Pick your perfect bike connection

Shimano SPD pedals are the benchmark for most when it comes to clipless pedal performance. Shimano makes models both with and without the benefits of an added platform for shoe support. The XTR Trail (right) and Saint (left) models are similarly priced, and both are at the top of the food chain when it comes to materials and workmanship; however, there are some key differences between the two that may make one or the other a better choice for your bike.

Body shape and a 2mm thickness difference favor the XTR model (right) if you pedal a lot on rocky trails.


XTR Trail (PD-M9120)

Tech info: The XTR Trail pedals feature an extra-long and wide pedal-to-shoe contact area compared to the XTR race pedal, which doesn’t feature the extra cage around the mechanism. They have a pared-down profile next to the Saint but are still meant to be forgiving if you miss a clip. They use wide bearing placement for rigidity and uniform load distribution and a larger platform, albeit without pins, to increase stability and control when not clipped in. The body design also protects the binding mechanism better than the Race version of the pedals.

Both pedals utilize a dual-bearing design. The Saint axle (left) is 2mm longer and slightly more heavy-duty feeling.


Saint (PD-M820)

This pair of pedals is built primarily for gravity riders. It has a lower profile than the Saint platform pedal but is not as slim as the XTR Trail. It also features four height-adjustable pins per side for improved grip when not clipped-in. Previous generations of Shimano gravity pedals had a spring-loaded mechanism that popped up to engage, but this new version is fixed for improved durability. The robust retention claws provide smooth engagement and release, and the pedal body protects them from impacts.

Field test results: While the list of features is similar on the XTR Trail and Saint pedals, the feel is quite different on the trails. The XTR Trail has an adequate contact patch that’s effective and comfortable. The SPD mechanism offers plenty of adjustable tension to keep you connected to the bike, although the body does not offer additional stability, because it is not designed to make contact with most shoes. By contrast, the Saint pedal features a body that’s not only protective but also has four additional pins to help grip the sole of a rubber-bottomed shoe. When combined with the larger contact surface, the Saint pedal has much more grip. This is useful for riders who believe the few extra grams are worth it to gain the extra control and stability that the Saint pedal offers. Without the extra grip from the pins, the XTR Trail is easier to get out of quickly. It also has a crisp click-in/click-out feel free of the extra mushy feeling of the shoe rubber holding the pins.

The Saint pedal (top) is more substantial in size and weight. While the chart may only show a couple of millimeters of difference between the two, we experienced a couple of extra rock strikes per ride with this setup. While we enjoyed the extra stability, pedaling performance in technical terrain is better with the slimmed-down XTR Trail pedal (bottom). The extra clearance may not sound like much, but it comes in handy when you need it most and might be the difference between making that technical uphill and putting a foot down. We’d still consider the Saint pedal to be relatively thin compared to some, but the squared-off aluminum edges will snag more often. That said, those extra millimeters and pins on the corners will help you feel more connected to the bike at all times, especially in rough terrain. Those who fear coming unclipped unexpectedly will prefer the Saint pedals, because you can ride them with a reasonable amount of control, even if your cleat isn’t clipped into the mechanism. While the XTR Trail pedal looks like it has a large enough platform for this, the shape is not as willing to grab your shoe without the mechanism.


Bottom line

Cross-country riders will prefer the XTR version, and most gravity riders will opt for the Saint. Trail riders in the middle can benefit from the features of both options. Which one suits your style will depend on both your experience level with being clipped in and your specific terrain. While the intended use of these pedals overlaps somewhat, the variation in design yields two distinctly different feels. The XTR Trail is crisp and lightweight and slips past rocks with ease. The Saint is grippier and makes the bike feel more stable and confident in rough terrain. Which of these will suit your pedaling needs is up to you.

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