Bike Shoes and Pedals

Reviews, Tips, and Tricks to Selecting, Buying
 and Riding Clipless Shoes and Pedals



Clipless MTB Pedal and Cleat Systems

Read on for the lowdown on which clipless mtb pedal systems are available on the market today and some pros and cons of each. All clipless pedals and cleats in the mtb/all-purpose category fit the standard two hole mounting pattern. If you are looking for a commuting, urban or touring clipless pedal this is the section for you as well.

Shimano SPD MTB Pedal System

 Shimano is a Japanese company that opened offices in New York in 1965 and have grown into the largest bicycle component manufacturer in the world. They sponsor numerous pro teams, have a largeShimano-XT-Clipless MTB Pedal Systems R&D department and are responsible for much innovation in the bike world backed up by hundreds of patents. Quality is high and consistent. You can't go wrong purchasing clipless mtb pedals in the Deore, Deore-XT, and Deore-XTR product ranges. There are other clipless mtb pedal manufacturers that provide a Shimano compatible product. But from personal experience unless going with a high-end 3rd party product, the build quality and performance of genuine Shimano parts is usually superior. High end Shimano pedals have a very solid, smooth and consistent feel that is hard to match.

The Shimano SPD (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics) system was developed for applications where the cleat is recessed into the sole surrounded by sole lugs. The SPD system is possibly the most versatile, and applications include road and mtb.

In my opinion, if you were to only buy one shoe for multiple bikes this two hole system is the way to go. Other popular 2 hole system choices include Crank Brothers, Time and Look clipless mtb pedals.

The cleat comes in two variations: SH-56 and SH-51 (SH-52 for M858 pedals only).

The SH56 multi release silver colored cleat allows you to release your foot from the pedal by both twisting outward and pulling sharply upwards. This is a good cleat to use when learning how to ride clipless due to the multiple release points.

Shimano SH56 cleat for clipless pedalMany have ridden this cleat exclusively without having premature release problems. However Shimano does not recommend these cleats for technical trail riding or jumping due to the muti-release having the potential to release at the wrong moment resulting in injury. I would agree having been in situations where I bailed or almost bailed due to unintentional cleat release.

The SH51 single release cleat only allows release from an outward twist. I learned to ride clipless on the 51's and have never had a problem with release. Once you have the motion dialed it shouldn't really matter what you are riding.

Shimano SH51 cleat for clipless pedalsFloat for these pedals is 6 degrees. Float is measured in degrees and is the amount of side to side rotational movement over the ball of your foot before the clip starts to release. This can be an important factor if your pedal stroke is non-planar which applies to most riders. Many knee and joint problems due to pedaling are caused from incorrectly set or adjusted cleats or not enough pedal float to account for lateral movement in a riders foot during pedal rotation. As cleats wear float will increase and it is important to maintain tension on the pedals to reduce unwanted pedal release. The 56's and 51's can be found here at Amazon.

 Crankbrothers MTB Pedal System

Crankbrothers have a very good mtb pedal system with their Candy and Eggbeater pedal styles. Arguably they Crankbrothers-cleatsoffer the best mud shedding ability in the industry with their Eggbeater. If you are a cross country mtb rider and live in a wet climate these should be near the top of the list.

Similar to Shimano SPD their cleat is compatible with the standard two hole pattern. However the cleats are only compatible with Crankbrothers pedals. The pedals feature 6 degrees of float and a 15-20 degree release angle depending on what side you put the cleats. For an earlier 15 degree release, place the cleat with the two dots on the right shoe and vice versa for the 20 degree release.

Currently Crankbrothers only offer a mountain line of pedals. In the past they offered the Quattro SL road pedal which has since been discontinued. For those with joint problems, Crankbrothers pedals are a great choice. I rode Crankbrothers Quattro SL's on my road bike for several years and found them to be a decent platform not prone to unintentional release, but with lots of float. I find the pedals are harder to clip into compared with other pedals, but are more laterally forgiving than the 6 degrees of float would indicate. Of course as these cleats wear, float will increase.Crankbrothers-EggBeater-Pedal

Looking around at local cyclocross races I find the Eggbeater is the predominant pedal. When people are not being paid or sponsored to ride, the best value/performing pedal often rises to prominence as the de facto standard. The eggbeater seems to fit this mold if you need a pedal for very muddy conditions. Bear in mind the minimal contact area with the egg beater has the potential for sole wear and foot hotspots on long rides due to the absence of any platform. To alleviate this take a look at the Crankbrothers Candy lineup.

The durability of Crankbrothers has also come into question with numerous riders complaining of premature wear and pedal failure. Some of these concerns may have been addressed in recent pedal changes.

Look MTB Pedal System

Look is a very recognizable brand in the cycling world and no stranger to innovation. In 1984 they released the first commercially successful clipless pedal which was followed by a Tour de France win by Bernard Hinault riding Look pedals in 1985. The original idea behind their clipless pedal design was ported over from their downhill ski binding design. Their pedal first was followed closely with the first full carbon bike frame in 1986 which was ridden to victory by Greg LeMond in the 1986 Tour de France.Look_Quartz-MTB-Pedal

Look have a line of both clipless mtb pedal systems and clipless road pedal systems. Their mtb lines are called Quartz and S-Track.

Quartz comprises two different sets of cleats and three models of pedals. Two hole compatible, the Look Quartz cleats come in two models with varying amounts of float. Both sets of pedals come with three degrees of angular (rotational) float and 1.5 degrees of lateral (side to side) float, but vary with release angles of 15 or 20 degrees. Three degrees of float doesn't seem like much if you have a knee that is even slightly out of alignment, however other reviewers have compared it favorably to the Crankbrothers Eggbeater in terms of both float and mud shedding ability. Several sets of shims come with the cleats to enable a better fit with deep lugged soles where a positive engagement may not be possible with a deeply recessed cleat. The other benefit of shims is the reduced wear to the sole of your shoe from the pedal engagement mechanism.

Look-Bike-CleatsThese pedals have a steel bales fore and aft for positive engagement in muddy conditions and have excellent mud shedding capabilities.  There is also a decent platform for shoe support for those longer rides or for those that have soles with more flex.

Riders generally are positive about this system and there seems to be general agreement Look Quartz delivers good value.

Check out our Look Quartz Pedal Review.

Look S-Track PedalLook's newest line of MTB pedals are called the Look S-Track and are designed to replace the Quartz series pedals. They feature a new cleat system and a much smaller pedal body designed to shed mud more efficiently than the Quartz line. The bail system is essentially the same as the Quartz line but with a slightly higher spring tension. A main difference is the ability to add a supplemental cage to any of the models, allowing for a larger shoe/pedal contact area for all mountain riding or those more comfortable with a larger platform. The pedals still require shims to be installed with the cleats for optimal contact with the pedal.

Time MTB Pedal System

French bicycle manufacturer TIME Sport International was founded in 1987 and Time Atac XC8 Pedalmanufactures high end bike frames and components. TIME is integrally involved in pro cycling and is a regular sponsor of European professional cycling teams. The exposure a company receives from a top rider using their products is invaluable. However feedback from professional level racers is also an integral part of the R&D cycle for these high end component companies and TIME is no exception with numerous Grand Tour and championships wins.

The TIME ATAC is TIME's off-road line and is an acronym for Auto Tension Adjustment Concept. The ATAC concept isolates the amount of float from the spring tension giving you the same amount of float all the time regardless of how loose or tight you set the release spring tension. With most spring loaded pedals, as you tighten the spring tension the amount of float will in effect decrease, and conversely if you run a loose spring tension you will have more play. The ATAC system means if you like a very secure TIME-ATAC-Cleatsfit and a harder release you will still have exactly the same amount of play as if you were to run a loose release tension. The benefits of this system are consistency of feel in the pedal over the long run plus increased comfort as you can tighten the spring tension without feeling like you have lost float mobility. People with bad knees really like these pedals for their angular and lateral float.

The ATAC system is used throughout TIME's lineup of off-road pedals, including the TIME Roc, Allroad and Gripper pedals as well as the newer Atac MX and DH series of platform pedals. 

Cleats are standard two hole pattern and the latest pedals in the series come with 5 degrees of angular (rotational) float and 6mm of lateral (side to side) float, but vary with release angle of 13 or 17 degrees.

Riders love these pedals for their simplicity, durability, and functionality including very good mud shedding abilities. They are regularly compared to Eggbeater's and many prefer them for better durability, a very nice sealed bearing system, and a larger platform for all-day riding adventures.

Speedplay Frog PedalSpeedplay MTB Pedal System

Speedplay is well known for its distinctive round pedals and the Speedplay Frog is a favored solution for those with bad knees who need a high degree of float. These pedals employ free float allowing your feet to rotate unhindered by spring tension. Many riders liken it to their foot riding on ice as there is so little resistance to lateral foot movement. It takes a while to get accustomed to the Frogs ample free float as it may seem as if you are not clipped in at all.

Pedals are available in chro-moly, stainless or titanium and custom spindle lengths of 57mm,60mm and 66mm are available.The cleat is recessed into the sole and uses the standard two hole mounting system. Float is 6 degrees to the inside and 20 degrees to release on the outside.

Speedplay Frog CleatUnlike pedals with sprung or tensioned metal bales into which you snap the cleat, Speedplay Frog pedals are mounted by sliding the G3 (Generation 3) cleat over the round metal protrusion on the pedal and engaging with a slight twist. Similar to their road cleats the retention mechanism is located in the cleat and not the pedal. Mud shedding is good with the open cleat design. As you slide your foot on to the pedal mud and debris get forced out the back.

Because of the size of the cleat it is essential to check the speedplay shoe compatability charts.  These cleats will not fit all mtb two hole style shoes with incompatible sole lug patterns.


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