Shimano XTR M9120 Trail Pedals Review: That One Flaw

Last modified on May 23rd, 2020  |  Written by
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Looking for lightweight trail/enduro pedals you’ll be balancing between weight and durability. With Shimano’s track record in durability and their competitive pricing, you could be easily swayed to team blue. Even the iconic SPD goes back about 30 years and barely needed change, but the pedals as a whole did changed a lot over time. At the forefront of this innovation sits XTR and the M9210 Trail is Shimano’s newest offering that we’re going to have a closer look at.

Video

Watch the full review video below or check out more MTB related videos at the MTB.guide YouTube Channel. Below this video you find the video transcription.


Features

Shimano’s top of the line XTR trail pedals still have the emphasis on weight reduction while remaining strong and durable enough. Since previous iterations of the XTR Trail pedal (like its predecessor the M9020 Trail), the platform and cage size have been increased. Shimano has consistently chosen to not to add pins to the XTR Trail pedals, like many competitors have done, instead they keep it reserved for their Saint pedals.

A noticeably larger contact surface compared to the previous XTR M9020 Trail.
A noticeably larger contact surface compared to the previous XTR M9020 Trail.

The outer dimensions of the M9120 Trail pedals are about 70 mm by 100 mm and 17 mm thick. The cage is sized noticeably larger than the contact surface, which is mainly concentrated around the center and rear of the pedal. The pedals is, with 395 grams, a tiny bit lighter than it claimed wight of 398 grams, but that said, not incredibly light.

Light as expected, but the competition is close.
Light as expected, but the competition is close.

The XTR pedals feature the same adjustability as commonly seen on Shimano pedals, like the spring adjustment for the force needed to clip in and out of the pedals. On these pedals it can easily be adjusted with a 2.5 mm hex key. The body covers, which hold down the front of your cleat, can be replaced, however I’ve never had the need to replace these with previous Shimano pedals. When (if) it’s time for servicing, you can remove the axle assembly to re-grease or replace is as a whole.

Besides the pedal adjustments you have the choice between two types of cleats. The standard black (SM-)SH51 single-release cleats (which are included) and the silver SH56 multi-release cleats. The multi-release cleats can be a solution for novice riders, making it easier to clip out of the pedals. But this also makes them unsuited for enduro riding, especially while jumping. The included cleat spacers offer a 1 mm adjustability in case the thread of the shoe interferes to much with the pedal.

These 1 mm shims are included, might you need them.
These 1 mm shims are included, might you need them.

Competitors

In this price segment there are a couple, of what I consider, competitors that also offer a lightweight trail/enduro pedal. Probably the most popular option would be the Crankbrothers Mallet E. At only a 5% weight penalty compared to the XTR, or about 20 grams, you are getting a lot more pedal for your money. These beefy pedals do look like they could hold up to the abuse of enduro. Reliability of Crankbrothers pedals is still a point that I hear people often complain about. I own the Eggbeater, Candy and Mallet E pedals but I don’t come to the same conclusion. They do however need regular maintenance, something that you’re probably not used to if you’re coming from Shimano pedals. And the use of Shoe Shields and Traction Pads for customizing the pedal feel also come at an additional cost when it’s time for maintenance. The other 3 pedals are quite closely matched to each other and sit a bit in between de XTR and Mallet E.

shimano xtr m9120 pedals review 14
Plenty of choices, but sometimes minor differences.

An important (and often overlooked) choice to make, is if you want pins on your pedals and where you intend to use them for. Riding with XC, trail or flat pedal style SPD shoes, can make the world of difference if the pins are going to help or interfere. If you, for example, combine a trail shoe with a Look X-track En-Rage Plus pedal, you’ll see that the pins don’t come in contact with the thread of the shoe. Only when not clipped in and standing on the pedals, these pins can provide some grip.

The benefit of this, is that the pins don’t interfere with the float or disengagement from the pedal. When you combine the Mallet E with flat pedal style shoe, you’ll notice that your float movement will be limited or non-existent, especially when you put load on the pedal. It will also be more difficult to clip in but especially, to clip out. Accidentally clipping out will therefore rarely be the case. You’ll find yourself leaning towards one side or the other. Another thing to consider between all the pedals in this comparison is that they all use different cleats and, while some compatible with one another, they will not give you the same amount of float or release angle.

Top to bottom: Crankbrothers Mallet E/Giro Chamber, Look X-Track En-Rage Plus Ti/Shimano SH-ME701, Shimano XTR M9120 Trail/Shimano SH-ME701.
Top to bottom: Crankbrothers Mallet E/Giro Chamber, Look X-Track En-Rage Plus Ti/Shimano SH-ME701, Shimano XTR M9120 Trail/Shimano SH-ME701.

Looking at the alternatives within Shimano’s own collection of pedals, you’d probably be looking at the more affordable XT M8120 Trail and maybe the sturdier downhill orientated Saint M820 pedals. The axle assemblies of the XT and XTR pedals are nearly identical in design, while the XTR axle is machined down a bit further for weight saving purposes. These axle assemblies are bot also completely replaceable and serviceable.

Priced about two thirds of the XTR pedals, being a bit heavier and having a slightly smaller cage, the XT pedals sit at an interesting price point. For people that like aggressive downhill oriented riding and really want to feel connected with their pedals, the Saint pedals could be the pedal of your choice. They are quite heavy at 546 grams a pair, but these are probably the most bomb proof pedals Shimano currently makes.

The difference between XTR and XT are minor. Considering weight/price, XT is usually the more sensible option.
The difference between XTR and XT are minor. Considering weight/price, XT is usually the more sensible option.

On the trails

I used these XTR M9120 Trail pedals for about 9,5 months and accumulated 1421 km (883 mi) with them. What was most apparent from the beginning on and what I liked most, is the ease of clipping in and out of the pedals and without the need of exerting too much force. With Crankbrothers pedals for example you have to be fairly accurate with your foot placement to clip in, while with these it feels like you can almost just stamp on the pedals somewhere and you magically clip in. This makes it especially convenient on some more challenging trails or inclines.

In the dry these XTR M9120 Trail feel great.
In the dry these XTR M9120 Trail feel great.

The float of 8 degrees and release angle of 13 degrees is a combination that can be achieved by several other brand and is not out of the ordinary. I personally like that the float and release angle are close to each other, leaving out a part of vagueness in between float and clipping out. The available spring adjustment is plenty and easily adjustable on the fly.

I tested the M9120 Trail with the Shimano ME701 trail/enduro shoes, which were marketed to be a perfect match with these pedals. This combination felt very stable with side to side movement, but it felt more like I was standing on a regular SPD pedal, lacking the added support you’d expect from the cage. Looking closer at this combination it’s clear that there’s a large difference between the contact surface of the pedal and the actual contact patch. Where I noticed a benefit of the trail pedal was in slippery conditions when you have a foot out and just need a bit of extra support from your pedal, while not yet being clipped in. In muddy conditions is where I like to have pins to provide a bit more grip. Having a hard time clipping in in muddy, is a common weak point of SPD pedals due to its mud clearing capabilities. Crankbrothers are hard to beat on this aspect due to its more open design.

The support you get from the cage can vary greatly depending on shoes.
The support you get from the cage can vary greatly depending on shoes.

After a while of riding I noticed that the seals of the pedals popped out. I pushed them back in, but within a few kilometers, usually less than 40, they popped out again. These seals prevent dirt getting in to the pedal body and prevent premature wear. If a seal wasn’t needed, it wouldn’t be installed, especially on an XTR pedal. So, I returned the pedals to get it repaired under warranty. After about a month I received, not a repaired, but a completely new set of pedals, including cleats. On the first ride, 20kms in, the same thing happened. This went on a couple of times, but after 5 sets of XTR pedals replaced under warranty, I can surely say that these pedals have a flaw that Shimano didn’t manage to solve during my review period.

Not even a scratch on the pedal yet and the seal popped out.
Not even a scratch on the pedal yet and the seal popped out.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get that many kilometers out of a single set of pedals to get a good idea of the reliability of the rest of the pedal. I rode a maximum of 480km on a single set and a total of 1421km all sets combined, before returning them.

Maintenance

Since the usage of each separate set of pedals was too short to have noticeable wear, there wasn’t really a need for maintenance. Knowing that the seals can pop out, water and debris can easily enter the pedal body and shorten the lifespan of the M9120 quite considerably. I do have to mention that the pedal assemblies for the XT and XTR pedals are slightly different and may not show the same issue.

No seal to be seen on the right (yet, until it popped out…)
No seal to be seen on the right (yet, until it popped out…)

Looking closer at the pedals, it seems that the seals aren’t always installed consistently from the factory. But looking at the lip and the ridge on the seal, there isn’t much there to prevent it from popping out. I tried putting a liberal amount of grease in there, and that kept the seals in a bit longer than a single ride.

You can adjust the play in the bearings with the top nut.
You can adjust the play in the bearings with the top nut.

Disassembling the M9120 is easy and can be acchieved using a few basic tools. Using a 15mm spanner you can remove the pedal assembly and it comes out as a single unit. These can be bought separately for easy replacement for prices ranging between 40 and 60 euros. Play in the pedal can be adjusted with the top nut. By removing this nut, you can take the whole pedal assembly apart and perform thorough maintenance. The easy way is to re-grease the pedal assembly, is to remove the pedal assembly, put plenty of grease in the pedal body and push the whole pedal assembly in the body, pushing in the new grease and out the old grease. The thorough cleaning of the pedal includes you fiddling with the small ball bearings.

Conclusion

Starting this review of the XTR M9120 Trail pedals I expected to have a nice set of pedals that would last me a while and would become my main go-to pedal. The XTR pedals are, in essence a, great pedal. There is so much to like, from the pedal feel, engagement, weight, esthetics and adjustability. The price is high at 169.95 euros, but compared to the competition it’s not out of the ordinary and this is not taking in to account the regular discounts that Shimano has.

A negative that has always been there for Shimano SPD pedals is mud clearance. Even thou a smaller axle can give a tiny bit more free room for mud to go, it’s never going to be great. With the lack of pins on these pedals it’s also quite a slippery pedal in these conditions. What I did not expect, is a quality issue that Shimano didn’t manage to solve in their top of the line pedal. After some investigation I discovered that I’m not the only one experiencing this issue. There are other reviewers and consumers that also had the seals popping out of the pedal.

Shimano…why?
Shimano…why?

The unwanted dirt ingress caused by the seal can reduce the lifespan of your pedals significantly, but knowing the issue and not solving it is in my opinion even worse. Especially at this price point. These XTR pedals are not up to par to the Shimano standards that I know. It’s strange to say, but I can’t recommend these XTR M9120 Trail pedals, unless they managed to solve the seal issue. I haven’t seen any issues pop up with the XT M8120 Trail pedals, so you might want to look at these as an alternative. 

MTB.guide rating   2 5 star rating
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