Shimano PD-M520 SPD pedals are some of the most affordable dual-sided pedal options you can get for your gravel or mountain bike. They offer a very reliable performance in a serviceable package at a very affordable price point, making them some of the best SPD pedals for beginner and more advanced riders alike.
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Shimano PD-M520 Pedal - Technical details
The PD-M520 (later just M520) is, alongside the M540, one of Shimano’s most popular dual-sided SPD pedals with a very wallet-friendly price.
The pedal body of the PD-M520 is compact but open in design, both of which aim to help clear off mud and muck. The cleat entry and release tension can be dialled in easily with an Allen key. The spindle on these pedals is made of steel (Chromoly) and inside the pedal body, the pedal is turning on a low-maintenance sealed bearing cartridge axle.
The claimed weight for a pair is 380g and on my trusty kitchen scales, they were 377g. The pedals come in a box with a pair of brass SPD cleats - those are not included in the weight - and there are two colour options, black and silver, to choose from.
Shimano PD-M520 Pedal - Performance
I’ve been testing the M520 pedals alongside Shimano PD-M540s and hence, have been closely comparing every aspect of the two models both in real life and on Shimano Si's tech sheets. The two pedal models are actually in many ways identical, including their performance. Both M520 and M540 are basic SPD pedals - they are not claiming to be the lightest or made with groundbreaking materials, but rather offer you a reliable, affordable pedal that will serve you for years.
I’ve been riding with my own M520s for four years now (the above picture) and although they show definite signs of wear - and lack of consistent maintenance - they are, despite the thousands of miles still performing great.
But what the M520 lacks and M540 has, is looks. The axle of the M540 is slimmer which is the major difference between the two pedals. The M520 has a pedal spanner flat on the axle, which is great for unjamming stuck pedals or, if you prefer, threading pedals on faster. Whether the majority of people use or have a pedal spanner, I cannot say, but I like that with these pedals you have the option. Considering that the weight difference between the M520 and M540 is 28g, it might well be assumed this flat section is what makes the M520 heavier.
Once these pedals are on, it’s easy to forget about them as they require very little maintenance apart from a quick clean and spray. Because of the dual-sided design, you don’t have to worry about the pedal position in the same way as with SPD-SL or other single-side pedals. The two sides on these are identical and essentially you just shove your foot onto the pedal and it clips in. The only times I find the clipping in has been tricky is when the pedals get full of sticky, wet snow. Mud and other muck come off the open pedal face easily with a knock.
Although my well-ridden pedals have seen better days aesthetically, I am better with maintenance nowadays and after a wash, spray them with a simple lubricant spray such as GT85, which keeps the spring mechanism working and in general, protects the pedal from rusting. The bearings on my four-year-old pedals are still spinning well, thanks to the sealed bearings, and the only thing I’ve had to adjust is the tension, which has over time loosened. Shimano has made adjusting the tension (the angle at which your cleat comes off the pedal) very easy with the simple adjustment bolt.
The M520 pedals are fully home serviceable, meaning that once your bearings are worn out you can simply get a new set and avoid buying a whole new pedal, and the same goes for the axles and the body cover (the metal bit at the top hooking the cleat). Replacing parts instead of buying a whole new pedal saves you money and is a sustainable bonus.
Shimano PD-M520 Pedal - Verdict
Shimano PD-M520 pedals retail for £45 and although I am assessing the full price, I struggled to establish what the RRP is as these pedals are constantly discounted online.
In comparison, the main rival pedals, Shimano PD-M540 retail for £70, which is substantially more considering both of the pedals feature the same materials and structure - except for the pedal axle which on the M520 is chunkier because of the pedal spanner flat. The M540's more refined axle shape has allowed it to be lighter, with the weight difference between the two being 28 grams. For an amateur rider, I'd say this is undetectable; I certainly found that the performance differences between the two were unnoticeable.
If you go up a notch and look at the Shimano XTR SPD pedal, the price triples (£140). Simultaneously, you get two spindle lengths, a lower 310g weight, and a wider contact area that aids stability, meaning that the performance gains go up considerably with the price. So if pure performance is what you're after, then prepare to spend a wee bit more.
If you want an affordable, reliable, and budget-friendly pedal then the Shimano PD-M520 is a great dual-sided option that will serve you for a very long time, even in mucky conditions - and even if you’re not the best at maintaining them.