SHIMANO XTR CLIPLESS PEDAL REVIEW
Review by Drew Rohde
I first started riding clipless mountain bike pedals, specifically Shimano SPD pedals, when I was a teenager. In the nearly 25 years since, I’ve tried several types of clipless pedals and at least 25 different flat pedals. I’ve kept coming back to the Shimano SPD platform when I’m clipping in as it’s my favorite all around. From time to time a flashy new pair of Shimano clipless pedals shows up just in time to refresh my beat to hell pedals. This year it was the all-new Shimano PD-M9120 XTR clipless pedals with some revised design elements and aesthetics. I love the new, slightly edgier look but the changes result in one pretty significant downside that this Shimano XTR clipless pedal review will get into below.
Weighing in at roughly 400 grams per pair, Shimano’s M9120 XTR clipless pedals are the latest in Shimano’s PD-M9100 series. With a stack height of 15.4mm, the new XTR pedals are rather thin and sport an overall streamlined appearance and size. The pedal center is 55mm and features a wider 77mm platform to increase stability and bike control. Along with making the new XTR pedals wider, Shimano has added some length to the platform for more surface area to interface with the sole of the shoe, measuring in at 100mm.
What remains however, is Shimano’s reliability and performance thanks to a wide bearing placement and a stout pedal design that keeps the binding mechanism protected. Shimano also slimmed down the cartridge axle’s housing to improve mud and debris shedding capabilities, which should suit those in wetter climates.
Shimano sells their PD-M9120 XTR clipless pedals with the SH51 cleat, which is their single direction-release cleat that gives 4 degrees float. A 1-millimeter cleat spacer is also included with the pedals, which is something we normally throw in the spare parts drawer. This is where the biggest change to our decades of Shimano clipless pedal experience occurs.
In the 2.5 decades of riding Shimano’s pedals, I can’t say I remember ever needing to use a cleat spacer more than once. If I did, it was probably because I was testing some off-brand shoe that was primarily designed to be a flat pedal shoe but had a removable cap for clipless compatibility. For the record that includes XC-style shoes and skate-style DH shoes across a variety of brands. I’ve certainly had to use spacers for Crankbrothers pedals and some others but hadn’t yet needed the extra height with Shimano.
I don’t like running spacers for two reasons: First, I prefer my cleats to be recessed into the shoe as much as possible. It results in a quieter walking experience since you’re not click-clacking around, but also means you won’t slip on the metal cleat should you need to step across wet rocks during a creek crossing or other challenging hike and bike sections. Second, the only times I’ve had cleats shift and move on me has been when I’ve been using spacers. Cleats are secured to the shoe via two hex bolts but also dig into the shoe with textured little teeth that imprint the plastic cleat tracks. I’ve found that plastic shims can let the cleats rotate as they don’t offer the same bite and locking connection. That being said, I’ve not yet had that issue yet, but feel it is worth mentioning. We will update the review should I develop the issue on this or another pair of shoes.
We took this little detour because the new Shimano XTR clipless pedals will likely require you to run this 1mm spacer with your shoes. We’ve tried them with multiple shoes and found that clipping in, and more importantly, staying clipped in, proves tricky without one. With the raised traction pads and recessed clamping mechanism, the cleat wasn’t able to fully insert and lock into the pedals. We tried trimming the shoes a bit to prevent the need to insert the shim, however that still didn’t give us enough clearance. After installing the shim our cleat locked into the pedals much better, and we’ve not yet had any slippage, but they do make a bit more noise when we walk around. If you ride in cross-country shoes, you may not need the shim depending on how thick or tall the lugs of your shoes are, but most flat-soled gravity sneakers will demand one.
Moving away from the cleat interface issue and onto the pedal’s performance, the pedals perform as well as every other Shimano clipless pedal I’ve ever used, which is damn well. Stepping into the pedals is easy and affirmative. The large platform means that even when you need to clip in and out on the move, you’ll be able to get your foot back in place with ease. Shimano SPD pedals feature adjustable retention so riders can easily add or remove tension based on your skill level and comfort with clipless pedals. I like running the pedals with quite a bit of tension as I find Shimano’s release to be quick and snappy when you need to get out. Whether it’s pulling up to a stop sign or an emergency dab as the front tire is washing out, I like how you hit that wall of tension and the cleats just instantly release. Compared to some pedals that have a more vague or longer release zone, I appreciate how quick the Shimano’s let go once they release using the standard cleat.
So far, the XTR clipless pedals haven’t had too many abusive impacts into the lava rocks and tree stumps that I regularly encounter on the trail, but have certainly seen plenty of miles across a variety of motorized and acoustic bikes. If they’re like the dozen or so other Shimano pedals I’ve ridden over the years, then I imagine they’ll hold up just as well, and serve me for many miles.
The Wolf’s Last Word
I really like the look of the new XTR M9120 pedals and appreciate the changes that Shimano has put into them. I found the need to run a spacer underneath the cleat in most of my DH-style shoes is a bit of a downside but may not affect others as much. I don’t like having to shim the cleat out for the reasons mentioned above, and while it may not be an issue for those in XC-style shoes, it’s something that I’m thinking about. It may have me sticking with the XT Trail or even SLX Trail pedals, although to be fair, the price would likely have me sticking with a more affordable pedal anyhow if it were my money. If Shimano’s XTR pedals are in your budget you will likely be pleased with the new Shimano XTR clipless pedals. The increased cage size is awesome, the textured traction pads are great and I’m a huge fan of Shimano’s adjustable tension and affirmative snap in and snap out feeling. Overall, these are very solid pedals, and I will keep running them into the future.
Weight: 400 grams
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Affirmative snap-in and snap-out feel
Likely requires cleat spacer
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