Bike Shoes and Pedals

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

 

 

Four Stars

Shimano PD-M970 SPD MTB PedalsShimano SPD Pedal Review – What You Need To Know

This is a review of the Shimano XTR (PD–M970 and PD-M980) SPD pedal series. Go here for deals on Shimano SPD pedals.

Shimano PD–M Series page here.

Requires supplied Shimano cleats, 4mm Allen key for cleat bolts, 8mm Allen key for steel spindles and 2.5mm Allen key for tension adjust screw.

 

Shimano SPD PD–M970 and PD-M980 Series Pedals – What is it all about?

Ok, I know I am a little late to the party on this one. As the astute reader will know the PD-M970's (XTR) were replaced in the Shimano lineup by the PD-M980's. The older PD-M770's (XT) are replaced by the PD-M780's while the PD-M540's are still around as are the PD-M520's. Shimano classifies this series as XC (cross country) pedals, and if all those numbers aren't enough to totally confuse you, there are also pedals for All-Mountain, Multi-Purpose and BMX.

The good thing is that the core clipless mechanism of all these pedals is the same. Except for the BMX platform pedals, SPD is SPD. Period. The evolution from model year to model year of all these pedal ranges is more design evolution than a radical overhaul in function and compatibility. So I figure a hybrid review of a slightly older design plus the skinny on the new design will incorporate just about everything you need to know.

During the past few years, I have ridden the following Shimano SPD pedals: PD-M970 (XTR), PD-M770 (XT), and PD-M785 (XT All-Mountain). I have not put the newer PD-M980's through their paces.

Even though Shimano wasn't the first to release a commercially successful clipless pedal—we can thank Look for that—they took the bike world by storm with the introduction of the SPD (Shimano Pedalling Dynamics) system in 1990. SPD was the first to recess the cleat into the bottom of the shoe allowing you to walk normally. In a testament to stellar engineering, this is the same system in use today, over 20 years later. SPD pedals come in a wide variety of styles and sizes to suit most riding requirements, from touring to XC MTB racing.

The only real differences between the top four tiers of SPD pedals is one of design and materials. The lower end pedals may not use as many light alloys or hollowed out bits, but functionally are the same as their big ticket brethren. Shimano has declined to go with titanium axles on high end models, sticking to hollow steel for strength and durability. All pedal bodies and mechanisms are 100% metal for maximum durability. Machining, fit, and finish are high end on all models, and like all pedals, should be serviced regularly. If you are like me, pedals tend to get overlooked -gasp- and years go by without so much as a second glance.

Shimano PDM980-vs-PDM970Several differences exist between the current model PD-M980 and the previous PD-M970. The biggest being a dramatically larger (try 4X larger) contact patch on the pedal allowing for more stability and better pedal feel. The axle body is also ovalized, allowing for better mud shedding capability—or so Shimano claims.

The PD-M980 binding is offset and is 1.4mm further aft on the pedal than the PD-M970. In addition, the profile has been reduced by 2mm. The newer pedal is also 20 grams lighter at 310 grams per pair. Four degrees of float keep the knees happy and the pedals are compatible with both the SH-56 and SH-51 cleat sets.

 

 

 Shimano SPD PD–M Series Pedals – What I like

I am probably biased as I learned to ride clipless on Shimano pedals, but having ridden a variety of other MTB pedals, I can honestly say the Shimano PD-M970 series is close to perfect. The pedals are virtually bombproof, having endured years of torturous abuse both on my cross bike and mountain bike. Yet they are still smooth as butter, and yes I sheepishly admit, never serviced. But this is a testament to their build, and the facts remain that having ridden half a dozen SPD models over the years they have always performed top notch.

The tension is adjustable on all SPD pedals allowing you to dial it up or down depending on how you ride. I tend to keep mine relatively loose as it increases the float and allows more movement on my right side due to my asymmetrical pedal stroke. The other benefit of tension adjust is it allows for tightening to compensate for cleat wear. Finally, SPD's make an excellent platform for learning how to ride clipless because you can have such little tension that clipping in and out becomes almost a non-issue. A handy tension plate underneath the tension screw will show you exactly how dialed you are.

Shimano SPD Adjust screw

As you can see, the contact patch on the 970's is pretty darned small, meaning Shimano got a whole bunch of feedback to make the patch bigger for the next model. The 980's  illustrate this new design in the above comparison shot. Ovalizing the axle body to make more room for mud shedding is also an innovative touch. Whether that has much bearing in reality is another issue.

Engaging and disengaging from the pedals is a snap—literally. The feedback is positive, and you are never left with a feeling of partial engagement. I have never found the pedals to be overly prone to premature release, especially if the tension is adequate. Pedal stability and efficiency are even better with the 980's contact patch which is 4X the size of the 970's.

To be truthful, in a blind test of the top two levels of XC SPD pedals, most people would probably find it very difficult to distinguish one from the other.  I currently have both XTR and XT pedals mounted on different bikes and I have a hard time telling the difference between them. Even the lower tier pedals such as the PD-M540 and the PD-M520 are top notch, providing excellent value for performance. I would hazard a guess that Shimano PD-M540's and PD-M520's outsell XTR and XT pedals ten to one.

Did I mention these pedals are virtually bombproof?

 

Shimano SPD PD–M Series Pedals – What I Don’t like

I suppose there is always a little something to whine about, so here goes. My main comment on the shortcomings of the PD-M970 and the PD-M770 is the lack of mud/debris shedding in certain situations. Sticky, clay-like mud, gravel and wood chips present problems for these pedals. I have had jams from all three of these nasties, primarily while racing, and several times jams have meant I could only use one side of the pedal.

It looks as if the PD-M980 (and PD-M780) may be even more prone to jams from some of the feedback and reviews on the web, although opinions are mixed. It seems the contact patch may allow mud buildup on top of the pedal which hinders a positive engagement in nasty conditions. Although dry performance is unmatched, if you do a lot of wet weather mudding, you may want to look at Crankbrothers Eggbeaters or Look Quartz options.

 

Shimano SPD PD–M Series Pedals – Overall Thoughts

With a build quality and reliability second to none, Shimano PD-M970 and PD-M980 are darn near perfect. Dry weather performance is unmatched, the mechanism is reliable and adjustable, and the pedals can be serviced for a long life span. So what's not to like? Well, primarily muddy, wet conditions can provide occasional challenges for these pedals in the form of jams. While racing, the last thing you want to worry about is getting your foot into the pedal.  Bear in mind that this issue plagues many pedals and is not a huge issue for most riders, but it does somewhat take the shine off of them.

In the few years since the 980's were released prices have fallen dramatically with this model, now  available for under $160.00 and the 780's available for under $80.00. Considering the price/performance difference I wouldn't think twice about going the XT route, where the weight penalty is minimal and performance virtually identical.

If you are a mountain biker who wants a bit more pedal platform than what the XC pedals offer, consider the All-Mountain PD-M785 pedals (also called the trail option) with integrated pedal cages for a bit more confidence and support on technical sections. I replaced PD-M770's on my wife's MTB bike with PD-M785's and she loves the difference.  If you can't quite get your foot in right away and are bouncing about, it is nice to have the cage for extra support.

Finally, if road biking is your thing, SPD pedals make a perfectly acceptable solution and in many ways are preferable for the casual rider. Recessed cleats and the ability to walk around without destroying cleats is a significant advantage, especially if you are into touring or use your bike to run errands.

Lastly, if you are on a tight budget, don't shy away from the lower tier 540's or even 520's. These pedals perform exceptionally well for the price.

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