The 20-Year History of the Shimano PD-M520

Jul 14, 2020 at 4:25
by Iain Treloar  

Last week, I was washing my bike after a muddy gravel ride. As the hose’s jet of water struck the pedals, they spun in a flurry, shooting droplets of water off in graceful parabolas. As I watched, head a bit numb from exertion and still caked in filth, I remember thinking that there was a quiet, pragmatic beauty to the pedals as they whirred around.

The Shimano PD-M520s on my bike at the moment are at least a decade old, with the black anodising on the pedal body buffed to smooth silver by the rub of shoe tread on the axle and the ends scarred and scratched by falls. They came to me via a well-loved old Cannondale I bought from an old guy on a Norwegian classifieds website for 2,500 kroner (about USD$265), and have since travelled to the other side of the world, where they’ve been installed on three other bikes and clocked up thousands of kilometres – happy rides and sad rides, long rides and short. I’ve never really paid them much attention, because I never had cause to.

That day last week, though, I thought of the places those pedals have been and the memories they’ve been a small, relatively inactive part of. All the clicks and all the twists. I found the patent number etched on the pedal spindle, looked it up, and learned that Shimano SPD pedals had a single designer, and that designer’s name is Toshiyuki Tanaka. After some Googling, I discovered that there’s an equestrian rider of the same name, and a prolific physics academic, but that neither of those are the inventor of the modern SPD pedal.

So here’s what we know.


Inevnting the SPD

Twenty-ish years ago, working in a factory in Sakai City just to the north of Osaka, Japan, Toshiyuki Tanaka had an idea for a better bicycle pedal. In the dying days of the year 2000 – on December 29 – the company he works for, Shimano, filed the documentation for US Patent 6,446,529 B1.

In the uniquely dry language of patents, Tanaka had come up with “a bicycle pedal includ[ing] a pedal shaft, a pedal body, first and second clamping members and a first biasing member”. Or, to put that into terms that you’re perhaps more familiar with, Toshiyuki Tanaka had just invented what we know as the modern SPD pedal.

Not every product in the cycling industry is a hit, even for a company with an enduring reputation like Shimano’s. The Japanese company has an impressive strike rate, though. Over the last 99 years, Shimano has evolved from the manufacturer of a single freewheel to the dominant force in the cycling industry, and along the way produced countless items that have become part of the sport’s DNA.

It’s a credit to Shimano’s relentless functionality and ubiquity that some of those products and innovations have entered the cycling lexicon, even without sexy Italian names or slick marketing. Instead, imprinted in the minds of countless cyclists worldwide like a secret robotic code are Shimano’s acronyms and numbers: STI, XTR, Di2, and SPD.

Of Shimano’s many innovations, it’s that last one – an acronym standing for ‘Shimano Pedalling Dynamics’ – that’s arguably the closest thing to a household term.


SPD pedals are now ubiquitous, but that wasn’t always the case, with Shimano’s first dual-sided clipless MTB pedal landing in 1990. The PD-M737 was a dense, dark nugget of a thing that bore some familial resemblance to what we know today. As with Tanaka’s design from 2000, the M737 was dual-sided and spring-loaded, and the two use the same cleat recessed into the sole.

But while the M737 and its offspring – with modest refinements like the design used on the M515, pictured below right – were impressive in function, they had a flaw. In muddy conditions, the platform where the cleat sat had little room for the mud to go, with the clamping hardware and the spindle clustered tightly together, like metallic scaffolding on an oblong core.




Tanaka’s design is visibly an evolution of Shimano’s first design, but it was also a significant leap forward. With the design built around the spindle rather than on top of it, there are dual benefits: a lower stack height and a more open binding design. It’s also lighter, smaller, reduces the risk of pedal strike, and is aesthetically cleaner.

Perhaps the most striking demonstration of the merits of the design lies in the fact that Shimano still hasn’t found a need to improve on it. The SPD pedal that Tanaka designed remains fundamentally unchanged two decades later.


Bureaucracy moves slowly, but by September 2002, US Patent 6,446,529 B1 had been granted, debuting at the top end with the PD-M959. By 2004, the new design had filtered down through Shimano’s range, ushering in another soon-to-be-famous product: Shimano’s iconic entry-level PD-M520 pedal.

A Workhorse Pedal

Cyclists can be a fickle bunch, preoccupied with the latest flashy advances. But while marquee products get all the attention and column inches, that’s not what most people are riding. It’s the workhorses of a brand’s product line-up that are out there in multitudes, not because they’re the best and the most expensive but because they’re perfectly fine and the right price.

The M520 is one such unflashy hero of Shimano’s range. Compared to its fancier brethren it’s a bit heavier – although not by much, with XT-level pedals weighing just 38 grams less. Its platform is not quite as stable, and its bearings and spindles not quite so fancy, but functionally it’s more or less identical.


PD-M520’s form is iconic – a squared-off end with all-caps SHIMANO written across it, a round pedal spindle running to the crank, and Tanaka’s simple, ingenious steel arcs waiting to receive the toe of a cleat. Most of the pedal body is inert, but tucked away at the back is the mechanism: two tiny springs coiled five times on each side, around which the pedal body hinges. To get in, it’s a click down. To get out, it’s a twist to the side.

Every day in virtually every country around the world for the better part of two decades, these actions have been performed millions of times on SPD pedals of Toshiyuki Tanaka’s design.


While Shimano declined to provide any sales data for the purposes of this article, it’s a fair bet that millions of pairs of these pedals are in existence around the world, and I’d have to imagine it’s the biggest selling clipless pedal of all time.

For a long run last decade, the M520 was specced in countless thousands on mountain bikes as an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) model. Today, it remains the cheapest SPD pedal offered by Shimano, a role in which it has ushered countless riders through the rite of passage that is using clipless pedals. Bizarrely, there was even a stint where, via mail order loopholes, it was cheaper in Australia to buy a pair of M520 pedals (with cleats in the box) than to buy the replacement cleats alone.

Like the basic design it carries, the M520’s longevity is its legacy: over a 17-year run in Shimano’s range, it has not changed. And because they’re almost impossible to break, most pairs of PD-M520s have long and fulfilling lives – my pedals among them.

Which, in a roundabout way, takes us back to last week.

Closing the Loop


In an ideal world, this is the part where I’d tell you that I emailed Tanaka and after a bit of back and forth, with the help of a translator, he answered my questions about what personal satisfaction he draws from inventing a product as enduring as the Shimano PD-M520; how many iterations he went through before arriving at this design, this single perfect meeting of form and function that remains unchanged all these years later. Perhaps over Zoom we’d smile and forge some sort of human connection, and then Tanaka would go back to his desk in Sakai and quietly invent something else that approaches perfection.

I can’t tell you that part, because Shimano and Tanaka-san declined comment for this story. And while at first I found that thwarted narrative arc a little jarring, I’ve since come to a different understanding.

The SPD pedal and its lowliest representative, the PD-M520, is a quiet achiever – a product that just gets on with its job, without desiring the limelight or adulation. Perhaps in the product rather than the person you can learn something important about its creator after all.

This story originally appeared on cyclingtips.com.


140 Comments

  • 177 1
 I started riding mountain bikes off road on rigid steel mountain bikes with thumb shifters at the age 12. in the early 90s
I have gone through all the "innovations" in mountain biking. there was no single thing that instantly improved my riding better than shimano spd pedals.

The ability to lift the rear wheel over obstacles instantly and efficiently without all the preparation heave hoe and weight transfer of a bunny hop is easily the single most useful part about riding with spds.
that quick little hop to get the rear over something i don't want to smash is just golden

I can bunny hop......anything lower than my axle on flats with relative ease. but most times the trail conditions lend them selves so much better to a simple pull on the spds
.
they came with other advantages

No more flipping toe clips or power grips.
power on the upstroke when you just need to crank a too big gear.
and keeping your from slipping off the pedals.
totally a game changer.

I have tried many variants due to cost or weight

Onza
Ritchy
wellgo
time
crank brothers.

they were all crap...plagued by poor durability or inconsistent release....
The very first iteration the 737 out lasted 2 of my bikes and still has never been matched by competitors in terms of consistent release and durability .it was a near perfect design on the first iteration and has improved to become lighter and better in mud.

Tanaka-san, I thank you..... this, to me, was the best mountain bike invention ever made and then executed with perfection
  • 8 0
 +1

arigato
  • 17 0
 Onza, Wellgo, first iterration of Crank Bros, I am with you. But Time atac, I am surprised. I have had zero issue in +20 years.
  • 2 1
 I couldn’t agreed more well go and ritchy were completely garbage
  • 2 0
 @smartfartbart:
The time held up but the release was inconsistent It would at times float Past what felt like a non human angle of your ankle and still not release
  • 4 0
 @smartfartbart: I have bent and broken several pairs of Time ATAC alloy versions. The original poly body versions held up much better.
  • 1 0
 Well said! I am in the exact same boat as you
  • 1 0
 Onza. They took a long time to break in, and then very little beyond that to break out.
  • 1 0
 @smartfartbart: I was an ATAC fan too. Then I broke a pedal in half with a not so bad rock strike. And now I’m back to SPDs.
  • 1 0
 Well said. I also starting riding in the early 90’s and agree that SPD’s were a game-changer. I have however been riding Time Attack carbons for 15 years now and won’t go back to Shimano. The 17 degree release option on Tine’s saved my right knee from worsening cartilage damage and the freedom of more float is also a game changer. The securing and power of being clipped in with the feeling of the freedom of flats.
  • 4 0
 @smartfartbart:
Well said indeed!
I had zero problems with TIME pedals, especially in mud or snow, where others with Shimano pedals had a hard time (unable to "clip" or... "unclip")!
I am ridding with TIMES from 1990. Even the thermoplastic ATAC pedals (still on one of my bikes) are still working fine, despite the wear from the hits.
  • 3 0
 @smartfartbart: exactly. Time are truly 100% maintenance free, extremely long lastig and outperforming pretty much everything else in the mud.
  • 100 0
 I hate SPDs. I've being using them since the early 90s, and the buggers never break....if they don't break, how the heck can I justify buying myself the latest and greatest version!? Annoying...
  • 43 2
 You need to start buying Cranks Bros products. Plenty of opportunity to upgrade due to frequent breaking of products.
  • 4 0
 I'd love to know how many miles mine have on them. Must be >20,000km! I had an original set of, I guess 737s, which got demoted to the commuter bike, while the new shiny set of 520s got fitted to the off road bike. The bearings in the 737s got a bit wobbly and I discovered flats about 10 years ago, so the 520s have been 20km each day rain or shine (where I live, plenty of rain and road salt). They're now on my carbon road bike and I still see no reason to change them. Or even service them!
  • 2 0
 I have to agree, been riding SPD since gen 1, I have only broken 1 pedal (axle sheered off a pair of XTR). Amazing pedals.
  • 5 0
 @mtbskills: I mean, seriously, how are they even profitable for Shimano? I do wildly regret ever selling my bad ass red DX M636s...Having said, I do still have the original box in mint condition...I'll just hold on to that Smile
  • 2 1
 I hate to state the obvious, but n+1. (new bike, new pedals)
  • 1 0
 @vjunior21: 100% THIS. I am always fixing these damn Candy 3s
  • 1 0
 @carlitouk: if I ever decide to upgrade from mine I'll send them to you , to you know, display in your box. They won't be in as mint condition but they'll work flawlessly
  • 45 0
 This is the pinnacle of engineering. THANK YOU Shimano. Cost, functionality, durabiliy. Pick three. And as a bonus , amazingly, no new standards (20year+ backward compatibility). Just love them.
...It's a shame, that the rest of the industry can't do it this way.
  • 8 38
flag bot-fly (Jul 14, 2020 at 7:11) (Below Threshold)
 It's strong, light, cheap... choose two
  • 14 0
 @bot-fly: OK, I did. Then I chose the other one as well. Thanks Shimano.
  • 10 0
 @bot-fly:
Strong: yes (time proven)
Cheap: yes (one of the cheapest clipless pedal on the market)
Light: Debatable, I would say YES (Current 2020, state of the art XTR pedals: 310g - 11 oz. , twenty year old M540s 380g - 13.5 oz. )
  • 1 7
flag bot-fly (Jul 14, 2020 at 14:43) (Below Threshold)
 @IluvRIDING: yeah the first two but 20% weight difference is quite a bit... its like having a 36lbs bike vs 30lbs. also its relatively heavy since its the heaviest cageless spd pedal shimano makes
  • 3 1
 @bot-fly: no, it's like having a 30lb bike vs a 30lb bike.
  • 1 2
 @adamweld: that doesn't make any sense at all
  • 46 0
 Great article.
We can't praise Shimano pedals enough. Bombproof,cheap and working exactly the same from day one to the last (more probably OUR last).
  • 29 0
 Rumor has it they only manufactured one run of these in the 90s and all the ones you see for sale are 2nd hand, even retail
  • 26 0
 I had a set of these that lasted 12 years before I gave them away, I have another set that the bearings got pretty chunky in 6-7 years, but they're still running. That was after a lot of winter and water crossings.

My favorite thing about the SPD mechanism is it is an example of truly excellent engineering in cycling, which is legitimately rarer than you'd think/hope. It's simple, incredibly durable, light enough, easy to manufacture, incredible low maintenance, works for the novice and the pro. The steel selection is hard enough to not wear appreciably over an incredible useful life, doesn't corrode (much), takes impact after impact. You get plenty of room for functional bearings in the pedal itself, and the simple mechanism is self contained and functional. You can license it, and it's repackage able to sell to different folks with different features - platforms, pivoting mech in a big platform, single sided, commuter, super light, whatever.

Contrast that with the new fork with clacking bushings, the new frame that flexes the rear end into the brake rotor, the new derraileur with a cage made of processed cheese, the dropper that needs a rebuild ever season, the freehub that needs new bearings.... and is obsolete now.

More SPD style products would make our sport a lot more respectable from a certain perspective. A lot of articles point at the 90s as a time of wild innovation, snake oil and ignorance... I'm not sure we'll look back on the 2010s+ as any better in a few decades. Tires with zippers? Seriously? GTFO.
  • 5 0
 I almost forgot - XT trail pedals on 3 bikes today; everything in the fleet except the cargo bike, which is on plastic flats.
  • 22 0
 i remember getting my first set of SPD's from my local shop. i was 15 years old and had to ride to the shop myself (10 miles each way) because my parents were sick of driving me there. the shop installed them on my bike, and i learned trial by fire on the ride home. i think i only fell 2 or 3 times. this was 1998, and i *still* have those SPD pedals, and they still work.
  • 3 0
 I had a similar experience as a kid. I had to save up to afford them, then a week later someone stole them off my bike from the school bike sheds, just the pedals.
  • 1 0
 @DirtBagTim: wow those pedals themselves were almost like a form of theft deterent back then as people didn't know what to do with a bike with weird looking pedals on them!! I had a set of M525's as my first SPDs

I've been running Crank Bro's for a few years now I absolutely love a fresh pair of Mallets but even after replacing cleats every year, after a few years the pedals don't feel as good as a new set...
  • 2 0
 For me it would of been 1996. They might of been these pedals or 737s. I bought these with Carnac shoes. I learned by placing little pieces of yellow electrical tape on parts of the toe box area so i could figure out where my cleat was. At the beginning i felt that i had to smash on the pedal to make them engage. Rookie mistake, lol.. I've fell over maybe 3, maybe 4 times over the years bc i couldn't get unclipped. Mostly on the trails. Now all grown up i use flats for the trail and spuds for commuting. Those were the days
  • 2 0
 @Thirty3: mine were the 636, in red. and the wild looking red & yellow answer spd shoes with the checkered straps.
  • 22 0
 I'm going to go as far as saying that these are the best value component in cycling. Basically all the performance of Shimano's highest-end pedals, minimum weight penalty and a fraction of the price.
  • 2 0
 I can't argue with that.
  • 2 0
 My xtr pedals are the bees knees, but the 520s I had before are still like 95% percent as functional.
  • 14 0
 My MTBs don’t always come with Shimano parts off the rack, but the first thing I always slap on my MTBs is a set of XT trail SPDs.
  • 10 0
 SPD's have certain stood the test of time. However, I began using Time ATAC's in '96 and still use Time pedals today. They are certainly the bastion of old guys, cyclocross racers and Francophiles or some combo there of (raises hand). Most who try them out either love or hate them, but their durability and consistency is unmatched. To note that original pair from '96 still work and have had zero maintenance. I've tried SPD's, Crank Bros and others over the years, but have always returned to Time. Their latest, the Special 8 is right up there.
  • 2 0
 I have been looking at the special 8. I like the pins on the special 8, But do you get stuck on them, when trying to release?
  • 2 0
 @mitochris: I screwed my pins until they did not engage the shoe at all when in the clip. In addition I backed the tension down about 1.5 turns until it felt like the basic non-adjustable ATAC. The pins are only to provide stability when you are not clipped in and they do so well. The reviewer here on PB found the same thing.
  • 2 0
 @mitochris: The 8 is a great time pedal that will likely last you the rest of forever. I have no issue with hanging on the pins. The pins don't come installed and you just put on the ones you want at the depth you want. If you don't like some pin, take it back out.
  • 13 0
 this made me tear up a little...
  • 8 0
 Those aren't beat up pedals. These are beat up pedals: www.pinkbike.com/photo/19039791

Original Shimano PD-M525 I think. Purchased in 1997 or 1998, about 15 years worth of New England rocks made their marks, and those sides have been pretty much paint/ano free since 2005ish. They still work clip-wise, but desperately need a bearing service.
  • 5 0
 @just6979 looks like they are just starting to bed in nicely now.
  • 2 0
 Oh yeahhh!!!! I've got a set of 747s wearing in like that
  • 1 0
 Good god! Those have seen some shit.
  • 2 0
 @brothel: Yeah, New England rocks will do that, even on a hardtail (those pedals only saw rear suspension for their final year or two).

Best part is that when they came off the bike (3rd or 4th bike they were on), they were 100% functional. The rust didn't show up until they sat for a while and didn't have cleats scraping them clean all the time.

Because the bearings are toasted, I think they might explode off the spindle if used now, unless the bearings are cleaned & repacked, but the clips still work great.
  • 7 0
 These pedals and their caged siblings (M530) are awesome. They will oulast at least 2 of your bikes.
For 30€ they are pretty hard to beat, get the XT if you want them more refined.
In these days of disposable derailleurs and carbon rims it nice to see that durable products can still be bought.
  • 8 1
 I can remember Shimano set up at a race in Big Bear CA circa 1989-90 with a row of bikes on trainers with "new" clipless MTB pedals for riders to try and give feedback. If I remember correctly I felt I would keep riding with toe clips and straps as every one did then. The next year they released the M737 and I became a convert. I still have that same pair, the bearings have been replaced a few times, they are beat up but work great, ready to be taken out of retirement if need be. THANK YOU SHIMANO!! Shimano makes the best components hands down. I have "tested" the competitions offerings and will never disgrace my bike, myself or my family ever again. Life is far too short to not use Shimano.
  • 4 0
 When I started riding mountainbikes back in 2001, friends told me if I was going to be serious I needed to be clipped in. So I got some Ritchey SPD pedals with my bike. Kept crashing, often because I either couldn't clip out or because they unclipped when they shouldn't. Especially when they got muddy and even worse, when there was grass and leaves to keep the mud in place. As a last resort, I got these PD-M515 pedals. Slightly better but not by much. Still had some bad crashes and even worse, it messed with my commitment on whether to ride something out or not. Because you needed to accommodate for a few seconds to realize whether it was going to unclip or not. Eventually I got some nice concave platform pedals and have been happy ever since. Had a short stint with Time Z pedals a couple of years later but kept tipping over again so yeah, no more clipping in for me.

Only now to I learn that I needed the PD-M520, not the PD-M515... I won't go back to being clipped in but funny to learn now that much of my dislike for SPD pedals stems from just having used the old model Wink .
  • 5 0
 That does it. My B-Day present to myself is going to be a pair of XT pedals, switching over from CB's even though the CB's work fine 90% of the time.
I'm just impressed by all your testimonials.
  • 1 0
 If it's your birthday, don't you deserve XTR?? If you don't love yourself, who will?
  • 2 0
 From my personal observations (and also observations from this discussion) XTs are more durable than the current XTR. I would just stick with XT.
  • 1 0
 @garrisond5: I didn't choose XT's because my self esteem won't allow it; I too have it on good authority that the XT's are way more reliable and sturdy than the bling-ier XTR's .

Although my bank account might tend to say, "XT'S" as well.
All of which I blame on the goddam pandemic.
  • 3 0
 I hate these pedals because they dont break even if you dont do maintenance on them. I have M540s that are about a decade old and still going strong on my road bike. I switched to M530s on my mtbs 7 years ago and they still work without doing any maintenance.
  • 3 0
 Been riding since '85 and remember every innovation very well. SPD's are up there on my list of things that significantly changed how you ride. In first place is index shifting. It was friction shifting early on and it was all crap. then Shimano Deore index shifting changed the game. At first it was rear only index, but that was good enough. Disc brakes were a revolution, everything got much faster as you had way more control than canti's. SPD's and Disc Brakes fight for my second place. Both had a remarkable effect. Suspension ranks a bit lower as the earliest incarnations of both front and rear suspension were crap. No debating it. We went through years of riding horrible FS bikes. Rock Shox Mag21, Proflex, Klein Mantra, Trek Ybike, Joshua, Manitou... It was until the Z1 Bomber and the Horst Link came around that FS started to feel great and had durability. 1X drive trains, Carbon and 29 round out the list. Now it feels to me like Geo is the new revolution. I'm 52 and still riding 5 times a week and loving how the sport has evolved, and seeing the younger generations of riders just ripping the trails. And ripping it on flat pedals... Happy Trails.
  • 5 0
 Sub £30 in the UK (often sub £20) AND they include a set of cleats!!! What a time to be alive.
  • 3 1
 Still got my original 1990 737s with aftermarket titanium spindles. Been in storage forever. Currently riding Speedplay Frogs that I bought in 2002, still amazing. Get some funny questions at the park, though. Like “are they magnetic”? Not the craziest question, what with them mounted on an Sworks Enduro. :-D
  • 2 0
 To train for the 1989 race season, David Turner relocated to Terlingua/Lajitas, Texas for the winter. He showed up with either Look or Time road clipless, but soon was training and beta testing Shimano SPDs. Those M737s were awesome in the desert. He raced on 737s that year.
  • 4 0
 I've had a pair for more than 10 years. I've bought multiple more flashy pedals since, but every time they break I return to the trusty old M520s.
  • 6 2
 How come Shimano pedal bearings are seemingly invincible and easily the best in the business, yet their hub bearings are the polar opposite?
  • 1 0
 Are you joking? I am still running my 90's (made in Japan) derore hubs on my city bike. On a nearly daily basis, averaging about 15km a day. I have only greased them a FEW times, never changed the bearing balls. And tightening them about once in two years. I would say this is amazing.
  • 1 0
 @IluvRIDING: on a 'city bike' then, not a mountain bike. So hardly disproving my point
  • 1 0
 @IllestT: nope. Ca 2000 - 2005 as mtb. Also I ride it pretty harsh in the city - kerbs, steps, roots, cobbles with a Rigid front and rear. I suppose the hubs have at least the same amount of use as an average mtb hub.
  • 1 0
 @IluvRIDING: are you on crack right now? Seek help, urgently
  • 2 0
 A proper product that has lasted, and is simplistic. In an industry were products are replaced regularly - these just go on & on. I have 3 pairs, and still have the first set I bought back on 2010/11.
I've tried and used X-Track, Eggbeaters and they're fine, but the PD-520 are all anybody really needs.
  • 2 0
 I have been riding mountain bikes for 27 years. I started in the 90s with toe clips, toe clips on a mountain bike were a stupid idea really but there wasn't really much else. SPDs were only just coming into existence when I first took to the Lakeland bridleways. After a couple of years of crashing using pedals with toe clips I got my first pair of SPDs. The first generation m525 pedals. They were bulky and a bit rubbish in the mud, on today's trails they'd catch every rock, but they changed my riding forever. Since then I've used just about every generation of SPD pedal. I've tried Ritchey pedals, they looked good but wouldn't unclip very easily, leaving me in the bushes at a race a few years ago. I've tried eggbeaters, they were only really good for opening beer bottles. I've always ended up back with Shimano pedals, they just work. XTR on the XC bike, XT on the gravel bike. I must admit to having some Look road pedals on my road bike, although the single sided nature of them annoys me and the clip-clop of road shoes on a cafe floor or steps is enough to make bamby look graceful. Shimano are the champions of manufacturing engineering, when they get it right, they really get it right. They have made some stunning mistakes in their time but SPDs aren't one of them. Long live the SPD pedal.
  • 3 1
 The oldest generations of the SPD pedals were the best. I started on M-737's. Absolutely bomb proof, they outlasted the bike. The newer versions not so much. The current gen XTR pedals are the worst to date. I went through 2 sets and also a couple of replacement spindle/bearing sets. Shimano finally exchanged my XTR's for XT's and haven't had an issue since. It's weird how the most expensive pedal in the lineup seems to be the lowest quality.
  • 2 0
 Isn't it that towards XT you gain both performance and durability and then the step towards XTR is race day stuff? Like, the stuff that may not last as long and may require more maintenance to keep going, but it would save you seconds on a race which may be all worth it. It is "rotating mass" after all. The people interested in these pedals are the ones comparing grams.
  • 1 0
 @vinay: The XTR are thinner actually, making your pedaling more efficient. They’ve also apparently got a smoother action thanks to some fancy coating. It’s not just weight, but the difference still might not be worth it for the regular rider.
  • 1 0
 @MaplePanda: Ah you mean they're lower (closer to the axle). Yeah that's always a good thing though I never realized it was a deal for clipped in riders too. The compromise typically is that there is less room for the bearings so it takes something to try and make them as durable as the cheaper (bulkier) pedals. I wonder if this makes it an issue for those Crankbrothers pedals as you step on the spring which needs room too. At least Shimano has these springs out of the way.
  • 1 0
 @vinay: Yep, having a thinner pedal means you don’t need as much ankle force to keep your feet in a pedalling position. I used Crankbrothers for a year and a half before switching to SPD (needed more tension). The bearings are outboard of the spring assembly, not underneath it.
  • 1 0
 Yes, got a pair of these from the first year they came out. Just cleaned them yesterday, thinking i maybe could paint them black again some day. I think i had that thought a few times over the last decade...lets see if i will happen to succeed in that task before its 2030.
  • 1 0
 For some reason I am trying Crank bros e-mallet right now... if they don't last 20 years with no maintenance I'll be disapointed. And they don't clip in as easy as the SPDs... The release is ok tough. But nothing beats the japaneese ones
  • 2 0
 The complaint I've heard around here is the durability of the brass cleats. They wear out quickly if forced to hike over rocks, whereas steel SPD cleats don't care. One guy I know was going through multiple sets of cleats per season until he switched to SPDs. Ymmv. It's rocky and rooty here and he was off his bike more often than most.
  • 5 0
 @eh-steve: I found the CB cleats wear quickly with just regular clipping in and out.
  • 1 0
 @JockoJones: yep its a seasonal replacement for me. even after a few years the mallets don't have the same crispness as a fresh set.. but when new these are the easiest to get in and out off pedals I've tried.
  • 1 0
 Alternative history from locations with clay based soil. The SPD was invented and the first click in was wonderful. After that it was forever useless as mud entered the mechanism and it never worked right again. - Time users who enjoyed laughing at riders hopelessly trying to get their SPDs to work after their foot touching the ground.
  • 3 0
 That was how I switched from Shimano to Time in the late 90's. Had a particularly muddy ride where I fell a couple of times because I couldn't unclip. Heard rumors that Time's didn't do this and took a chance on them and have never looked back.
  • 1 0
 I feel kind of bad I never tried a proper Shimano SPD. My first clipless was a Wellgo when I lived in Utah for my first job and it was suddenly clear that straps weren't going to cut it. I could never get the Wellgos(I thinkt they were SPD style) to hold on well enough and went to ATACs since I heard they held on the best. I've been on ATACs ever since.
  • 1 0
 Our SPD's all tend to play in the mud so all of my bikes have the M540 on them. A bit better at shedding mud than the M520 and a tiny bit lighter. No complaints, I have pairs that are over a decade old only service is a cleaning. Never saw much reason to move up any further in the range. Plenty of cheaper ways to drop a few dozen grams when the performance is identical.
  • 2 0
 Shimano free wheels, Saint cranks and Shimano hubs. Parts that work , parts that last . No marketing here just solid engineering. Much better than Srams,s circus of new and improved.
  • 2 1
 Key point missing is the first SPD type pedal was made by Look, the S2, somewhere in the early 90's. If I remember my history on it, they licensed the design to Shimano. The designs are so close you could use a SPD cleat on the S2 (can confirm as I did that exact thing for my first year racing). Look was MTB curious at the time, but like Campy didn't see a long term market coming out of the sport. Also guessing things weren't super friendly between Shimano & Look on the business front as Shimano waited until Look's 3 hole road cleat pattern patent expired before releasing their own version.
  • 3 0
 I'm not sure about that timeline my friend. I'm pretty sure Shimano came out with the m737 in 1990. If you look up pictures from the Durango worlds, you can see some riders still using toe clips and others, like Herbold and Tomac on the Shimano m737 with the corresponding grey/brownish 2 strap shoes. I remember the Look S2 that you mention, it had a red pedal body right? Tinker Juarez used them for a while and they were very similar to SPDs, but they didn't come out until a couple years later. Not sure how any licensing worked, as Shimano used Look's road design for a bit back then, then dropped it and pushed SPD-Road (which had a longer metal cleat and a unique 2-bolt front to back pattern) for a while, before dumping that and releasing the SPD-SL for road once Look's patent expired as you mentioned.

In 1990 Look was actually offering an "offroad" pedal which was single sided and used the same cleats as their road pedals, but on the bottom of the pedal body it had tread nubbs so you had a prayer of pedaling while unclipped on it. They were never very popular, for obvious reasons, not to mention that the cleats weren't very walkable.
  • 1 0
 I’ve been running SPDs since 1990 when they were first released. I did try Onza pedals for a short time in 1992 but they sucked, I got rid of them quick. I love my current PD-M8020s.

I’m also thinking of putting PD-M520s on my road bike as I can’t get the hang of road SPD-SLs.
  • 1 0
 When I started riding mtb it was with toe clips and straps, so the move to SPDs was a revelation. When I raced cyclocross I used to spray them and their cleats down with dry lube the night before a race and never had issues with mud - even the really horrible peanut butter grass/clay mix. I do have a pair of Time ATAC pedals that I actually like a little better*, but so many pairs of SPDs that I stuck with Shimano. Now riding more trail than XC and CX, so I find flats to be beneficial for developing better body mechanics and skill now that speed isn't my top priority.

* ATAC pedals seem to have a more distinct release point than SPD, provided your cleats are in good shape. Their brass cleats do wear faster though, and feel different on the modern square profiled spring bales than the previous round ones. If I had all new or all old Times I probably wouldn't notice.
  • 1 0
 I remember switching to CrankBrothers to check their mallets out. After a year and 2 sets of bushings and a very poor replacement process i RAN back to my decade old M520. Got them on my 2003 trek. Still use them today. Feel like new. Best - product - ever.
  • 1 0
 I just ride them until the sole of my shoe wears through the pedal body and exposes the axle and bearings. The pedals in the article look brand new relative to multiple sets of these pedals that I have work through, a few of which are still fine to ride even though they are almost worn through. Amazing. Great to see an article highlighting them as I know many of us have been thinking much of what you have written.
  • 1 0
 my 2 cents for all you ceptics:

i have been MTB for 29 years... meh meh blah blah flats for life, you know...
last year i decided to try SPD... tought i was gonna kill myself! (talkin about enduro & DH use)

In no time i was used to be clip in!! now i see the benefits!! never i will go back!

GIVE IT A TRY! then you´ll have a true opinion
  • 1 0
 I HATE my XTR SPD's...they're the only component on my bike that looks trashed, has moved with me for 2 bikes (over 6 years) and the only component that I still have no desire to replace them with anything newer or shinier...

I guess I LOVE my XTR SPD's...
  • 1 0
 1989. We all got the PD-M737'S and the grey 2 strap shoes. They were game changing, coming from Suntour XC pro pedals, toe clips and the tightest straps you could find. We used two italian binda toe straps with buttons on them. I wore the grey 2 strap shoes to my friend's wedding... There you have it. I'll be 50 in 5 days.
  • 2 0
 - Rolling in The Kettles... I remember you on the metal matrix framed stumpy, so far ahead that I could only see my lungs. I frequently rode trails in my road shoes (Vittoria iirc) with nylon soles and real cleats with a laminated toe strap; when I fell (very often) I had to reach down to release the strap to dismount. There was NO release without touching the strap. Happy B-day, PW
  • 1 0
 @slimjohn65: WHAT!? Who dis?
  • 3 0
 I have a set that’s nearly 20 years Old that I still use regularly. Beat to hell but still solid and smooth.
  • 4 0
 2 reasons to buy 520s Theyre dirt cheap They outlast their buyer
  • 2 0
 I've managed to break a pair of these - do I win a prize?

I hit the bottom of the pedal on a rock and snapped the clip that moves
  • 1 0
 i was starting mtb activitys on 2005 and after few years i bought a new bike on 2007 and in this occasion i had the possibility to start use that fantastic pedal... now i use it on my gravel bike!!!
  • 1 0
 love the clearance and lack of pedal strikes vs flats even with trail platform version. I have a mismatched silver/black possibly different models pair on my gravel bike...they're still great.
  • 1 1
 I rode clipless pedals as a beta tester when they first came out for road bikes, continued to use them for years on road and mountain bikes, then I got away from them while riding muni ... and I never went back. Flats for life!
  • 1 1
 My SPD 520 were on a road bike I had not used for 5 years in the basement of my parent's, when I took the bike to clean it, the pedals were all rusted.

Shimano, if you read this, could you use inox instead? I know it is more costly, but the durability matters. It's climate urgency after all.
  • 2 0
 Good stuff that works, lasts for ever an doesn't cost a fortune. My criteria for a design classic.
  • 3 0
 If I use M530´s, can I celebrate too?
  • 1 0
 That's what I use on my main bike. They look like they went through a war, but work perfectly.
  • 4 1
 Someone should inevnt spell check.
  • 11 0
 Is inevnting nevn a ting?
  • 3 0
 a very classic case of "if it ain't broke don't fix it!"
  • 1 0
 Too bad getting to the bearings can be difficult without the special tool. Many a pair without a mate due to disintegrating the cheap plastic...
  • 1 0
 I started on SPD in the late 90's, had a fling with Time ATAC, realized the error in my ways and am happy to be back with SPD in the XTR flavor. SPD Clipless por vida!
  • 2 0
 I've got shimano SPD pedals on 6 bikes in my garage right now. They have and always will be on my bikes.
  • 1 0
 My original pair of spds are still going strong. Over two decades of adventure.
  • 1 0
 If you're in the UK they're £20 at decathlon with £4 delivery.

Ordered mine yesterday.
  • 1 0
 Shimano SPD is the best. Tried several clipless systems, but I always went back to SPD.
  • 2 0
 Best pedals I have ever owed
  • 1 0
 This is why Shimano is great. So many of their products just last and last and last.
  • 1 0
 And whats the bet that many of those first gen pedals are still hammering away on many a daily bike!
  • 2 0
 Clips. They clip. Clip pedals.
  • 1 0
 You must be young
  • 2 0
 PD-540 is worth the little extra over these.
  • 1 0
 I am not sure about that. Although I ride 540s more over my 520s. I don't think I could tell a difference in a blind test. Even if it took 5 years. The function and durability seems the same to me. Its only the weight difference, that makes the difference. And those 30 grams are irrelevant for most of the peoplt.
  • 1 0
 Just rode my M515s with my SPD sandals over to the DMV. Can't break the f__kers, so my old ones go on my errand bikes.
  • 1 0
 Well, if you`re still using that thing, it`s TIME to get proper clipless pedals.
  • 1 0
 All this history and I've literally never owned a set of Shimano pedals. Been riding since 1990.
  • 1 2
 Please don't go changing these Shimano. They work so good! Unlike the new 12 speed SLX rear derailleur. Lots of plastic on this new derailleur.
  • 3 0
 But when you rip your plastic derailleur off on a rock and only have to pay $80 to replace it...you'll be praising Shimano for their ingenuity!
  • 2 0
 M530 for life.
  • 1 0
 I have XTR versions >10 years old and still going strong.
  • 1 0
 Missed chance to call it m420
  • 1 0
 I did a lot of one footers due to these pedals
  • 1 0
 Such a great pedal!
  • 1 0
 Great writeup, thanks!
  • 1 3
 never understood clip-less pedals, the only benefit, none will ride you bike out of parking lot unless they have proper shoes on them;
  • 1 0
 toe clips for ever
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