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Road Bike Pedals | Systems Explained

road bike pedals

This cannot be true! You buy the road bike of your dreams from your hard-earned money … and then there aren’t even pedals on it. But don’t worry, there is neither a negligent assembly of the manufacturer, nor is there a global supply shortage of pedals. Rather, the pedals are the last missing piece that make the bike your bike. With your cycling shoes, equipped with so-called cleats, you are firmly connected to the pedal so that you can optimally convert your strength into propulsion. We have summarized for you which pedal systems there are, what advantages and disadvantages they have and what you should pay attention to when making your selection in our road bike pedal guide.

Clipless Pedals

A round and efficient kick is very important for racing cyclists. Unlike the normal cyclist, the racing cyclist pulls the pedal up with one foot and presses down with the other foot. This alternation of push and pull requires a firm connection between the cycling shoe and the pedal. In the past, people used leather straps or small metal loops that were attached to the pedals and stretched over a conventional shoe to enable the driver to transfer power effectively. But this technique has long been outdated and can only be seen occasionally at classical events. The story of the “clipless” pedal, which is still used today, began in 1984 when the French company Look – until then known for ski bindings – launched a pedal with a completely new system. So-called cleats were screwed under the cycling shoes, which clipped in the pedal and can be released again by rotating the foot. This simple principle of action still applies today, although many other manufacturers have now developed their own variants.

Why are there no pedals on road bikes?

The largest manufacturers of pedal systems today are the brands Shimano, Look, Time and Speedplay. However, each manufacturer has a different philosophy regarding the connection mechanism and handling, which is why the systems cannot be combined. This also explains why no pedals are factory-fitted on your new road bike, after all, the pedals must match the cleats on your shoes.

How much do road bike pedals cost?

The pedal systems of the different manufacturers mainly differ in weight, handling, durability, freedom of movement (float), material and price. Cheap models are available from $30 which then mostly consist of aluminum, have a simple steel axle with ball bearings and weigh around 330 grams per pair. On the other side of the scale are the high-end pedals, which mostly consist of carbon, have a titanium axle and ceramic bearings and weigh only 140 grams as a pair. Such pedals sometimes also cost $300 or more.

Power pedals

The power pedals have a special position among road bike pedals. Look, Garmin, Powertap and other manufacturers have integrated a power measurement into their pedals, which until recently could only be installed in the crank. Anyone who is ambitious in cycling and would like to train in a structured manner based on watts can gain interesting insights for their training with the performance measurement. However, this technology also has its price: the systems are currently available between $700 and $1200.

How do I ride with clipless pedals?

Anyone who uses clipless pedals for the first time noticeably takes their pedaling efficiency to a new level. Clipping in and out requires some practice at the beginning, but you are guaranteed to get used to the new movement quickly.
  • In the beginning, take some time on a quiet and flat route or a roller trainer and practice clicking in and out so that the movement sequence sits securely.
  • The clip-in works by hooking the cleat over the forefoot, and when you step on the pedal or lower the heel, you can hear and feel the click.
  • You release the connection again by turning the heel outwards over a certain point – usually between 30 and 35 degrees.
Especially at the beginning, clipping out can be unfamiliar and you are initially startled if you do not get off the pedal when lifting your foot (e.g. when stopping at traffic lights). Try to get used to the fact that with the last rolling motion you click your foot off the pedal before stopping.

How do I mount my pedals?

The click pedals are mounted like conventional pedals on the two crank arms of your road bike. Pay attention to the different threads and thus other movements for loosening and tightening:
  • Left crank arm = left-hand thread
  • Right crank arm = right-hand thread
Some assembly paste on the thread also prevents contact corrosion, which can often occur when two different materials are connected via a thread.

How do I mount my pedal cleats?

Most road bike shoes have the usual 3-hole fastening and extensive adjustment options for the different cleats, which is why the initial assembly should be carried out carefully. To find the right position, there are, for example, suitable templates with which the longitudinal, transverse and rotational directions of the cleats can be set with millimeter precision. Of course, you can also adjust the cleats according to your feeling, but note that a neutral foot position on the pedal can prevent problems in the ankle and knee.

Shimano Pedals

Like hardly any other large series manufacturer, Shimano knows how to serve its customers with a wide range of products across all quality levels – including the pedals. Based on the well-known component groups, there are the so-called SPD-SL pedals (Shimano Pedaling Dynamics) in the quality levels of group 105, Ultegra and Dura Ace.

Differences

Visually, the pedals differ only slightly, the differences lie in the materials used and in the weight.

  • The cheapest Shimano SPD-SL pedal weighs around 330 grams per pair 
  • The most expensive SPD-SL pedal from Shimano, on the other hand, weighs only 243 grams

The release angles are between 32 and 35 degrees and on all models the release hardness can be easily adjusted using a small adjusting screw.

Pedal cleats

For freedom of movement in the pedal (float), Shimano offers three different cleats that differ in color.

  • Red cleats stand for freedom of movement of 0 degrees
  • Blue cleats stand for a freedom of movement of 2 degrees
  • Yellow cleats stand for a freedom of movement of 6 degrees

For most racing cyclists, the yellow cleats are the best choice because their high freedom of movement protects the knee when pedaling.

Follow-up costs

Since the cleats are subject to constant wear during walking and intensive use, they must be replaced regularly to ensure the reliable functioning of the binding system.

New cleats are available for around $20

The Shimano pedals are very popular because they are relatively easy to service and can be repaired using standard tools. The direction of disassembly and assembly is noted on the axis.

Look Pedals

Look pedals are very popular with both recreational athletes and professionals. The French manufacturer is considered the inventor of today’s clipless pedals and knows what racing cyclists want from a pedal: low weight, easy handling and an attractive appearance. These are the characteristics that Look skillfully implements in all products and therefore still serve a large part of the market today.

Differences

The entry-level and mid-range models KeO Classic, KeO Sprint and KeO 2 Max are technically simpler with their adjustable coil spring than the top models KeO Blade series, in which a carbon spring blade creates the binding. The blade models also have carbon bodies and titanium axles for low weight and reliable function.

  • The entry-level models by Look weigh about 348 grams (KeO Classic, per pair with cleats and screws)
  • The top model KeO Blade Carbon TI, on the other hand, weighs only 248 grams including the cleats. In this range there is also a titanium axle.

The trigger hardness can be set to either 12 Nm or 16 Nm on the blade models by replacing the carbon blade (included in the scope of delivery). On the KeO Sprint, KeO Classic and KeO Max models, the release hardness can be adjusted using a small adjusting screw, similar to Shimano.

Pedal cleats

For the freedom of movement in the pedal (float), Look offers three different cleats that differ in color.

  • Black cleats stand for freedom of movement of 0 degrees
  • Gray cleats stand for a freedom of movement of 4.5 degrees
  • Red cleats stand for a freedom of movement of 9 degrees

The majority of road cyclists choose the gray cleats with +/- 4.5 degrees float because they offer the best compromise between freedom of movement and feeling of contact with the bike.

Follow-up costs

Since the cleats are subject to constant wear during walking and intensive use, they must be replaced regularly to ensure the reliable functioning of the binding system.

New cleats are available between $10 and $15

The maintenance effort is about the same as with the Shimano pedals, only the Look disassembly tool is required (approx. $5). If that is not at hand, most local bicycle repair shops have the right tool to separate the pedal axle from the frame. The direction of disassembly and assembly is also noted on the axis.

Time Pedals

The pedals from Time optically go their own way and therefore differ significantly from the models from Shimano or Look presented here. If you can get used to the unusual look, you get one of the lightest clipless pedals currently on the market. Technically there is also a lot of know-how in the pedals, which have become particularly popular among triathletes and some professionals like Greg LeMond and Tom Boonen.

Differences

All Time pedals work on the same principle: They all do without the usual coil spring and only create the binding with a leaf spring. Time differentiates the pedals of the Xpresso series according to increasing numbers, so the popular classic – the Xpresso 2- is the entry into the pedal world of Time.

  • This entry-level model already convinces with slim 230 grams
  • The current top model Xpresso 15, on the other hand, weighs a light 142 grams per pair

As usual in this price range, the axle is made of titanium, the pedal body made of carbon and the bearing made of ceramic. As a special feature of the Time pedals it should be mentioned that the patented I-Clic system makes snapping particularly easy, since the system remains slightly open between clipping out and clipping in again.

Pedal cleats

All time pedals have the same float, which is very generously dimensioned at 10 degrees and therefore also very good for riders with knee problems.

Follow-up costs

As these cleats are subject to constant wear and tear when riding and intensive use, they must be replaced regularly to ensure the reliable functioning of the binding system.

New cleats are available between $15 and $20

The Time pedals cannot be opened for maintenance or repair. So if a bearing makes noise or shows play, the entire pedal must be replaced.

Speedplay Pedals

Speedplay pedals stand out immediately due to their reduced and eye-catching “Lollipop” design. With this system, everything is different, as you know it from the other pedal systems … but these models also have a loyal following and fan base among racing cyclists.

Differences

  • The Speedplay Zero CrMo are already at a fairly high level, but are relatively light at 220 grams.
  • For the top model Zero Titanium Nanogram, which is as light as a feather at 130 grams

The special feature of the Speedplay pedals is the reverse system: the pedals have no mechanics apart from the axis of rotation, the binding and the release angle are made via the cleats. Speedplay cleats are connected to the cycling shoe using 4 instead of the usual 3 screws, which very few cycling shoes can accommodate. In most cases it is necessary to use an adapter plate that is screwed between the shoe and cleat.

Pedal cleats

All Speedplay pedals have the same float, which is extremely generous at 15 degrees and is therefore ideal for riders with knee problems.

Follow-up costs

The cleats do not wear out as quickly as the Shimano, Look or Time models, but they must be maintained more carefully to ensure that the binding system functions reliably.

New cleats are available for around $40

Unlike the other pedal systems, the release hardness cannot be set with Speedplay. However, the release angle and the freedom of movement of the foot towards the tip or heel can be adjusted on the cleats.

The maintenance of the Speedplay pedals is relatively high: The pedal axles need a new grease filling every 2000 km, but this can be done quickly on your own. The tools required for this cost about $40.