I've been riding Shimano's budget SPD pedals for twenty years, here's why they're still my go-to after all this time

Close up details on the Shimano SPD PD-M520 pedal
Shimano's SPD PD-M520 is a budget-friendly perfect pedal (Image credit: Paul Brett)

The almost indestructible Shimano SPD pedal range has been my go-to pedal for as long as I can remember riding mountain bikes, from throwing my leg over my first ever mountain bike – the classic Specialized Stumpjumper and throughout my (minor) XC racing career in the '90s. 

The Shimano SPD (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics) pedal has always been the reliable, top performer and the first addition to any bike I've owned and tested. It just works and is perfectly adaptable from XC riding to cyclocross racing. The pedals have also shown versatility by slotting in as a popular choice as a gravel bike option too, and proven itself to be one of the best mountain bike products ever made.

Shimano started making its SPD pedals in the 1990s, and over the 30+ years since they first appeared they have seen many design changes and innovations that have kept them at the top of the best mountain bike pedals listings. There have also been many variations of Shimano's perfect pedals, and they still have a wide range suitable for all types of riding from the top-tier XC lightweight beauties – last summer's XC UCI World Championship winning Shimano XTR pedals, to various All Mountain, Downhill and BMX versions. 

Tom Pidcock at the XC World Championship

Tom Pidcock rode the top model Shimano SPD XTR pedals to XC World Championship glory last year (Image credit: Paul Brett)

I've ridden many of the range over the years and rarely, if ever found fault with any version. However, the model I've used and loved the most is the Shimano SPD PD-M520, and this budget-friendly, bombproof, maintenance-free pedal is put simply - perfection. Suitable for just about anything from MTB trail thrashing and the daily commute to the best bike-packing adventures and gravel bike racing too. 

Of course, there are many other MTB pedals from other brands out there, like the more costly Hope Union RC which could be arguably better too. But what you get with the PD-M520, is a pedal so good that it's tough to look past it for versatility and ease of use. As our tester, Sean Fishpool said in review, "It’s hard to imagine anyone ever regretting buying the PD-M520s pedals". 

Shimano PD-M520 SPD pedal: £43.52$56.99

Shimano PD-M520 SPD pedal: <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07XN7QT48/ref=asc_df_B07XN7QT481709939040000?tag=georiot-trd-21&ascsubtag=hawk-custom-tracking-21&geniuslink=true&th=1&psc=1" data-link-merchant="amazon.co.uk"" target="_blank">Was £43.52, now £37.98 at Amazon UK and <a href="https://target.georiot.com/Proxy.ashx?tsid=87151&GR_URL=https%3A%2F%2Famazon.com%2FSHIMANO-PDM520-Clipless-Bicycle-Cycling%2Fdp%2FB009H08XR6%2Fref%3Dsr_1_4%3Fcrid%3D36NSQX86QMPI8%26dib%3DeyJ2IjoiMSJ9.wSC7I-YvoTATi4GUkrtOADrIppZ7fJCKBxaW8NMqs9l8wCG0d7R6ISgc-ZAYitdZRlNbxoEI7otFBb-cTBfSjUOiU49Z01ncCvYHsDNzz-DooX0qq-LMMCdWKT3axahHiVzNlE-5pe_j9zRWlqWWrXFLyVlbLCj8-UKQKzDGAeznu7L2P7xRH3ncBUYa18GGDpfMkoKQagRVJDNkweu4UTlql0ju2OamvMnVABnn6Fss8U5NjUMLWnXQ5HcCA5g4VFRyIfUJxYv8xyFArvrgQDHV4p7k4VxF5V0D81dB-3Y.peN9MvBg2gFmWjM87BzsknLIddwxDzsNKF1bzgsDGAQ%26dib_tag%3Dse%26keywords%3Dpd-m520%252Bpedal%26qid%3D1710336472%26sprefix%3DPD-M520%252Caps%252C988%26sr%3D8-4%26th%3D1%26tag%3Dhawk-future-20%26ascsubtag%3Dhawk-custom-tracking-20" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" data-link-merchant="amazon.co.uk"" target="_blank">was $56.99, now $45.60 at Amazon US
The Shimano PD-M520 SPD pedal does it all, pretty much to perfection. It shares many of the same excellent design features as its more costly siblings in the range and is therefore one of the <a href="https://www.bikeperfect.com/features/best-mountain-bike-clipless-pedals" data-link-merchant="bikeperfect.com"" data-link-merchant="Amazon US"" data-link-merchant="amazon.co.uk"">best mountain bike clipless pedals around.

Now over 20 years old, the PD-M520 pedal first appeared in 2004, and for it still to feature in many a best SPD pedal buyers guide is a testament to just how good this ultra-affordable SPD pedal is. The recurring big lettering Shimano branding on the outer edge of the pedal is one of the most wondrous things about the PD-M520 and adds to its adhering draw. It's pretty much unchanged since its first release and I have models that are at least five to six years old, I'd also be willing to bet that there are people still riding original models too.

What makes the PD-M520 a go-to pedal is the price, the cost is around $45 / £45 / €45 currently on Amazon, which includes cleats, but you can find them cheaper with some hunting around. They also share many of the design features of its more expensive siblings with just a few cost-saving features. So they weigh a bit more at 378g (pair), with the XTR version as an example weighing 312g (pair). The body is a little chunkier, with a thicker axle, and it uses a plastic lock ring rather than a metal nut, but like the rest of the SPD range, the PD-M520s use run-on cup and cone bearings, which make them easy to clean and re-grease.

Shimano PD-M520 pedal details

The Shimano PD-M520 is a budget-friendly, bombproof and maintenance-free pedal (Image credit: Sean Fishpool)

If you're new to SPD pedals, like most of the best MTB pedals, the PD-M520s are dual-sided clips and are easily fitted and adjusted with Allen keys – so fine-tuning the tightness is super easy. On each side, there’s a fixed plate at the back, and a movable plate at the front that’s tensioned by a tough spring. That front plate moves forward as you press the front of your cleat against it, then clicks back to hold it in place. To release, you twist your heel, which makes the cleat ease the front plate open, and then the cleat releases with a clear click. There is superb mud clearance which also adds to the versatility.

Close up views on Shimano PD-M520 SPD pedal

Mud clearance on the Shimano PD-M520 SPD pedal is excellent (Image credit: Paul Brett)

For cost vs performance, the Shimano PD-M520s have proven repeatedly to be a perfect pedal that keeps spinning easily and continues to deliver a familiar clunk when clipping in and out. For me, they've stood up to years of all-weather abuse, rock strikes, and crashes, and though they’ll be at their best if you re-grease the bearings now and then, I've never bothered. The supplied cleats last well and the fixed rear plate of the pedal is replaceable, but for the cost, if you're considering doing that, it's easier just to buy another pair of these excellent pedals.

Paul Brett
Staff writer

Based in Edinburgh, Paul Brett is a staff writer for BikePerfect.com. He has been an avid cyclist for as long as he can remember, initially catching the mountain biking bug in the 1990s, and raced mountain bikes for over a decade before injury cut short a glittering career. He’s since developed an obsession for gravel riding and recently has dabbled in the dark art of cyclocross. A fan of the idea of bikepacking he has occasionally got involved and has ridden routes like the North Coast 500, Scotland and the Via Francigena (Pilgrim Route), Italy.

Current rides: Marin Alpine Trail 2, Ribble 725, Cube Stereo 160

Height: 175cm