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.
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 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.
- Tension adjustability
- Availability and range of options
- Legendary durability
- Attractive price points
- Not the lightest
- Not the greatest performance in mud
More Info Here
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.
- Design simplicity
- Several models, colors and price points
- Excellent mud shedding
- User serviceable
- Not tension adjustable
- Periodic maintenance required
- Rock strikes can release cleat
Price: $59 – $450 (ti)
More Info Here
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.
- Titanium lightweight
- Low profile for clearance
- Not as widely available
More Info Here
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.
- Wide platform for foot support
- Easy and audible click-in
- Sloped-toe design
- Not light at 526 grams
More Info: https://nukeproof.com/products/horizon-cl-pedal/
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.
- Self-cleaning mud clearance
- Extremely durable
- Easy clip-in
- Inconsistent release
More Info Here
There’s our round-up of the best mountain bike clipless pedals. What is your favorite?