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The top 9 best clipless pedals for trail riding

In this article I’m going to give you my top picks for the very best clipless pedals for trail riding. For all I care you power up a mountain using road bike clipless pedals, but there a number of things you might want to consider when buying a set of pedals specifically meant for trail riding.

One thing to keep in mind is that the number of times you want to release your foot from the pedal will probably be much more frequent that what the average road cyclist is going to do. Whether you’re losing your balance, want to corner with one foot clipped or simply waiting for somebody else blocking the trail. That’s why pedals for trail riding have dual-sided entry mechanisms so you don’t have to fiddle around when reclipping.

Another thing is that pedal strikes are common on the trail, so your pedal has to be able to deal with that. Not only does the pedal platform serve as protection, it’s also stabilizes your foot on rocky descents and provides an increased platform to transfer power when going uphill. Where true XC pedals have small or even non-existent pedal platforms, clipless pedals for trail riding offer a sizeable platform.

Materials used for pedals range from composite materials, to aluminum, and even titanium. But more important than that is the bearing setup. A clipless pedal for trail riding has to be able to deal with a lot of abuse, especially when you start using it in less than ideal conditions. Bearings make or break the longevity of the pedal and replacement kits, although available, not only cost money but also time to reinstall.

Enough said, let’s see what I got for you on this list of the best clipless pedals for trail riding.

Shimano Deore XT PD-M8120

Shimano Deore XT PD-M8120
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The Shimano Deore XT PD-M8120 sets a benchmark in terms of value-for-money. Not as expensive as the XTR, but basically offering all the tried-and-true functionality you’ll ever be going to need from a clipless pedal for trail riding.

Shimano pedals are known for their bearing quality and longevity, with low service intervals and excellent riding quality offering many miles without worry. A dual cup-and-cone style setup is specific to the Shimano brand, and as far as longevity is concerned I don’t know any difference.

The XT pedals are slightly heavier than the XTR at 438 vs 398 grams, and also have a slightly larger stack height of 16.2 mm vs 15.4 mm. Those two figures alone aren’t enough in my opinion to make up for the difference in price. Especially considering the fact that the platform and SPD mechanism itself is almost similar.

This means that both pedals offer the extremely user-friendly SPD cleat mechanism. When attached they offer a snug feel with minimal float of 4 degrees, and reasonable release tension at 13 degrees. This is good for those people who want a super consistent pedal feeling and maximum energy transfer.

The mechanism is a dual system with a single spring, which means you engage toe-first and then clip in. Although it takes a bit of practice once you get used to it, both engaging and releasing your foot from the pedals is what makes Shimano pedals so popular, since it’s the best you could ask for.

Shimano pedals are boring. They are a single color, don’t look flashy, and don’t really stand out. But as far as functionality, there are very few pedals that come close or rival the build-quality, longevity, and user-friendliness of the Shimano Deore XT PD-M8120, except maybe the XTR version. And in the end, build quality is the most important factor of any product, including one that gets as much abuse as a clipless pedal for trail riding.

Expert Experience

87 | Simon Kohler – 45001

The Shimano DEORE XT PD-M8120 pedals have established themselves as the standard among clipless pedals for a reason. The spring preload offers a large adjustment range, and the mechanism feels defined, though the float feels somewhat on/off. However, their self-cleaning is poor and the small cages don’t provide much grip or support. Their durability, on the other hand, is among the best and, together with the availability of spare parts, that makes the XTs a superb low-maintenance option.

Pros and Cons

Shimano XTR PD-M9120

Shimano XTR PD-M9120
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With 25 years of incremental improvements, it’s no wonder the Shimano XTR PD-M9120 can still be counted as setting the benchmark for clipless trail riding pedals.

Almost identical to the XT version they offer the same excellent SPD mechanism in a lighter 398 gram setup, with a slightly lower stack height of 15.4 mm.

The pedals offer a medium-sized platform without pins, but with excellent adjustability using an allen key. And judging from the tightness of the mechanism when cranked all the way up, you don’t really need those pins anyway, which is probably what Shimano thought themselves.

The ease of use of these pedals is what causes them to be so popular. There are no pedals that offer the same smooth engagement and ease of entry, when riding in good conditions. Shimano pedals do not have the best mud clearance, and on a slippery platform without any pins, this smooth engagement is hampered. Yet the decreased diameter of the spindle has improves=d the mud clearance ability.

A thing to note with the new XTR pedals is that the platform is longer than its predecessor, which does add weight but doesn’t offer more support since your foot does not engage with the platform. That’s weird to say the least, yet weight isn’t the biggest factor when it comes to clipless pedals.

Another thing is that, unlike the XT pedals, the protective seal pops out. And that’s far more important, since it protects the internals from stuff getting in there that’s not supposed to.

Expert Experience

106 | Nic Hall – 44133

The Shimano XTR trail pedal is about as refined as a clipless pedal can get and has been designed to work effortlessly with Shimano shoes. While I prefer more float in my pedals, the engagement and retention of the XTR is outstanding. If you’re a clipless rider looking to try something new or a die-hard Shimano fan wondering if it’s worth the upgrade, we would highly recommend the Shimano XTR trail pedal. If you are just getting into clipless pedals, you might want to keep the retention system turned down or start with something that offers a bit more float, such as the Crankbrothers Mallet E.

Pros and Cons

Hope Union Clip Pedal - TC

Hope Union Clip Pedal - TC black
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Hope Union Clip Pedal - TC red
Hope Union Clip Pedal - TC blue
Hope Union Clip Pedal - TC purple
Hope Union Clip Pedal - TC orange

Ever since I bought my first pair of Hope pedals I’ve been a fan of the UK brand. And as far as trail riding is concerned the Hope Union Clip Pedal – TC is up there with the very best in terms of build quality, durability, and all round performance.

For starters, Hope does one of the most important things right when it comes to pedals, which is the quality of the bearings. Where other brands might offer a single cartridge bearing, or maybe two, Hope puts three cartridge bearings alongside a single IGUS bushing onto a hollow chromoly steel axle.

The internals are sealed tighter than what you might be used to in a pedal. And this tightness stays even after many miles, which means the bearings stay very well protected against the outside elements no matter what conditions you’re riding in. Even after many miles and the occasional pedal strike, I’ve had absolutely zero play, which is not something I can say for a number of other premium pedal manufacturers.

The quality of the bearings is pretty similar to the best Shimano has to offer as is the ride quality of the clipless system. Inside a CNC-machined platform sits a dual spring-loaded stainless steel cleat system, offering just a little more float at either 4 or 5 degrees than what Shimano offers.

Two separate sets of cleats offer either 12 or 13 degrees of release angle, which sits so close together that you just as well might use one set as a spare. Both the cleats and the bolts are proprietary and made from stainless steel as well.

Besides the mechanism itself, which is fully adjustable, there are 4 optional pins per side for those of you who want more grip. With lots of anodized colors available besides your standard black, you can find a suitable match for your rig.

Expert Experience

52 | Mike Kazimer – 44763

Hope decided to do things their way rather than simply knocking out an SPD-clone, and I’d say those efforts paid off. The Union TC pedals function extremely well, with an entry that requires minimal effort, and a smooth, predictable release. Yes, the proprietary cleat will be a point of contention for some, but the pedals do come with a second set that can be used as spares – the difference in feel between the two options is fairly minimal. They’re also available in six different colors, and have adjustable pins that aren’t just for show.

Pros and Cons

Chromag Pilot

Chromag Pilot black
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Chromag Pilot purple
Chromag Pilot red
Chromag Pilot yellow
Chromag Pilot blue

Gorgeous looks is one thing that catches the eye when looking at the brilliant Chromag Pilot clipless pedals, but there’s much more to like.

For starters the pedals are really comfortable with a large 110 length aluminum platform spinning on a steel axle using 3 cartridge bearings and an IGUS bushing. That’s the same setup as the Hope, meaning you can apply tons of load on them without them wearing out.

The platform also offers 4 optional pins per side and together with the large platform and adjustable cleat system it means you can set them up securely for the gnarliest of trails. Although the platform is large enough that it provides enough stability without the use of the pins. The only downside of running such a large platform might be the weight, which sits at 520 grams.

Depending how you look at it, the Chromag Pilot offers an SPD-compatible cleat system, which is great for those of you who are already running SPD clipless pedals and are familiar and comfortable with how it works. It means that the dual-spring system engages toe first after which you snap your foot into place with a solid click. The action however is not as smooth as what you’re used to with Shimano, both clipping in and getting out of the pedals.

If you want a set of great-looking, long-lasting pedals with a familiar SPD system, that’s grippy, offers lots of colors and supports those with large feet, you might want to consider the Chromag Pilot clipless pedals.

Expert Experience

52 | Mike Kazimer – 44880

Creating a new clipless pedal that can take on the likes of Shimano is a tough proposition. In this case, Chromag has some work to do before Shimano’s spot on the throne is threatened, although it is good to see another option on the market. The Pilot’s actuation wasn’t as smooth as I would have liked, but they do provide a very stable platform underfoot, and shrugged off plenty of hard hits.

Pros and Cons

HT GT1

HT GT1
HT GT1

The HT GT1 is an affordable trail and enduro pedal with a large cast aluminum body spinning on a chromoly axle with a sealed bearing and bushing. That’s a lot of value for a trail pedal.

Its dual spring loaded mechanism and different cleat configuration lets you adjust how to use the pedal, with up to 8 degrees of float for those with knee troubles, or simply because you like that amount of wiggle room.

The pedals have 2 replaceable pins on either side of the platform and large smooth areas next to the mechanism. It ensures an easy engagement.

Access to the innards of the pedal is easily achieved by loosening a hex nut.

If you’re looking for an affordable trail and enduro pedal with a decent amount of build quality, make sure this one is on your list.

Pros and Cons

Crankbrothers Mallet E

Crankbrothers Mallet E black
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Crankbrothers Mallet E blue
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Although touted as an enduro pedal (that’s what the E stands for), the Crankbrothers Mallet E are just as good on normal trail riding, especially since the 94 mm platform length provides more support than the Mallet Trail.

One thing the Crankbrothers do best is offering a pedal with great mud clearance. This pricey set of pedals’ four-point engagement system is so minimal, there’s just no surface area for anything to attach to. The downside of this otherwise excellent system is the fact that you get them as-is, without any option for further adjusting.

The pedal provides excellent stability for those riders who don’t want to commit to a larger downhill pedal. The concave design of the platform with chamfered edges has 6 optional pins per side and provide ample stability and grip. Using pins on a pedal is definitely a rider preference since it can hamper getting into the pedal, but it does provide additional grip when riding unclipped.

The build quality of these premium pedals is top-notch with stainless steel wings for the clipping mechanism inside the machined aluminum body for a total weight of 419 grams.

Crankbrother pedals have a 4-way engagement system versus the standard 2, offering a royal 10 tot 20 degrees release angle depending on the type of cleat you like to run. The cleats also offer either 0 or 6 degrees of float. Getting into the pedals is easy because of the multi-directional engagement and because the mechanism itself is extremely resistant to getting caked up with mud.

The new Mallet E comes with just a single spindle length of 57 mm, but a smaller length is available should you want it. And although you can’t configure the mechanism itself, there are both 1 and 2 mm traction pads to provide the ultimate fit between the shoes you’re using and the platform.

I’m not the biggest fan of their bearing setup, with a single sealed bearing and bushing, but they are versatile, durable pedals, which are easy enough to get into no matter the ride conditions.

Expert Experience

104 | Max Rhulen – 44978

The Mallet-E platform has great traction with the 6-pin design and ribbed body, so when I found myself riding a section of trail unclipped it was manageable. Having the platform outfitted with ribs, traction pads, and pins is nice when navigating trails unclipped, but those features caused my shoe to hang up a bit at times when trying to clip in. It was not often, but occasionally I was dancing around on the pedal trying to align the shoe properly to engage. Lowering the pins or removing them would make getting in and out of the pedal much easier, but then you lose that additional grip on the platform – there is a bit of give and take here that will depend on your style and preferences, and I was happy with the extra security for the majority of the time.

Pros and Cons

Time MX 6

Time MX 6
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The Time MX 6 is the French brand top-of-the-line clipless trail pedal. The unique glass-filled composition makes it the lightest in its category, sitting at 380 grams.

The pedals use the ATAX mechanism, which is a dual leaf spring system for easy engagement providing 5 degrees of both lateral and angular float. The standard 13 degrees of release tension can be cranked up all the way to 17 degrees, a number you’re probably never used to but it’s nice to know you can.

The French composite butterfly design is definitely different from your more standard aluminum platform versions, but the overall quality of the pedal, its ATAC mechanism, and the floaty feel without ever getting unclipped has attracted a lot of fans, myself included. I would like to be less stiff than I am, but I’m not, so these pedals are the most forgiving in getting you into the position you want to ride in.

The ATAC mechanism only closes when engaged, which means they offer a larger contact area for the cleats, and this in turn results in an easier engagement. Furthermore, the pedals have just the right platform size to aid in finding them in the correct position, yet not too big when you need to rotate them to get them into that correct position. Unlike a number of other pedals the entire rear of the platform supports your shoe, instead of just hanging there doing nothing.

There is no audible or tactile click, as with the Shimano pedals, so you’ll need to get used to them to feel secure enough to pedal without wiggling your foot around first to see if you’re actually engaged with the pedal.

The chromoly axle has two sealed bearings and a single bushing, and together with the high-quality engineering of the internals, it means the longevity and durability of these pedals are above average.

I always love products that stand out in a certain way and these pedals do. Beside the low weight, which is a good thing, the stack height sits at the upper end of the spectrum at 19 mm. I don’t really care for those extra 2 to 4 mm, depending on the pedal you’re comparing with, but it’s only fair to mention it for those that do.

Expert Experience

114 | Jason Mitchell – 44790

One of the hallmarks of the ATAC design are the parallel spring clamps that allow easy entry, smooth float and consistent exit. With the TIME MX 6, that’s also paired with a composite platform for added forgiveness when clipping in on technical terrain. Built for all-mountain and enduro riding, but you can certainly use them as your daily drivers on whatever trails you ride. Compared to the standard XC 6, you’ll gain 100 g. of total added weight and a composite platform.

Pros and Cons

Look X-Track En-Rage

Look X-Track En-Rage
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Similar in look-and-feel to the Shimano PD-ME700 the Look X-Track En-Rage is the French’ brand entry-level trail pedal.

They come with cleats and are compatible with shoes using SPD cleats. Although Shimano pedals are known for their longevity, you could argue that the 2 sealed cartridge bearings and 1 Glide bearing setup of these pedals are capable of a bigger load.

If you want to service the pedal you’ll need a proprietary tool to remove the dust cap, but they are pretty cheap and come in packages alongside spare dust caps.

I like the design of Look pedals and these ones have unassuming and clean looks. The body without pins offers a bit of support and makes it somewhat easier to get into the pedal.

The pedal offers tons of adjustability, both in the setup of the mechanism as with optional cleats offering an easier release. So depending on how securely you want to attach yourself to the pedals, you have the entire range from easy out to downhill secure.

The cast aluminum body is strong, but does make a set of pedals tip the scales at 420 grams. This weight is ok for its category and to be expected from an affordable pedal such as this one.

In terms of mud clearance the pedal performs adequately enough, though the compact mechanism in combination with its aluminum body will get into trouble in really muddy conditions.

The fit is secure and snug as we’re used to from SPD systems.

Expert Experience

89 | Robert Johnston – 44810

Comparing the Look pedals to the options they’ll surely be compared with – Shimano’s XT and XTR trail pedals – the feel of the Look pedals when clipping in and out is slightly nicer in my eyes, and of course the maximum tension can go a few notches higher, but that’s about where the benefits end for me.

The platform shape of the X-Track EN-Rage gives considerably less support when it’s needed the most; there’s slightly less real estate to give support when trying to get clipped in, and the mechanism sits lower to the ground and is therefore more susceptible to damage. In terms of value, or at least the sticker price, Look undercuts these comparable Shimano offerings by a notable amount, but for an enduro pedal I’d be saving up the extra pennies.

Pros and Cons

Look X-Track En-Rage Plus

Look X-Track En-Rage Plus
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The Look X-Track En-Rage Plus has a bigger platform and 2 pins per side, making them more suitable for maximum grip for trail, enduro and downhill riding.

The platform moves from the 63 mm width of the standard En-Rage to 67 mm for the Plus version, adding 30 grams to the overall weight for a total of 450 grams per pair. The non-Plus version wasn’t already lightweight, and these are even heavier.

Two pins at the front makes them less likely to slip when you want to quickly disengage and engage in tricky situations. It’s remarkable what these two pins can do to help you in this respect.

Expert Experience

98 | Joshua Hutchens – 43626

Enduro riders experiencing durability issues with extruded aluminum pedals may be attracted to the forged bodies here. Riders that can’t seem to get their SPD pedals tight enough will rejoice at the death grip these pedals offer while still being compatible with SPD cleats. If you’re having clearance issues on your low bottom bracket trail rig, you might want to search out something a bit lower profile.

Pros and Cons

Specifications clipless pedals for trail riding

Name
Price
Weight
Length
Width
Height
Body
Spindle
Bearings and bushings
Pins
float
release
Shimano Deore XT PD-M8120
130 USD
438
16.2 mm
aluminium
Cr-Mo
2 cup and cone bearings, 1 bushing
none
Shimano XTR PD-M9120
179 USD
398
15.4 mm
aluminium
Cr-Mo
2 cup and cone bearings, 1 bushing
none
Hope Union Clip Pedal – TC
190 USD
450
aluminium
Cr-Mo
3 cartridge bearings, 1 IGUS bushing
8
4°or 5°
12° or 13°
Chromag Pilot
156.95 euros
520
110 mm
87 mm
aluminium
Cr-Mo
3 cartridge bearings, 1 IGUS bushing
8
12°
HT GT1
79 USD
400
94 mm
73.2 mm
17 mm
aluminium
Cr-Mo
sealed bearings, bushings
4
4°or 8°
13°
Crankbrothers Mallet E
179.99 USD
419
94 mm
75 mm
aluminium / stainless steel
Cr-Mo
Igus LL-glide bearing
Enduro MAX cartridge bearing
12
0°or 6°
10° / 15° / 20°
Time MX 6
95 USD
380
19 mm
fiberglass / composite
Cr-Mo
2 cartridge bearings, 1 bushing
none
10° / 13° / 17°
Look X-Track En-Rage
89 USD
420
63 mm
16.8 mm
cast aluminium
Cr-Mo
2 sealed cartridge bearings, 1 Glide bearing
none
13°
Look X-Track En-Rage Plus
89 USD
450
67 mm
16.8 mm
aluminium
Cr-Mo
2 sealed cartridge bearings, 1 Glide bearing
4
13°
bio vanseijen

Johan van Seijen

Founder Restoration.bike

Johan van Seijen is the founder of restoration.bike. His cycling career has seen him at the starting line of classics such as the Amstel Gold Race and Liege Bastogne Liege. Realizing his racing capacity would fall short of what was needed he obtained a MS from the University of Amsterdam in engineering. His love for cycling changed into riding in an amateur capacity with his local cycling club TFC Weesp as a roadie and supporting MTB Noordwest as a mountain biker. He repairs, restores, and builds bicycles and shares his knowledge on YouTube, Facebook and this website. 

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