Monday, April 18, 2011

Speedplay Pedals

Two weeks ago I had the good fortune of experiencing the Wheel and Sprocket Bike Expo here in Milwaukee. It was a lot of fun. Imagine if all the shops converged for three days to showcase all their inventory and invited other vendor's with similar (but not competing) interests to come along as well. There were representatives for Race the Lake, MS 150 Ride, Ray's Indoor Mountain Biking, Tour of America's Dairyland etc. etc.

There were also some fantastic deals. Unfortunately I didn't walk away with the deal I maybe would have liked...56cm Felt AR4 with all Ultegra...but then again I didn't exactly expect to. What I did go looking for, however, were pedals and a saddle. I'll tell you about the pedals now and come back to the saddle later because that's a much longer story all unto itself.

I had been doing some research and decided that I would see what I thought of Speedplay pedals. Speedplay has been getting a lot of good press lately especially as numerous winning riders have recently been using their pedals in the pro peloton (Fabian Cancellera, Mark Cavendish, Ivan Basso, Cadel Evans to name a few). After looking at what I had heard about the pedals from different reviews and bike shop employees and talking to a friend who bought a pair last year I decided they were worth a shot. I especially liked the amount that you can adjust in a pair of speedplay pedals. The Zero comes with adjustable float between 0 and 15 degrees so that you can either be locked in solid or have plenty of range to swing your heel. They offered a little higher end performance for the price point so I bought a pair of black chrome-moly Zero pedals during the expo. I got a fair price and went home happy.

[Here start's the long version with explanations, if you want the straight and simple bullet points you should jump to the end.]

Unfortunately, my happiness didn't last too long after putting them on my bike. Installation of the pedal was quite easy, all you need is a pedal wrench. Installation of the cleat was a little more complicated because I have a three hole shoe and Speedplay then requires an adapter for their 4 hole cleat, but still not unreasonably difficult. I managed to get the cleats on in a fairly central position on my shoe hoping this would be a good point to start from for adjustments and it was. When I first tried to get into the pedal it was ridiculously difficult. I figured that this was mostly operator error, and kept trying. It was partly operator error, but as it turns out the Speedplay pedal actually needs to be broken in a bit. While it was crazy difficult to get in, I actually found it shockingly easy to get out. As someone who plans to race with these pedals I didn't really like that combination, but thought maybe some adjustments would help. While the pedal did get easier to get into over my week long trial period, it didn't really hold my foot as securely as I would like. I never actually popped out of the pedal while sprinting, but there were a couple situations in which I did pop out enough to lose the hold on my upward pedalstroke while adjusting my ankle or foot while trying to get into the pedal and while spinning on my trainer.

During my first short ride outside on the pedal I actually thought that they might work out all right (my first had been a short spin on the indoor trainer just to get things dialed in). I bombed through the neighborhood nearby and charged up and down the short little hills. I felt pretty good going uphill and pedaling hard on the straight flats, but when I cornered I couldn't help but feel that my heel moved a little too easily on my outside foot (the one that's supposed to be extended for holding your weight and balance). I didn't really like that. Also, when I sprinted hard I could occasionally feel a little sliding of my feet. They just float back and forth a little too easily in a way that makes you feel unstable on the pedal.

I decided the float problem could be easily taken care of by reducing my float. I didn't want the full 15 degrees anyway and thought it would be nice to make it more like 5 degrees or less. At first the adjustment was easy and the design on the bottom of the cleat for this really is genius. But the adjustment screws quickly got very difficult to turn because of their awkward position and the stiff plastic and I almost blew out the phillip's head. I decided that if there was any chance to return these I better leave the screws intact. Again, disappointed.

The final test was a 2 1/2 hour ride to see if maybe I just needed to get broken in. What I found on the long ride was that I adjusted to the feel of the clipping in and out and even the float a little, but that ultimately the platform is too narrow side to side. I have somewhat big feet (usually between size 11.5-12.5), so this might not be a problem for a lot of riders out there, but it was the last straw for me. I gave them one last hopeful spin on the trainer the next day thinking that it could be me not them. But I was wrong. This was not a compatible match.

After a week of unimpressed riding my pair of pedals got returned to Wheel and Sprocket with an exchange for the Look Keo 2 Max (review pending). They were friendly and helpful with the exchange, but probably not happy to have to deal with returned pedals and cleats considering that no matter how lightly you use Speedplay pedals they always show some wear and tear because most of the pieces and contact points are plastic and metal combinations. I figured that up to this point I've been riding an old pair of Look pedals that still use the delta cleat...they're almost as old as me...and if a new pair of pedals can't improve on that, I don't see any point in replacing my old ones.

To sum it up...

Things I liked about the Speedplay Zero:
-Easy maintenance
-low profile/good clearance on corners
-Diverse adjustment ability (can adjust float, side to side cleat position even place shims for leg length discrepancy)

Things I didn't like about the Speedplay Zero:
-Too easy to come out of
-Float in pedal actually made my platform seem somewhat unstable especially when cornering hard or sprinting
-Difficult to get in (this may change some over time)
-somewhat high maintenance
-poor quality adjustment screws
-small pedaling platform for a person with big feet

I've tested the new Look Keo 2 Max pedals once and once exams end this week I intend to spend plenty more time on them. Look for another review in the next few weeks.

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