Getting Clipped In – What Are The Best Clipless Mountain Bike Pedals?

In this article, we look at clipless pedals. Specifically, we cover the key components you need to understand of a clipless pedal; and also look which pedals we think are the best clipless mountain bike pedals for each riding style.

TL;DR – In a hurry and just want to know what are the best clipless mountain bike pedals? The best clipless mountain bike pedals available are (in my opinion):

“When I started out, like most novices, I first started on flat pedals as I was afraid of not being able to unclip fast enough if I needed to. But as time went on and I gained more confidence, I went over to clipless pedals. What a difference that made! Now I feel naked on the bike if I am not clipped in!

So if you are also looking to go the clipless pedal route, I recommend you check out Joey’s great guide below on what he thinks the best clipless mountain bike pedals are!”  Andries – Editor

Clipless pedals are pedals that allow you to directly connect yourself to the bike through a metal attachment under your shoes. Let me guide you through the best clipless mountain bike pedals.

They are called “clipless” pedals because the first pedals that allowed you to be latched on to your bike had literal clips or latches that would go around a normal shoe and tie you to your pedal.

When pedals with mechanisms that connected to an attachment on the shoe came out, they served the same purpose without having to tie down your shoe to the pedal with clips, hence the name “clipless.”

They differ from road bike clipless pedals in several aspects, but most notably in their ease of clipping in and out, profile and mud shedding abilities.

Clipless pedals filled a niche for the riders who wanted the security of clipless road pedals but with versatility and reliability of mountain bike flat pedals.

You Might Also Like

Understanding Clipless Pedals

Before I jump into the pedal options, it is probably a good idea to just take a minute and understand what the key components are of a clipless pedal.

Clip Mechanism – How Do You Actually Clip In?

The purpose of a clipless pedal is to keep a rider engaged with the cranks but allow for easy disengagement upon dismount or a crash. Despite this singular purpose, almost all pedal manufacturers have their own mechanism to achieve this goal. The most common of which are outlined below:

Shimano SPD

Shimano has the greatest representation in the clipless pedal market and for good reason. The SPD design has a reliable reputation, it has gone almost unchanged for decades and is great value for an excellent performance.

In many ways, it is the baseline from which all other pedal mechanisms can be compared. It is so ubiquitous that many other smaller pedal manufactures also use the SPD system or a variation of it.

SPD pedals also have adjustable tension, which can be a double-edged sword. It makes the setup more complicated but it allows riders to better tune the feel they want from their pedals.

Crank Brothers Eggbeaters

The Eggbeater system from Crank Brothers is one of the lightest and most weather-proof systems out there. It excels at shedding mud with its very open design and is very easy to use.

Although the system doesn’t have the best track record of reliability, recent years have seen the brand making a come-back in this regard.

Time ATAC

Time pedals are something of an institution in mountain biking. Despite not being a mainstream product in the mountain biking community, they have a strong cult following.

They are known for having top tier quality, reliability, and performance but can be prohibitively expensive.  Despite the price, their reputation and engagement feel have earned them a strong and well-deserved following.

HT Pro Cleat

HT are relatively new entrants in the clipless pedal market but are already well on the way towards building a strong reputation. Their system is similar to Shimano’s, mechanically, but provide more positive and abrupt engagement and disengagement feel in comparison.

This makes them a good choice for riders who have ridden Shimano pedals but are looking for something a step above the conservative engagement and disengagement feel of the SPD system.

Platform – How Big Should The Pedal Be?

The intended riding style niche of a mountain bike clipless pedal is most immediately identifiable by the size of its platform. Regardless of brand or mechanism, all clipless pedals follow the same design philosophy of being small, minimalist and light for cross country riding; and platformed, wide and tough for downhill. There are also many different variations of these factors for enduro and trail riding.

Large Platform Pedals

Pedals with large platforms are generally designed for riding more aggressive terrain. Their main feature is a cage around the clipless pedal mechanism.

The cage has many functions. It can protect the central clipless mechanism from rock strikes, which are more common on long-travel bikes with low bottom bracket heights.

Pedal strikes can, not only damage the clip mechanism but, also pry open the pedal from below and disengage your foot.

The cage can also act as a guide that can lead your foot back into the proper position to clip in.

This can be a lifesaver on rough tracks where there is no time to carefully find the pedal with your foot.

A good platform will allow you to just mash your foot down without having to worry about getting the position just right to clip in.

A third reason (and often overlooked) is practicality. Anyone who’s ever owned a bike with tiny cross-country pedals will know the frustrations of trying to ride their bike with anything but the proper cycling shoes.

It shouldn’t be done, but we all ride our bikes around the parking lot or to the corner store.

Small Pedals

Slimmer pedals are designed to be as light as possible by retaining only the essentials needed for the pedal to function. This is where the clipless pedal shines because there is no way that a similar platform pedal could be as light.

In many applications, it is all that’s needed. A trail or ride that would never need a rider to take a foot off the pedal is normal for many riders, and it is exactly what these pedals are designed for.

Intermediate Pedals

There are many riding styles in between cross country and downhill mountain biking. This pedal design is somewhere in between that of the large downhill pedals and the tiny cross country pedals for the intermediate riding styles.

They are usually pedals with platforms of a varying size designed to deflect hits or give the rider a bit more support than a bare cross country pedal. There are lots of variations in the pedals that inhabit this grey area.

When considering something with a marginal platform, it has to be judged by its function before styling. In my experience, unless you’re truly shaving grams off your build – you have very little to lose, and a lot to gain, by going with a full platform clipless pedal.

The weight is down low so you aren’t likely to feel the added extra 100 to 200 grams.

But among the multipurpose pedals, one thing that should be avoided at all costs are pedals with a clip mechanism on one side and a platform on the other.

While it is a mix between the two, the 50-50 chance of trying to clip into the platform side of the pedal make these incredibly frustrating. In reality, they are more likely to get you into a difficult situation than to be actually useful.

Durability – How Tough Should A Pedal Be?

Praising the platform on clipless pedals for their impact protection does not mean to imply that clipless mechanisms are fragile, though. The best clipless mountain bike pedals can last through many rock strikes and beatings! On a few occasions by now, I have struck a log or rock and thought that my pedal must be in a 100 pieces….only to look down and see it is still there and in once piece!

When looked at in those terms, the ridiculously high prices of some of the flashier models doesn’t seem so ridiculous after all. A $400 Time pedal doesn’t sound as bad when there are people happily moving their 10-year-old pair of Time pedals to yet another new bike.

Weight and Price – How Much Should You Pay?

Many mountain products follow the inverse relationship between price and weight, but pedals are easily one of the guiltiest of abiding by this. Most pedal manufacturers will offer a range of prices which correspond to the materials used in a pedal.

Generally, the best clipless mountain bike pedals deals are found in the middle in the $100 to $150 range, where you avoid the plastic and the bushings but you don’t put out money for titanium and ceramics. Shimano is an exception to this trend. They aren’t flashy but their entire line up is often a whole product line cheaper than the equivalents of other brands.

Mud-Shedding – How Practical Should The Pedal Be?

Mud is the bane of best clipless mountain bike pedals. While generally reliable, the clipless pedal mechanism still has moving parts. Mud isn’t likely to do long term damage to a pedal but it can jam up the mechanism and make it hard to clip in, or worse, clip out.

While fans of every pedal type claim their pedals shed mud well enough, Crank Brother, with their simple and open design, is a clear winner here with Time a close second.

Float – How Quickly Should You Be Able To Unclip?

Another important specification to look out for on a clipless pedal is how tightly it holds your foot. The freedom of movement of your foot while clipped into a pedal is called the float.

This is an aspect where different clipless mechanisms have different characteristics and in cases, such as Time ATAC’s, claim to excel. A pedal with a higher float will allow your foot to move more without disengaging the clipless mechanism and releasing your foot.

More aggressive riders tend to prefer this since it allows you to move more on the bike without unintentionally unclipping and flying off the bike. Beginner and intermediate riders tend to prefer pedals with less float because they are easier to clip out of with a small motion of the foot.

There is no right way to set this up as it usually comes down rider preference and confidence.

Best Clipless Mountain Bike Pedals – My Recommendations

Below I list out clipless mountain bike pedals that I think are great and would highly recommend. I break it up into the best clipless mountain bike pedals for each type of riding you might want to do.

If You Are Looking For Performance

Crank Brothers Mallet E / Mallet DH 

Mallet DH Red / Red Spring
Click on image to go to Amazon

The Crank Brothers clipless mechanism has long been a favorite with the gravity community because of the relatively large float angles and its excellent resilience to muck.

The company is recovering from its reputation of poor-quality pedals and the new Mallets are one of the most convincing arguments that Crank Brothers pedals are back on top.

The DH and Enduro models of Mallet differ only in platform size and give customers more choices. There is even an option to drop more cash and get the Mallet 11 model with the lightweight titanium spindle.

Pedals That Offer The Best Value

Shimano DX PD-M647 

SHIMANO PD-M647 Clipless Pedal with Outer Cage
Click on image to go to Amazon

This pedal is an institution and is the first real clipless pedal for countless riders. The cheap-looking resin cage actually does a fantastic job of deflecting and absorbing impacts as well as a guide for your feet for quick clip-ins.

Although its MSRP may be pricey for a value product, they’ve been in circulation for so long that lower-priced units are not rare. They will also last you a long time.

Many riders use these for a few years then upgrade to something lighter and or flashier. But these best clipless mountain bike pedals are sturdy enough that almost every rider on a nice pair clipless pedals has a pair of these in their drawers reserved as a backup.

Best Clipless Mountain Bike Pedals For Trail Riding

If you intend to do trail riding, the Shimano XTR PD-M9120 pedals will offer you the best performance while the Time Speciale 8 pedals will offer you excellent value for money

If You Are Looking For Performance

Shimano XTR PD-M9120 

SHIMANO PD-M9120; XTR; SPD Flat Bike Pedal; Cleat Set Included
Click on image to go to Amazon

Shimano’s new XTR trail pedal is part of a new wave of revamps Shimano is pushing out on their pedal line. It brings in a lot of the technology seen on the venerated saint line and adapts it to a lighter weight, more function-driven package in the XTR trail.

It also represents a new branch of high-end componentry that is more focused on the Enduro and Trail market segments. Shimano’s new XTR trail pedal performs as it should as their top of the line product in this segment.

True to Shimano style, their top of the line product is only slightly more expensive than the mid-range products of its competitors. It does away with the flash and bling but it perpetuates Shimano’s reputation for making functional, no-nonsense components.

Pedals That Offer The Best Value

Time Speciale 8 

Time Speciale 8 Pedals Orange, Pair
Click on image to go to Amazon

Time pedals aren’t something you would expect to see in a value segment, but the value is what the Speciale 8 is all about. This pedal is a successor to Time’s first entry into the Trail and Enduro markets for pedals, the Speciale 12.

It was extremely well received but it came with a premium price tag. The Speciale 8 takes just about all the functionality and quality of its predecessor but is available at almost half the price.

This makes the value proposition very strong and part of the best clipless mountain bike pedals, especially when you consider Time’s outstanding reputation as a product owned for life.

Cross Country Riding

If you intend to do a lot of cross country riding, the Crank Brothers Eggbeater 3 pedals will provide you with performance, while the Shimano PD-M520 pedals will give you value for money.

If You Are Looking For Performance

Crank Brothers Eggbeater 3

Crank Brothers Egg Beater 11 Pedals Ti /Gold, One Size
Click on image to go to Amazon

The Crank Brothers Eggbeater 3 is the pinnacle of dedicated cross-country pedal design and one of the best clipless mountain bike pedals. It features a sleek design, with class-leading low weight and the mud-shedding performance Crank Brothers is known for.

Unique to this pedal is the ability for a rider to clip in from 4 directions. Almost all other pedals only allow entrance from the top or the bottom.

This is significant since pedals of this type are notoriously difficult to clip into if you don’t have the motion burned into your muscle memory.

For a significant premium, you can purchase the best of the best clipless mountain bike pedals, the Eggbeater 11.

This is the same pedal but with high-end materials that bring the weight down and the quality up.

It’s also blingy enough to practically be a piece of jewelry you can pass down from one bike to the next.

Pedals That Offer The Best Value

Shimano PD-M520

Shimano PD-M520L MTB Sport Pedals with Cleats
Click on image to go to Amazon

On the other side of the spectrum is Shimano’s workhorse.

The PD-M520 is one of the best clipless mountain bike pedals and it is a bare SPD clipless mechanism without much else and just plain works, which already makes it a bargain at the price you can get it at.

It is a reliable product that has a long lifespan and, disregarding weight, has no critical performance faults. It is the definition of value.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *