Wil and the clip-in crew have spent the last few months trying to work out which are the best platform clip-in pedals. Here’s what they found.
In Issue 113 of Singletrack, David coordinated a flat pedal group test that put no fewer than 17 flatties through the grinder. It was a gloriously detailed feature, which provided great examples of why flats aren’t just for downhill riders.
Convincing arguments aside, not every rider is sold on flats though. In our most recent web poll, the line divides almost exactly 50/50 between those who prefer flats, and those who clip in. With that kind of split, there always has – and always will be – a lively debate as to which is perceived to be the best.
We’re not here to tell you which you should use – there are, after all, advantages to each, whether you’re a World Cup racer, or a weekend warrior. But as a clip-in rider of 19 years, allow me to counter David’s flat pedal manifesto.
When it comes to clip-in pedals, the ability to have your foot located in exactly the same position on the pedal every time is a huge plus. This means that the saddle height and position can be optimised for greater efficiency, and potentially more comfort too. Shoes can also be built with stiffer soles for better power transfer between your legs and the drivetrain.
When it comes to clip-in pedals, the ability to have your foot located in exactly the same position on the pedal every time is a huge plus.
Certainly in the cross-country and marathon-racing world, there really is no other option. Ever since Shimano debuted the first true off-road SPD pedal back in 1990, clip-in pedals have dominated racing.
It’s not all about efficiency gains and power transfer though. On rough terrain, clip-in pedals will keep you firmly attached to your bike when you’re bouncing around on the trail like a frog in a blender – something that is particularly noticeable on a hardtail. This physical connection to your machine can also help you slide, pop and hop through the slither in a way that isn’t always possible with flats. And as for the downhill and enduro racers? It’s knowing that you won’t necessarily blow a foot off a pedal when hitting a harsh G-out or sticking a heavy landing, which explains why many are increasingly choosing to clip in.
To address the needs of both downhill racers and aggro trail riders, there’s been a recent proliferation of bigger platform-style pedals. By surrounding the central mechanism with a solid platform, these new generation pedals offer increased control and stability compared to traditional lollipop cross-country pedals. And much like a set of flats, these platform clip-in pedals often feature adjustable pins and additional texturing to maximise grip.
This physical connection to your machine can also help you slide, pop and hop through the slither in a way that isn’t always possible with flats.
For this group test, we’ve taken eight of the latest platform clip-in pedals to see what each brand has to offer. Each pedal has been tested under various riders with a variety of shoes and in a range of conditions, to investigate how dependable their mechanisms are, and how reliable that platform really is. To provide a final evaluation on the fit and adjustability of each pedal, we conducted the final round of testing with a single pair of size 45 Shimano AM9 shoes to ensure consistency and limit variables.
Step Inside My Lab
There is much that separates platform clip-in pedals from their small-bodied siblings, though every brand does things a little differently. Here are some of the key aspects that define the performance of these bigger platform pedals.
The heart of any clip-in pedal is the clip mechanism itself. There are two parts to this: the metal cleat that attaches to the underside of your shoe, and the spring-loaded mechanism on the pedal that latches onto that cleat.
Not all mechanisms are equal. Some use round tension bars, others use a cage, and some use a combination of the two. The majority will work with Shimano’s SPD ‘standard’ – five of the pedals here are compatible with Shimano cleats, while the others use their own specific cleats.
The mechanism will define the overall engagement feel. Some are snappy and tight to clip in and out of, which can feel more secure. Others are much quieter and lighter in action, and that can make it easier to disengage in a hurry. All but two pedals have adjustable tension, so you can adjust how tightly they hold onto the cleat.
Float is how much angular free-play there is for your foot before the cleat disengages from the pedal. More float can be better for dodgy knees, as the added flexibility allows your feet to settle into a more natural position throughout the 360° of the pedal stroke. For some, too much float can make the pedal feel unsettling and more float will require a bigger twist of your foot to disengage.
Some brands offer multiple cleat options with varying amounts of float. On top of this angular float, both Time and HT pedals also provide lateral float, where your foot can shimmy left to right while clipped in.
Just like a flat pedal, a bigger platform on a clip-in pedal provides more stability underfoot by increasing contact with the shoe. A bigger platform is also an easier target to hit when you’re flailing through the air trying to clip back in. Most bodies are made from aluminium for strength. Thinner is better for ground clearance, and chamfered edges are less likely to snag rocks.
Adjustable pins can increase grip between the rubber sole of your shoe and the pedal body, and in some cases, allow you to keep your foot on the pedal if you aren’t clipped in. Be careful – too much grip can cause interference when clipping in and out though, so it’s worth experimenting with pin height and placement.
The Right Shoes
With any pedal, getting the right shoe is crucial. For platform clip-in pedals, avoid pairing with cross-country race shoes and winter boots, since the aggressive tread designs tend to catch on pedal edges and pins. Instead, look for a shoe with a soft rubber sole that uses a flatter skate-style sole. Examples of such shoes include the Specialized 2FO ClipLite, Giro Chamber, Five Ten Kestrel, Northwave Enduro Mid and Shimano AM9. Along with their more flexible shanks, these types of shoes will provide smoother and more consistent contact with the pedal body.
Best Feel: HT Components X2 Pedals
- Price: £119.99
- From: Ison Distribution
“The best ‘feeling’ pedal is admittedly a difficult thing to quantify. Some riders prefer a snappy mechanism that keeps them securely locked into the pedal, while others prefer a softer and lighter feel for clipping in and out.
The HT X2 pedals fall into the ‘snappy and secure’ category, which won’t work for everyone – especially those new to clip-in pedals. However, it’s their combination of platform shape, cleat options, adjustability, and the robust clip mechanism that saw the X2s take top honours here…” Read the full review here.
Most Durable – Time ATAC DH4 Pedals
- Price: £89.99
- From: Extra UK
“Let’s face it. We as humans, love to consume. Especially cheap stuff. If it breaks or we decide we don’t like it anymore, we just get rid of it and buy something new and cheap again. Obviously Time didn’t get that memo. The French manufacturer has been specialising in ultra-durable clip-in pedals since, well, forever. Perhaps appropriately then, the Time ATAC DH4 pedals are the oldest models on test by a long way…” Read the full review here.
Best In Mud – Crank Bros Mallet DH Pedals
- Price: £149.99
- From: Extra UK
“Mud (aka ‘wet loam’) is an inevitability of UK mountain biking. For many clip-in pedals that test just peachy in lab conditions and on dusty trails though, mud can be kryptonite. When mud starts clinging to your pedals and lathering the underside of your shoes, it can jam up the clip mechanism, reducing your fancy pedals to a scarily unstable metal ornament. Well, that’s what normally happens. Unless you’re running Crank Brothers Mallet DH pedals…” Read the full review here.
Best All Round – Shimano Saint M820 Pedals
- Price: £109.99
- From: Madison
“The winner of this award doesn’t necessarily go to the thinnest, lightest or most adjustable pedal on test, but one that is able to balance all of those attributes with durability, functionality, and value for money. That’s a pretty tall order, but there were no doubts about the winner here. As the inventor of the off-road clip-in pedal, Shimano is also responsible for the whole platform pedal movement. Most pedals in our group test feature designs that are barely a year or two old, but Shimano has been at it since 1996 when it released the iconic red DX M636 – a pedal that many mountain bikers still remember fondly today…” Read the full review here.
If you’re already a #flatpedals4life user, then it’s unlikely you’ll have been swayed by this grouptest. If, however, you’ve been thinking about making the switch to a clip-in pedal system and you’re not of the Lycra-clad cross-country racing variety, then there’s a host of viable options here that may just win you over. We’ve featured four category winners here, though take a look at the following page for a brief summary of the pedals not reviewed in print.
Compared to traditional cross-country lollipop pedals, all the platform clip-in pedals on test provided more stability, and more confidence for the rider. And when you need to unclip to dab a foot in the heat of the moment, they have a more usable platform to rest your shoe on before you find the right moment to clip back in. For competitive types, that can potentially save you from a race-ruining mistake. For everyday trail riding, it can mean the difference between crashing and not.
With all the testers and shoes that were utilised for this grouptest, the importance of proper cleat set-up was made abundantly clear. Getting the right angle of the cleat on your shoe ensures that the float is useful, and that you’re not locked into a position that’s going to cause grief with your knees. In my case, I angle the cleats inwards to allow my ankles to heel-in towards the crank arms. I find this to be more comfortable, though it also decreases the effective release angle, so you can pop out sooner.
Likewise, having the right shoes makes an enormous difference in feel. Tread interference can ruin the entire experience, though a bit of modification with a box cutter and using cleat shims will go a long way to avoiding obstruction. New generation clip-in shoes allow you to run the cleats much further rearwards underneath the arch, which improves stability while also engaging your glutes when crouching down on the descents. In effect, this emulates the riding position of using a pair of flat pedals.
While all the pedals on test essentially perform the same function, there are significant differences in feel between each one of them. If you prefer your pedals to be positive and snappy in their engagement, then our recommendation would be to consider any of the SPD-compatible models, or the HT pedals. If you’d like a smoother and lighter feel, the Time and Crank Brothers pedals are your ticket.
Also consider your physical shoe size. Unlike some flat pedals, with the exception of the Nukeproofs, none of these clip-in pedals are (yet) offered in size options. As such, those with bigger flippers will likely appreciate the bigger pedals on test, while those with smaller shoes will want to go for a less bulky platform, or look to the ‘trail’ versions where available.
Get the right combination and set it up correctly though, and the confidence boost that comes with using these pedals is a significant advantage for both those who race against gravity, and those who simply ride for fun.
All-in, we tested eight different brands in our platform clip-in pedal group test. But with just four awards up for grabs, that left four pedals that narrowly missed out on the glory.
- Price: £130.00
- From: Upgrade Bikes
“The V-Twin is the first clip-in pedal from UK brand DMR Bikes, and given DMR’s reputation for its killer flat pedals like the Vault and V8, these have a lot to live up to. They employ a proven spring-loaded SPD-style mechanism that provides easy entry, though it’s not quite as refined as the Saints. Using a huge 81mm x 97.5mm body, the V-Twins have the longest platform on test, and at 25mm they’re the thickest too. Shoe contact is excellent, with a sturdy feel. There’s also loads of adjustability with shim plates for the nylon bumpers along with optional traction pins...” Read the full review here.
Nukeproof Horizon CL
- Price: £100.00
- From: Hotlines
“Another brand better known for its flats, Nukeproof has come out firing with the Horizon CL. Using a high-quality forged and machined alloy body (86mm wide x 97mm long), the Horizon has a concave profile with loads of adjustable pins for cradling your shoe soles. At 18mm thick, they offer excellent ground clearance too. The SPD-compatible mechanism has a light action that isn’t as snappy as the Saints, and even with tension ramped up, we occasionally got spat out after a rock strike. Nukeproof includes 4° and 8° cleat options in the box, and they’re dead easy to service…” Read the full review here.
- Price: £115.00
- From: FUNN
“Like DMR, FUNN has also made use of Shimano’s expired patent by building the Ripper pedal with a pop-up SPD style mechanism. There’s adjustable tension, but we found the Rippers could randomly catch on the cleat when trying to disengage, which was a little disconcerting. Available in a variety of colours, the bright anodised alloy platform is huge. It’s not quite as long as the DMRs, but at 92.6mm they’re the widest pedals on test, and they’re the heaviest too. The bulky platform is rock solid, but we had to remove the huge pins in order to safely clip in and out…” Read the full review here.
- Price: $129.00 USD (£95ish)
- From: Xpedo
“Awkward name aside, the Xpedo GFX pedals proved to be a pleasant surprise. As Xpedo’s biggest platform clip-in option, the GFX features a 90mm wide x 94mm long body that’s CNC machined from 6061 alloy. To dial in platform grip, there are four grub screws per side. Engagement is positive and very Shimano-like, with a pop-up mechanism easing entry. Although they’re designed around an SPD-style mechanism, Xpedo includes its own cleats that offer 6° of float and more lateral adjustment than Shimano cleats. The edgy body isn’t always the smoothest to clip in and out of, but they’re otherwise great pedals…” Read the full review here.