How many items of kit from 2004 are still top best-buy guides today? The Marzocchi Drop Off Triple fork? Nope? The first iPhone? Nope (wasn’t even invented until 2007).
One of the most wondrous things about the PD-M520 is that not only is it pretty much unchanged since its first release in 2004, but some people are probably still riding their original models, with years of life left in them.
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Like a calm rock in a river of constant change, the PD-M520 is the ultra-reliable, ultra-affordable SPD pedal that works for everyone from commuters to trail bashers. It’s a classic first-time clipless pedal and a classic tough-riding all-rounder which makes it one of the best mountain bike pedals on the market. No wonder one online retailer has over 2,300 user reviews of it.
Design and aesthetics
Shimano clipless pedals first appeared in 1990, but the PD-M520 was the first of the modern generation. A simpler, more spacious separation of the spring mechanisms from the axle body solved a big drawback of the original: there was finally a gap for mud to get pushed out of, as you clipped in.
From then on, pretty much only the thickest clay and the grittiest mud could thwart clip-in on SPD pedals, and even then a firm smack of shoe against pedal often clears it.
If you’re new to clipless pedals, here’s how the clip-in works. First you bolt the shaped metal cleats that come with the pedal, to the bottom of your cycling shoes.
Unlike road-racing pedals, SPD pedals are symmetrical, so you can use the top or bottom. On each face, 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.
You can easily adjust the tension of the spring with an allen key – the looser the spring, the easier it is to clip out; the tighter it is, the more securely your foot sits. If you crash, the cleat releases, unless perhaps you’ve set it super-tight.
If you’re worried about clip out, don’t be – it becomes second nature in no time. (Shimano does make a special ‘SH56’ cleat that allows you to release by pulling up as well as by twisting, but it’s not great for mountain bikers, as it tends to release when you don’t want it to.)
The humble PD-M520 shares many of its basic design features with its more sophisticated brothers, just with a little less finesse and weight saving. The body is a little chunkier, the axle is thicker and a little heavier, and it uses a plastic lockring rather than a metal nut, but like the rest of the range the PD-M520s run on cup and cone bearings, which are easy to clean and regrease if you ever need to.
It’s hard to imagine ever regretting buying PD-M520s. If you lost a race by a tenth of a second you might wish you’d spent the extra £70 to save the 36g on Shimano’s XT pedals that might have got you over the line first, but otherwise, day to day, they’re just a reliable companion that keep spinning easily, and clipping in and out with a clear and definite action.
They stand 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, plenty of riders don’t. The cleats last well, too, and the fixed rear plate of the pedal is replaceable, though I imagine few riders ever do that.
When you do ride XT or XTR pedals you’ll notice that the clip-out action is even more buttery, the spindles spin more freely, and in the case of the XTRs the mud clearance is better and the float is freer, but think of these as nice-to-haves rather than must-haves. Whisper it, but chances are your PD-M520s will also last longer.
It’s fair to expect that the PD-M520s will still be topping best-buy lists in 2044, let alone 2024. Given they cost just over twice the price of a pair of cleats – and they come with cleats included – they’re an incredible bargain.
Tech Specs: Shimano PD-M520 pedals
- Price: $55/£45
- Colors: Black, Silver, White
- Weight: 378g (pair)
- Key materials: CrMo (spindle); Forged Alloy (body)