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June 16, 2011
It all goes back to 2004 when I bought my first pair of Speedplays. I spent what felt like an obscene amount of money on them, put them on my bike, went for a ride, and quickly put my old pedals back on. I hated them.
This was back when Speedplays were different than today and had virtually infinite float. The model series back them was the X1, X2, X5 (I’m not sure if you can still buy them, but they’re still on their website). The free float was simply too much for me to handle. My feet were all over the place and my ankles would hit the chainstays when I got sloppy or tried to sprint.
Jump ahead to 2006. I started to develop some knee pain that wouldn’t go away and the old pedals I was using were dying a slow death. I had these Speedplays sitting around and decided to give them another shot. It took me about 2 weeks of dedication and heartache before I finally got comfortable with them. After I did, my knee pain subsided and I began to really like them. In fact, I now loved them.
They weren’t without their problems though. The small screws that hold the cleats onto the shoe kept coming loose or falling out. I also found I had to spend $80 on new cleats every 6-8 months. I was willing to deal with these issues however because I really loved these pedals. Then one day in an important race I made the final selection and my pedal completely seized up. It nearly tore my kneecap to shreds. I had felt a problem with something in my pedal or cleat early into the race, but I couldn’t tell what it was. As it turned out the bearings inside were completely dry and metal was rubbing on metal. In the final 10kms of the race I had to pedal to the finish line alone with one leg. Not happy.
Speedplays have evolved since the X series. Their most popular pedal now is the Zero series. The main difference that I noticed over the X series was the Zeros have an ajustable range of float.
I promptly went out and bought a set of these Zeros and I immediately loved them even more than my previous ones. They felt much more stable when clipped-in and the amount of float was much easier to get used to.
The speedplay pedal itself is a wonderfully simple design, and most of the mechanics of engagement is contained in the cleat, not the pedal. It is nearly impossible to come unclipped by accident. The low profile design of the pedal itself makes a big difference when pedaling around corners. Speedplay has made some big claims about the aerodynamics of their pedal, but it’s going to take some major convincing before I can believe those windtunnel results will translate into going faster on the road.
Almost all bike fitters I’ve spoken with praise the Speedplay pedals for their adjustability. In my previous bike fits, much of the process focused on my cleat positioning and getting my legs tracking perfectly. There seems to be endless adjustability with Speedlpay cleats. I can’t say for certain that other pedals don’t offer this, but I’ve heard bike fitters rave about Speedplay time and time again.
This brings me back to the cleats. Problems with the cleat screws didn’t go away with the Zero design. The screws cannot be overtightened because this may prevent the springs from operating properly. Locktight is applied to the screws out of the box, but it doesn’t always work. I’ve still needed to spend $80 on new cleats far too often because of excessive wear. Many of the pros will use these protector shims so the plastic on the cleat platforms don’t wear so quickly (due to pedal friction). It wasn’t until recently that I found out these could be purchased and previously I had bought this extender kit (for $50) because a local bike shop told me this was the only solution. Also, too many times have I had to use an angle grinder to remove my old cleats because of the wear to the screw heads from walking on them and stripping them.
I’ve had other problems with the Speedplay pedal itself. For example, during L’Etape last year I had to ride over 100kms with one foot. The pedal axels need to be greased every ~5000kms and there is a special tool needed to do this. I admit, the majority of my problems come from my lack of maintenance, but constant care and attention towards my pedals isn’t something that occurs to me until it’s too late.
Okay, enough of my Speedplay woes. I had been thinking of writing about this topic for a while, but before I did so I wanted to speak to someone from Speedplay about my issues. I emailed them and promptly got a reply from Richard Bryne. Shortly after I was on the phone with Richard (I didn’t know Richard was the owner and designer of Speedplay until the end of the conversation). He was an incredibly nice guy who explained many of my issues and the reasoning behind them. Let me share Richard’s explanations of the design decisions that are the cause of my greif:
– The philips screws that hold the cleats onto the base are there precisely so that they cannot be overtightened. There is an indexed “feeling” designed onto the screws so that the exact amount of tightening can be applied. These scews used to be hex allen key bolts, however they were easy to overtighten and would prevent the cleat springs from functioning properly. Locktight has been provided to the philips screws to prevent from loosening.
– The reason the pedals need to be greased every ~5000 kilometers is because of the bearing design. Many pedals use cartridge bearings, but Speedplay uses needle bearings because of their higher load rating and better performance. The drawback to needle bearings is that they slowly push the grease out to the side, thus the need to regrease your Speedplays every so often. Note: if the pedal spins nice and freely, this is a sign that it needs to be greased. The pedal should spin on the axel with slight resistance. This tells you the grease is doing it’s job.
– The wear protector can be used to prevent wearing of the plastic underneath the cleat or carbon sole of the shoe. As I said above, I didn’t know about this part until Richard told me about it and I had been buying the extender kit for this part alone and throwing away the extra pieces.
– Excessive wearing of the cleats can be reduced if you purchase the Coffee Shop Caps. These prevent dirt, sand, and friction from ruining the cleats.
– Dry teflon lube should be applied to the cleat springs every so often to keep it working and engaging properly.
Richard tells me that his biggest challenge is informing and communicating with people about how to maintain their Speedplays properly. I have to admit, until recently I had never pulled out the manual in the box and read the whole thing. He’s designed the pedals for maximum performance, which has it’s tradeoffs. Just like when buying a Ferrari, it’s a given that it’ll need more maintanence than most other cars.
I appreciate Richard giving me the time to explain these things and I truly believe Speedplay are working as hard as they can to make the best pedal possible. In many ways, they’ve definitely done that. If you speak to any of the pros who use them, they’ll agree.
A couple possible solutions I might suggest to make maintenance more obvious and easy:
1. Inclue a cheap grease syringe along with every set of pedals. I don’t want to book my bike into the LBS every time I need pedal maintenance, nor do I want to spend $50 to purchase this tool.
2. Include the coffee shop caps along with the pedals. These can surely be made for next to nothing. If they cost $5, I’m still happy to pay that little more.
I’m heavily invested in my Speedplays with regards to my positioning and spare parts and will unlikely ever switch from them. In my opinion, they are the absolute best pedals out there for adjustability, comfort and feel. Reliability definitely suffers if you don’t maintain them, and this has been an costly lesson for me. However, if you keep up with the suggested maintenance, they’ll last you a long, long time without any problems. That said, I still feel the need to bring my box of spare Speedplay parts wherever I go.