Mountain bikers are passionate about the gear they choose to ride, and will take to the grave certain choices. Pedals are among those preferences, and many cling to a clipless pedal system with ferocity. While the reasons might seem unclear at first, once you discover your preferential pedal, you might have similar feelings.
For the budget-conscious rider looking for a great first experience with clipless, the Shimano PD-MT50 is a great start. The Shimano SPD mountain cleats are easy to learn. They may not shed mud as well as other options, but the generous platform provides some reassurance if you feel uneasy clipping in.
For the rider who spares no expense for the best, the Speedplay Frog series offer a bullet-proof, simple, and lightweight option with a cleat that’s easy to walk on when the trail gets too tough or you need to stop mid-ride for tacos.
Top Budget Pick
Clip-less? That’s confusing!
Many years ago, most “serious” cyclists would use pedals with toe clips – extensions on the pedal that would wrap over your toe and then secured with a nylon or leather strap. This design was the norm until manufacturers started making pedals and shoes that attached by a cleat system instead of a clip, hence clipless. The design is similar to a ski binding and is used for similar reasons: it keeps your foot in place until you choose to take it off.
Clipless vs. flat pedals for mountain biking
A flat or platform pedal is also without a clip or a cleat, but it’s not called “clipless”. Furthermore, riders with modern clipless pedal and cleats will say they are “clipped in” or “riding clips” when they are not, in fact, using toe clips. That’s endlessly confusing to new cyclists, but the term clipless hangs on due to memetic inertia. Except in rare cases, any reference to the word “clip” refers to this kind of pedal and not old-school toe clips.
a clipless pedal
a flat pedal
Why attach your feet to your bike?
Most cyclists the world over ride with flat pedals, a simple platform that works with any shoe, or no shoes at all. Attaching one’s feet to the pedals seems counter-intuitive at first, but doing so has many advantages for performance-driven riders:
- Increased control- you can throw the bike around side to side, unweight and lift the rear tire over objects, and retain a connection to the bike in extreme situations where flat pedals might fail.
- Additional power- clipless pedals allow you to put power into your drivetrain while spinning a full circle, not just on the downstroke. The amount of additional power that most riders can get this way is the subject of debate, but it’s there.
- Safety- suddenly losing your footing during a technical maneuver or a long downhill can be a disaster. Clipless pedals mitigate that risk.
What to look for in a pedal
Float is the amount of twisting you can do before the pedal releases the cleat and you can disengage your foot. The amount of float you will want is a matter of personal preference. Every pedal manufacturer uses their own proprietary cleat/pedal design, and most pedals have adjustable float and tension release. Individual biomechanics also factor into float.
“SPD” refers specifically to Shimano’s design, but many riders use it as a catch-all term for clipless pedals. Shimano Pedaling Dynamics (SPD) is the most common clipless design and are therefore most likely to work with borrowed and demo bikes.
Some pedals have a bit of a platform or one entire side that’s flat (Crank Brothers makes a Doubleshot Pedal) to make the shoe more stable when the cleat is engaged or provide an option to clip in or not. Some prefer this extra bit of stability, while others say it can interfere with the cleat/pedal interface.
When a pedal gets clogged with mud and debris, it might be hard to engage or release. Look for a pedal designed to shed mud.
All of the pedals described below will work with any shoe that features two parallel slots for mounting a two-bolt cleat, as is characteristic of mountain bike shoes. Some will work better than others, but the shoe you pick should fit your feet comfortably and feature a sole that offers enough grip for your preferred terrain. We’ve written about our favorite mountain bike shoes in this article.
Our Top Clipless MTB Pedals
|Shimano MT-50||500||Light engagement||$$|
|Candy 1||300||Four-side entry||$|
|ATAC MX-8||182||Generous float||$$$|
|Saint M820||550||Large platform||$$$$|
|XT M8000||350||Adjustable float||$$|
The best mtb clipless pedals for beginners
Shimano PD-MT-50 Shimano’s basic clipless pedal is simple, durable and gets a new rider into the world of clipless riding. This pedal includes Shimano’s multi-directional release cleats, which make it easier for disengage your shoe from the pedal and a wide platform so you can pedal without clipping in.
Best for: newbie riders wanting a little more security.
Crank Bros. Candy 1 Crank Brothers design is popular among riders for its simplicity and mud-shedding clearance. The Candy 1 is their entry-level pedal with a small platform, low-profile cleats, and four-sided cleat entry. Plus, bright color options! If you plan on lots of saddle time, we’d recommend a more durable pedal like the Candy 2.
Best for: new racers looking for a lightweight pedal.
Top enduro/ trail pedals
Time ATAC MX8 Time’s Auto Tension Adjustment Concept (ATAC) system has won over riders for its security and ease of engagement. The MX8 has a sizeable platform for stability and a unique ability to adjust the amount of float.
Best for: enduro racers who want a light and supportive pedal.
Shimano Saint 820 This hardcore trail downhill pedal has a generous aluminum platform, a thin stack height, and replaceable pins that offer grip in a pinch when you can’t get the cleat to engage.
Best for: Trail bruisers in need of maximum stability.
Best XC race pedals
Speedplay Frog– Speedplay has one of the simplest designs that minimize weight, size, mud-clogging and serviceability. The cleats on the Frog system make walking in cycling shoes easy, a feature that mountain bikers value.
Best for: all-weather, long-haul XC riders.
Shimano XT PD-M8000 Riders know and love the classic SPD (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics) design behind Shimano’s venerable XT line. The M8000 pedal provides an excellent mix of performance and durability with a thin profile and a bit of a platform for excellent foot stability.
Best for: Shimano fans who want an upgrade from their entry-level SPD pedals.
Crank Brother Eggbeater 11 the pinnacle of the Eggbeater line features titanium construction for the lightest mountain bike possible. The minimalist four-sided design sheds mud and allows for smooth, secure engagement of the cleat.
Best for: gram-shaving racers how want to float over the course.