TriRig's Pedal Shootout

 Jul 29, 2012 article & images by Nick Salazar

Fixed or Float? My answer may surprise you.

It is generally-accepted cycling wisdom is that float can help prevent knee injury, the reasons for which are typically given as either 1) a rider's knee does not want to remain in a single plane while pedaling, or 2) movement of the foot allows a rider to keep their knee within a single plane while pedaling. The reasons seem rather different, but I suspect both are true to some extent. There isn't a ton of great literature studying the effects of pedal float, but there is a little, and it seems to corroborate the injury-prevention story.

And float has been around so long, people rarely question it. Most people don't see a need for an alternative, if they don't suffer knee problems. However, there are opponents to float, or rather, PROponents of fixed pedals. And these people aren't just fringe players or eccentrics. A young Texan named Lance Armstrong used fixed pedals throughout his career, and has suffered no knee injuries despite the very long, hard miles he spent on the way to his seven Tour victories. And he's just one example. I recently covered Tom Danielson correcting a foot issue, and it wasn't by floating his pedals. Tom controls for stance width, cleat position, and varus tilt. But the pedals stay fixed. And Tom goes fast.

So how do we reconcile the two? Why does float seem to work well for so many, yet not be necessary for some? Just blind luck of genetics? I think not. What fixed-pedal advocates often postulate, and I have come to believe, is that if your foot is in the proper place to begin with, you don't really need float. Your knee will fix in place, and your foot will not want to move around. I've experienced this myself. But the solution isn't merely to rotate your cleat.

Fixing the problem

Some pedals allow you to alter Q factor by means of replacement spindles.

There's another very important element to cleat fit, which is often ignored. And that's Q-factor. We address width in so many areas on our bike without hesitation: saddle geometry, handlebar width, pad stance, and even the gap between our shifters. But countless numbers of cyclists and triathletes slap on a set of cranks and pedals without once considering the geometric relationship they are going to create between their hips, knees, and feet. And it's this relationship that determines pedal comfort and efficienty, and the effectiveness of a fixed-pedal system.

As mentioned, I've experienced this myself. When I use pedals that float, if their Q-factor is too wide (for me, a total of 260mm between cranks and pedals), I end up with serious pain in my iliotibial band. Can't avoid it. On the other hand, when I drop down to 250mm or less, I don't need to float at all. And I much prefer the solid feeling of a fixed pedal, which just seems to want to take your power more than a floating pedal does.

Word to the Wise

Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I'm not saying that fixed pedals are the answer for everyone. I'm not even saying everyone should jump out and try it. What I'm saying, and what I believe is true, is that not enough people are paying attention to the right fit metrics, and that more people would be very happy in fixed pedals if they did pay attention to those metrics.

So how do you get that information? First and foremost, by getting the right bike fit. Fit systems including Retul and Specialized's BG Fit take a very good look at how your knee tracks through the pedal stroke, and attempt to improve alignment in a way that will minimize knee problems. If you're having alignment problems, a good fitter will often recommend a pedal swap to bring your feet either inward or outward, to get them better aligned under your knee. I've been to fits where the first question was "are you stuck with a pedal sponsor? Because we may need to bring your feet closer to the cranks."

And of course, the very best way to find out if fixed cleats suit you is to try them out. Even using the best analytical tools available, often the best way to determine if something works is to simply hit the road and put some miles in. But as always, a little education ahead of time can often help you make a better decision.

This was a long, fairly dense article. If you made it through to the end, I want to thank you for sticking with it, and hopefully the information helps you to be a little more prepared next time you are looking to pick up a pedal. And keep your eyes peeled for the little teaser I mentioned on the previous page.

Tags » aerolite,  keywin,  pedals,  shimano,  speedplay
  • Dura Ace pedals are the gold standard: rock solid function, bombproof dependability, and beautiful looks. Unfortunately, they're a bit pricey, and not very light compared to other offerings.
  • Dura ace pedal tension is set by a single hex bolt.
  • The ski-binding clamshell is a design that has been around for decades, and works well.
  • No more exposed spring; Dura-Ace keeps things tidy and protected from road grime.
  • A replaceable wear plate extends the life of these already very durable pedals.
  • I ride fixed, so for Shimano's pedals that means using the red cleats. Float is achieved by using the yellow cleats, which have a smaller 'nose' up front.
  • Dura Ace Carbon pedals have a rather large platform, although in our opinion platform size is a bit of a red herring, especially as carbon soles become so much stiffer.
  • The distinctive profile of the Dura-Ace pedals is impossible to miss. Their stack height looks super low, but is actually in the middle of the road.
  • The new Keywin Carbon pedals. I'm a big fan of Keywin's bold willingness to stick to their guns and use a unique pedal mechanism. It works well, and keeps the weight low.
  • Most of the Keywin pedal consists of injection-molded plastic parts, and the new version also has carbon in the mix for lighter weight and a stiffer body.
  • Instead of using the ski binding style to retain the pedals, Keywin uses a novel locking system that is effective, durable, simple, and very light.
  • Keywin's pedal allows for float tension to be controlled or removed via adjustments at the pedal itself. Here, I'm removing the 6-degree float insert, which will be replaced by my preferred fixed insert.
  • With the insert out, you can see the interior of the pedal. Installing the fixed-pedal insert was a snap - literally.
  • The thin cleats look easy to walk on, but might be a little slick on smooth surfaces, until they get roughed up with use and develop a little more grip.
  • Maintenance of the Keywin Carbon pedals is easy, most of it is accessible through the screws and nuts on the underside of the pedal body.
  • There are tons of pedals on the market, but most of them share one of a few different mechanical concepts.
  • TriRig decided to take a look at four distinct pedals, each with a different mechanism, and uncover how their strengths and weaknesses play out for triathletes.
  • Aerolite is the undisputed king of simplicity and light weight, but unfortunately is very inconvenient to use.
  • With only three parts, and about 40 grams per pedal, there's nothing that even comes close to beating the Aerolite, for those who can tolerate its eccentricities and inconvenient mounting.
  • Aerolite's primary disadvantage is that you have to drill your shoes in order to use them. TriRig will soon be manufacturing a pedal that uses this type of retention mechanism, but eliminates the drawbacks.

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