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The top 12 best clipless pedals for XC racing

In this article I’m going to give you an overview of the best clipless pedals for XC racing.

When looking at the contestants there’s a clear pattern that can be seen at the top range. Besides Shimano’s offerings, all pedal manufacturers use titanium for their most expensive pedals. That’s because titanium is the go-to solution to lower the weight without impacting strength or stiffness.

It means that when strictly looking at pedal characteristics all of the top clipless pedals for cross country riding use titanium spindles. The downside of this approach towards creating a list is that the weight gains are almost always marginal, while the costs of these titanium versions skyrockets.

It’s my assumption that only a small portion of riders are really interested in paying the extra cash to save those last bit of grams on their racing bikes. And if you’re one of those, you’ll find what you are looking for on this list. But the far majority is better off saving their money and riding with an extra 100 grams on their bike, while enjoying exactly the same ride quality as those opting for the titanium versions.

So with that out of the way, let’s head over to my list of the very best clipless pedals for XC racing.

Shimano XTR PD-M9100

Shimano XTR PD-M9100
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There is no best of list without Shimano XTR, and the Shimano XTR PD-M9100 is the best, most minimalistic clipless pedal in their lineup.

Where every other manufacturer offers versions with titanium axles to reduce weight, Shimano does not, which means these pedals are light enough at 310 grams, but not the lightest. Third-party titanium axles are available that enable you to get these pedals below 300 grams, but it’ll cost you multiple dollars per gram to do so.

At 15.1 mm the XTR pedals have one of the lowest stack height of all clipless pedals, which means a very low risk of pedal strikes.

The rear part of the mechanism is spring-loaded, which means you engage the pedals toe first. This takes a bit getting used to, especially when you’ve never used clipless pedals before. 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 pedal comes in two different axle lengths, 52 and 55 mm, and are the only pedals that offer a dual cup and cone bearing setup. Such a bearing setup enables the pedal to enable a higher load.

The SPD system is outstanding with definite clicks to let you know you’ve either engaged or disengaged the pedal. There are multi-release cleats available, of which I’m not a fan, that allow you to disengage both ways and upwards.

Mud shedding is excellent with a minimal round machined body where debris has little change to pack. The platform is rather small, which means that I’d opt for the larger M9120 or other more trail-oriented pedals when moving away from XC or gravel riding.

The XTR pedals have been the benchmark against which all other pedals are measured, and these pedals ensure they keep that status.

Expert Experience

102 | Sean Fishpool – 44712

Two very minor gripes came up in my testing. The shoe cleat quickly started to wear through the very end of the polished contact patch on the inboard side. And I noticed that the bearings on one of the pedals had a very slight roughness to them, which I’d probably have sent back to the shop for a perfectly smooth pair, had I bought them.

If your wallet allows it, the XTRs are a significant upgrade over the XTs. With a wider contact patch, better mud clearance, lower weight, and a lower stack height, it brings the race performance you’d expect from Shimano’s XTR pedals.

Pros and Cons

Shimano Deore XT PD-M8100

Shimano Deore XT PD-M8100
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XTR and Deore XT are always very closely related to each other in terms of functionality, but of all Shimano’s products I feel their pedals are the closest.

The Shimano Deore XT PD-M8100 differs only slightly from its XTR counterpart. And the difference is a few grams, 32 to be exact, and 6 mm of stack height. It does mean the XTR is better, but ever so slightly.

I don’t need to repeat everything I’ve already mentioned with the XTR PD-M9100 because in terms of ride quality these are exactly the same. And nobody’s going to convince me that they can possibly discern the weight and stack height difference while riding.

Expert Experience

102 | Sean Fishpool – 44712

The sealed internals are extremely unlikely to let you down. Even without maintenance they often keep spinning smoothly for years, and like most Shimano pedals, the PD-8100 is very maintenance-friendly.

Nobody ever regretted buying XT SPD pedals, and the PD-M8100 will give you years of clean, smooth pedaling. If a few grams of weight, slicker looks, and a little stack height aren’t important, the cheaper PD-M520 will do you almost as well, but we’ll leave your head to battle with your heart over that one.

Pros and Cons

Hope Union Clip Pedal - RC

Hope Union Clip Pedal - RC
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Hope Union Clip Pedal - RC
Hope Union Clip Pedal - RC
Hope Union Clip Pedal - RC
Hope Union Clip Pedal - RC

Hope’s approach to bicycle parts manufacturing is straightforward and refreshing. The UK brand designs what it feels is the best approach to a certain part, and brings it to life with stellar craftsmanship.

You can clearly see that approach reflected in the Hope Union Clip Pedal – RC pedal. It’s a very expensive pedal indeed, but if it’s the quality you want you absolutely get what you pay for.

For starters, it offers a standard titanium spindle with the best bearing setup of all mountain bike brands. Not only are there 3 cartridge bearings and a IGUS bushing enabling a tremendous amount of load, but the pedal is assembled in such a way that its tight rotation isn’t diminished after prolonged use and shows zero play.

The wonderfully machined aluminum body with stainless steel clips and cleats are built to last and are dual spring-loaded, ensuring easy entry from multiple angles, with a tad more float than the Shimano XTR pedals. And there are multiple anodized options to choose from.

2 sets of stainless steel cleats offer minimal configuration between 4 and 5 degrees of float, and a release angle of either 12 or 13 degrees. I wonder if you can actually feel the difference, which would mean you get a free set of cleats to be used as spares or for different shoes.

There are a number of lighter options available, yet at 323 grams this is still a light enough pedal. And taking into consideration it’s the heaviest clipless mountain bike pedal with titanium axles, it says something about the build quality as well.

I’m sure you could fault these pedals from a certain perspective, especially if you’re used to other brands offering significantly more float. But if you do, you move into the area of rider preference instead of trying to attain a certain amount of subjectivity necessary when reviewing products.

The Eggbeater 11 may steal the crown in the weight department, and the Shimano XTR pedals set the standard, but from a manufacturing perspective these are the best pedals you can find.

Expert Experience

96 | Lucas Winzenburg – 45183

My year of riding the Hope Union RC pedals on several bikes through varied conditions and across a broad range of terrain has me singing their praises. The Union RCs are exceptionally well-built, reliable, and almost transparent in their ease of use. They’ve endured a year of riding through rain and heavy mud and have shrugged off the elements, continuing to run smoothly without needing service.

From a design and feature perspective, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the Hopes over Shimano XTRs. That said, Hope’s decision to use a proprietary cleat makes them trickier to integrate across my SPD-heavy ecosystem. What’s more, the lack of readily available replacement cleats makes me unsure if I’d choose them for an extended bikepacking trip without a couple of spare sets of cleats, but that’s a relatively small price to pay for the class-leading performance they deliver on every ride.

Pros and Cons

Crankbrothers Eggbeater 11

Crankbrothers Eggbeater 11
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Among each product category there are always a number of items that jump out, and the Crankbrothers Eggbeater 11 is definitely one of those products.

Before I say anything else about this pedal, let me state that it’s one of the best clipless mountain bike pedals on the market for sure. It’s absolutely stunning, the lightest one by a huge margin, and exquisitely crafted.

And we can talk all day long about the ease-of-use of this pedal versus your standard SPD one, float, release tension, what have you, but the fact is they are too expensive when compared to other titanium offerings.

What sets these Eggbeaters apart from the rest of its namesakes is that everything is made from titanium, meaning the spindle, wings, and body. It ensures it’s the only mountain bike pedal below 200 grams (claimed 179 grams).

They’ve long since taken care of bearing issues, which means the single needle bearing and cartridge bearing still perform smoothly after prolonged use. If I would create the ultimate XC racer, this pedal would probably be on that bike.

That being said, if money is even somewhat of a concern, you’re better off buying the Eggbeater 3, which is a third of its price.

Expert Experience

82 | MBA Action – 43255

The minimalist approach of the Eggbeater 11 lends itself to a stiff-soled shoe. We would recommend sticking with a shoe that has a carbon fiber (or carbon fiber reinforced) sole.?Could the Eggbeater 11 be used for trail riding? We abused our pedals for months and they suffered little more than a few scratches. If you come in below the pedals’ weight limit and don’t mind riding in stiff, carbon-sole shoes, we don’t see any reason why a trail rider should not consider this pedal. For racers, it is an easier decision. Reducing every ounce, regardless of cost, is the mantra, and the Eggbeaters indeed turn up the volume to 11.

Pros and Cons

Crankbrothers Eggbeater 3

Crankbrothers Eggbeater 3
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Crankbrothers Eggbeater 3
Crankbrothers Eggbeater 3
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The Crankbrothers Eggbeater 3 is one of the lightest mountain bike pedals on the market at a claimed weight of 280 grams.

The minimalistic design of these clipless mountain bike pedals is known for its mud-shedding ability, because there’s hardly anything to cling to, and the single glide bearing and cartridge bearing ensures smooth action, with the proper care. Its body and wing are both made from stainless steel, with a chromoly axle.

It’s recommended to use Crankbrothers cleats, which are a tad bit more expensive than the standard Shimano ones.

They offer an industry standard float of 6°, and a release between 15° or 20°. The 4-point engage system, versus the traditional 2 takes a bit of getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, getting in or out of the pedals will feel natural and easy.

The pedal doesn’t have any platform at all, so it’s recommended you use them with carbon shoes.

Expert Experience

98 | Joshua Hutchens – 42909

The Eggbeater is bare minimum underfoot and delightfully simple. That same lack of complication results in a less than user-friendly pedal, it requires precise aim when engaging and there’s not much to adjust. Once accustomed to the size, clipping in becomes second nature and won’t likely make you regret buying these. Very stiff cross country shoes will help compensate for their size.

Pros and Cons

Crankbrothers Candy 11

Crankbrothers Candy 11
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The Crankbrothers Candy 11 is similar in almost all aspects to the Crankbrothers Eggbeater 11. It means that the same pros and cons apply to this pedal.

Obviously the platform of this pedal differs, because this pedal actually has one, where the Eggbeaters are meant to be ridden with carbon shoes. I would argue the size of the platform, which is very minimal, still places this pedal into the XC category compared to other pedals with bigger platforms and pins. But these pedals perform just as adequate for trail riding.

There’s no tension adjustment, but instead float and release is configured using different cleats. Another thing you will need to take into consideration is that you have to ensure the wings actually support your shoe instead of floating above them. So you’ll need to adjust the position of the cleat in relation to the pedal accordingly. This is nothing new with respect to clipped pedals, but it can impact your pedal experience negatively if not properly set up.

The pedal features a titanium axle with needle bearings and Enduro Max cartridge bearing in an aluminum housing with titanium platform. All nicely decked in black and gold and weighing a claimed 249 grams.

They are as gorgeous as they are expensive and just as with the Eggbeater 11, the weight gain hardly justifies its exorbitant price in comparison to the Candy 7. The Candy 7 has stainless steel wings and a chromoly axle, which adds 70 grams to the overall weight and more than cuts the price in half.

Pros and Cons

Crankbrothers Candy 7

Crankbrothers Candy 7
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Crankbrothers Candy 7
Crankbrothers Candy 7
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The Crankbrothers Candy 7 is the non-titanium version of the Candy 11, swapping the wings and axle for respectively stainless steel and chromoly.

The jump from this pedal to its titanium version is too big if you ask me. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars for a 70 gram reduction in weight, because that’s the difference. And it doesn’t mean these are not very expensive pedals, for they are similar in price to the Shimano XTR PD-M9100.

When compared to the next in line, the Candy 3, the Candy 7 get’s a more machined body with chamfered edges, and a bash cover for the lock nut.

So if you want the ride characteristics from the Candy 11, yet still want to be able to put food on the table at the end of the month, consider buying these pedals instead.

Expert Experience

101 | Mike Levy – 43642

Crankbrothers has won me over with the Candy 7 pedal. It’s vital that they’re set-up correctly, of course, and the performed well once that was done. If you want a bit more support underfoot than a tiny cross-country pedal but don’t need a full-sized platform, the Candy is worth considering.

Pros and Cons

Crankbrothers Candy 3

Crankbrothers Candy 3
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Crankbrothers Candy 3
Crankbrothers Candy 3
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The Crankbrothers Candy 3 is probably the best value clipless pedal in the Candy lineup.

It offers the same bearing setup as the most expensive Candy 11, adds an extra 20 grams over the the Candy 7, but still sits at a respectable 340 grams.

It has the same stainless steel and aluminum body, this time without chamfered edges and bash guard. And it’s the cheapest pedal which offers the best ride characteristics that the Candy pedals are all about.

A quality clipless mountain bike pedal which can be used in diverse conditions from XC, gravel and trail riding.

Expert Experience

102 | Sean Fishpool – 44778

The Candy 3 isn’t cheap but it arguably gives you the best of multiple worlds: better mud clearance and more of a platform than SPD XC pedals, for the same light weight as a pair of XT PD-M8100s. If you were already looking for a smoother clip-out than SPDs, or more release-angle options, that would probably seal the deal; if not, they’re still well worth considering.

Pros and Cons

Time XC 12

Time XC 12
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To create a weight of just 248 grams the Time XC 12 uses both a carbon body and titanium axle, which is a unique combination for a pedal.

Where the Eggbeater pedals don’t have any body for debris to cling to, all of the Time mountain bike pedals use their ATAC system. This unique system sheds debris out the front when engaged, which makes this pedal a go-to option for cyclocross or bad weather aficionados.

The carbon body is obviously more prone to wear than an aluminum or steel one, and with a large stack height of 19 mm the chance of a pedal strike is larger. By comparison the Shimano XTR PD-M9100 has a very low stack height of 15.1 mm.

The most important design feature of these XC pedals is the amount of float you have, which sits at the extreme end of the curve (a lot). Besides your standard 5 degrees angular float you also have 6 degrees of lateral float, unique amongst MTB pedals. This is excellent if you often have to deal with knee pain, because the pedal enables you to achieve your natural riding position more naturally. But the feel of movement can be disconcerting to those not used to it, and pedal disengagement is more inconsistent, than with pedals with a more fixed cleat position.

Expert Experience

113 | Iain Murray – 43178

There is an element to the ATAC pedal that is unique and logical. While most pedals receive the cleat via the back, the Time pedal hinges at the front of the cleat. This means that the motion of clipping-in works in harmony with the foot driving the bike forward through the power phase of the pedal circle. The suggestion here is greater efficiency, especially in situations like repeated flying mounts in a cyclocross race.

Pros and Cons

Time XC 8

Time XC 8
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The Time XC 8 is the more budget-friendly version of the titanium XC 12, offering the same carbon body, but with a hollow chromoly axle instead.

With a price less than half that of the XC 12, it’s hard to not opt for these pedals, considering the fact the chromoly axle only adds 40 grams to the overall weight of 286 grams.

It offers exactly the same pedal characteristics and is still a very lightweight pedal for XC, gravel, and trail riding, with its floaty feel, and excellent mud-shedding ability.

Expert Experience

112 | Simon Kohler – 44852

TIME rely on a specially developed clipless mechanism, which is constructed almost like an inverted SPD system. As such, the rear end of the mechanism is rigid, and the front bit is spring-loaded. This makes clicking in easier, as you can push your feet down or forwards to do so. Using their own system gives them more freedom in developing their own solution, but it makes the procurement of spare parts more difficult. The spring preload tension is adjustable, but you only get three clicks of adjustment, which make little difference in practice. The pedals provide a lot of freedom of movement with 5° of float and they feel similar to the Hope pedals. However, the feeling of clicking in is a little less defined with the TIME models, and, as just mentioned, it’s hardly adjustable.

Pros and Cons

Look X-Track Race Carbon Ti

Look X-Track Race Carbon Ti
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The Look X-Track Race Carbon Ti excel at the weight level and are great-looking pedals that offer standard SPD cleat engagement.

The combination of a carbon body and titanium spindle means the pedals only weigh 290 grams. Of all the pedals offering titanium axles, these ones feel like the price hike is the most reasonable for those who’re serious about shedding as much weight as possible. They are still very expensive but not two or three times as much as its non-titanium counterparts.

There’s no denying that since its inception the SPD system has been known for its ease-of-use and these pedals excel in that department. Engagement is so quick that before you know it you’re good to go.

And although the Time XC pedals might be known as best-in-class with respect to mud-shedding, these pedals perform admirably in that department as well. 2 sealed cartridge bearings are used across the entire X-track lineup.

Although it uses a standard SPD interface, it does not use a standard dust seal, for which you’ll need a special tool to remove.

Another difference between these pedals and Shimano ones is that they offer a bit more float, 6 degrees versus Shimano’s 4.

Pros and Cons

Look X-Track Race Carbon

Look X-Track Race Carbon
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The Look X-Track Race Carbon is the non-titanium version offering the same functionality as their more premium counterpart.

I’ve stated for the Look X-Track Race Carbon Ti that it’s the pedal that offers the most reasonable upgrade price for its axle. Yet it’s still very much debatable whether or not the 60 grams reduction in weight is worth the premium.

Expert Experience

119 | Graham Cottingham – 44783

Look’s X-Track offers an excellent gravel and cross-country alternative to the Shimano stalwart, the pedal connection is just as crisp as our benchmark XT’s with a positive click when engaging and disengaging so you know when you’re connected. I even rode miss-match pedals and in use still found them almost indistinguishable from the XT’s.

Look have potentially undercut the X-Track Race Carbon pedals themselves too, as the composite bodied X-Track Race pedals are only 15g heavier but cost $50 / £42 less, which is a considerable monetary saving for a little weight penalty.

Pros and Cons

Specifications clipless pedals for XC racing

Name
Price
Weight
Length
Width
Height
Body
Spindle
Bearings and bushings
Pins
float
release
Shimano XTR PD-M9100
179 USD
310
15.1 mm
aluminium
Cr-Mo
2 cup and cone bearings, 1 bushing
none
13°
Shimano Deore XT PD-M8100
130 USD
342
43 mm
16.5 mm
aluminium
Cr-Mo
2 cup and cone bearings, 1 bushing
none
13°
Hope Union Clip Pedal – RC
190 USD
323
aluminium
titanium
3 cartridge bearings, 1 IGUS bushing
none
4°or 5°
12° or 13°
Crankbrothers Eggbeater 11
499.99 USD
179
32 mm
75 mm
15.2 mm
titanium
titanium
Enduro sealed needle bearing
Enduro MAX cartridge bearing
none
0°or 6°
10° / 15° / 20°
Crankbrothers Eggbeater 3
149.99 USD
280
32 mm
75 mm
15.2 mm
stainless steel
Cr-Mo
Igus LL-glide bearing
Enduro MAX cartridge bearing
none
0°or 6°
10° / 15° / 20°
Crankbrothers Candy 11
499.99 USD
249
67 mm
74 mm
13.5 mm
titanium / aluminium
titanium
Enduro sealed needle bearing
Enduro MAX cartridge bearing
none
0°or 6°
10° / 15° / 20°
Crankbrothers Candy 7
179.99 USD
320
67 mm
74 mm
13.5 mm
aluminium / stainless steel
Cr-Mo
Igus LL-glide bearing
Enduro MAX cartridge bearing
none
0°or 6°
10° / 15° / 20°
Crankbrothers Candy 3
149.99 USD
340
67 mm
74 mm
13.5 mm
aluminium / stainless steel
Cr-Mo
Igus LL-glide bearing
Enduro MAX cartridge bearing
none
0°or 6°
10° / 15° / 20°
Time XC 12
317 USD
248
19 mm
carbon
titanium
2 cartridge bearings, 1 bushing
none
10° / 13° / 17°
Time XC 8
137 USD
286
19 mm
carbon
Cr-Mo
2 cartridge bearings, 1 bushing
none
10° / 13° / 17°
Look X-Track Race Carbon Ti
220 USD
290
60 mm
16.8 mm
carbon
titanium
2 sealed cartridge bearings
none
13°
Look X-Track Race Carbon
145 USD
350
60 mm
16.8 mm
carbon
Cr-Mo
2 sealed cartridge bearings
none
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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