Clipless pedals have gained wide market acceptance since 1985 by offering improved safety features, more comfort, and reduced weight over traditional toe clip and strap pedals. Clipless pedals are easier to get in than toe clips, and they may be disengaged without compromising bike control.
At Speedplay, we categorize clipless pedals as either exposed-cleat or recessed-cleat systems i.e., whether the cleat recesses into the shoe sole or protrudes from it. Exposed-cleat pedal systems, commonly called road pedals, are better suited for riding situations that demand optimum energy transmission, long distance comfort, and maximum cornering clearance. Recessed-cleat pedal systems, or "mountain bike pedals," are advantageous whenever the convenience of walking in bicycling shoes takes precedence. Both types of pedals offer specific features that make them suited for a particular use.
Although the design objectives of recessed-cleat and exposed-cleat pedal systems share basic similarities, each type has achieved a level of specialization that prevents it from being ideal for all riding conditions. That is not to say that a recessed-cleat system cannot be ridden on road or that an exposed-cleat system cannot be ridden off road. It just makes sense to use a pedal system that has been optimized for the shoe type that best suits a particular style of riding.
When selecting a pedal system, start by choosing the shoe type that best suits your riding style, then choose a pedal system that works with that shoe. Exposed-cleat pedals are typically lighter, provide a more stable platform to transmit power, are more aerodynamic, and offer more clearance during cornering. Recessed-cleat pedal systems are made for walking comfortably in cycling shoes and are typically designed to function in muddy conditions. If you ride primarily on the road and don't expect to walk much in your cycling shoes, purchase road pedals. If you ride mountain bikes, tour, or commute by bike and need walkable bicycle shoes, purchase mountain bike pedals.
Speedplay's Pedal Designs
The goal of pedal design is to improve upon the wish list of performance features found in previous designs. For Speedplay to achieve success in the highly competitive market of established pedal brands, we set out to create something truly innovative. Unlike previous systems that incorporated minor evolutionary improvements, Speedplay started from scratch with the idea that all clipless pedals should be dual-sided, light, and user-friendly. As a result, Speedplay pedal systems made performance breakthroughs in almost every feature desired in pedals including: easier entry, better corner clearance, reduced weight, reduced stack height, enhanced mud performance, more knee-friendly float, secure retention, better shoe compatibility, lower aerodynamic drag, higher quality bearings, superior quality spindles, easier maintenance, and easier rebuildability.
Listed below are the important features and characteristics of clipless pedal designs that distinguish various models. Under each heading is a brief explanation of how Speedplay pedals operate and how they compare with other designs.
Engagement Type - Single or Dual-Sided
Pedals offer either single or dual-sided engagement. Single-sided pedals require the user to locate the top of the pedal with the cleat before engagement. With single-sided pedals, even the most experienced rider must look down occasionally to clip in. Conversely, Dual-sided engagement eliminates the randomness of the engagement process. Either side of the pedal can be engaged. No flipping the pedal over, no looking down, no hesitation; just step down, lock-in, and go.
All Speedplay pedals are dual-sided for extremely easy and fast entry. Because engagement occurs automatically from the natural pedaling motions of the feet, Speedplay pedals entry technique is intuitive. And Speedplay is the only company that makes a dual-sided pedal that is compatible with Look and Time cleat mounting patterns.
Corner Clearance/Lean Angle
A pedal's corner clearance is determined by the lean angle of a bike. The lean angle determines how far a bike can be leaned into a turn before the inside pedal strikes the road at the bottom of the pedal stroke. The higher the lean angle, the farther a rider can lean over and continue pedaling safely. The farther a rider can lean in a corner, the less he has to slow down. A variety of factors establish lean angle: bottom-bracket height, crank width, crank length, tire size and pedal profile. The pedal used can make a significant difference in potential lean angle as each additional degree of lean greatly increases potential cornering speed and safety. Pedals with short spindles and very thin body profiles provide optimum corner clearance.
The superior cornering clearance of Speedplay pedals allows a cyclist to carry more speed through a turn thereby saving energy by preventing the rider from having to re-accelerate after the corner. Cyclists on Speedplay pedals can pedal through corners that would be impossible for riders using other brands.
Pedal System Weight
Light weight cycling components make cycling easier. Reducing the weight of "rotating" parts on a bike, however, is twice as important to performance as reducing the weight of non-rotating, or "static" components. NASA engineers, who like cyclists are keenly sensitive to weight and its affect on performance, have coined a handy term to describe unnecessary weight. They call it "parasitic weight" which is used to describe any weight that does not directly contribute to performance. Parasitic weight on a bike requires additional energy output, primarily during acceleration and climbing. The effect of carrying extra weight uphill can easily be measured in units called foot-pounds. A foot-pound of energy is the work required to raise one pound one vertical foot. For example, it requires 1000 foot-pounds more energy to ride a 22 pound bike up a 500 foot climb than to ride a 20 pound bike up the same climb. It is easy to understand that the cumulative effect of carrying parasitic weight can easily determine who wins or loses a long, hard race.
Speedplay makes the lightest road and mountain bike pedals. The primary reason Speedplay pedals are so light is the engagement mechanism is located in the cleat rather than within the pedal. Dual-sided pedals with the engagement mechanism within the pedal must have two mechanisms, one on each side. By locating the engagement mechanism in the cleat, however, a dual-sided pedal can be made with only one engagement mechanism. By simplifying the design, eliminating redundant parts and by using lightweight and strong materials in construction, Speedplay has reduced the of weight of its pedals to about half that of other brands.
Stack height is the vertical distance from the bottom of the foot to the center of the pedal spindle. Pedal manufacturers do not consider the shoe used and eliminate it from the equation; they define stack height as the distance from the top of the cleat to the center of the pedal spindle. Regardless of how stack height is measured, the closer the foot is positioned to the spindle the more efficiently power is transmitted from the rider to the bike.
Speedplay road pedals provide the closest foot-to-spindle measurements available. The thin pedal body profile combined with a wrap-around cleat design allows the Speedplay Light Action, Zero and X pedal to directly contact a four-hole shoe sole. Regardless of what road shoe you use, a switch to Speedplay pedals from any brand will reduce the stack height measurement. A switch from Look road pedals to Speedplay, for example, results in a stack height reduction of a full 1/3 of an inch.
Three factors determine pedal performance in mud. First, the contact area between the pedal and cleat should be as small as possible so that very little mud must be displaced to allow the parts to interlock. Second, the mating parts should be designed to allow interfering debris to be easily displaced by the entry motion. Finally, the mechanism must be able to tolerate some dirt, since no pedal system can completely clear away every bit of contamination during engagement.
Speedplay Frog pedals and cleats slide together horizontally instead of the cleat snapping into the pedal. Rather than packing mud into the pedal as with snap-together designs, the engagement motion of Frog pedals pushes mud through the open back of the cleat. The Frog's unique design offers an exit for mud so it does not jam the mechanism. With Frogs you will never have to stop to dig mud out of your cleat or pedal to engage. And unlike pedals and cleats that seize together making release difficult or impossible when muddy, Frog pedals' release action is always the same, dirty or clean. Also you will find Frogs are easier to keep clean and won't pick up two pounds of muck on a muddy ride.
Rotational Freedom (Float)
Rotational freedom is commonly referred to as float. Float is the current hot topic of the clipless pedal world. Float allows riders with knee problems or those trying to avoid knee problems the benefit of some side-to-side heel motion. This allows the pedal to adapt to a rider's biomechanics. Early designs of clipless pedals had "fixed-position" cleats with no float. Fixed systems hold the foot firmly in place during the pedal stroke and do not allow for the natural twisting motions that occur if a rider stands on the pedals or if he or she happens to have misaligned joints. A common fallacy regarding float and perpetuated for many years is that power is lost if the foot is allowed to float during the pedal stroke. The fallacy started when Time re-introduced a clipless pedal with float. Other pedal manufacturers claimed power transmission is compromised and criticized the alleged benefits of float. Scientific studies have since proved there is no power loss with floating pedals and that lateral free play has been invaluable in preventing chronic knee injuries. As a result, almost all clipless pedals now offer some type of float. Not all float, however, is created equal.
There are three variations of float found in pedals: "free float," "spring-recentered" float and "float with friction." Free float allows the foot to float without any resistance. Spring-recentered float features a spring that returns the foot to a center point that may or may not be adjusted by the positioning of the cleat to a neutral point. Float with friction inhibits rotational motion between the pedal and cleat. As a result, a rider can reposition the foot by moving it within the rotational range, but the foot does not move freely on its own.
Float is integral to the Speedplay design rather than added as a modification to a fixed design like other brands. Speedplay's float is the real thing: true under-axis free float built into the design. The rounded Speedplay pedal body is the perfect pivot point for rotational movement. No spring tension torques the knees or holds the feet rigidly in place. The Speedplay design allows the foot to use as much motion as it requires to prevent torque from hurting the knees. Once a rider acclimates to rotational freedom, his or her pedal stroke will become more fluid and thus more efficient. In much the same way that riding stationary rollers improves a riders pedal stroke by exaggerating any choppiness, floating pedals refine a riders pedaling technique by emphasizing any irregularities. Floating pedals do not hide poor pedal form like fixed pedals do.
Range of Rotational Freedom
Range of rotational freedom is the amount of lateral heel play, measured in degrees, within a pedal system design.
Unlike spring-recentered pedals, Speedplay pedals have a greater range of rotational freedom before release to prevent accidental disengagement during hard efforts. If the rotational freedom range is reduced, there is a greater likelihood of inadvertent release.
Modern clipless pedals use one of two types of retention mechanisms: "true-locking" or a "spring-restrained" jaw system. The type of retention mechanism used determines entry effort, retention security and ease of release. A true-locking system differs from a spring-restrained jaw system because it does not rely on the tension of a spring for security. With spring-restrained jaw systems you must adjust the spring tension to achieve adequate locking security. A low spring tension setting in a spring-restrained jaw system makes entry and release efforts easy, however, it is also easier to pull out of the system inadvertently during hard pedaling efforts. If spring tension is set high for secure retention, the effort required to enter and release will also be more difficult. The high twisting force necessary to disengage pedals with highly tensioned springs is a common cause of knee pain and can even prevent a rider from disengaging under certain circumstances. By isolating spring tension from locking security, as is done with a true-locking mechanism, entry and release can be accomplished effortlessly and without compromising retention security.
The operation of the true locking mechanism in a Speedplay pedal is best understood when compared to the latch on a door handle. If you pull as hard as you can on the handle of a closed door, it will not open unless you turn the handle. That is because the spring in the door latch has nothing to do with the retention of the latch except that it pushes the latch into place. Thus, the strength of the spring doesn't control the security of the door. A mild spring force simply makes the door easier to close and the handle easier to turn. The same latch principle is used to ensure the retention security of a Speedplay pedal. You can pull up as hard as you want on a Speedplay pedal, but you donêt have to worry about it disengaging until you rotate your heel to the release point.
Road Shoe / Pedal Compatibility
Three unique cleat mounting patterns have gained wide market acceptance on road shoes. Look, the company that introduced the first successful clipless pedal, uses a three-bolt cleat interface. Time uses a four-bolt cleat interface, and Shimano's SPD pattern uses a two-bolt cleat interface. While other companies have tried to launch their own interface designs, none have made a significant impact on the market.
Of the three exposed-cleat mounting patterns used on road shoes, Time's design offers the greatest potential for performance. Rather than locating the mounting hardware between the spindle and shoe as with Look and Shimano (which adds as much as half an inch to the systems' stack height), Time cleverly tucked the mounting hardware in front of and behind the spindle. Not only does this design reduce stack height significantly, but it creates a stronger connection for the cleat, plus the arrangement is far more aerodynamic. Due to the necessity for compatibility between shoes and clipless pedals, all pedal manufacturers have been forced to make their systems compatible with Look, Time or SPD or a combination of these interfaces to survive. Even Look, Time and Shimano make their road shoes compatible with at least one of the other cleat mounts to satisfy consumer demand for compatibility options.
Speedplay road pedals are designed to be compatible with both Look and Time mounting patterns. The wide acceptance of these two mounting standards assures Speedplay pedals will fit virtually all popular brands of shoes without bulky adapters. Speedplay's large cleat footprint provides a stable platform that makes riding comfortable regardless of the distance of the event.
Mountain Bike Shoe / Pedal Compatibility
In contrast to the choices of road shoe cleat mounting interfaces, the ingenious walkable feature of Shimano's design has made the recessed SPD interface the "universal mounting standard" for all mountain bike shoes.
Speedplay's Frog cleat is made to recess into the cavity of an SPD shoe. Unlike most SPD style pedal systems, however, the hitch points on frog cleats are located on its sides. By positioning the hitch points at the outboard sides of the cleat rather than at its front and back, the shoe is less prone to side-to-side rocking on the pedal. Therefore, the pedal is smaller and lighter, yet still provides a very stable platform.
Entry "Sweet Spot"
A pedal's sweet spot is the size of the target area which must be found to achieve engagement. The wider the sweet spot the easier a pedal system is to engage. A pedal system's sweet spot can be determined by measuring the width of its entry chute. Regardless of whether the entry chute is located on the pedal or on the cleat, it is the entry chute that captures and guides the mating edges of the system together so that engagement can occur. The sweet spot of a jaw-type engagement mechanism is the width of its toe hook. The sweet spot on Speedplay's pedal systems is the width of the cleat at its opening.
The entry sweet spots of both Speedplay pedal systems are enormous compared to those of others, making finding and entering the sweet spot much easier. The sweet spot on an X pedal system is 45mm wide, compared to 16mm wide for Shimano's new Dura-Ace SPD-R2, and 25mm wide for a Look 256. The sweet pot on a frog pedal is 35mm wide, compared to 25mm wide for Time's Atac, and 13mm wide for Shimano's SPD 747
Recessed Cleat Walkability
Something to keep in mind regarding walkable shoes: Pedals designed to operate with recessed-cleat shoes cannot have as low a stack height as pedals with exposed cleats. To provide adequate clearance between the spindle and the sole rubber, which is "built up" to hang over the sides of the cleat, mountain bike pedals must, by necessity, have a taller body profile than road pedals. The taller body profile of a walkable cleat pedal system will also diminish its cornering clearance. The soles of shoes designed to be comfortable enough to walk in are also flexible enough to compromise some power efficiency and foot stability. The trade-off for low stack height, good cornering clearance and a stiff supportive shoe is the reduced walkability of an exposed cleat.
Speedplay's Frog cleat fits within the cavity of a recessed SPD shoe making walking easy.
Exposed Cleat Walkability
Although exposed cleat pedal systems are not made for extensive walking, they must be tough enough to handle the wear and tear of short distance jaunts that cyclists routinely encounter. Generally, the thinner the cleats, the easier they will be to walk on; the wider the cleats the more laterally stable they will be. Other factors regarding walkability include the cleats resistance to wear from abrasion, whether abrasive wear to the cleats affects retention security, the cleats resistance to contamination from dirt, and whether they provide adequate traction on slippery surfaces. Rubber booties that fit over exposed cleats on road shoes are available to make any unavoidable walking somewhat easier.
Speedplay's road cleat is relatively easy to walk on when compared to other brands of road cleats. The cleat is low and wide enough to be stable without being as slippery as plastic cleats. The durable metal base plate of the Speedplay cleat also protects the vital parts of the engagement mechanism from wear and extends the life of the walking surface. Speedplay Coffee Shop Caps are cleat covers that snap over the cleats to make walking easier.
Tread width is an age old term used to describe the width of a bike from pedal center to pedal center. It is important for biomechanic and aerodynamic reasons to keep tread width as narrow as possible. From the standpoint of power transfer, tread width should be no greater than the width of the pelvic joints. Regarding the bike, a narrow tread width reduces transverse frame stress, lowers weight, improves cornering clearance, and stiffens the bottom bracket. Sometimes the term "Q-factor" is mistakenly used to describe tread width. Q-factor is the width between the inside faces of the cranks where the pedals screw in. Frame builders use Q-factor to determine the chainstay clearances of different cranksets. Since crank width is determined primarily by tire width, tire clearance, and the number of chainrings on a bike, fat tire mountain bikes always have a wider tread width than skinny tire road bikes. Tread width is determined by bottom bracket width, crank arm offset, pedal spindle length, shoe width, and cleat placement.
Although pedal spindle length is only one of the factors determining tread width, Speedplay pedals are designed as narrow as is possible to keep tread width to a minimum. Using Speedplay X/1 pedals instead of Shimano's new SPD-R2 system, for example, results in a whopping tread width reduction of 18.6 millimeters (about 3/4 of an inch).
Pedal Platform Size
The issue of pedal platform size has become a controversial issue as clipless pedals have gotten smaller and lighter. Although pedal companies with large cleats have made pedal platform size a marketing issue, the truth is that a pedal platform size makes little difference. As long as the shoe sole is stiff, the cleat is properly positioned, and the cleat doesn't rock excessively from side-to-side when engaged to the pedal, power will be transmitted through the pedal system efficiently. Some have blamed small pedal platforms for hot spots on their feet when the real culprit is more likely to be poorly fitting shoes, improperly adjusted cleats, or a sloppy fit between the cleat and pedal.
For those who feel the need for a large pedal platform, the cleat to shoe contact area of a Speedplay road cleat is equivalent in size to Look or Time pedal systems.
Although the aerodynamic drag of a pedal system might seem insignificant compared to other parts of a bike, pedals produce a far greater amount of drag than one would expect. Pedals, like wheels, travel through the air at speeds far greater than other non-rotating parts of a bicycle. As a pedal travels forward, at the top of the stroke, it can travel as fast as twice the speed of the bike. Since wind drag increases at the square of the velocity, any part moving through the air faster than the bike will create a disproportionately large percentage of drag.
Unlike other brands of pedals that hang below a cyclists shoe like a big pie wedge, Speedplay road pedals tuck inconspicuously under the shoe and out of the wind. As a race observer once said "you can always tell if a rider uses Speedplay if you canêt see the pedals." Although Speedplay pedals don't offer the potential logo exposure of other brands, they are unquestionably the most aerodynamic pedals available.
Pedals use one of two types of bearings to reduce the friction of the pedal body turning on the spindle. Pedals may use "rolling element" bearings, "bushings" or a combination of both. Rolling element bearings use small steel balls or cylinders that rotate between two metal rings called raceways. A bushing is a cylindrical sleeve made of a slippery material that spins directly on the spindle. Rolling element bearings have a big performance advantage over bushings in that they have a lower coefficient of friction. A rolling element bearing offers about a 40% reduction in friction over that of a bushing doing the same job. There are three types of rolling element bearings: cartridge bearings, needle bearings and cup-and-cone bearings. Cartridge bearings are made to very precise tolerances and need no adjustment. Cartridge bearings can support radial (vertical) and axial (side-to-side) loads. Needle bearings can support higher radial loads than cartridge bearings but cannot support axial loads. When used in pedals, a needle bearing is always used in conjunction with a cartridge bearing to support the axial load. Cup and cone bearings use two rows of loose balls that ride between cup and cone shaped raceways. Cup-and-cone bearings, when used in paired sets, support radial and axial loads.
Speedplay pedal systems use the highest quality precision cartridge and needle bearings available. X/1 and X/2 road pedals utilize two precision cartridge bearings and one needle bearing for a total of three bearings per pedal. X/3 pedals use one precision cartridge bearing and one Oilite bushing per pedal. frog pedals use one precision cartridge bearing and one needle bearing.
All pedal bearings require lubrication from time to time. The ease in which bearings can be serviced depends on the type of bearing used and the design of the system. Some pedal systems require the time consuming task of complete disassembly of the bearings for overhaul. Other systems make maintenance simple by making the pedal system compatible with a standard needle-type grease injector tool. Injector tools make maintenance as simple as a few squeezes of a miniature grease gun.
Speedplay is the only clipless pedal company to make its entire line of pedals grease injector serviceable.
Pedal spindles are typically made of alloy steel, but titanium is commonly used for high performance applications. Some alloy steels are ideal for spindle materials because they are extremely strong and stiff. Titanium, while significantly lighter than alloy steel, costs many times more and is neither as strong nor or as stiff. Both steel and titanium come in a variety of alloys, which are a mixture of metals or other elements. Alloys used in pedals are chosen for their strength, stiffness, wear resistance, machinability and corrosion resistance. Stainless steels are also used in spindles although stainless steels cost far more than non-stainless alloy steels. The advantage of stainless steels is that they never rust. All non-stainless steels require a surface coating, such as chrome or black oxide, to inhibit rust.
Speedplay uses centerless-ground 17-4 stainless steel for both X/2 road and frog pedal spindles, while X/3 pedal spindles use 4130 chrome-moly. The spindles in X/1 and frog Ti pedals are US 6AL-4V grade titanium. To maximize the life of the bearings and ensure their smoothness, the stepped bearing races on Speedplay spindles are all centerless-ground simultaneously. By grinding the critical bearing races all at once, the precise tolerances needed for in-line concentricity are accurately maintained.
Quality of Components
The quality of the various parts and hardware that make up a pedal system play an important role in how well it will work and how long it will last. For example, stainless steel parts will last longer and maintain their appearance better than carbon steel parts, which will eventually rust. Similarly, parts subject to wear hold up much longer if they are heat-treated than if they are not. Manufacturing tolerances held to precise specifications as well as strict quality control measures in production are also very important and lead to a better and more reliable product. These small details will make a big difference in the useful life of a product.
All hardware and fasteners used on Speedplay pedals are made of stainless steel, and all parts that are subject to wear are heat-treated for lasting performance. Speedplay pedal bodies are injection molded using engineering-grade, glass-filled thermoplastics that hold their appearance for years because they don't show surface scratches.
Bicycle pedals are subject to impact damage, abuse and general wear and tear on a daily basis. Pedals are exposed to rain, sweat and dirt, and are subject to hitting curbs, bouncing off rocks, clipping corners, sliding against walls, and getting kicked. Eventually, all pedals need servicing or rebuilding. While some manufacturers prescribe to a "bust it and chuck it" philosophy with the hope that consumers will do so as well, others make parts for rebuilding available. It does not make sense to trash a whole pedal system when the replacement of a single component could make it serviceable again. It is important, therefore, to make sure the company that manufactures the product you choose offers a full line of replacement parts.
Speedplay pedals can be rebuilt, and are easily serviceable with common tools.
Speedplay Light Action. Zero, X-Series road pedal and Frog all-terrain pedal systems are simple, lightweight, and easy to use. Speedplay pedals are comfortable, easy to get in and out of, dual-sided, and offer free float, secure retention, a stable cleat-to-shoe contact area, and minimum foot-spindle distance. For a comparison of popular road pedals see, "Road Pedals Comparison"; for a comparison of popular all-terrain pedals see,"MTB Pedals Comparison."
Read how Speedplay pedals overcome the shortcomings of ordinary clipless road pedals
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