TriRig's Pedal Shootout
Jul 29, 2012
article & images by Nick Salazar
Editor's Note: Speedplay originally indicated that they would provide pedals for this article. However, they became unresponsive and ignored repeated emails from us, as our writing deadlines approached. So we were not able to actually ride their pedals, nor photograph them. So the writing for these pedals will be based on cold facts rather than actual riding experience.
With that out of the way, let's get to the merits of the pedals. For the rider whose physiology demands free, unfettered foot movement, there may be no better option than Speedplay. As a company that's been doing their thing for the better part of three decades, Speedplay has developed a bit of a pedigree. Their pedals have a very particular signature, both in aesthetics and function. You'd never mistake a Speedplay pedal for anything else; they have that same general shape, which you might call "UFO on a stick."
The company makes several road pedals, but the series we're looking at today is their race-oriented Zero. It's made in four different price points, with the only palpable difference being the materials used for the pedal. The versions also come in different spindle lengths (meaning different Q-Factors), but spindles can be replaced to alter the Q. What's important to note is that everything from Speedplay with the Zero name is functionally identical. The $125 CroMoly pedals have all the same features that the $630 Nanograms do, but they're heavier.
Most models of these pedals are very light. That's because the pedals don't contain the retention mechanism - that's housed in the cleat. The pedal is basically a hunk of plastic bolted onto a titanium (or steel) spindle. The cleats are a little heavier than most, but still pretty svelte. Of course, the Nanograms take things to the extreme, upgrading metal bits to carbon fiber, and swapping heavy steel bolts for light aluminum ones. The complete Nanogram system is the lightest production road pedal available today, but even the cheaper versions are very light. In fact, the CroMoly Zeros, which cost $125, are lighter than a set of Dura-Ace Carbon pedals.
What distinguishes the Zeros from Speedplay's other models (and other pedals on the market) is their unique set of features. Chief among these is Speedplay's signature free float, which allows the rider to pivot the foot without any resistance, or any spring tension attempting to return the foot to a neutral position. Some have described it as feeling like ice skating. In the past couple years, I've personally come to prefer fixed riding over float, but that's another place where the Zero lineup shines. The range of float is completely tunable, and this is a feature unique to Speedplay. All the way open, the pedals offer fifteen degrees of float, divided as 7.5 degrees heel in, 7.5 degrees heel out. Two small set screws n the cleat allow you to decrease that number continuously all the way down to zero, and it can be adjusted independently on each side. Want to float 3 degrees in, 5 degrees out? No problem. You can even set one foot differently from the other, it's all controlled by the set screws. And if you close the float to zero on each side, you're now riding a fixed pedal. And you didn't even have to swap your cleats!
Sadly, although float is adjustable, clip-in tension is not. Most pedals let you tighten or loosen the pedal, making it easier or harder to clip out. Speedplay lacks this option. They do make a "track special" which is a unique version of the Stainless Steel Zero. It offers tighter release, but again, it's not adjustable. You either get the Track Special with its slightly higher tension, or any other Zero with the default level of tension. So hopefully you like it.
Another important feature of the Zero lineup is its system of interchangeable spindles. Of the pedals in this review, Speedplay has the widest range of Q-factor adjustment. You can put the pedal center from 50mm to 65mm away from the crank arm. Of course, making those adjustments will require that you purchase replacement spindles, disassemble your 14-piece pedal body, and reassemble with the new spindle. It's not the easiest thing in the world, but at least the option is available. Spindles are available in 3mm increments, and intermediate measurements are achievable by adjusting cleat position.
Speaking of the cleat, that's where Speedplay's only major quirk rears its head. The cleat uses Speedplay's proprietary bolt pattern, which uses four bolts in a rectangle, rather than the LOOK standard, three bolts in a wide triangle. Relatively few shoes are built around this pattern, so riders are forced to use an adapter plate. But fortunately, every set of pedals also comes with an adapter for use on the much more common three-bolt shoes. The downside of these adapters is that they add a little weight and stack height. Without the adapters, stack is an industry-low 8.5mm, if you have a 4-bolt Speedplay-compatible shoe. That figure goes up to 11.5mm with the 3-hole adapter, which is still very low, and still lower than almost anything else.. The lower your stack, the better your power transfer, and the more solid the pedal feels.
The other issue the cleats bring with them is their need for regular maintenance. Because they are an exposed mechanism, they need to be greased a couple times per season, and cleaned regularly. You don't want to walk through a patch of dirt or gravel in these, because you'll end up with little rocks and things in the tiny recesses of the cleat mechanism. Other brands use single-piece plastic cleats, which are trivial to clean and never require maintenance. Speedplay cleats are a slightly more demanding piece of hardware.
But there are a lot of things to like here. Light weight, low stack, adjustable float, and good looks, to name a few. To top it all off, the fashionistas out there will be glad to know that Speedplay offers the widest array of color choices of any pedal on the market. The Nanograms only come in black, but the other versions of the pedal offer no fewer than seven color options for the pedal body, to help you match that snazzy new bike.