Are Shimano Clipless Pedals Good for Gravel? Everything You Need to Know

Gravel riding has exploded in popularity over the past few years, and with it, the debate around the best pedal setup for those rugged, off-road rides.  One brand that’s consistently in the mix is Shimano – their clipless pedals are beloved by road and mountain bikers alike.

But how do they hold up when the pavement gives way to dirt and gravel? In this post, I will discuss whether Shimano clipless pedals are a good choice for your next gravel excursion.

Should You Even Bother With Clipless Pedals?

The answer is a resounding yes, and here’s why:

  • Efficiency: Your pedaling becomes more efficient. No more wasting energy by pushing down and lifting up; you’re using every muscle to move forward.
  • Control: Better bike control, especially when you’re maneuvering through rough terrain.
  • Speed: You go faster. Who doesn’t like speed?

My Experience with Shimano Clipless Pedals on Gravel

SPD Pedals benefits

Gravel riding and road biking are totally different animals. It’s important to keep that in mind. When I first made the switch to Shimano clipless pedals for my gravel bike, I’ll admit I was feeling pretty optimistic about it.

I mean, how challenging could it be, right?  Well, I have to admit it’s been a bit of a mixed bag. There have definitely been some dreamy moments out on the gravel, but I’ve also had a few nightmarish experiences too.

The Good
  • Stability: Once clipped in, you feel like a part of the bike. On stable, packed gravel, it’s a smooth ride.
  • Efficiency: The power transfer is amazing. You feel every watt going directly into your forward motion.
  • Confidence: Knowing your feet won’t slip off the pedals gives you a confidence boost. You can focus on navigating rather than worrying about foot placement.
The Bad
  • Unclipping Issues: Let’s be honest, unclipping in a hurry can be a real pain. If you’re not a pro at it, you might find yourself toppling over like a cartoon character. I’ve had my share of embarrassing falls.
  • Mud and Dirt: Gravel paths are rarely dry (at least the ones I’m cruising on). Mud and gunk can clog up the cleats and pedals, making clipping in and very problematic.
  • Adaptation PeriodThere’s a learning curve. Your first few rides might involve a lot of swearing and some bruises.

Shimano Pedal Options for Gravel

Shimano Pedals for Gravel

Not all Shimano pedals are created equal, that much is certain. Some are better suited for gravel than others.


  • Affordable, reliable, and versatile. They’re a good entry point for beginners.
  • They can be a bit heavy, and mud clearance isn’t the best.

PD-M8020 XT

  • Excellent for technical trails. Great mud-shedding ability, robust build.
  • A bit on the pricier side. But after all, you get what you pay for.

PD-M9120 XTR

SPD Pedals pros and cons

  • Top of the line. Light, durable, and fantastic mud clearance. Perfect for hardcore gravel riders.
  • Expensive. You might have to skip a few life’s pleasures to afford these.

I switched around these three over the course of years, and the PD-M8020 XT worked the best for my riding style and the terrain I love to ride on. Now, this doesn’t mean you will have the same experience.

If you have a budget and desire to try all of these, I say go for it. All three had served their purposes throughout the years, and I think you won’t regret spending some cash here, especially if you’re invested in gravel.

Tips for Using These Pedals on Gravel

Clipless Shimano pedal shoes

  1. Practice, Practice, Practice: Spend time getting used to clipping in and out. Do it in a safe environment before hitting the gravel.
  2. Maintenance: Keep your pedals and cleats clean. Mud and dirt can seriously mess with your ability to clip in and out.
  3. Adjust Tension: Most Shimano pedals allow you to adjust the tension. Find a setting that balances security and ease of release.
  4. Right Shoes Matter: Use proper gravel shoes that are compatible with Shimano cleats. They make a huge difference in comfort and performance.

My Final Verdict

So, are Shimano clipless pedals good for gravel? In a nutshell, yes, but with caveats. They offer fantastic efficiency and control, but they come with a learning curve and some potential for frustration.

If you’re willing to invest time in practice and maintenance, they can completely change the way in which you enjoy these rides. For me, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Despite a few faceplants and some choice words muttered under my breath, I wouldn’t go back to flat pedals for gravel riding.  The power transfer and control are worth every scraped knee and muddy cleat. And overall, it’s just better!


Shimano’s clipless pedals aren’t a universal fix, that’s for sure, but they did wonders for me. They can be a great match for gravel riding, but they do take a bit of getting used to. You’ve gotta be willing to put in the time to get the hang of them.

That said, if you’re looking to take your gravel game to new heights, I’d say they’re definitely worth considering.  Just remember to practice unclipping in a safe spot first, keep your gear well-maintained, and play around with the tension settings until you find what works best for your riding style.

With a little patience, those clipless pedals can be a real game-changer out on the gravel.

Bike Gravel Shimano Clipless pedals

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