The very first time I fell was my second or third ride in clipless pedals. I say “fell” and not “crashed” because I literally just tipped over from a stand still. I was waiting at a traffic light, quite proud that I somehow managed to unclip and stay upright. When the light turned green, I clipped in but then a car whizzed past, made me wobble more than I already was, and with no forward momentum I was lying on the road. In front of a pub. Full of loud not-so-sober people. I really wasn’t embarrassed until they bluntly asked me if I was.
I wish I had Speedplay pedals then. Back when I started, I was riding Look Keo Elle pedals which, once I learned how to use them, I loved. The “Elle” range, specifically made for ladies, offers a lower tension setting to make it easier to disengage which was one of my favourite features as a beginner. However, after about 2 minutes on Speedplay a few months ago, my mind flashed back to that traumatic first pedal-related fall because I couldn’t believe how easy it was to get out of the Speedplay pedals. Then I was amazed at how easy it was to clip back in. What rookie hasn’t spent the kilometre after a traffic light trying to clip in on the wrong side of the pedal?
COST: MAINTENANCE AND MONETARY
While I would love to recommend Speedplay to entry-level riders, their steep price tag keeps them reserved for the more seasoned cyclist who is looking for more than just a pedal. The cost of average Speedplay pedals is comparable to other top of the range pedal systems. The upkeep is also more expensive. Since the retention mechanism is in the cleat attached to your shoe, your cleats are more sensitive to damage from walking and, since you are forced to replace the retention mechanism, replacement cleats are not cheap. Speedplay does offer cleat covers but I’v never been able to get into the habit.
On the topic of maintenance, I had so many people lament about how the pedals just seem to wear out so quickly compared to other brands. Then I had a few serious riders tell me they had been using the same pedals for over ten years, albeit a few replacement parts. The difference, I figured out, was simply grease. According to Speedplay, you should be regreasing the pedal and cleat every 3 months or more if you ride in inclement weather or dusty conditions, which seems like a small investment to extend the life of an integral component. Speedplay does suggest you buy their special grease gun for the pedals but a significantly cheaper plastic syringe does the same trick.
The biggest and most important feature that Speedplay offers is adjustability. As expert bike fitter Steve Hogg notes in his review, while other pedal systems are adjustable both laterally and rotationally, they often inhibit one another but Speedplay keeps lateral and rotational adjustment independent of one another making optimal cleat position more achievable. In addition, Speedplay also offers an extender base plate and different axel lengths so if you have had any biomechanical or otherwise pedal related issues because of position constraints, Speedplay might be the best option.
Along the same lines, Speedplay notably features “free float” (adjustable from 0-15 degrees) which reduces any tension on knees. This is the main reason I switched to Speedplay. Knee niggles have often left me on the sidelines and, besides injury prevention, I’m a firm believer that comfort is a key part of performance. However, I will admit I wasn’t initially sold on the free float. Being used to high tension settings on my old pedals, my feet seemed to go all over the place and I didn’t feel secure in the pedal. Like any other gear change, after a few rides I settled into the pedals and my feet got used to the free play. I can say that my cycling related knee pain has decreased significantly and that my feet are much more comfortable. Unless you have a poor set-up, I doubt that after an adjustment period any rider would not end up preferring the free float. As for not feeling secure, one sprint session later, with my feet firmly still attached, my fears were gone.
Even though they look thicker because of the cleat, Speedplay actual offers the lowest stack height which is an extra performance perk. With your foot closer to the pedal, power transfer is optimized which means less power is lost to your pedal and more power is transferred into speed. Low stack height also means high cornering clearance. You will be able to carry more speed through a corner and pedal when no one else can. The pedals are also extremely light, as little as 130 grams for the pair (Speedplay Nanogram Zero), and even with the heavier cleats the entire system only weighs 186 grams. Plus, across their entire pedal range, Speedplay offers a range of colours from pink, to green, to natural tan.
With two months of riding Speedplay X/2‘s under my belt, I don’t regret the investment and I can see why it is the most used pedal in the professional peloton. If you are looking for a high performance pedal, Speedplay is a great option. The true draw of the pedal, however, is the adjustability. If you are struggling to find the perfect cleat position or simply can’t reach it on other pedal systems, the ability to adjust rotational and lateral position independently, along with the available extra fit options, is worth every penny in the reduction of injury risk alone. While I don’t like that the cleats are sensitive to walking, greasing every 3 months isn’t a huge ask, especially if it might give you 10 years on set of pedals.
If you find you can achieve comfort on other pedal systems, you will be buying the pedal for smaller (not insignificant) gains that include the easy in, easy out feature, the light weight, low stack height, and power transfer gains. These performance benefits are worthwhile but if you are more of a recreational cyclist, other pedal systems are more affordable and require less and cheaper maintenance.