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by Dave Rome
August 17, 2017
Photography by David Rome
There are many brands offering two-bolt, walkable clipless pedals for cyclocross and gravel riding, but Shimano’s SPD design dominates the market with other companies such as Crankbrothers and Time occupying only minority positions. HT is a relatively young brand that’s been making waves, especially in the gravity-focused segments of mountain biking, thanks to a unique cleat interface that blends the best attributes of several other competing designs.
The lightweight Leopard M1T pedals are relatively new in the HT range, and the ones best-suited to ‘cross, gravel, and XC-style mountain biking with their minimal body design and titanium spindles. Retail price is US$229 (AU$TBC).
If Shimano SPDs and Crankbrothers Eggbeaters were to ever have a love child, it would probably look a lot like the HT Leopard pedals. The rear of the cleat interface looks a lot like SPD with their pivoting latch made of stamped steel, while the front is more reminiscent of the more open Eggbeater design, made using the wound spring of the opposing side. The idea here is that the HT system can combine the more durable cleats and adjustable spring tension of Shimano with the lower weight and better mud-clearing of Crankbrothers and Time.
The “EVO+” axle design is similar to Crankbrothers, too, with a small outboard needle bearing and an IGUS solid bushing on the inboard side. All of that is held together with a small nut, and then covered up with a machined aluminium end cap.
Although the pedals are expensive, HT at least includes a generous bag of hardware — two sets of cleats (one with 4° of rotational float, the other with 8°), stainless steel plates to protect delicate carbon fibre shoe outsoles from wear, plastic cleat shims to dial in the fit, spare pedal mechanism bolts, and a special thin 8mm socket that’s required for servicing. Sadly, the cleats are specific to HT pedals with no cross-compatibility with Shimano SPD.
Claimed weight for the Leopard M1T is just 252g per pair, and the actual weight came out to 259g — about 50g lighter than Shimano’s XTR Race pedals, but 80g heavier than Crankbrothers’ more minimal (and much more expensive) Eggbeater 11. The HT cleats add another 50g without hardware — 10g heavier than Shimano. Stack heights are within a couple millimetres of both of those competitors, too (a millimetre thinner than Crankbrothers’ Candy 7 and a millimetre thicker than Shimano’s XTR).
If the gold coloured spindles weren’t enough of a hint, the “T” in M1T refers to the pedals’ titanium axles, which save approximately 50g over the standard Leopard M1’s steel axles, but also carry an 85kg (187lb) maximum rider weight limit. For most riders, the standard M1 version (US$129) is probably the way to go and much of what is said in this review applies.
While installing either Shimano or Crankbrothers pedals is a mostly straightforward process, setting up the HTs is a little more involved.
Part of the issue comes from the overly simplified instructions that don’t give any indication on how best to install the cleats with the supplied protection plates and plastic shims. It’s something HT state they’re currently fixing, but for me, it was a matter of trial and error to get pedaling.
It took three rides before I found the goldilocks of shim stacks where there was just enough contact between the shoe tread and pedal body to prevent rocking, but without so much interference that it was hard to clip in. Further complicating matters is the fact that each shoe design is likely to require its own combination of shims, plus the additional trial-and-error of the two different cleat rotation ranges available.
There’s an enormous tension adjustment range available here, so you can set these things to be dangerously loose all the way to almost unreasonably tight (not recommended). Just be aware that this tension adjustment does affect the entry to the pedal, too: the tighter you go, the harder you have to stomp into the pedals.
Either way, the forward catch on the M1 pedals is a little harder to locate than Shimano or Crankbrothers pedals, but the engagement is certainly positive with a noticeable click once the cleat is fully locked in. Provided you’ve taken the time to set the cleats up correctly, the wide platform also feels perfectly stable under power with no off-axis wiggle that’s sometimes found with other lightweight XC pedals.
Jump off the bike and it’s pretty obvious the HT cleats are thicker than SPDs — so much so that the cleat protrudes past the sole tread. It’s a non-issue on dirt or in the mud, but a little slippery on harder surfaces. Increased wear is also a concern.
Speaking of mud, the M1 pedals’ open design clears mud well and I was always able to clip in even with the cleats covered in muck. That said, mud only further highlights the more difficult entry of these pedals. I quickly learned to stomp my foot hard into the pedal after a dismount, but that got more taxing as fatigue set in.
It also didn’t take long before the pedal spindles developed play. Adding some grease and extra tension to the 8mm locknut helped to some degree, but it didn’t correct the problem entirely. HT has yet to respond to my inquiries about this issue, but thankfully, the play hasn’t gotten worse since.
I’ve enjoyed my time riding these pedals for the most part, as they do a good job of combining the improved mud clearing of Crankbrothers or Time pedals with the added security of having a solid tension adjustment.
However, there are the obvious issues, such as the spindle play, the fiddly setup, the slightly more difficult entry, and the need for brand-specific cleats. Shimano XTR pedals may not be able to match these in terms of weight, but they’re cheaper and offer a proven reliability record. Given the downsides that come with the HT pedals’ modest improvement in mud performance, making the switch seems hard to justify.
HT has created a good offering here, but it’s just not enough to unseat the top dogs.
A 5mm hex key will get you beyond that end cap if needed.
Open the box and you’ll find a heap of hardware.
HTs amongst the Shimano XTR M980 (older generation) and crankbrother’s Candy 7 (current)
The HT’s body height was measured at 17.7mm. With the total pedal height, including the clipless mechanism bumping that figure to 30.6mm. Compare that to Shimano’s XTR M980 at 15.94mm and 29.3mm; and crankbrother’s Candy 7 at 18.25mm and 31.3mm respectively.