The clip-clop of a road cyclist teetering along on their cleated shoes is a common sight in cafes across the country, and for good reason. Clipless pedals offer a secure connection between rider and machine and, combined with carbon-soled shoes, enable super-efficient transfer of power from leg to bike.
Unlike mountain bike clipless pedals, where the main requirements are ease of entry and the ability to keep working even when clogged with mud, road bike clipless pedals provide nice, (often) wide platforms to push against, with lightweight and rigidity added bonuses. So, whether its Look vs Shimano pedals, Shimano vs Speedplay or all against all, which of the three big systems should you choose?
Originally a manufacturer of skiing equipment, Look applied what it had learnt from ski bindings to cycling pedals back in the early 1980s. Now it has a wide selection of clipless pedal systems, ranging from the basic Classic, to the popular KEO and KEO 2, and now the KEO Blade 2. All use a wide, three-bolt cleat attached to the shoe sole, which slips under a lip at the front of the pedal and clips inside a sprung-loaded jaw at the rear.
We’ve used KEO and KEO 2 systems happily for years, but the KEO Blade 2 design replaces the spring in the KEO’s cleat retention system with a carbon blade, allowing for a more positive release. Available in four different resistances — 8Nm for easy release; 12Nm suitable for most users; 16Nm for added support; and 20Nm for maximum support — all versions are supremely aerodynamic yet feature a broad, secure platform to pedal against.
Shimano SPD SL
Shimano may have come later than Look to the clipless road pedal party but its SPD SL system is a favourite among many road riders. As with KEO, SPD SL uses a three-bolt cleat that clips to the pedal via a sprung-loaded jaw at the rear.
There is a huge variety of pedal choice, with Shimano’s higher-end road groupsets — 105, Ultegra and Dura-Ace — all having matching series pedals, as well as there being standalone models. However, here’s slightly different option: A few years ago Shimano launched a tweaked version of the Shimano SPD SL system entitled ‘Light Action’. This features an easier engaging and disengaging function, which is particularly reassuring for hesitant riders who are new to clipless pedals.
Finally we come to Speedplay, whose clipless pedal binding system is a little different. Unlike Look and Shimano road pedals, where the cleats clip into a wider pedal — just as a key would slide into a lock — Speedplay reverses the relationship with the pedal behaving as the smaller ‘key’, and the bottom of the shoe the wider ‘lock’.
This offers a number of benefits such as super quick, double-sided entry; micro-adjustable float or fixed position; a low stack height for more direct power transfer; and overall lightweight. They’re certainly very effective, with a great number of pro riders using Speedplay Zero pedals on their race bikes.