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The Shimano PD-M540 SPD pedals sit between the venerable M520 and XTs in the company's line-up. I've run a wealth of SPD patterns and 'homages' over the last 30 years, and I'm finding the M540s hard to fault. You can save a few quid and plump for the M520s or a mid-range alternative for daily use, but really these set the standard by which this genre of dual-sided pedal is judged.
The pedals have a tried and tested spec and are none the worse for it: alloy bodies and nickel-plated steel mechanism, with ED-finished chromoly axles turning on buttery smooth sealed bearings (ED refers to an electrostatically applied, durable paint process).
They attach to the cranks via an 8mm hex key, which looks sleeker than the 9/16 flat, and provided you're disciplined when it comes to re-greasing threads shouldn't cause any problems. However, I have had to remove a few neglected examples and this was trickier than whacking a long-handled pedal spanner and torqueing them free.
Their open design means efficient mud clearance and ultimately reliable entry/exit no matter how boggy things get – not that they're confined to such conditions: while cross-country mountain bikers, cyclo-cross and gravel riders are the core audience, there are plenty of tarmac-biased tourists and commuters who like this genre's convenience.
I also love dual-sided SPDs on road-going fixed gear bikes since there's no 'right side' to worry about – simply press in and scoot off – although on the grounds of weight, I prefer Time's 278g XC4s on my TT build. Not that the M540s are overly portly at 352g.
One of the first things I noticed about the 540s compared with some in my collection, such as my Wellgo M094Bs, was a small but tangible improvement in rigidity. Not that the Wellgos are remotely whippy, but powering away from the lights or on a long climb with my full weight on the M540 bodies, it was palpable.
While broader profiles such as those found on single-sided road-biased models, including Shimano's A520, offer greater support, I've not experienced any hotspots or similar discomfort on rides around the 50-mile mark.
Their four degrees of float should suit most people's joints without impairing entry/release. I've left the release tension at the factory default and this has been consistently snappy regardless of whether the cleats were Shimano or from a third party.
I like to corner quite hard and have had no grounding issues either with my fixed gear builds, which run 165 and 172mm cranks, or a traditional tourer with lower-slung bottom bracket and 175mm cranks.
Though flooding has relented, trails, forest tracks and bridleways remain churned and boggy, but being engulfed in sticky, clay soil hasn't impeded entry/exit. The majority tends to drop away and fall through the bodies.
Anecdotally, waxing pedal bodies, while giving the bike a protective sprucing, aids shedding prowess slightly.
Common sense suggests giving the cleat mechanisms a periodic squirt of PTFE/maintenance spray or middleweight chain lube to keep things snappy. I treated the right pedal before commencing the test and only treated the left three weeks and 350 miles later, with no issues.
Filmy layers are also good at warding off light tarnish.
I have a set of the original (1990) SPD pedals still in very rude health with little more than annual strips and regreasing.
Our test pair's finish has held out very well – some very minor freckling struck the left's cleat mechanism after several successive wet and mucky rides along salty coastal stretches, ditto the black painted cleats, but has vanished with a few entries/exits.
The seals seem to be doing their thing and should remain faithful in as long as you can avoid pressure-washing or using really hot water (I knew of someone who blew a seal by using boiling water during a deep clean).
Being Shimano, should disaster strike mid-tour, there's a very good chance of scoring replacements or repair. That's not always the case with some superficially identical designs, which is why I might plump for cheaper options on a daily commuter but stick with the big S on tour.
Those looking for an outright bargain might find their £39.99 M520 siblings a better bet, especially since they've had bearings upgraded from balls to sealed cartridge types. Experience suggests their finish is a little more susceptible to corrosion (we are talking light freckling, rather than anything serious) but this is easily thwarted with a filmy layer of maintenance spray.
Like for like, the M540s are competitive at rrp, and it'll come as little surprise to discover they're highly discounted online. Bontrager's SPD-compatible Comp pedals are £54.99 (or £84.99 if you want them in purple...), but Time's Atac MX4s are £74.99 and Issi's Flash IIIs are $105 which equates to around £87. (I tested the Issi II Triples back in 2016, but it seems those are no longer available.) Crankbrothers' Candy 2s are a slightly different take, with a small platform around the pedal body, and are £89.99 (though the Candy 1s are £30 less).
Ultimately, I've been seriously impressed by the M540s and reckon they're an excellent mid-range option for general riding. As I said above, I'd probably go for something cheaper for a commuter or utility bike, but for touring, audax, cross and gravel I'd reach for the M540.
Solidly made mid-price pedals that are great for general riding
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Shimano PD-M540 SPD pedals
Size tested: One size
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Freewheel, Shimano's UK distributor, lists:
Compact dual sided SPD pedal designed for everyday use at good value price
Stable platform can be used with any type of SPD shoe and provides support for the foot
Mud repelling design is suitable for year round use
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Cr-Mo spindle and low maintenance sealed bearing cartridge axle
Cleat tension adjustment
Weight: 352 grams per pair
Solidly made and well finished. Spares availability should be good, long-term.
Plenty of support, no hot spots or similar discomfort.
Not much more than some homages and generously discounted online; that spares are likely to be easier to acquire (if required) increases their value. Those looking for an outright bargain might find their 520 siblings a better bet, especially since they've had bearings upgraded from balls to sealed cartridge types.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Entry/release is super-snappy and plays nicely with various pattern cleats. The chromoly axles and aluminium alloy bodies strike an excellent balance between strength, rigidity and weight. Rigidity was a notch higher than some emulators with a similar specification; this was particularly apparent when climbing out of the saddle, or powering away on my fixed gear winter/trainer. The "open" design also does an excellent job of shifting wet, clingy mud.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Pretty much everything.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Nothing, given the price point and design brief.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Great benchmark SPD pedals, and not just for mountain bike/gravel duties. Cheaper versions might make sense on a working/winter bike and commuters might find the M520 a better buy, but the M540s are a great "everyman" choice.
About the tester
I usually ride: Rough Stuff Tourer Based around 4130 Univega mtb Frameset My best bike is: 1955 Holdsworth Road Path and several others including cross & traditional road
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, commuting, touring, fixed/singlespeed, mtb,
Shaun Audane is a freelance writer/product tester with over twenty-eight years riding experience, the last twelve (120,000 miles) spent putting bikes and kit through their paces for a variety of publications. Previous generations of his family worked at manufacturing's sharp end, thus Shaun can weld, has a sound understanding of frame building practice and a preference for steel or titanium framesets.
Citing Richard Ballantine and an Au pair as his earliest cycling influences, he is presently writing a cycling book with particular focus upon women, families and disabled audiences (Having been a registered care manager and coached children at Herne Hill Velodrome in earlier careers)