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: 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 large 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
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
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.
Many 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.
Float 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: Crankbrothers have a very good mtb pedal system with
their Candy and Eggbeater pedal styles. Arguably they offer 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.
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
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: 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 have a line of both clipless mtb pedal systems and clipless road pedal systems. Their mtb line
called 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
These 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
Check out our Look Quartz Pedal Review.
Time: French bicycle manufacturer TIME Sport International was founded in 1987 and manufactures 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
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 fit 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
The ATAC system is used throughout TIME's lineup of off-road pedals. including the TIME Roc, Allroad and Gripper
Cleats are standard two hole pattern and the pedals come with 5 degrees of angular (rotational) float
and 5mm 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: 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
Unlike 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.