Shimano claim that their new XTR race pedal (PD-M980) offers the ultimate in power transfer. After a month-and-a-half riding on them, we agree – but this efficiency comes at high cost to the pedal’s ability to perform in adverse conditions.
In the dry, the new XTR race pedal (as opposed to the PD-M985 'trail' option) is a star. Entry, release and pedaling performance is the best in the business. Add mud or even slightly moist dirt or sand (the type that sticks to shoes or pedals) to the equation, however, and the effort it takes to enter the pedal skyrockets. In fact, in moderate to heavy mud, it becomes almost un-usable.
In both these situations where the M980 falters – sticky mud (especially the clay laden variety) and, to a lesser extent, damp sand – the older M970 pedal works better; we tested this by riding with a sample of each pedal on the same bike, at the same time.
When we took our problems to Shimano, Devin Walton, from the brand's media relations department, said: "Feedback on the changes we’ve made to further increase pedaling stability and efficiency have been positively acknowledged by those who’ve ridden them. As you’ve experienced, the one caveat is that the revisions to create the increased surface area may have the potential to create interference in sticky mud conditions."
Even with the increased platform size, the new pedal boasts large holes for mud evacuation
The new pedal boasts a four-fold increase in pedal-to-shoe contact over the M970. As Devin suggests, it seems to be the build-up of mud or dirt on this contact patch – which is also responsible for the M980’s incredible dry weather efficiency – that prevents the cleat from engaging, rather than the retention mechanism itself getting clogged with mud and jamming.
The mechanism is almost identical to the M970 and the space around the axle for mud to flow through is actually larger. We found that stomping and shimmying around on the pedals worked some of the time to clear soil from the top of the pedal or bottom of the shoe, but if the mud was sticky enough it ended up being a losing battle. Thin, soupy mud was easier to push through.
We did the majority of our testing with Shimano’s M310 shoes, which sport a sole and tread that’s very similar to the new M315, so the engagement issue will persist with the new model as well. Because the problem is caused by too much contact, reducing the shoe’s tread – and thus the shoe-to-pedal contact patch – will likely improve the pedal’s engagement in bad conditions.
Overall, we enjoyed the extra-efficient and incredibly connected feeling that the M980s offer and would happily use them during Colorado’s hot and dry summers. But if a race day forecast calls for rain, we’ll be sure to pull our M970s or, better yet, a pair of CrankBrothers Eggbeaters out of the tool box and install them for their foul weather insurance. For cyclo-cross we can't recommend this new pedal due to its inability to operate well in mud.
We'd still pick the M970 (right) on a muddy day
One thing is for sure with the M980 pedal, even thought its design seems flawed – material and construction quality is second to none. The new pedals weigh just 308g per pair on our scale, down from the 970s’ 326g weight. The Q-Factor is the same as the 970, but the overall height of the pedal has been reduced by 2.2mm, which translates to more clearance and a lower stack height.
The pedal body encases more of the axle spindle, which makes the system stiffer both through the added overlap and the wider bearing placement. The bearings are buttery smooth and, if the 970’s durability is any indicator, should outlive any competitor currently on the market.
The new pedals use the same SH51 or SH56 (multi-release) cleats as the 970; this paired with the same Q-factor means current XTR users won't have to re-assess their cleat position, though they will need to drop their saddles by 2.2mm. Finally, for what it’s worth, the new pedals look sleek, fast and offer a good aesthetic complement to the new M980 component group.
The new pedal is sleeker and shorter – by 2.2mm – than the previous M970 iteration
Testers don't always agree, and What Mountain Bike's Justin Loretz had a very different experience with the XTR Races, awarding them 4/5. Here's what he had to say:
"Building on the success of a respected model, the M980 has had some tweaks to improve an already excellent performance. An oval axle body increases mud shedding and reduces the ‘clog’ factor, plus an offset binding gives a greater contact area. In use that translates into a positive click in and out, with a reassuringly solid riding feel. And despite riding on the very worst of claggy post-snow clay trail conditions we didn’t experience any difficulties with mud clearance.
The overall quality of the pedal’s machining is simply impeccable. You can adjust the tension (and so the ease with which you pop your foot out, or not), and the bearings can be removed for maintenance. Based on previous experience this pedal is so robust that if you are slack in that department (um... like four years) it can take it on the chin and still scrub up well when you do get round to it. It’s not cheap thanks to a £50 increase from last year but taking a deep breath and investing in the XTR Race will always feel like money well spent."