The pedal is one of the most important parts of a bike – but can also be pretty complicated. Shimano SPD SL pedals are popular and generally considered well-made, and their SPD SL Carbon Road pedals are known for durability, versatility and affordability.
Extra-Wide Pedal Platform
The extra-wide pedal platform provides more surface area for your foot, which allows for an efficient transfer of power. This is especially useful for long or difficult riding, where every bit of muscle energy needs to translate to forward motion.
The pedals are made from carbon fiber, which is both tough and light. At a light 248g, these pedals won’t drag your feet down.
Carbon fiber is generally pretty strong. It’s also malleable, so the pedal can potentially regain its shape if bent. (source)
Low Stack Height
A low stack helps keep your weight towards the front of the bike, which allows for more control when riding over difficult terrain (source). The SPD SL pedals are -0.7 mm lower than the PD-6800 models.
The axel is a long 4 mm allows for more power to be driven to the bicycle crank arm with less rider effort. The axel is longer than most other Shimano pedals.
Shimano SPD SL Review
There are lots of bicycle pedals out there. Let’s take a look at some specific features and why they’re important:
On Build Quality
These pedals are built to last. The carbon-composite construction is strong and scratch-resistant (source). Two sets of bearings spin around a stainless steel spindle for smooth performance in all conditions.
A stainless steel contact plate helps protect against damage. The contact plate is removable and replaceable. Overall durability is very high.
These pedals are a good choice if you enjoy many different types of riding. Shimano rates them for Road, Time Trial, Triathlon and Competition.
The SPD SL pedals excel at city riding. The tension range allows you to lock your feet in when pedaling at high speeds. But you can also yank your feet free when necessary. Perfect for those sudden, unexpected stops which seem to happen when biking in a crowded urban environment.
These clipless road pedals work well during triathlons and other fast-paced situations.
These pedals are wide, which improves overall stability in a surprisingly noticeable way. Also contributing to stability is the cartridge axle. The unit is sealed against dirt and even water.
This set includes two cleats and all necessary installation hardware. The floating cleats (SM-SH11s) are black/yellow with six degrees of separation. The Black/Red cleat (SM-SH10) is also available if you want a fixed cleat with no float.
The cleat set is perfectly compatible with all Shimano SPD-SL pedals. Also compatible with the Dura-Ace PD-7810 and the Ultegra PD-6620.
Cleans have three float options:
Cleats were easy to engage and disengage. Simply line up the sole of the shoe to the cleats, step in and you’ll be automatically engaged.
Reinserting the cleat causes a definitely click. This audio confirmation provides peace of mind when cycling. You don’t have to look down in order to know your feet are firmly locked in.
They have a wide platform for comfortable walking. Plus, walking doesn’t wear down the cleats, which is a major problem often encountered in other types of pedals. When walking with the SPD SL, you’re only putting pressure on the three colored tabs which don’t impact the pedal stroke.
SPD stands for Shimano Pedaling Dynamics, which is a system connecting the cleat to the pedal. The shoe’s metal cleat clicks into the pedal.
While similar systems are available in many other pedals and shoes, Shimano deserves special consideration. They didn’t invent this system, but they have been on the front line of development for decades.
Shimano posts a “standard tension adjustment” on their website for guidance. Adjusting the tension settings was very easy. We generally recommend a mid-setting. The release tension does make a loud snap and is generally pretty tight.
On Ground Clearance
These pedals sit very close to the top of the spindle. The stack height is a surprisingly low 13.7mm. Ground clearance was never an issue, even when pedaling through fast corners.
Of course, pedals will get clipped on occasion. But that’s not really a problem thanks to the stainless steel protection plate. The pedals might get scratched but performance will remain unaffected.
The Shimano SPD SL pedals are very affordable. You get the quality of a high-end pedal at a much lower price than similar pedals from other manufacturers. Plus, Shimano offers a two-year warranty on all of their products (source).
How Does It Compare?
Of course, these aren’t the only bicycle pedals on the market. While this Shimano SPD SL review can help you decide if these pedals are a good fit for your biking needs, you’ll also want to how they rate compared to the competition.
The three main competitors are:
- Watt 1.0 Clipless Road Bike Pedals by BC Bicycle Company
- Speedplay Zero Chromoly Pedals Walkable
- Shimano PD-R540 SPD-SL Road Pedals
The SPD SL is capable of pro-level performance but is also lightweight enough for new riders. If you’re looking for pedals suited just for beginners, the Shimano PD-R540 might be a better choice because they’re simpler overall.
The Speedplay Zero Chromoly is designed for fast racing and competition. They’re similar to the SPD SL but with less of an emphasis on the more casual rider. Watt pedals are generally considered an alternative to Shimano pedals, although the Shimano brand name is considered more of an innovator in the industry.
The Watt 1.0 is made from die-cast aluminum with fiberglass reinforced thermoplastic binding. They weigh 165 grams apiece, which is lighter than the 248 grams of the SPD SL. However, the carbon fiber of the SPD SL is easier to bend back into shape in the event of damage.
Engaging and disengaging the cleat is basically the same across all pedals except for the Speedplay. It uses a symmetrical double-sided pedal which requires no kicking. While this self-locating pedal performs well, and is actually a pretty exciting features, it’s not really enough for us to recommend the Speedplay over the Shimano SPD SL overall.
The Shimano PD-R540 road pedals are made from aluminum and chrome. They’re a bit less durable than the carbon fiber of the SPD SL, but that’s expected with the significantly lower price.
The Shimano is a great value for the construction and features but it’s not the cheapest pedal on the market. At $37, the Shimano PD-R540 SPD-SL Road Pedals are the ones to choose if your budget is tight.
The Watt pedals are $60, making them the second-most affordable. These are a good choice if you want the versatility of the SPD SL, but the Shimano prices are just a bit out of reach.
The Shimano SPD SL ranges from $100 to $200. The Speedplay pedals are $187, but they’re not quite as flexible as the SPD SL. With the Shimano SPD SL, you only need one set of pedals for triathlon, road and time trials. Unless you’re strictly a competitive rider, the Shimano are likely the better choice.
Shimano pedals deliver durable construction with lots of customization options. While the SPD SL isn’t the cheapest pedals offered from Shimano, they do offer a great value with many more features than similarly priced Watt and Speedplay pedals.
These clipless pedals are great for triathlons, city riding and more. The extra-wide platform provides efficient pedaling power while the low stack height helps maintain control.
Plus, the Shimano name is almost always a reliable buy. They’re innovators in the SPD system, with decades of experience in all types of bike gear. With a two-year warranty, you know this company will be there if you have any problems.
While the up-front cost is a little high, especially compared to the Watt pedals, the Shimano’s will likely last longer. The carbon body is resistant to scratches and damage. So, if you can afford the initial cost to the SPD SL, you likely won’t have to buy a new set of pedals for at least a few years.
Riders of all skill levels will find a lot to like about the Shimano SPD SL pedals. If you’re serious about speed and control no matter where you’re riding, but are also serious about overall value, the Shimano SPD SL is worth serious consideration.