Thankfully, the days of heavy metal pedals with spikes and leather straps are long gone, we now have lightweight, clipless, road specific pedals which provide a stable and secure platform. But, as with many components, there are several variations of the clipless pedal system. So lets take the plunge and take a look at some features and manufacturers of pedals and cleats to help make your next purchase more informed.
What is a Clipless Pedal?
Starting with the basics – a clipless pedal mechanically engages with the sole of your cycling shoe. This is usually done by attaching a cleat (included with your pedals and usually specific to that pedal design) to the sole of the shoe. This cleat then engages with the pedal mechanism providing a secure attachment which will not come loose when pulled in a straight line (like when you are pedalling) but will disengage with a simple twist of the heel. The force required to unclip is adjustable on many models, decreasing this tension often makes it easier to pull your foot out as well as twist, which may be useful in the event of a crash but less so in the middle of a sprint! If you’re just starting with clipless pedals make sure you back off the tension so you can disengage quickly and easily, when you do have your inevitable unclipping fall, don’t worry, we’ve all been there lying in a puddle while our ‘friends’ laugh!
The cleats engage with the pedal mechanism creating a secure and stable platform, they’re attached to the sole of your road cycling shoe by bolts. Nearly all road clipless pedal systems utilise a three bolt, triangular cleat design (Speedplay use either a three or a four bolt system),
This is different to mountain bike style cleats which use a smaller, two bolt cleat system. The advantages are that the two-bolt system is smaller and lower profile, making them much easier to walk in, but they offer a far less stable platform which can cause hotspots and instability when road riding – hence the larger, three bolt road style cleat. Always remember to check your shoe’s compatibility with the various cleat designs.
Float is the amount of free lateral movement your feet have in the pedals when clipped in. Float is very useful if you have sensitive knees, it also provides you with a margin of error when setting your cleat angle on your shoes – most people’s feet point slightly in or out, so being able to adjust the angle is very important. Some pedals have adjustable float (the Speedplay systems which has 15 degrees of adjustable float) and some pedals systems have a set amount of float which can be adjusted by fitting a different cleat (e.g. Shimano, Look), so take time when buying pedals to check they come with the right cleats for you.
It’s a Material World
As with all things component related – a lot of the price differential comes from the materials used and the performance (usually weight, strength and longevity) benefits they offer. At the top end you’ll find carbon aplenty – pedals like the new Shimano 6800, and the Look Keo 2 Max Carbon use carbon cages with stainless steel wear plates to protect the carbon from wear and tear. Some top end pedals, like the Look Blade Ti and the Speedplay Zero Titanium use Titanium axles – incredibly light and strong, these offer perhaps the ultimate compromise between strength, weight and longevity, although this comes at a price. Aluminium and steel are commonly used in pedal construction at lower price points, offering comparable strength at a higher weight than their more expensive counterparts.
Pedals and Cleats: The Main Brands
The big S have plenty of fans thanks to their range topping Dura-Ace 7900 – a pedal with a full carbon fibre body and three bearing axle, a pair of 7900’s tip our office scales at just 251g. The previous incarnation of the Dura-Ace pedal was extremely popular with many pro’s and amateurs choosing them – Lance Armstrong rode them to several Tour de France victories. For more bang for your buck check out the brand new carbon Ultegra 6700, with a full carbon fibre body and stainless steel wear plates they tip our scales at just 259g. If you need some pedals for touring or commuting check out the A600 Touring pedal, they use the MTB style 2 bolt cleat system on one side and have a traditional flat pedal surface on the other side – perfect for popping down the shops in your trainers on your days off.
Shimano road pedals can be used with two types of cleats: the SH11 which has float; and the SH10 which is fixed. Check with each pedal model to see which cleats are offered and how much float they have.
Look pedals were the pedal of choice for Lance Armstrong and are currently used by 50% of the pro peloton. They have pedals at several price points in their range: topping the range are the Look Blade Ti’s, with a full carbon body, titanium axle and carbon entry/release blade mechanism. These pedals are packed full of the high end features you’d expect. The obsession with everything aero hasn’t missed pedals though, Look have bought out the Keo Blade Aero Carbon pedals. Using a carbon shell with an aerodynamic underside, they’ve been used extensively by the pro’s to help shave time in both TT’s and normal races where those precious seconds count.
The highly popular Keo 2 Max is available in both a composite and a carbon version to suit every pocket. They’re a cracking choice too. Light, smooth, with an oversized axle for strength, a low stack height and adjustable entry/release tension they’re the pedal of choice for several of us here at PBK towers not to mention numerous pro’s.
Three sets of Look Keo cleats are available with varying degrees of float: Black (0 degrees float); Grey (4.5 degrees float); and Red (9 degrees float) giving you plenty of choice and adjustability.
PBK Top Tip: Save a few pounds/dollars, don’t shell out for Look replacement cleats, check out the Vel cleats.
Speedplay pedals are, to say the least, a bit different. Where Look and Shimano pedals have the entry/release mechanism in the pedal, the Speedplay system uses the pedal effectively as a cleat and has the entry/release mechanism in the cleat. This means you have dual sided entry as you do not have to use a specific side of the pedal and the pedal is also thinner giving you superior cornering clearance and an industry leading low stack height. Speedplay pedals can be used fixed, or with up to 15 degrees of micro-adjustable float giving you plenty of flexibility and adjustability. Speedplay cleats attach to both a three bolt and a four bolt cycling shoe.
The key pedals in the Speedplay range are the Zero Titanium which features a titanium axle, the Zero Stainless pedal which uses a stainless steel axle and the Zero Chrome-moly which uses a steel axle. Used by the likes of Thor Hushovd, Cadel Evans and Fabian Cancellara, these pedals are both innovative and capable.
Last, but certainly not least, we take a look at Time pedals. The Xpresso Titan 12 pedals are top the range, weighing just 155g a pair (manufacturer claimed), these are featherweight with a carbon fibre body and titanium axle. They also have knee friendly angular and lateral float, making them a great choice.
The more reasonably priced xpresso 8 features the same knee friendly float and carbon cage with a steel and aluminium axle. Finally if you want to give the Time Automatic pre-opening of engagement mechanism, check out the range at probikekit.
Time cleats are not available with different float settings – just make sure you get the right cleat for your pedal model.
So there we go, hopefully you’ve found this brief look at some of the features and a few key players in the pedal market useful? Now it is over to you, what pedals do you like to use? What experiences have you had with the various brands? Are there any features that you value in particular? Any top tips?