Pedal Systems – a Bike Fitter’s Rough Guide. (An Update…)

One topic often spoken about during a bike fitting session at Vankru is cleat position – which is fundamental to the whole bike fit process. Slightly less well touched-upon, in general, is the issue of pedal and cleat systems themselves – which is right for the riding that you’re doing?

We see a huge variety of athletes, from Sunday riders to the elite level. We’ll be looking at some of the major systems for now, though you can always get in touch if you’d like to know more.

Of course, this is no hard & fast, set in stone, rules-must-not-be-broken commandment list – you’re free to make your own decisions and we wouldn’t have it any other way! Now let’s begin:


The “big boys” of nearly every market in cycling, of course the Japanese giants have their own offering, so why not start with them? Garth is a long-time user of Shimano pedals, and generally they are fantastic pedals for their price bands. In actual fact you can often find nearly-new Dura-Ace pedals on ebay or Gumtree for less than brand-new 105 pedals, and they can shave a significant sum of grams from your bike.

Shimano do in fact offer two main systems – the “Road” SPD-SL and the “Mountain” SPD. In practice, what we tend to see is “serious” bikes (60+ miles on weekends) being set up with SPD-SL and their Mountain (SPD) counterparts make their way on to commuting bikes, round-town beaters and fixed gears.

SPD-SL as mentioned above are a great road pedal, priced well and at competitive weight. Generally it’s better to spend a little more than the bare minimum on them, as the cheaper models do tend to wear or suffer from premature bearing failure, but pedals being pedals they never get as hugely expensive as, for instance, a carbon stem or seatpost.

One of the main drawbacks to the SPD-SL is the soft cleat, like most road cleats, which do tend to start to grind away after enough coffee shop stops – still, they are some of the cheapest cleats on the market and can be replaced using a 4mm allen key.

There are 3 cleat float options: Red: zero float, Blue: 2 degrees float and Yellow: 6 degrees of float including some lateral movement.

The older brother of the SPD-SL, the “Mountain” SPD is a very common pedal for beginners. In fact, I would recommend it to everyone as a first clipless pedal just because it offers huge amounts of “float” (ability for your foot to pivot without becoming unclipped, kind to your knees) and can secondarily be backed right off for easy exit & entry. The cleats are recessed on the shoe making them perfect for bikes that find themselves locked up with their riders wandering the streets, and as they are forged lumps of steel you’ll probably wear the shoe out before you put more than a scratch on a cleat!

Possibly the biggest advantage for the commuting cyclist of the SPD is the double-sided entry. You can always clip in to an SPD no matter what orientation the pedal is in, which makes traffic lights much less of a chore. These are some of the easiest pedals to clip into and out of. They offer two types of cleats, the SH-51 and SH-56, offering 4 degrees of float and 4 degrees of float with multi release (better for beginners) respectively.

Shimano SPD Pedal


Possibly the most well-known, widely used and oldest pedal system on the market, LOOK cleats have been around since 1984! By the mid-eighties, riders were increasingly dissatisfied with the old clip/strap system, and LOOK answered the call with the first true clipless pedal. Taking technology from ski bindings it was a year later that they went on to win the Tour de France under the soles of Bernard Hinault, sending shockwaves through the pro peloton. Cyclists, known for being a fairly conservative bunch, back then (when it comes to new bike technology), were surprisingly slow to adapt to the new pedal, but by 1989 almost all riders in the pro peloton were clipped in with the notable exception of the great Sean Kelly who was still using the clip/strap system when he won Milan-San Remo in 1992.



The LOOK pedal system in all its variations is still a strong market force in cycling, but is not without its drawbacks. It has suffered from competitor innovation and, crucially for us, some stability issues as well. The pedal/cleat interface has some lateral rock and roll which does does not offer a very stable platform.  In most cases, this is not ideal for repetitive motion in cycling – for instance, some of our clients report massive improvement in knee pain from a 1 degree cleat wedge on the lateral axis – so you can imagine what introducing 2 or more mm of play can do to the knee joint! In all honesty, we hesitate to recommend the LOOK pedal system, at the moment, unless you opt for a very high end pedal (these tend to be more stable though they can still develop issues as they wear).

There are 3 cleat float options: Black: zero float, Grey: 4.5 degrees float and Red: 9 degrees of float.

LOOK also offer a MTB double sided pedal, the X-Track.Look X Track


A relative newcomer on the pedal scene. The Speedplay Zero launched in 2000, the Zero turns common pedal thinking (literally) on its head as it swaps the cleat and binding mechanism to crank and shoe respectively – a total inversion of the binding-on-bike, cleat-on-shoe system so commonly used by the major players. With that new way of thinking comes the most adjustable float in the industry – where with LOOK and Shimano you can buy cleats that offer the different levels of float, Speedplay’s are screw-adjustable from 0 to +/-15degrees, if the rider desires. They also feature the lowest stack height of all pedal systems, lowering the center of gravity and increasing stability, and according to wind tunnel testing they are the most aerodynamic pedal too (due to their very low profile – which also causes them to weigh the least of any pedal). As if that wasn’t enough, the Speedplay’s final feather in its cap is that it has double-sided entry like a MTB style pedal, though unfortunately it does lack the same hard-wearing qualities.

In fact the Speedplay system is probably the best bike fit pedal system on the market and Marks pedal of choice, bar two drawbacks – firstly, the bindings can wear as they are fitted to the sole of the shoe. This can be mitigated with a rubber cover, but it is still not ideal. Secondly, they are a very expensive pedal. Entry level Speedplays cost as much as fairly high-end pedals from other brands, while only offering minor performance advantages. In all honestly, Speedplays are a race pedal – while they will work, they are not designed for commuting or being at all “beaten up”.

They also offer a double sided MTB style pedal, the SYZR as in the below right photo.

There are other brands of course, most notably Time Pedals, which were a firm favourite of mine and many other riders in the 1990’s, but have fallen out of favour in recent years. There are also many pro and cons to all of the above pedals, these will be covered in separate blogs posts.


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