Shimano PD-ES600 Ultegra SPD pedal review: Lost opportunities

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I’ve been a pretty big fan of Shimano’s PD-A600 single-sided pedal for mixed-terrain riding, as it offers the sleek form factor and low weight of a proper road pedal, but with the walkability of mountain bike pedals. And so I was excited when I found out that Shimano had developed a successor in the PD-ES600, promising the same level of convenience, but potentially correcting the minor issues I had with the PD-A600.

But alas, it feels like someone at Shimano opted to phone this one in instead of doing the proper rework that the concept deserves.

A mild tweak

At first glance, the new PD-ES600 pedals certainly look like a pretty significant update on the old PD-A600, which was first introduced a decade ago. The aluminum bodies are smaller and more compact, and at 282g per pair (without cleats) the pedals are a bit lighter as a result — a decrease of 10g in total. For the sake of comparison, a pair of Shimano XTR Race dual-sided SPD pedals comes in at 310g per pair, and Shimano’s PD-R7000 105-level road pedals are 265g.

Shimano has upgraded the axle seals, too, for even better wet-weather durability.

Nevertheless, the retail price has actually dropped a bit, to a very reasonable US$100 / AU$126 / £62 / €57.

Shimano PD-ES600 pedals
As compared to the previous PD-A600 pedals (left), the newer PD-ES600 version (right) has a notably smaller body. It’s lighter as a result, but that weight loss unfortunately brings some unintended downsides.

Apart from the clipped tail, the PD-ES600 is otherwise nearly identical to the PD-A600, and for the most part, that’s a good thing. The important part of the body is similarly wide, the underside is admirably sleek, there’s the same proven SPD adjustable retention system, and despite the burlier seals, the cartridge axle system is just as easy to service as ever.

The problem is that Shimano should have left some parts alone, and should have added things that weren’t.

As before, that wide body lends excellent support when matched to suitable XC-style footwear (such as the Specialized S-Works Recon that I used for much of this testing). Provided the tread blocks aren’t overly worn, there’s no noticeable out-of-plane rocking during hard pedaling efforts — and in fact, the stability is so good that I rarely gave second thought to the idea that I wasn’t using a dedicated road shoe and pedal.

The PD-ES600’s ability to clear mud, snow, and debris is vastly superior to any conventional road setup, though, and even when my shoes were caked in muck, I could still clip in.

Those sorts of conditions highlighted further the durability of Shimano’s bulletproof cartridge axle design, too. Whereas that sort of persistent abuse can prompt an immediate rebuild on lesser systems, I haven’t yet needed to clean out any debris, or re-lube the internals. I even pulled the axle out for a quick inspection just prior to writing this review, and the original grease still looks as fresh and clean as the day it left the factory.

So what’s not to like?

By lopping off the rear loop on the body, Shimano also eliminated most of the counterweight that helps the pedal hang at the perfect angle for re-engagement. When combined with the new, tighter-fitting seals, the PD-ES600 pedals just don’t want to hang at an angle conducive to clipping in, even after several hundred kilometers of use. As a result, I found myself pawing at these far more than I did with the PD-A600s — a minor nuisance most of the time, but occasionally the difference between walking and riding if things got unusually technical.

Shimano PD-ES600 pedals
The wide body provides plenty of support when matched with XC-style shoes. That support is subject to tread wear, though, and will certainly degrade with time.

I was also really hoping that Shimano would have added stainless steel wear plates to the body, not only to prevent any unsightly scuffing, but to help make the rotational float feel a little more fluid. There’s a cosmetic argument to be made here, too. Just as with the PD-A600s, the PD-ES600s look nice when new, but it doesn’t take long for the paint to wear away, leaving the PD-ES600 pedals looking a lot worse than their stubbornly competent performance would otherwise suggest.

Shimano labels the PD-ES600 as “Ultegra-level” pedals, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a similarly durable finish, and an anodized surface and steel plates would go a long way toward supplying that. Considering Shimano even includes those wear plates on its budget-friendly PD-R550 road pedals, this isn’t a big ask.

Crossing my fingers for version 2.1

I am normally in favor of things getting lighter instead of heavier, but in this case, I would have been happy for Shimano to add a few grams to the PD-A600 instead of pointlessly cleaving a handful of them away to create the PD-ES600. That rearward loop actually served a purpose, after all, and I certainly wouldn’t have complained if a pair of stainless steel wear plates tacked on another 15-20g or so.

Shimano PD-ES600 pedals
Shimano has upgraded the seals on the PD-ES600 (top) relative to its PD-A600 predecessor.

But alas, instead we’re left with a rare case of an older model being better than a newer model. The good news? The PD-A600 is still available, and appears to be on sale just about everywhere. So if you’re after a set of single-sided SPD pedals for mixed terrain, save yourself the trouble and buy those instead.

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