SPD pedals explained: everything you need to know about Shimano’s popular pedal platform

The pedals are arguably the most important part of riding a bike – without them you simply can’t do anything. You can’t turn the cranks, which means you can’t move forward, and that’s a pretty basic part of riding a bike. SPD pedals are one of the most popular styles, and they’ve been around since 1990.

The term SPD stands for “Shimano Pedaling Dynamics” and was coined specifically for mountain biking. Today, SPD pedals are clipless pedals designed for off-road riding, while SPD-SL (SuperLight) pedals are designed specifically for the road.

Despite the confusing ‘clipless’ label, the SPD and SPD-SL pedals require you to clip your feet, thanks to a cleat which is mounted on the sole of your shoe and a spring-loaded clip in the pedal which, a Once clipped, will hold your foot securely, allow you to pull up and push down and maintain an effective foot position.

With a pedal that caters to both the road and off-road segments of the cycling space, Shimano pedals are a regular sight on bikes of all types, whatever your riding preference. The brand’s SPD-SL contingent takes up plenty of space in our guide to the best road bike pedals, while the lightweight, durable and capable SPD range is well represented in our guide to the best gravel bike pedals.

In fact, they’re so popular that the term “SPD pedals” has almost become synonymous with clipless pedals. Competitors have popped up with their own iterations of MTB-specific pedals, but Shimano has continually evolved and improved the SPD line.

SPD versus SPD-SL

The main selling point of SPD pedals is that they are light, efficient and reliable in all kinds of terrain and weather conditions. SPD pedals used a small metal shim that fitted to the sole of a cycling shoe using two bolts.

SPD pedals are usually double-sided, making them easier for quick clips, perhaps in a steep off-road corner or at the start of a race. The small cleat is often encased between rubber lugs on the sole of the shoe, which means that the cleat will not protrude and is therefore easy to enter.

They are also available in various cross-country and trail MTB designs, with the former pedal body being much smaller and the latter being longer to provide a wider platform for pedaling and balancing on steep, gnarly trails. .

SPD-SL pedals, on the other hand, use a three-bolt cleat, so it’s important to keep that in mind when choosing your shoes as not all shoes are compatible with the two- and three-bolt iterations. . These chocks are plastic and much larger than their off-road counterparts. Likewise, SPD-SL pedals offer a larger pedaling platform than SPD pedals, and they are often lighter and stiffer. The entire body of the SPD-SL pedal is completely different from an SPD pedal, and you can only clip on one side rather than both.

Overall, SPD-SL pedals are lighter, more aerodynamic and more efficient than SPD pedals. However, they are not ideal all-terrain pedals. The large cleat protrudes from the outsole of the shoe, which makes walking difficult. Additionally, they are not designed to shed mud and are more susceptible to damage due to their plastic construction.

Essentially, SPD-SL pedals are ideal for clean driving on paved roads, while SPD pedals are designed for off-road use or trips that involve periods of walking.

(Image credit: Chico Racing)

SPD Pedal Features

The two-bolt SPD pedals, in particular, shed dirt and mud quickly if you’re riding in the rain or racing down a muddy hill. Other types of pedals can easily clog with dirt, but SPD pedals are intentionally designed for these scenarios, allowing you to get back on your bike and clip in easily after a muddy ride.

Inside each SPD pedal is a cartridge bearing unit that seals out dirt, mud and moisture that might be picked up on a wet MTB ride. It also reduces the need for constant maintenance, which can be a pain if you live in a wet and muddy climate.

SPD-SL pedals are available with cleats that provide three different degrees of float, which matches the amount of rotation your foot has while remaining clipped. Red cleats offer fixed float (zero degrees), blue cleats offer two degrees, while yellow cleats offer six degrees.

The SPD and SPD-SL pedals come with adjustable tension, allowing the rider to choose between an easy-to-remove pedal and one that holds the foot extremely securely.

How SPD Pedals Differ From Other Pedals

Despite Shimano’s popularity, it’s far from the only brand making clipless pedals, especially in recent years. Look is the obvious contender on the road, having blazed the trail with clipless pedals in the 80s (yes, we know Cinelli technically did that first), but plenty of others have sprung up in the years since followed, including Wahoo and Time on the road. , while Crankbrothers Hope, Nukeproof, DMR and others share a significant share of the off-road market. Here are some of the most popular options.

(Image credit: Peter Haworth)

The Wahoo Speedplay Zero pedals are a lollipop style pedal in which the cleat fits almost around the pedal, rather than the other way around. Speedplay pedals are double-sided, meaning you can clip them on either side, making them more ideal for beginners trying out clipless pedals. Unlike Shimano and Look, Speedplay allows you to adjust float, but not tension. For an easier to release platform you will need to swap the cleats. Speedplay also offers the most available float of any pedal style, with the slackest setting being 15 degrees.

Look Keo pedals also have three floats available: 0, 4.5 and 9 degrees. Look uses two different types of springs: a standard metal coil similar to Shimano and a carbon fiber leaf spring. The latter is light, but more difficult to adjust.

If you’ve heard of Crankbrothers pedals, you’re probably familiar with its Eggbeater line, named for their uncanny resemblance to the kitchen tool. These pedals are intended for off-road riding only as they are lightweight and shed mud better than any other pedal. They are very easy to clip on and off, so they are popular among mountain bikers and cyclocross racers who regularly ride and race in sloppy conditions, but also with heavy weights for their minimalist construction.

Learn about other pedals in Cycling with Cleats: Everything You Need to Know

Three Shimano SPD-SL pedals: 105, Ultegra and Dura-Ace (Image credit: Peter Haworth)

Should you choose SPD pedals?

On the road, if you’re looking for a lightweight, durable pedal system that allows for tension adjustment, plus a wide availability of spare parts, Shimano’s SPD-SL won’t disappoint. In each of our reviews of Shimano 105 pedals, Ultegra pedals and Dura-Ace pedals, we’ve been impressed with the balance of build, durability and performance, but even beyond our own experiences, the The brand’s ability to maintain its position in the market – even its dominance – is solid proof of the quality of the product.

However, one consideration worth taking into account is that of the adjustable float. It’s fairly simple to adjust your cleat’s float with Shimano pedals, but it does require buying new cleats – which then need to be fitted. Wahoo’s Speedplay pedals reverse the script here and allow the float to be adjusted by simply loosening or tightening a bolt. Therefore, if you want to play with cleat float – and double-sided value – then Speedplay might actually be a better choice for you.

Off-road is a similar picture. If you value durability, longevity and tension adjustability, then Shimano will serve you well. Those wanting extreme mud-shedding capabilities or hyper-low weights will be tempted by the Crankbrothers, and will no doubt be happy with their choice as well, but we don’t know of anyone who has tried the SPD and felt disappointed.

Wiley C. Thompson