Just putting out there my thoughts and impressions of the current generation XT and XTR XC pedals, PD-M780 and PD-M980.
I’ve got both, a set of M980’s on my MTB, and a set of M780’s on my commuter bike. I’ve been using the XTR’s for about a year and a half, while the XT pedals for about 6 months. Obviously the XTR’s have seen a lot more use.
Impressions- XTR’s are amazing, great stable platform, smooth bearings as you would expect from a premium product. They a light weight and their coated steel parts mean they don’t rust. No play in bearings at all.
XT’s on the other hand are about 6 months old and have a similar larger platform to the XTR’s. Clipping doesn’t feel quite the same however, I would rate the clipping performance slightly inferior to the XTRs. Disappointingly both the left and right pedals have developed a small amount of play in the bearings and I need to readjust them. This is pretty disappointing given they are XT-level. I’m not sure whether the general quality of XT has gotten worse over the past few years or perhaps the fact the XTR’s are made in Japan vs Malaysia (I think) is the reason for the different performance. The M780 generation pedals have a new bearing design which differs from the one versions of SPDs. Perhaps Shimano are still having teething problems.
The short answer is if you can stretch the budget just buy XTR!
And if you are interested in buying them for cross reconsider the 980s as currentand formerworld champs are staying with the now-discontinued M970s as these allow for better/more reliable clipping back in in muddy/heavy debris conditions.
I have a set of M540s on my commuter and a set of M785s (XT Trail) on my MTB. They both replaced M520s. I can safely say that both pedals are better than the M520s, the most noticable difference is the quality of the bearings and that they are a lot more servicable. I do think that the clipping action on the XTs is slightly nicer than the M540s, and requires less force to clip in, regardless of the clip tension. Having said that, the difference is subtle and I would only consider buying the XTs over the M540s if I saw them on sale at a price close to M540s.
On a side note, I can highly recommend the Shimano’s newish trail platform for anyone riding technical singletrack - their semi-platform design is brilliant for quickly reclipping and even if you can’t find the cleat at least you have some kind of a platform to rest your foot on if you unclip in the middle of a steep rock garden.