The clipless diaries, part 6: Shimano Deore PD-M530 SPD pedals

As I found myself using the turbo trainer more often, clipless pedals made more sense as they allow me to keep my feet planted while I spin high cadences during interval training. I quickly realized just how much I disliked the effort of swapping pedals between bikes, how many tools it required, and how much time it took…the added faff has the potential to discourage me from logging in my training.

I needed another set of SPD pedals. I got a good deal on a barely used pair of Shimano’s PD-M530s. Nominally part of the Deore groupset, this is perhaps the company’s most basic SPD pedal with an external cage.

Like the Saint PD-MX80 flat pedals, the M530s thread into cranks either with a 6 mm hex wrench, or a 15 mm pedal wrench. At 455 g they’re around the same weight, too; weight weenies need not apply. They’re plenty strong, though, as is typical with Shimano pedals.

I like the workmanlike, minimalist aesthetic. No groupset branding to shout, just the Shimano logotype on the outside vertical face. In silver, those would be even stealthier and hide scratches better. Seems there’s lots of room for any mud to fall off the pedal body, too – not that I’ll be testing this, as most of my riding is on asphalt.

The PD-M530 pedals look pretty good paired with the FC-R565 crank. Non-series? No problem.

Had I bought these brand-new, they would have come with the black SH51 single-release SPD cleats. Not a bad bundle for PhP1600 SRP. There are vastly more expensive versions of this basic design, but your added cash isn’t necessarily getting you a better-working pedal – you’re really just paying for exotic materials and weight savings.

Perhaps not the best option for beginners, though…

Compared to my existing Deore XT T780 pedals, the M530s have a much tighter hold built into their SPD mechanism. I think it’s down to a spring with stronger tension. Set to minimum, the cleat retention is as strong as the T780s set to half or even 70% of maximum. It took me a bit of getting used to, but it does eliminate any chance of unwanted release. In contrast, the SPD bindings of the T780s have relaxed over time; sometimes my cleats pop out of them when my pedaling motion isn’t as straight as it should be on the turbo trainer.

The stronger release tension does mean more foresight needed for unclipping in urban riding scenarios, though. In that respect, they’re a little less newbie-friendly, even paired with SH56 multi-release cleats. The T780 or something like Shimano’s Click’R line would be better for nervous newbies to learn on, the latter due to their SPD bindings having 60% less spring tension.

Clockwise from top left: Deore PD-M530 double-sided SPD; Deore XT PD-T780 SPD+platform; Saint PD-MX80 platform

With the M530s, I now have quite a spectrum of pedals – all of them below PhP3500. The Saint MX80s are my reliable platform pedals, further customizable with traction pins; these are going into storage, going back on when my wife feels like riding with me. The Deore XT T780s are my commuter pedals, sporting a platform side, an SPD binding side, and reflectors in the pedal cage. The Deore M530s, with SPD bindings on both sides, are for maximum foot retention for take-no-prisoners riding.

The clipless diaries, part 5: Before and after

So, pratfalls aside, how have clipless pedals changed my riding?

It took a while for me to get comfortable in them. I came from a flat pedal background, so when I tried driving my leg force through the pedal body, I found validity in some people’s claim of “hot spots” on the foot since the SPD mechanism effectively “shrinks” the pedal into a lump. Initially, my feet were curling up trying to apply the power to what they felt of the pedal body…which isn’t much. As hard as it is to believe, this might also be down to the RT33 shoes themselves not being the stiffest; Shimano rate them a 5 out of a possible 12 on their own stiffness scale.

Backing off, I relaxed and tried to just spin the pedals. This felt much better. With some more practice, I found the key was to drive the power through the shoes, not the pedals. With the shoe locked on the pedal, it effectively serves as an extension of the pedal body, so leg power can be delivered without applying as much force.

One thing clipless pedal advocates love to talk about is how the system lets you pull up on the pedals to make power – recruiting more muscles and effectively “doubling” your leg power. Hmmm, okay. While this is true, I doubt the force delivered by pulling up on the pedals is anywhere close to that of pushing down on them, or leg extension. Even with flat pedals, I could recruit my hamstrings and glutes by sliding rearward on the saddle, and even with clipless pedals, the act of pedaling is still primarily driven by the quadriceps muscle.

However, I felt that at higher cadences it’s easier to spin, and do so with more controlled power along slightly more of the pedal travel, than on flat pedals – resulting in more efficient pedaling and a higher average speed. Along BF Parañaque’s bumpy Concha Cruz Drive, on a tempo effort with flat pedals, my pace tends to drop from 20 km/h to around 16 at the exit gate. On the clipless setup, I could maintain 20 km/h the whole length, sometimes even breaking it. The benefits will only show up when I put in the effort, though.

The other situation where the clipless system comes into its own is when riding out of the saddle. Mashing away at lower cadence, or when sprinting hard, I no longer need to think about my foot positioning on the pedal or the feeling of my shins twisting from ankle over-pronation. I just drive each body-weighted pedal stroke to the ground.

So… As a friend asked me recently, am I now a clipless pedal advocate? I would have to say “it depends.”

If I were to ride mountain bike trails again, I wouldn’t be too keen on committing to clipless all the time. Let’s face it, there are unfamiliar features that can catch you out, requiring a dab of the foot off the pedals and on the ground. It’s here that the multi-release cleats are handy. If I’m on an initial reconnaissance run of the trails, I’d probably be on the T780 pedals’ platform side. That’s more due to my relative inexperience on trails.

On the road, the argument is much more straightforward. My particular setup gives most of the benefits of clipless pedals with very few of the drawbacks. Occasional cleat scraping and shouty logo on the top strap aside, the RT33 shoes even look like something you could take to the office, so it’s much easier to commit to the system more often.

Finally, on the days I can’t ride with “special cycling shoes” for whatever reason, the T780 pedals make it relatively easy to keep riding Hyro anyway. There also are other pedals with the same concept to choose from, such as Shimano’s light-action Click’R PD-T420, the classic PD-M324, and the sportier PD-A530.

The clipless diaries, part 4: The elephant in the room

Previously I went over the Shimano RT33L shoes. Now that all the SPD components are in place, how do they perform? Rather – how well do they fit my cycling experience?

I played around with cleat location and fitment, initially trying a midfoot position where my foot’s low arch was. I found it difficult to unclip in that position, so after much trial and error I decided to follow the ball-of-foot-over-pedal-spindle school of thinking, while setting the cleats to allow for my feet’s natural outward splay. Leaning against a wall, I spent a bit of time clipping in and unclipping, which felt really strange at first – even with the T780 pedals’ retention springs set to the lowest tension.

Of course, there’s the elephant in the room. If you invest in clipless pedals, expect to fall off at least once. Remember that I bought the T780 pedals in an attempt to reduce self-injury from my pedals? They’ve been a failure in that regard, but not quite in the way you’d think.

On one of my first long rides with clipless, I was chuffed that I was doing pretty well. I had covered around 70 kilometers without falling, and I was just a few more from home when I had to slow to a crawl around vehicular traffic at an intersection. Still clipped in, I fell in queue and followed a black Toyota Fortuner SUV as it crawled forward, and to my left was a motorcycle rider.

I failed to see the more-sudden-than-expected stop of the Fortuner. I reacted in time to come to a complete stop, but I had forgotten to unclip beforehand. In slow motion, I felt myself falling to the right, “drive” side – not what you want on a bicycle. Frantically I tried to pull my right foot out…which it did, thanks to the multi-release cleats, and I avoided falling. Unfortunately, in trying to perform a last-ditch save, I managed to startle the rider beside me and Hyro’s big chainring managed to find my right calf. The chainring teeth dug into it, making a line of five or six little wounds along its length, one of them bleeding. No falls, yes, but perforated right calf. So much for SPD pedals’ wound and injury reduction…

As they say, though, practice makes perfect, and I am happy to report that such clumsy clipless shenanigans have largely disappeared. It’s just a matter of adding the extra step of unclipping my right foot in advance before stopping, with my left foot still clipped in, in preparation for the traffic lights turning green.

So, have there been any benefits to binding my feet to the bike? That’s a story for next time.