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by James Huang
December 12, 2019
Photography by James Huang
It’ll come as a surprise to precisely no one that I’ve been a gear nerd almost since the day I became a cyclist in the late 1980s. Although I was thrilled with the experience of rolling across the earth, I was also enamored with the machine that allowed me to do so. I voraciously consumed every bicycle magazine I could find (including the British ones that were often expensive and hard to find), daydreamed about bikes and bike parts when I should have been paying attention in class (sorry, Mrs. Cassin), and obsessed over spec minutiae.
And so, when it came time for a clipless pedal upgrade, there was only one model that really caught my eye at the time: the Sampson Stratics.
Consider the specs: the top-shelf model, with its TiN-coated 6/4 titanium spindles and fiber-reinforced composite bodies, tipped the scales at just under 200g (plus another 85g or so for the cleats and hardware). Those are competitive numbers even today, but back then, they were less than half the weight of a set of Shimano Ultegra pedals — half a pound of rotational weight saved.
The Sampson Stratics pedal was a truly novel design when it was first shown in 1988. Even by modern standards, they were very light and offered some very good performance.
A later switch from a cartridge bearing on the inboard side to a Teflon-infused Delrin bushing brought that weight down even further. Reinforcing ribs were also eventually added to the body to boost their stiffness and durability with bigger and heavier riders.
In addition to the weight savings, there was also 0-15° of adjustable float, a large and flat platform that offered superb stability, and a neat anti-rotation feature that held the pedal in place when it wasn’t attached to a cleat for easier engagement since the body wasn’t heavy enough to hang at a consistent angle.
“I used many materials in prototypes,” company founder Eric Sampson told me. “I ended up with a blended material for the top of the pedals, for ride quality, and an even higher-strength lower. The other materials produced a top that had a super slick feel. We made everything but the cartridge bearings in Denver and assembled it all there as well.”
The perfectly flat pedal platform offered an excellent foundation for the adjustable free float.
Over the years, I ended up with three pairs of these things, and I loved every one of them — the secure feel, the low weight, the questions from curious onlookers who had never seen the things before. At least for me, they were every bit as brilliant to use in real life as they seemed like they would be on paper.
Well, almost, anyway.
While the Stratics pedals were fantastic to use while riding, they certainly weren’t without their quirks.
For one, the design of the pedal was somewhat similar to Speedplay in the sense that the cleat wrapped around the pedal body, not the other way around. In the case of the Stratics, that meant a very awkwardly tall cleat that was not only prone to damage when walking on hard surfaces, but one that was tough to walk in, period.
Later versions of the pedals used a Teflon-infused Delrin bushing (shown here in brown) instead of a cartridge bearing.
The pedals may have been easy to service, but the lack of any real weather sealing also meant that they had to be serviced regularly (a process I became quite good at back then, I might add). And last, but perhaps not least, the stack height was quite tall.
Sadly, the Stratics pedals never really caught on in the mainstream, and it’s up for debate whether that had more to do with their weirdness or the somewhat minimal marketing. Either way, Sampson eventually stopped producing them in 2005.
Sampson Sports — and founder Eric Sampson — is still around these days, and the company still sells road pedals under the Stratics label (as well as cleats for the original version). They’re perfectly reasonable pedals, and in fact, I’ve used them pretty extensively. However, they’re also little more than budget-priced knockoffs of Look’s popular Keo platform and distinctly lacking in the uniqueness and ingenuity of the originals.
Although the specifics of the old Sampson Stratics pedals would likely keep it from being competitive in the modern arena, the basic concept still holds a lot of merit, and one can only imagine what a rethink of the original might look like.
Perhaps that flame of novelty will light again someday in the future and another off-the-wall design will come to the forefront, but the dominance of a handful of major brands today makes that seem less likely today than it was back then.
That said, stranger things have happened.
The cleat wrapped around the front and rear of the pedal, and the spring-loaded pin hooked on to the front of the cleat, not the back. A spring-loaded pin pressed against the spindle in order to keep it from rotating when the cleat wasn’t engaged, with the thought that this would make it easier to clip into the pedal.
The cleats were just as tricky to walk in as appearances would suggest. They were also somewhat brittle and prone to cracking if you walked on them too much.
The holes in the front of the cleat originally housed a pair of set screws that were used to adjust the amount of free float on tap (up to 15°).
One of the downsides of the original Sampson Stratics pedal design was that the stack height was quite tall. One can only wonder what advancements in plastics and composites could do for this design today.
In concept, the Sampson Stratics pedals weren’t really all that different from Speedplay Zeros.
Sampson Sports is still in the pedal game, but what’s currently sold as the “Stratics” nowadays is basically just a lower-cost version of a Look Keo. It’s a good pedal, but not nearly as novel as the original one.