The pedal is the single most important component on your bike. False you say? Well, to that, I say, try riding your bike without pedals. Your primary contact point, power is delivered through your pedals to the drivetrain and the road. Now that we’ve established that pedals are pretty important, beyond that, the wrong pedal setup can easily wreck your cycling experience and potentially lead to injury. So, with that in mind, lets take a few minutes to look at a few of the more popular pedal choices and common terminology to assist in your next pedal purchase.
Cleats attach to the bottom of the shoe and allow them to interface with the pedal. The cleat will come boxed with the pedal and need to be attached to the shoe later. Different cleats have different screw hole patterns so it is important to make sure that the hole pattern on the bottom of your shoe is the same. Most road cleats and shoes are 3-bolt compatible. Adjustment slots in the cleats allow you to adjust the orientation of your foot relative to the pedal. If you happen to have an in-toe gait (your feet are angled slightly inwards) or the reverse, you can make adjustments in mounting to allow for a comfortable fit in the pedal.
Float describes the amount of side-to-side play in the pedal when you are clipped in. Usually people who have been using clipless pedals for a long time will have a preferred amount of float. Sometimes this is simply opinion, other times it governed by body geometry. Everyone’s body is a little bit different and the mechanics of how you move varies from person to person. As the leg moves through the pedal stroke, float will allow your foot to move laterally to compensate for your own body mechanics. I would recommend anyone new to clipless pedals have a few degrees of float to start, and then make changes if necessary later. If possible, it is ideal to consult your local fitter for a pedaling assessment that can determine your float needs. Different pedal manufactures adjust float differently, and we will discuss different methods later in this article, but for a little more detail on pedal float, check out this video:
Light Action Pedals deemed ‘light action’ are considered easier to clip into due to lighter spring mechanisms. The amount of force required to clip in and out is a personal decision you should consider before making a purchase. Terminology will vary amongst brands, and it’s important to consider that pedal tension is adjustable on some pedals and fixed on others. Advanced riders tend to prefer standard non-light action pedals for their improved stability during hard efforts, as a stiffer spring holds cleats more securely.
Choices, Choices, Choices
Shimano produces a fantastic lineup of road pedals. If you already have Shimano components on your bike then your will feel right at home navigating their naming scheme, with the brand offering Dura Ace and Ultegra varieties among others. Benefits to these pedals include the ability to adjust the spring tension on the fly. A small setscrew will allow you to adjust the effort required to clip and unclip. For those seeking a beginner-geared pedal, Shimano’s light action series might be the perfect. Float on Shimano pedals is determined by different cleats. Shimano cleats are available with 0, 2 and 6 degrees of float.
Look offers their Keo series of pedal with varieties to suit most users. The main difference you will notice between the Look series and Shimano lineup is their approach to tension adjustment. Look pedals come pre-tensioned from the factory. For example, their Keo Blade 2 TI comes in 12, 16 and 20 Newton-meter tensions. Look also has a lineup of “light action” pedals, which they brand as the Keo Easy and Keo Flex. Your preference on tensioning systems will undoubtedly play a role in this decision. Look cleats are similar to Shimano’s and offer versions with 0, 4.5 and 9 degrees of float. In addition, you can choose cleat sets with rubber grips on the bottom for more traction when walking around. This might be a selling point for some.
Speedplay pedals have a drastically different design than their Look and Shimano counterparts. The first two pedal designs discussed incorporate the tension and release systems into the pedal. Shimano and Look cleats are a basic plastic piece that clips into the pedal assembly. Speedplay on the other hand, reverses the design, leaving you with a simple pedal, lacking moving parts. The tension and release components are built into the Speedplay cleat. Unlike the competitors, the Speedplay pedals offer dual-sided entry. Some might prefer this so they don’t have to worry about pedal position when clipping in. Speedplay pedals don’t allow for tensioning adjustment. This is a potential downfall for some customers that prioritize that feature over others, however Speedplay does have a lighter tension variety called the Speedplay Light Action Pedals geared at beginner cyclists or those looking for easier entry.
Now that you’ve learned the basics about clipless pedals, it’s time to weigh your options and decide which combination of features and attributes is right for you. Once you’ve made your purchase, check out this helpful video on how to install new cleats:
Rubber Side Down is a weekly column dedicated to the fledgling cyclist in all of us. Art’s Cyclery Web Content Editor, Brett Murphy is not a professional cyclist, and doesn’t try to masquerade as one either, but he does love to ride bikes. Whether you are clipping in for the first time or counting down the days until your first race, read on, learn from his mistakes, and keep the rubber side down.