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by Dave Rome
April 4, 2017
Photography by David Rome
The pedal market has been a little boring in recent times, with the market-leading brands set in their ways and offering little if any innovation. No company is more dominant in this space than Shimano, and its SPD-SL road pedals have hardly changed in recent years.
Released alongside the new groupset, Shimano’s latest Dura-Ace R9100 pedals see a number of small changes, yet from afar, look much like the carbon Dura-Ace pedals the Japanese company has sold for the two previous groupset generations.
So what are these differences? Are the new pedals worth changing to? And does Shimano still deserve its loyal following in the pedal market? These are all questions we answer in this brief review.
First released with Dura-Ace 7900, Shimano has offered its SPD-SL pedals with a carbon body since 2010. Prior to this, it was much the same pedal design, just in alloy. This carbon trend continues with the latest generation, albeit a few grams lighter.
We weighed our sample pair of pedals at 234g (305g with cleats and hardware), a modest saving over the previous 7900 pedals at 250g a pair and further increasing the weight gap to the popular Ultegra 6800 pedals at 260g. This weight saving isn’t a big one but it’s an important step in answering one of the weaker areas of Shimano pedals.
For comparison, Look’s most comparable pedal (in function), the Keo Max Carbon, weighs a claimed 244g for the pair and 312g with cleats and hardware. Look’s lightest pedal, the Keo Blade Carbon Ti weighs just 180g a pair and 248g as a total system. Speedplay’s Stainless and Titanium pedals weigh 206 and 164g respectively, although its cleats are the heaviest at 118 grams (three-bolt mounting).
The weight savings have been achieved through milling out the body in redundant areas and forgoing the replaceable full-width stainless steel surface plate. The stainless steel surface plating is now moulded in place and only at specific points of cleat contact. My experience is that this metal plate of previous models was always extremely durable and that the front clip bar of the composite pedal body would show wear before the replaceable cleat surface.
Nothing embodies the fine attention to weight savings more than the new cleat hardware provided with the pedals. These cleat bolts are now milled around the hex socket and hollowed through the centre. Doing this to all six cleat bolts saves exactly 1.4grams. Yep, a small enough difference that most kitchen scales couldn’t tell you. Strangely enough, the big steel square washers remain unchanged.
Much like Shimano’s new 9100 groupsets, the pedals have been treated to a stealthy black finish. It’s a great change and one that should let users of other groupsets enjoy these pedals without having to worry about the obvious branding mismatch (we’re a vain bunch). A similar graphic removal was seen with Shimano’s latest S-Phyre race shoes too.
For those that like to take colour-matching to extremes, Shimano’s single choice is a safe, but rather dull one when you consider the wider range of choice available from Speedplay, Time and Look.
The proven SPD-SL mechanism and tension adjustment hasn’t changed at all, and realistically, it doesn’t need to. Clipping into the 65mm-wide pedal body is still achieved by hooking the generous front section of the cleat into the front of the pedal body and then stepping down. From here, you have one of the largest cleat-to-pedal body surface areas on the market, and an extremely stable placement as a result.
The pedals include a pair of blue cleats, something Shimano clearly feels is a better fit for the performance rider. These blue cleats only float from the front (2 degrees), whereas the more commonly used yellow cleats float from the front and rear (6 degrees). If you’re like me and prefer a little more float, you’ll likely need to buy a set of yellow cleats.
There’s a large range of cleat tension adjustment available through the single bolt (2.5mm Allen key) at the back although, as a performance pedal, the spring tension sits at the higher end. You can adjust the pedals to be everything from fairly secure, to fully locked. If you’re seeking an absolutely soft-release pedal, then look to specific ‘Easy Release’ options, such as those offered by Shimano themselves.
The axles of Shimano Dura-Ace may be steel, but they’re hollow.
Looking inside the pedal shows that Shimano hasn’t changed much. The smooth steel axle remains, as does the silky smooth and impressively durable cup-and-cone bearing system with no fewer than three rows of bearings. For me it’s this adjustable bearing system that has Shimano sitting a step above the competition. Where pedals from other brands wear out, Shimano pedals just keep on spinning.
It’s here that Dura-Ace pedals hide an advantage over Ultegra and lower models, with an added needle bearing row inside providing addition support and durability. They also hold a three-year warranty, compared to the two years you get with all other Shimano pedals. I’ve never had bearing issues with Ultegra pedals, but regardless, Dura-Ace has a little extra to offer beyond weight savings alone.
Out of all the Shimano pedal models, Dura-Ace and its silky smooth bearings are the easiest to get into, with the pedal hanging down on its own weight at a natural entry angle. The same can’t be said for Shimano’s entry-level versions of the pedals that suffer a little more of inconsistent bearing friction – even once worn in.
Two widths of steel axles remain the only choice when it comes ordering your pedals, with Shimano offering either a standard or a +4mm version for those seeking a wider q-factor. The axle choice is a feature introduced with the previous 9000 model.
That needle roller bearing found in the outer edge of Dura-Ace pedals offers a stack height and ground clearance benefit over Ultegra pedals too. While exact figures haven’t been published for R9100, the shape is extremely similar to the previous 9000 pedals (if not potentially lower again). Here, Shimano states that the distance from centre of axle to pedal cleat surface is 8.8mm and 10.7mm for Dura-Ace 9000 and Ultegra 6800 pedals respectively.
Shimano SPD-SL pedals have long been my personal preference for road pedals. While they’re not the lightest premium pedal available, they arguably remain the benchmark for pedaling stability and durability, all with cleats that are easy to walk in.
This new version does everything the previous generations do, but with a small weight saving and a classier graphic. We’d be lying if we said we noticed a difference in use, and so if you’re running either 7900 or 9000 pedals, I’d say it’s not worth running out to buy the new version. However, if you’re in the market for new premium road pedals and aren’t truly gram obsessed – the R9100 get my pick.
The replaceable stainless base plate has been replaced with a molded-in version. Don’t think we’ll miss the replaceable option.
Packaging of the R9100 pedals.
Shimano’s stack height is low, the pedal tapering at its extreme edge
Spring tension remains fully adjustable, with a small viewing window as a gauge.
Price: US$280 / AU$370