I’m about to give some of you some tough love.
(An enticing prospect.)
Here it comes….
If you’re currently not using clipless pedals, and instead use flat ‘platform’ pedals, you need to stop procrastinating and make the leap.
Your legs will thank you. Your sportive performances will thank you.
(For those of you already using clipless pedals, permission to nod sagely like a lycra-clad Gandalf).
But which clipless pedals to buy? There are a myriad of choices.
In this post I’m going to talk about one option, Speedplay, and specifically the pedals I use, the Speedplay Zero Stainless.
I’ve used them for the best part of two years, and now I’m READY TO REVIEW.
*Mont starts dancing*
An Unoriginal Word On Clipless Pedals
I am not the first amateur comedian to note, wryly, that the key feature of a *clipless* pedal is that it clips to your shoe (or perhaps your shoe clips to it).
The ‘clip’ that modern sticky pedals lack is the toe clip cage affair that used to reside at the front of racing cycle pedals, back in the day. Track cyclists still use pedals with clips (I think because they can tighten them super tight).
History time: the modern clipless pedal was developed by Look, based on the technology they used to manufacture ski bindings.
Look likes to claim it ‘invented’ the clipless pedal, but Charles Hanson (eek, un Americain) submitted his clipless design to the US patent office way back in 1895.
Why Do I Use Speedplay Pedals?
Well, I had to pick a make of pedal, so…
I chose Speedplay as a result of a bike fit / new bike / new shoes / new pedals / two (!) new handlebars / two new stems (!?!) saga, which I wrote about way back in 2013 (when I still had some of my ill-gotten banking gains to put towards bike purchases).
A Pain In The Knee
In summary, I’ve suffered from chronic pain in my knee for quite a few years.
I have flat feet. I have weak stabilising muscles, particularly around my hips*. I’ve not been able to run any significant distance (without pain) for the best part of a decade.
(*Upside – I’m a great dancer).
Bike rides were starting to cause similar pain. I was riding my trusty aluminium Dawes Giro, bought hastily in a sale, some time in the early 2000s, simply because my girlfriend at the time was in the bike shop buying a commuting hybrid.*
(*Yes, reader, I married her**).
(**The girlfriend, not the bike).
It turns out the (not-so-trusty) Dawes was far too big (long) for me. So much so that even with a new, shorter stem and a smaller-reach set of handlebars, the bike fitter refused to let me go through with the video analysis. To do so would have been to polish the turd*.
(My words, clearly, rather than his.)
Get To The Point Grimpeur…
Ok, ok. As I was about to say…
Informed readers of this blog, at the time, felt that my choice of pedals may have been a further cause of knee pain. I was using Shimano SPDs – a mountain bike pedal and a hangover from my London commuting days.
My objective as I dropped cash on a new bike, the associated accoutrements and the bike fit was to do everything I reasonably could to eradicate the pain in my knee.
Going with Speedplay pedals to replace the SPDs was a key part of this strategy.
Twist And (Don’t) Shout
The bike fitter recommended Speedplay pedals for me primarily because of the amount of ‘float’ they allow at the ankle .
This lateral movement means that the other bits of your leg have more freedom to follow their natural course as you complete each pedal rotation (whilst presumably being sufficiently stable to avoid too much power loss from unnecessary movement).
The pedal doesn’t prescribe a motion which might cause your knee to follow a path that causes some of the internals to rub (for instance).
Speedplay pedals allow up to 15 degrees of this horizontal twisting movement. If you need less movement, the range can be limited with the adjusting screws on the cleat. Setting up the correct amount of float is probably something you would want an experienced bike fitter to do for you.
The Nitty Gritty (Or The Neaty Cleaty)
Speedplay pedals look like lollipops.
(Which is the sort of in-depth reportage that you’ve come to expect from this blog.)
But these are special lollipops.
Speedplays differ from the likes of Shimano and Look in that the locking mechanism forms part of the cleat (attached to the shoe) rather than the pedal.
So, when you attach your foot to the pedal, the cleat wraps around the circular bit of pedal (the head of the lollipop) and clips into place.
Despite the different location of the springy bits (which apparently don’t involve actual springs), clipping in and out of Speedplays is broadly similar to other clipless pedals.
You need to sort of apply pressure downwards on the outside edge of your foot, then roll your ankle down until it all clicks into place.
(Having just read the instructions again, they suggest you just need to push your foot down firmly onto the pedal, until you get the click – who knew?).
Double-Sided Sticky Pedal
In case it’s not obvious from the photos, the Speedplay Zero is double-sided. You can clip to the top or bottom of the pedal (though which is the top and which is the bottom is not clear to me). Thus you don’t have to worry about flipping the pedal upright with your toes, as you might for a one-sided pedal.
Indeed, the pedals are designed to be self-levelling. Again this comes from the (recently-read) instructions, but now I think about it, they do indeed do this. They settle in a horizontal position, ready to be, er, entered.
Clipping into the Speedplay does feel marginally harder than clipping into my old SPD pedals (which were also doubled sided), but this hasn’t caused me any particular problem. You can still set off and pedal reasonably well until you manage to get the fixing.
Releasing the pedal is easy (and intuitive) – a twist of your ankle outwards, and you’re free.
Greasy Greasy Gander
It’s worth noting that Speedplays may require a bit more maintenance than other pedal systems.
I say, ‘may’, because I haven’t actually done the suggested maintenance, and I’m approaching my two year anniversary with these pedals.
Supposedly, I should be regreasing the ‘precision bearings’ within the pedal every 2000 miles or 3 months*.
This is done (I’m told) by removing the screw on the outside edge of the pedal (you can see the screw on the photo above), inserting a syringe and squeezing through fresh grease such that the old grease within the pedal is pushed out the other side.
(*And, oh yes, for me, 3 months of riding and 2000 miles bear no resemblance to one another. 3 years and 2000 miles perhaps – but even then…).
In researching this post (i.e. finding the Speedplay care instructions on the company’s website), I discover that I am also meant to be lubricating the super-dooper cleat every 1 to 2 rides. Which clearly hasn’t been happening.
Despite my lack of maintenance (and possibly due to the lack of wear and tear my sporadic and underpowered cycling has placed upon them), my Speedplays (pedals and cleats) seem to be functioning fine.
But something potentially for you to be aware of.
* Monty hurries off to retrieve the grease and wide-needled syringe *
* Discovers them both in bedside drawer *
* Shuffles feet uncomfortably *
Understanding The Holes On The Bottom Of Your Cycling Shoes
Pedal cleats attach to the soles of your shoes using screws, which go into the holes kindly left by the schumacher for exactly this purpose.
Most shoes seem to have 3 holes as this is the standard arrangement for fitting Shimano cleats (amongst others).
Speedplay cleats attach with four screws. But do not fear, the pedals come supplied with an adaptor that sits between the shoe and the cleat.
This ‘between-cleat-and-sole’ location is also where you can put any shims or wedges that might be needed to correct your foot position on the pedal. I say, ‘you’, but of course I mean ‘an experienced bike fitter’.
Generally, the whole adaptor/cleat fandango appears to work well. It certainly gives someone who knows what they’re doing the flexibility to position the cleat and set up the amount of float in an almost unlimited number of combinations.
The only slight downside is that on two occasions, the lower set of screws within the adaptor (those which go into the three holes) have come loose.
In order to re-tighten them, I needed to undo the top four screws, and remove the cleat and shim, desperately trying to remember the position that my bike fitter had prescribed. Thankfully I seemed to manage it.
It’s probably been the best of a year since this last happened, so I’d put this down as a potential nuisance, rather than a pedal-buying dealbreaker.
Walk Like A Man
** Forgot to talk about this – thanks to Steve in the comments for reminding me **
Like most road cycling cleats, the Speedplays are not particularly easy to walk in. This is also a function of the shoes you attach them to. Unlike ‘hybrid SPD shoes’ (those with a cleat recessed into the sole) and MTB shoes (which tend to have some grips on the sole), road shoes have hard, smooth soles. Even without the protruding metal cleat, they’d be precarious to walk in.
There is a solution for Speedplay users though – the coffee shop cleat covers. These are rectangular rubbery plastic covers that clip over the cleats, giving you grip as you walk around. I’ve got a pair and they work well (provided you remember to take them with you on a ride).
They’re not really a solution if you plan to do a lot of walking at your destination. They’re fine for walking small distances (i.e. around a coffee shop or to your work changing rooms) but not for anything substantial.
From Road Pedal To Everyday Pedal
The Speedplay handy accessory fest does not stop with the cafe covers.
I don’t own these, so can’t vouch for their efficacy, but they do look like a handy solution if you sometimes use your Speedplay-equipped bike for social trips and chores.
Something Interesting If You’re Considering Buying A Power Meter
I have a growing desire to purchase a power meter. It feels like this will solve all my athletic challenges (which of course it will not).
There are a number of places where power meters can be located on a bike (the rear wheel, the chain rings, the cranks, the pedals).
And now a company called Brim Brothers is working on a power meter that attaches to the rider’s shoe. It just so happens that this is only compatible with Speedplay pedals and cleats.
Before we get too excited, the product hasn’t yet been released (as at April 2015), the pre-order cost is $999 and it’s likely to be difficult to get hold of in the UK. But something to be aware of for the future, if you’re a potential Speedplay purchaser.
Conclusion (Or Have The Speedplays Solved My Knee Pain)
Well, I certainly no longer suffer the pain I did. In fact, I rarely get any discomfort at all (other than the right sort of pain…).
But how much this is down to the pedals versus the other changes I made (the new bike, the bike fit) is open to question.
The ‘right pedal’ is not a replacement for a professional bike fit. In the right hands (i.e. those of the fitter), the Speedplay Zeroes offer an awful lot of adjustability, for tailoring to your specific needs.
For me they’ve been (and continue to be) a comfortable pedal. Looking into my carbon ball, I reckon I’ll be fitting them to my future n+1s.
If you’re looking to buy a set of clipless pedals, I think you’d be very happy with a set of Speedplays.
Cost Of Speedplay Versus Shimano, Look and Time Equivalents
Unlike Shimano, Look, Time and others, there is no budget-budget offering in the Speedplay Zero stable. (The lowest-priced Shimano/Look/Time pedals are in the £20-35 range.)
The Zero Chrome-Moly pedals (the cheapest variant) are currently available on Wiggle for around £86 (based on a list price of £110).
The pedals I own, the Speedplay Zero Stainless are the middle-priced option, showing currently at £116 (versus a list price of £150)
Finally, if you’re looking to save a whopping 40g of weight, you could always go for the Zero Titanium, which are going for £224 (list price: £300)
(I have to say, the step up in price for the Titanium model does feel somewhat toppy versus the Stainless…).
If you’re in the US, here are the three options from those good folk at Chain Reaction Cycles:
I hope this is useful. If you have any questions about the pedals, or my experiences with them, do let me know in the comments below.