Very active/dynamic riders or those with knee problems prefer pedals with more float.

While Crank Brothers and Shimano are the big names in mountain bike clipless pedals, lots of other players are out there. Here’s a quick rundown of the best mountain bike clipless pedals.

The list of the best mountain bike clipless pedals

Shimano SPDs set an early standard for ease of adjustment.


Shimano XT Trail PD-M8020 SPDs

Shimano SPDs have been an industry standard almost since mountain bike clipless pedals appeared on the scene. They offer superior adjustability with a spring tension system. The early rap against them was mud clearance, but design tweaks have made it a non-issue albeit not on the level with Eggbeater-style mountain bike clipless pedals. They feature more moving parts for something to go wrong, but every shop stocks SPDs and they win the prize for ubiquity. SPDs also get high marks for durability, even in lousy winter riding conditions.

Pros
  • Tension adjustability
  • Availability and range of options
  • Legendary durability
  • Attractive price points
Cons
  • Not the lightest
  • Not the greatest performance in mud

Rating: 4.5
Price: $79
More Info Here


Candies can match virtually any bike color scheme.

Crank Brothers Candy

For all-around trail riding, from cross-country to trail to enduro, Candies strike the sweet spot between weight, surface area, and durability. Not the most adjustable, they get our nod for versatility and simplicity. They don’t clog in mud and handle the elements well. They’re also easy to maintain and have upped their game in the durability department after suffering an early knock for bushing wear. One idiosyncrasy with Crank Brothers pedals, in general, is that certain rock strikes eject the cleat. Not a deal-breaker by any means, but a heads up that it can happen.

  • Lightweight
  • Versatile
  • Design simplicity
  • Several models, colors and price points
  • Excellent mud shedding
  • User serviceable
Cons
  • Not tension adjustable
  • Periodic maintenance required
  • Rock strikes can release cleat

Rating: 4.5/5
Price: $59 – $450 (ti)
More Info Here


Xpedo M-Force pedals are light and good looking.

Xpedo Mountain Force 4 Ti

Xpedos aren’t as common but offer an attractive price-performance ratio. This is a lightweight magnesium-titanium mountain bike clipless pedal that is Shimano compatible and offers 16 points of adjustability. It’s not as bulletproof as others but the tradeoff is featherweight and attractive looks. At first glance it may seem pricey but considering titanium it’s a bargain.

Pros
  • Adjustability
  • Titanium lightweight
  • Low profile for clearance
Cons
  • Durability
  • Not as widely available

Rating: 4
Price: $179
More Info Here


Nukeproof Horizon CLs live up to their manufacturer’s name in toughness and longevity with minimal maintenance.

Nukeproof Horizon CL

Better known for its flat pedals, Nukeproof offers burly mountain bike clipless pedals as well. Its cleat system is proprietary but SPD-compatible with two adjustment angles available. You don’t have to worry about durability or toughness with Nukeproof, but the CLs do tip the scales at a weight more associated with flats. The CLs (a lighter-duty CS version also is available) also feature easy click-in engagement on a wide platform offering plenty of foot support. Nukeproof’s sloped-toe edge is a nice touch as well, protecting against catches on rocks and roots.

Pros
  • Durable
  • Wide platform for foot support
  • Easy and audible click-in
  • Sloped-toe design
Cons
  • Not light at 526 grams

Rating: 4.5
Price: $135
More Info: https://nukeproof.com/products/horizon-cl-pedal/


TIME ATAC MX6 pedals are easy to clip into but inconsistent getting out of.

TIME Atac MX6

TIME has a special place in the annals of mountain bike clipless pedals for its pioneering mud clearance capability back in the day, and not that much has changed in its basic design over the years. Two cleat options provide differing release angles, and TIME has retained its mud-clearing prowess and ease of use. TIMEs aren’t particularly light but can take a beating in all conditions and never complain. The only gotcha is that unclipping from TIMEs can be a bit unpredictable.

Pros
  • Self-cleaning mud clearance
  • Extremely durable
  • Easy clip-in
Cons
  • Inconsistent release

Rating: 4
Price: $149
More Info Here

There’s our round-up of the best mountain bike clipless pedals. What is your favorite?


About the author: Paul Andrews

Dividing his time between Seattle and Santa Cruz, career journalist Paul Andrews has more than a quarter century of mountain biking under his belt, which he wishes had a few less notches.


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  • bikebuddha says:

    speedplay frog to rule them all…

  • roberto says:

    so you say theres lots of reasons to go clipless and describe three insipidly. if you are trailriding i.e. not downhilling or trials, there is no reason not to be in clipless pedals and we should have ceased having tis discussion 20 years ago, Back-pedalling , ratcheting feathering , all types of crank fine adjustment necessary to smooth xc pedalling let alone pure hard but supple pedalling are unquestionably improved when you are attached to the crank. who are you trying to kid otherwise? as for say crank brothers getting rock strike releases, what pedal doesn’t? duh! One dim article really

  • myke says:

    “The only gotcha is that unclipping from TIMEs can be a bit unpredictable.” huh, i can’t remember any Inconsistent releases of last nearly 20 years of ATAC. strange

    • p0is0n0ak says:

      Agreed! I switched to ATAC about 15 years ago because of the finicky/unpredictable release of Shimano SPDs. Gave Shimano another try about 5 years ago and couldn’t stand them because they unpredictably released on uphills- with full tension- and jammed up with a minimal amount of debris everywhere else.

      ATAC are the embodiment of predictibility.

  • DaveK says:

    My experience has been with Crankbrothers Eggbeaters for my first 10 years of mountain biking, and now Shimano SPD pedals the two-three years. For durability, the Shimano pedals have been bulletproof, the Crankbrothers pedals required much more routine maintenance. I also broke an axle shaft on one of my CB Eggbeaters (very scary), CB customer support admitted the shaft design was flawed and replaced one set of pedals but only offered a discount on my other two sets since they were older but had the same design flaws, I was not impressed by CB customer care. Another problem with Eggbeaters (or Candy) are the wings that you clip into hang down below the pedal and are much more of a hazard on pedal strikes, the wire can catch and bring you to a sudden stop, throwing you off the bike. I’ve had it happen once, but others have also reported the same problem. In contrast, the Shimano SPD pedals glance off during a pedal strike due to the angle design of the mechanism. The Shimano pedals also offer a little more of a platform and don’t dig into the soles of your shoes like Eggbeaters can. The only advantage the CB pedals have is a bit less weight but it’s only 20-30 grams or so. I’ve not tried SP Frogs, that’s probably the only other pedal I’d consider but I’ve moved on from Crankbrothers and am happy with my Shimano XT/XTR trail pedals.

  • Cory M says:

    This article could have been written 10+ years ago. Not much has changed in pedal design…

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