MTB pedal/shoe Recommendations

New mountain bike racer here. I’ve been riding off and on for 5 years on flats. Got into the idea of racing late last season and gradually moved towards serious structured training in advance of this season (great timing, right?).

I’m on the market for cost-effective clipless pedals and shoes suitable for a clipless beginner with racing aspirations (ie low weight for price). Unfortunately, with the potential for a longer term economic downturn on the horizon, I cant justify spending too much right now, so I’m hoping for the best bang for your buck recommendations.

So far I have been looking at the Shimano M520s and the Specialized Recon 2.0 / Specialized Comp shoes. Does anyone have experience with these? Any other recommendations?

Don’t have experience with the Specialized shoes, but I’d say get yourself a reasonably stiff soled XC shoe that fits your foot and that’ll be a good place to start. Definitely prioritize fit. Some brands will be better for wider feet, some will be better for narrower feet, and that can even vary from model to model within a brand.

As for pedals, M520s are solid. They’re not particularly light, but they can take a beating and should last a long time. I think they’re a perfectly reasonable option if you want SPDs. I run them on my bike.

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I like the Shimano ME5 shoes for a somewhat cost-effective solution. One thing that I appreciate is the the cleat can be positioned further towards the middle of the foot compared to other more-XC focused shoes where it feels like you are pedaling with your toes. If you’ve been riding flats, that mid-foot cleat placement may be what feels the most natural to you as well.

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I have been using Shimano xt and xtr clipless pedals and shimano shoes for several years. Very reliable products for the price. The most important factor for me is how well your feet fit in the shoes.

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For pedals, can’t go wrong with Shimanos. I’ve mainly run XTRs which can often be found at significant discount. XTs are also great and will save you some dollars.

For shoes, it’s more about the fit and how walkable a sole you want. For me SIDIs fit perfect and last a long time, and again often go on sale. Lots of other great options. Saw Bont has a sale right now.

I absolutely love Time ATAC pedals and think they are hands down the best MTB pedals on the market. I have never popped out unintentionally, but they are super easy to get in and out of…there is no adjustable spring tension, its based on the angle on the cleat. They have tons of float too so they are super comfortable to ride. I honestly don’t know why they don’t dominate the MTB pedal market

I love sidi shoes, but they are expensive. Specialized or shimano make pretty decent cheap MTB shoes from what I’ve seen tho.

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I like Fizik shoes. I actually use these on my Gravel / Road Bike- https://www.competitivecyclist.com/fi-zik-m6b-uomo-boa-shoe-mens?skidn=FIZ003T-BLAC-S36&ti=UExQIENhdDpNZW4ncyBNb3VudGFpbiBCaWtlIFNob2VzOjE6NzpjY0NhdDEwMDM0MA==

If you like something with a bit more of a platform, I like the Shimano M530s - https://www.competitivecyclist.com/shimano-pd-m530-mtb-spd-pedal?s=a

I am using the XTs on the cross and mountain bike and am very happy with them. I have run the 520’s in the past as they are good value. So I’d say if you are on a budget get the 520’s and spend a little more on a good stiff soled shoe.

You can’t go too wrong with Shimano pedals and shoes. Over 30+ years of riding MTB and trying other brands I always come back to a Shimano / Shimano pairing. I have several shoes (Giro/Fizik/Specialised/5Ten) kicking around with barely 20hrs riding on them as they just never seem to fit perfectly unlike Shimano shoes, although I am sure this is very much down to my wide feet. Shimano has standard and wide toe box shoes (look for the W in the size for the wider toe box) which a lot of European shoes just don’t offer.

Time ATAC is a good system and although rare can be found realitively cheap. However Shimano does have a wider range of budget pedals (speaking of which don’t go for a flat on one side, cleat on the other pedal…) . Another bonus of Shimano S (Shimano) P (Pedal) D (Dynamics) is that you will most likely be able to jump onto a mates bike and clip in as even brands like Ritchey or HT or DMR make 100% compatible pedals now that the SPD patent has expired. You can’t do that with Crank brothers (shitty fast wearing shoe cleats) or Time pedals.

Good luck in your choices. Read and research and I am sure you will make a decision you are happy with.

I’ve been using a pair of Shimano ME7’s for ages now. They’re still going strong and are a nice balance between stiff soles and being able to run/walk without sliding out. I’ve only had the one pair so can’t comment on others.

For pedals I started on the M9120’s as they have a good sized platform to save you when you have to dab a foot and don’t clip back in quick enough. After a few months I changed to the m9100’s and got used to them pretty quickly. (Both Shimano XTR).

Another thing to look at is the two types of clips Shimano make. They’re cheap enough to try both and I still prefer the multi release type done up nice and tight compared to the standard type.

Have fun. I know I’ll never forget my first MTB ride with SPD’s. (Loose over hard followed by deep sand at the bottom of the hills softened the first couple of stacks).

Thanks everyone for your recommendations. A lot to think about, research and weight. I really try to adhere to the “buy once” mindset and like to splurge for nicer things at the start, rather than wasting money through upgrades later on but I also have to be financially responsible, so this is a tough one.

I will make a point to find shoes that fit correctly as a lot have mentioned. I wish I included that I have narrow feet in the original post. Are there brands that are known to fit well for narrow feet? Size 10.5 US usually (43-44.5 EU?).

Been running ATACs forever. Love them.

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Cant go wrong with Shimano XT spd’s…been using them for 20 years…Ive tried time’s and egg beaters but they never lasted long…bearings go or the body explodes when you strike a pedal. Buy a pair of XT’s and you will likely replace them because they dinged and scratched but not because they failed…Shoes are a matter of preference and fit…but I have had several pairs of Giro Privateers that have stood the test of time.

Pedals and shoes must be discussed separately, because with shoes fit is soooo important. Depending on your foot shape and the way some brands are cut, some shoes that are amazing for some athletes are the worst nightmare for others. So you need to try them on if at all possible. I have wide feet, so I don’t have that luxury. Recommending a brand over another is kinda had.

But let me add something about shoe types. So on the MTB side, you have much more variety. You have marathon XC pedal which are every bit as stiff as the best road shoes you can get. Awesome for power transfer (which IMHO is on par with road shoes), but precisely because they are so unforgivingly stiff, walking gets much more awkward and uncomfortable. At the other end of the spectrum, you have relatively soft shoes which are like sneakers with a very stiff sole. But because they often feature a high-profile rubber sole, they are extremely comfortable. I still have a pair of 10±year-old ratty Northwave shoes I use for commuting. And they are as comfortable to walk in as regular shoes. Thanks to their high profile, walking in slippery conditions was always super easy.

And then basically, you can have anything in between. Cost effective shoes will tend to have a “softer” (relatively speaking!) sole, because only the top-end shoes have a super stiff carbon sole.

With pedals, yeah, Shimano pedals are virtually indestructible. I have Crankbrothers pedals right now, because they offer more float, which works better for my knees. But compared to Shimano pedals, they need maintenance. When I had Shimano pedals, I never thought about maintenance ever. And they worked until the end. I recommend to go for one of the XT-level pedals, not the M520s, though. They have two models, one with a cage and one without. The one with the cage weigh more, but offer some protection of the mechanism against rock strikes.

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What do you prefer about this setup? I was looking at the multi release cleats and was thinking about trying them but thought I might be clipping out too easily.

Just get some M520s, and shoes that fit you. The M520s are great pedals, you won’t get better value for money, and anything more expensive only offers marginally better specs (light weight, usually). Shimano are everywhere, you won’t have trouble with compatability issues or anything.

I prefer the way they release.
Both types will keep you clipped in nice and tight if you crank up the adjuster screw on the pedals.