There are a few great things about Shimano SPD-SL pedals. They're dependable. They require virtually no maintenance. The wide platform gives a sure-footed connection to your bike. You have three choices of cleats for float options (fixed, one-degree and six-degree). Tension is easily adjustable. And, perhaps best of all, they're not fussy – you can put a foot down in mud or snow, then kick your foot on the pedal a couple of times, clip in and go.
- Highs: Long track record of dependable design, wide platform, adjustable tension, three cleat/float options, virtually no maintenance
- Lows: Takes a month or so for pedal to break in so that rear drops down for easy entry
- Buy if: You want a dependable SPD-SL pedal that will last and last — without paying for Dura-Ace
The latest Ultegra iteration, the SPD-SL 6800, features a composite carbon body that spins on two sets of bearings around a stainless steel spindle. The stainless steel contact plate is replaceable, but good luck wearing that thing out.
Ultegra is often referred to as being almost as good as the top-end Dura-Ace, just a bit heavier – and a whole lot cheaper. The SPD-SL 6800 exemplifies this theory.
Once clipped in, there is really no way to differentiate an Ultegra pedal from a Dura-Ace model. On a scale you can discern a difference: we weighed an Ultegra at 129g and a Dura-Ace at 124g.
And, somewhat annoyingly, you can tell a difference in the first few rides before you clip in: our Ultegra pedals wouldn't drop down at the back for easy entry until the seals loosened up after a few dozen rides. This often meant looking down and pawing at the pedal to get it into position before stepping in.
The stainless steel contact plate on the wide-body pedal is replaceable — not that you'll ever wear it out
Aside from that initial annoyance, it is really difficult to find fault with the Ultegra pedals.
The pedals come with the yellow cleats, which offer +/- 3 degrees of float, pivoting from the front of the cleat. These are probably the best for most riders, most of the time.
The red cleats are fixed, which some riders prefer, but require a perfectly dialed fit; others may find the lack of float to irritate their knees or other joints. The relatively new blue cleats give a single degree of float, pivoting from the midpoint of the pedal. At least one tester likes racing with these as they give a locked in feel with just a bit of wiggle room.
The pedals have a low stack height of 13.7mm, which means your foot is sitting pretty darn close to right on top of the spindle. Ground clearance is great, too, so pedaling through fast corners is no problem. If you should clip a pedal — and we have — the Ultegras won't flinch. Sure, you'll scratch 'em up, but performance won't be affected in the slightest.
Similarly (and not that we encourage abuse of your bike parts, but...) you can get away with much rougher treatment of these pedals and cleats than, say, those of Speedplay or Time/Mavic. Walking around too much on the cleats? No problem. Get mud or grit on the cleats or pedals? No problem; a couple of kicks to clear most of the grit and you're on your way.
Yes, they are a few grams heavier than Dura-Ace, but the overall performance is on par and they are a whole lot cheaper. (And, you can get them for much less than their listed price from many online retailers.)
The Dura-Ace pedal gets a third set of bearings (just inboard of the pedal body) to the Ultegra's two, and it's a little bit lighter. But performance-wise, they are very, very close