Lighten Up - Pedals
Jan 26, 2011
article & images by Nick Salazar
Choosing a lightweight pedal for the Lighten Up series was a simple choice. In the world of gram-conscious pedals, there is really only one option: Aerolite pedals. These things have been around since 1979, and were one of the very first clipless pedals ever made. The design has remained pretty much the same since their inception. The pedals have a lot of really cool features, and one major drawback.
The first thing you'll notice about these pedals, and the reason we chose them for our Lighten Up series, is that they are SO DARN LIGHT. Each pedal weighs just 35 grams. For comparison, the entire set of two pedals, two cleats, and all mounting hardware weighs less than a single Dura Ace pedal. Yeah, they're that light. What's more, they're the most minimal pedal we've ever seen. You can see everything these pedals are made of in the picture across from this paragraph. There's a solid titanium spindle, a black turcite sleeve (you can also get this sleeve in red), and an alloy cap that keeps the turcite in place. That's it! No bearings (the turcite itself is the bearing), no springs, no little bitty parts to break or replace, nothing. And the cleats are just as simple. They consist of a single nylon piece that snaps onto the turcite sleeve, and hugs it while you pedal.
As a result of this minimal design, the pedals also have a very low stack height. By our measurement, the center of the spindle axis is just 11mm below the bottom surface of the shoe. Also, by virtue of the design, the pedals have no float. Well, that's not entirely correct. There's a little play in the turcite sleeve, allowing it to spin, which also allows for maybe one degree of float. But in the traditional sense, there's no float. Bill from Aerolite insists that this is actually preferable from a biomechanical perspective, and that if properly fitted, fixed cleats allow you to generate more power and prevent knee injuries. He recommends going to a shop that has a RAD Kit (Rotational Adjustment Device), before committing to a pedal position.
Once dialed in, we definitely fell in love with the pedals. They have a different engagement mechanism from LOOK-type pedals. You press down with the inside of your foot, rather than stepping straight down. And disengaging the pedal is done by lifting the inside of your foot out, rather than twisting. After a few tries, it was second-nature. But it takes a little getting used to.
Our number one problem with these pedals are the cleats. On the one hand they are light, minimal, and do their job well, just like the pedals. On the other hand, they can't even DO that job until they're affixed to your shoes, and that's where the problem is. If you're using two-bolt mountain bike shoes, Aerolite's standard cleats have a two-hole option to let you bolt them on just like a regular MTB pedal, and you have a little adjustment built in to the mount on your shoe. But for those of us with three-bolt-only shoes (um, that's about 90% of the triathlon world), there's a bigger challenge at hand. Aerolite makes a version of its cleat spaced for the rear two bolts of a three-bolt pattern, but this places the cleat rearward of where you'd normally mount it. And there's no angle adjustment, since those mounts are fixed in the shoe.
If you want to dial in a precise cleat position, you're forced to drill into your shoe, and use the four-bolt pattern on the outer corners of the pedal. Aerolite insists there's no problem drilling into even carbon soles, and we did test that out with a set that isn't photographed below - it worked out fine4. But making any adjustments later on would require re-drilling the shoes. Or, if the adjustment was too close to the original position, it might not be possible to re-drill at all. Normally you wouldn't need to change your cleat angle by, say, one or two degrees, because most pedals provide some float to account for that need. But when the pedals don't have any float, a precise foot angle becomes much more important.
What we'd LOVE to see is a dedicated three-bolt cleat, with fore-aft and side-to-side adjustment. That would make these pedals so much more useable for the larger market, and a very attractive pedal compared to some of the more established players. As is, this pedal is really a niche product best suited for those willing to deal with its idiosyncrasies.
Amazing pedals, if you can get past the cleats.