Hands and feet are our only control points once the saddle is slammed, making pedals and grips some equally important and quickly forgotten bits of the bike. The best pairs disappear as dependable components we don’t have to think about.
A quality set of clipless gravity pedals is easy to attach to and eject from, sheds mud well, fits comfortably in the cleat channel of your favorite shoes, and provides an emergency platform for your foot when the need arises. Like any good components, they should include simple and infrequent service that can be sorted in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee.
Over the past year or so I pushed and slid around on nine different clipless platforms to learn the advantages and hangups each pair has to offer. I moved through a few shoes with each set to judge their adaptability to different cleat channels, ending each test with a pair of control kicks for the sake of sotra-science. I also kept several sets mounted so I could test them back to back. A pair of Shimano XTR M9120 pedals acted as the comparative benchmark since they are the clips most riders are familiar with.
Crankbrothers Mallet E LS | Most customizable platform
Having raced cyclocross for too many years on the famously mud-shedding Crankbrothers Eggbeaters, I was excited to try one of their more substantial pedals. I have some pink tattoos from those smaller pedals on my shins but fortunately didn’t receive any new ones from this pair. Every good gear roundup needs a few superlatives and the Mallet E LS is the most customizable pedal in this lot by a long shot. “Traction Pads” on either side of the engagement mechanism can be swapped out to increase or decrease release pressure, and the six adjustable traction pins per side can create whatever amount of sole connection you prefer.
Clipping in and out of these pedals is smooth no matter the conditions. I set the cleat retention a smidge on the loose side knowing that I’d be riding through some thick mud with these, and they are some of the most intuitive feeling pedals I’ve used for crappy weather. The muck on shoes and pedals squishes through the large opening in the middle, allowing it to clear out while the rider is clipped in and rolling.
Sole grip on the Mallet platform is rather impressive for a clipless shoe. In addition to the six adjustable pins on either side, the pedal has a decent amount of texture to help shoes stick when things get spicy and you’re not quite able to clip in before the next impact. I have been thankful for that added traction on multiple occasions throughout the winter, and when the trails are dry it cleans out nicely to keep the pedals looking fresh a little longer than some.
I have added the included cleat shims with a few pairs of shoes that have deeper cleat channels, and it’s great that those spacers are included with the cleats so you can further dial in their pedal interaction. Given this added bonus I’m not sure if there is anything else about the pedals that could be adjustable. Maybe their 57mm Q-factor could slide in and out? That seems excessive.
I was able to ride the Mallet E LS pair until they needed a service, and I’m happy to report that the clean ‘n’ grease process is as easy as ever. They weren’t ready for a bearing or bushing replacement yet, but having performed the full swap in the past I can say it won’t challenge the skills of most home mechanics.
As with the trusty Eggbeaters, these brass cleats still don’t seem like they’ll last as long as a Shimano set, but for folks who want top-shelf customization this pedal is the way to go.
|Price||$169.99 (available at Wiggle and Amazon)|
|Pedal weight per side||221g|
|Proprietary cleats||15° or 20° of float with shims included|
|Materials||6061-T6 aluminum body, chromoly steel spindle (titanium available)|
|Unique features||6 adjustable pins per side, customizable float and release angle|
|Service||Refresh Kit $24.99, Video instructions|
Funn Mamba S | Easiest upkeep
These latest Mamba S pedals from Funn are an updated version that adds a dual-sided retention option, where the former model was only available with a cleat interface on one side and a traditional flat pedal on the other. Like the Shimano Saint pedals, the Mamba is essentially a flat pedal with a cleat interface in the center. While its alloy chassis looks fairly straightforward there are some cool little features to note.
Engagement with the Mamba S is similar to a Shimano Saint, with clear clicks in and out that can be adjusted via a 3mm screw on either side. The range of adjustment is broad, and with the four traction pins riders should be able to find the level of attachment they prefer. I added one turn of tension and there is a lot of tightening available from there. There’s no texture on the body, so folks may want to add longer pins for emergency grip when the going gets wet.
In muddy conditions the Mamba fairs well, thanks in part to its raised cleat attachment and broad holes in the body that allow softer mud to fall out easily. It will still pack up if you’re riding in clay, like any pedal, but in most other conditions it cleans up nicely.
With a single outer bearing and inner bushing, the Mamba is a breeze to service. The best part: there’s a grease port at the bushing that allows riders to add lube without taking the pedal apart. So, if you’re riding laps on your favorite jump line and a pedal starts to answer the squirrels’ calls you can stop at the car and add a little lube for a silent afternoon. I haven’t heard a peep out of them so far, though I did crack the GRS screw open to give it a go and there’s nothing to it. Remove the screw, press some grease inside, replace the screw, wipe away excess grease, and off you go.
The GRS port should help these pedals last a long while, while the lower price and competitive weight might be what it takes to swing some riders in the Funn direction.
|Price||$110 single-sided, $115 dual-sided, pictured. (available at Amazon)|
|Pedal weight per side||238g|
|SPD compatible cleats||5° float, 18° release angle|
|Materials||6061 aluminum body, CroMo axle|
|Unique features||Grease renew system|
|Colors||Black, grey, orange, green, blue, red|
HT T1 | Lightest weight and widest range of colors
If you want a pedal that functions similarly to the classic XT platform but offers a wider range of cleat options and a stiffer ejection click, the HT T1 could be the ticket. With four different cleat options and a set of shims to please your tread height there’s a wide variety of float and release angle options to accompany the thirteen possible colors for the alloy body. There are also two traction pins per side, though they don’t seem to affect engagement. With the provided cleat shim these were easy to dial in to any shoe, and very little of the pedal actually contacts the sole of most kicks.
I tested the T1 pedals with the second lightest clip-retention cleat which provides 4° of lateral float. While most of these pedals can be cinched down tighter than I would like, the T1 feels more useable at tighter settings than the others. Folks who truly like to be welded to their pedals can go as tight as they like without becoming truly stuck to the bike and dancing like a flipped turtle every time they try to stop.
The svelte pedal body is a welcome element on rocky trails, where a pedal strike can arrest momentum and leave a rider walking or worse. The T1 has a slightly smaller body than any of the other gravity platforms tested here, tapered at the edges to keep it from catching on things. There is an important quantitative difference between the rock strikes I experienced with these pedals compared to larger platforms like the Funn Mamba S, Shimano Saint, and even the somewhat bulkier Time Speciales.
For no apparent reason, the T1 pedals don’t seem to clear mud as well as some others. I regularly have to stop and clear the mud from my cleats before clipping in which would be aggravating in a sloppy race. Some shoes worked better than others with muddy engagement, indicating that the issue may be spacing between the cleat and the sides of the shoe’s cleat-channel, but on my control shoes, these didn’t fare so well in wet weather.
Like many of these pedals, the T1 cage spins on a single outer bearing and an inner IGUS bushing that are both easily replaced by following the included instructions. There is already a wiggle in the drive-side pedal, leading me to believe these might require more maintenance than the others tested here. I tried to tighten them up with the internal 8mm axle nut which helped a little, but there is still some movement from wear.
While the color and adjustment options on the T1 are admittedly sweet they may be better suited to riders who don’t pedal through the winter, or at least folks who don’t mind maintaining their pedals about as often as they replace a chain.
|Price||$135-$159 (available at evo, Backcountry, and other online retailers)|
|Pedal weight per side||187g|
|Proprietary cleats||Four options from 4-8° float|
|Materials||Aluminum body, CNCd Chromoly spindle|
|Unique features||Low profile for rock clearance and light weight, super tight retention that’s useable|
|Service||Instructions included in the box|
Look X-Track Plus Ti and Carbon Ti | Smoothest cleat interaction
When people ride a Fox Float 36 or 38 Factory fork, with its beer-colored stanchions, there’s always talk of butter and silk. The X-Track pedals from Look are the foot equivalent of that supple performance. A similar level of smooth interaction moves through the Look X-Track Plus Ti and Carbon Ti pedals. I included them both here because they function similarly, with the main difference being traction between the pedal body and sole. They both have some traction, but the “trail” version includes a few pins and a larger platform for shoes to flex into as the bike encounters impacts.
Apart from their fluid action both of these pedals work very similarly to a Shimano M9120 model in terms of mud management. You’ll still get clipped in with a fair amount of crap on your feet, and the Plus body with two sharp pins provides a similar amount of grip when you can’t. The pins don’t interact with the shoe soles too much without pressure from the rider or trail, but they do engage when you want confident foot placement to hit a jump or compress into a turn. Traction on the Carbon Ti set is better than I expected when used with a rubber-soled shoe. The textured carbon fiber and cleat engagement mechanism bite just enough to stand midfoot on them if you have to, though the larger platform is undoubtedly better for emergency stomps. With a pair of carbon-soled XC shoes — it’s ice-on-ice as per usual.
It’s almost impossible to find service instructions for these pedals, but fortunately, they come apart like all the rest. There is a dust cap on the outside covering a nut that’s tightened on the end of the axle. The dust-cap requires a proprietary tool, but I was able to get it off by jamming the tips of needle-nose pliers in the slots like tiny claws. Inside you’ll find the usual bearing and bushing setup that’s easy to clean and replace.
While both of these pedal sets feel fantastic to clip in and eject from there are far less expensive models from Look that should work similarly. If you don’t need the weight savings, you can pick up a set with Chromoly spindles for about half the price.
|Price||X-Track Plus Ti or Race Carbon Ti $270, with more affordable models starting at $75. Find at JensonUSA.|
|Pedal weight per side||195g|
|SPD compatible cleats||Included cleats 6° of float and 13° disengagement angle, Easy cleats available|
|Materials||Aluminum body and Ti spindle / Carbon body and Ti spindle|
|Unique features||Different spindle options, super smooth cleat interaction|
|Service||Follow instructions for nearly any other pedal.|
Nukeproof Horizon CS | Longevity-focused
Nukeproof is well known for their Sam Hill signature flat pedals, and they also make some sweet clips. The Horizon CS pedals have a smaller platform and four pins per side, where the heavier Horizon CL have six pins and a larger platform that’s intended for DH racing. The standout feature of these pedals is simply that they feel solidly built to last. After almost a year of spinning them on my hardtail, the bearings and bushing in each side are as smooth as they were new.
The Horizon CS pedals interact with cleats and shoes at least as well as my Shimano control pedals, and they deal with mud as well as you would expect from a UK-designed product. The body is slim enough to keep its rock strike count low while the pins do well to provide foot friction when you want it. I found the engagement plenty tight in the lighter settings, so this will be another good pair for folks who like to crank the tension down.
When these pedals finally do need a service, it will be a pleasant process, with no proprietary tools to purchase or improvise. Given their low profile and a clear focus on durability I would recommend these to friends who are on a tighter budget. For just over $100 you get all the benefit of the market’s best pedals, in the color of your choice, with seemingly long service intervals.
|Price||$101.99 (available at Wiggle)|
|Pedal weight per side||221g, 192g with Ti spindles|
|SPD compatible cleats||4° or 8° float available|
|Materials||6061 aluminum body, Chromoly spindle|
|Unique features||One DU bushing and two bearings per side for long service period|
|Colors||Black, blue, copper, purple, grey, red|
Shimano XTR M9120 and Saint M820 | Industry benchmarks
My colleague, Matt Miller, wrote a full review of these latest XTR M9120 pedals where he had this to say: “I appreciate the low profile of the M9120 pedal. It’s slim but still wide and a little roomy. This makes for a platform that can be pushed but isn’t more than a rider really needs. Sometimes running a meaty pedal like a Crankbrothers Mallet or Shimano Saint SPD just means more rock strikes, although even the new Saint has slimmed down a little.”
We don’t need to belabor the details of these pedals, as nearly everyone has already used a set. if you haven’t, check out Matt’s review. They work fantastically well out on the trail in nearly any conditions, which is why a lot of pedals on the market are modeled in their image. The aerodynamic body shape deflects rock strikes with the best of them, and the commonly-copied retention system is almost unbeatable.
Pulling a pair of Shimano pedals apart is a cinch, and doesn’t require the thin 8mm socket that many other pedals use to loosen the exterior axle nut. Often times if the pedals feel a smidge crunchy you can get away with just removing the body to clean and re-grease the internals and slide it all back together. Cleaning the ball bearings takes a little more work, but it’s definitely doable in the space of a soda.
|Price||$180 (available from multiple online retailers)|
|Pedal weight per side||200g|
|SPD cleats||4° of float with other options available|
|Unique features||Most MTB pedals are modeled after them|
Shimano has also packed all that industry-leading goodness into a larger, DH-oriented platform that offers far more grip with four pins per side and a larger floor to stand on. These pedals do sacrifice some ground clearance, and if your trails are tight enough the difference will show itself quickly. It may surprise you how closely you have been coming to pedal strikes on local trails once those large square edges are beneath your feet.
The Saint pedals also don’t offer any surprises, as their internals and attachment system are the same as XT and XTR gravity pedals, and their body shape is otherwise similar to most industry-leading DH clips. The element of these pedals that impresses me most is how smooth they still feel smooth after about two years of use. For one of those years I was riding them every day, roughly six days per week. Now that’s some impressive build quality.
One of my friends has had different luck with these pedals. The body spun off while way out in the backcountry, requiring some creativity to get home. Admittedly, the pedals hadn’t been checked since they were first mounted, and the loose body likely could have been noticed with a little more careful bike maintenance, but this is definitely not an issue you want to deal with when the trail is several hours form a road. The pedals were warrantied, and now we all have a fun story to tell. We also don’t forget to check out pedals before heading deep into the forest anymore.
|Price||~$159.99 (multiple retailers)|
|Pedal weight per side||277g|
|SPD cleats||4° of float with other options available|
|Unique features||Large platform with decent grip|
Time Speciale 12 | Tightest engagement and most expensive
Last only by alphabetic order we have the Time Speciale 12. This pedal has a racey look and feel, and I have a few friends who swear by this platform. One of them has been riding Time Attack pedals for over twenty years. The body feels burly, with a sizable wedge of aluminum backing up the rear cleat engagement bail. With four pins and hollow steel spindle, the weight remains rather impressive as well, at just 206g per side.
Out on the trail, it took a long time to adjust to these pedals. With their lightest engagement setting and the cleats situated for a 13° release angle, they were difficult to clip in or out of. I tried adjusting them tighter, thinking the spring might be stuck and then moved the spring back with virtually no change. It’s not only hard to clip in and out, but the level of difficulty is inconsistent, occasionally leaning toward impossible. The engagement is so tight that my foot actually got stuck a few times and I had to stop against a tree and unclip using both hands and my leg. It’s not only hard to clip in and out, but the level of difficulty is inconsistent. The overly tight engagement made these unusable in anything other than dry conditions.
I searched for forum threads about this issue but wasn’t able to find any fixes. I also tried to contact Time and their new owner SRAM, but neither replied to my query. One of the tension grub screws eventually fell out, and that side of the pedal is still more difficult to use than any other pedal in this roundup so I’m fairly confident there is an issue with this particular pair. I asked those dedicated Time pedalers and they said they have not experienced this issue. If you have any ideas, or have experienced issues with Time pedals yourself, please share them with us in the comments below.
|Price||$295 (available at Competitive Cyclist and other online retailers)|
|Pedal weight per side||206g|
|Proprietary Attack cleats||5° of float, 13-17° release angle depending on reversible cleat placement|
|Materials||6061 T6 Aluminum body, hollow steel spindle|
|Unique features||Two release angles available by reversing cleats, made in France|
|Service||Similar to HT or Nukeproof|
|Colors||Red, blue, grey|
Pedals are a component that most folks keep around for a long while, and finding the right pair is clutch. Please share your experience, good or otherwise, with any of these pedals — or pairs we didn’t test — so other readers can choose a set that best suits their style and budget.