It’s worth getting pedals right since you’ll be reminded many times per ride whether they’re engaging smoothly and easily or not. Partly it’s down to the feel you want, which varies distinctively between brands. And partly it’s about numbers and performance – weight, price, mud clearance and so on.
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Shimano’s long-standing XT pedal – the PD-M8100 is the latest version – doesn’t necessarily excel at any one thing compared to the other best mountain bike pedals. But if you know you like Shimano’s characteristic clunk-click SPD mechanism, it’s hard not to find it a very attractive all-rounder.
The head may not be sure it needs the XT given the ridiculously good value and potentially even longer-lasting PD-M520 pedal far below it, but the heart is drawn to the freer-spinning axle, the more sculpted looks, and the hope that like most XT components it’s likely to outperform whatever you throw at it.
Design and aesthetics
The PD-M8100 is a very minor upgrade to the 2016 PD-M8000. And fair enough – it had an excellent reputation. The newer model has fractionally wider side plates for more contact area with the shoe, and they’re slightly ridged for grip. The inner nut has changed from silver to black, and the body cover is now held on with Torx bolts.
Apart from that, it keeps the same functional, elegant look, from the slender axle on the inbound side to the sculpted contact area on the outside. Like all SPD pedals in this family, you can clip in from both sides of the pedal, via the same robust spring-loaded jaws, which can easily be adjusted for tightness.
All Shimano’s SPD setups have a release angle of 13 degrees (the point at which your shoe releases from the pedal), and float of 4 degrees (the extent to which your foot can pivot freely from side to side while clipped into the pedal).
That gives you less adjustability than Crankbrothers and Time pedals, where you can change the release angle to an easier 10 degrees or a more extreme 17 or 20 degrees. And it gives you less float (both have 6 degrees, and Crankbrothers have an additional zero float option for a more fixed-in feel).
SPDs hit a pretty good sweet spot for most people, though – a fairly quick release angle, and enough float to keep most knee trouble at bay.
Like the humble PD-M520, the XT PD-M8100 body is made of die-cast aluminum, but with a slightly more slender axle, which reduces weight and allows a fraction more mud clearance inside. I find it spins a little more freely than the PD-M520, too. The shoe contact patch is pretty similar to that of the PD-M520, but smaller than that of the top-end PD-M9100 XTR pedal, which is both wider and more rounded, for better mud-shedding.
The PD-M8100 sits pretty much halfway between the PD-M520 and the PD-M9100 in terms of weight (342g per pair, versus 378g and 312g respectively).
They’re much closer to the PD-M520 for stack height (9.3mm vs 9.7mm, and 8.1mm on the XTR). But they’re far closer to the XTR in terms of price ($125 / £115 vs $50 / £45 and $180 / £140).
Shimano XT PD-M8100s are very easy pedals to live with. The engagement is crisp and clear. You know exactly at which point it’s going to release, and if you ever have any trouble, it’s with engagement rather than release. That trouble is usually only in the claggiest or grittiest mud, and even so they’re still a pretty default choice even for cyclocross, where you’re on and off the bike often and fast engagement is vital. (There are better choices – like Crankbrothers Eggbeaters – if mud clearance is absolutely your top priority.)
They’re easy pedals to find with your foot, and they’re stable once you’re on them. They’re not huge but the cleats fall into place smoothly, and there’s a secure enough contact patch with the shoe for when you’re out of the saddle. (If you want a bigger contact patch for the same weight, consider the Crankbrothers Candy 3s, at $140 / £130)
The sealed internals are extremely unlikely to let you down. Even without maintenance they often keep spinning smoothly for years, and like most Shimano pedals, the PD-8100 is very maintenance-friendly.
Remove the axles with a 17mm spanner and the seals and a long threaded section will show you why refreshing the grease is likely to be more of a preventative measure than something you need to do urgently – but do it every year or so and the pedal internals should last forever. You can also easily replace the front part of the cleat retaining mechanism, which eventually gets grooves on the sides where the cleats twist over them.
Shimano’s cleats are famously long-wearing. The softer brass ones used by Crankbrothers and Time are gentler on the binding mechanism but they don’t last as long. You can also tighten the binding mechanism on SPD pedals as the cleats wear down, which you can’t do with Crankbrothers.
The only un-replaceable thing that eventually wears down slightly are the points where the aluminum pedal body makes contact with the shoes, at the sides of the pedal. Years of grit and sand will eventually make the contact point less snug and you’ll notice a bit of rattly looseness.
Nobody ever regretted buying XT SPD pedals, and the PD-M8100 will give you years of clean, smooth pedaling. If a few grams of weight, slicker looks, and a little stack height aren’t important, the cheaper PD-M520 will do you almost as well, but we’ll leave your head to battle with your heart over that one.
Tech Specs: Shimano XT PD-M8100 pedal
- Price: $124.99 / £114.99
- Colors: Black
- Weight: 342g (pair)
- Float: 4 degrees
- Release angle: 13 degrees
- Key materials: Die-cast aluminum body, chome-moly spindle, sealed bearings