We mountain bikers only have a few points of contact with our machines: foot to pedal, hand to grip and, of course, ass to seat. It's not surprising, then, that those components tend to have the most rider loyalty when it comes to bike setup. Meaning, unless a shoe or grip wears out, or a pedal or saddle becomes damaged and needs replacing, choosy riders will go kicking and screaming into a new setup. So my eagerness to blindly run a different brand of clipless pedals illustrates my frustration with the reliability of many well-known brands' offerings.

I prefer Shimano SPD-style engagement with an audible and physical 'click,' along with the ability to crank up the tension holding the cleat to the pedal. A foot unexpectedly popping out of a pedal at speed on rough terrain is a far worse scenario than a pedal requiring slightly more force to disengage when hanging a foot out in a loose corner, or when quickly countering an off-balance moment. Consistent and predictable engagement plus reliability top my list of pedal requirements.

A lesser-known pedal, the Xpedo Baldwin, caught my eye for a few reasons: price, weight and cleat compatibility. This trail pedal features an extended platform around the cleat engagement for increased shoe contact. I find these outer 'cages' help disperse pressure points on the foot created by tinier, more traditional cross-country style pedals. Xpedo.com lists the price of the Baldwin at $119 (CrMo axle), however, a quick search found the same pedals on Amazon.com from $70. My CrMo-axled set weighed 335 grams for the pair, which, for reference, is 45 grams lighter than Shimano's claimed weight for its newest XTR Trail pedal (and it's considerably less expensive). The Baldwin includes Xpedo's own cleats, however the company claims they are compatible with Shimano mountain cleats. The Xpedo cleats engaged with a crisp and familiar 'click.' I was impressed with the solid and consistent retention when charging technical terrain, and when seated and focusing on an efficient cadence. For comparison, I rode a few times with the Shimano cleats. The SPD version showed little difference in compatibility and eased my mind about the possibility of running shoes already equipped with SPD cleats. The Baldwin is available with either a CrMo or a titanium spindle–the latter weighs 292 grams at a cost of $189 and Xpedo recommends a 180-pound rider weight limit. They are available in black, gray, gold, pink and blue colorways.

After six months of exclusively riding the Baldwin, absolutely no play or unwanted movement developed around the bearings and spindle, while the snug and dependable retention remained consistent. For several months, the pedals were mounted to a Stumpjumper FSR 29 daily driver, or occasionally threaded into a YT Tues downhill bike for some park laps. The Baldwin not only went above and beyond my expectations in performance and reliability, it's so affordable I picked up a second pair to live in my gear bag for traveling. The Baldwin is reasonably priced, reliable and lightweight for its category.