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Speedplay Zero Verses Look Keo

by Greg Pelican 1/17/12

 

Left to right, Zero 4-Hole, Zero 2-Hole, Look Keo

As a bike fitter I have led with Look pedals in our shop for the past 12 years.  As I racer I also use Look pedals.  One of my winter projects has been to do a long-term test of Speedplay's Zero pedal.

It is safe to say that Look is the benchmark for road / tri pedals.  Besides inventing the first clipless pedal in 1984, the system just works and it is easy for our new customers to learn.  Entry and exist is simple.  And Look's "Grip Clip" has a nice non-slip surface that makes walking around easy.  This for sure is not to be underestimated in the real world.

My bike fitting experience with Speedplay often had to do with solving problems with tracking or knee issues.  But to be fair in all cases this was with the older Speedplay X pedal.  With the X pedal I observed two problems.  The most common was a worn cleat which caused the shoes to rock laterally in the pedal resulting in knee pain.  Replacing the cleat solved the problem.  Or there was simply too much float and the cyclist couldn't control their foot position and moved all over the place.  Switching to Look with the gray cleat, and giving the customer some feedback with a laser level while they pedaled normally solved the problem.

To be fair Speedplay has had an adjustable float, higher tech pedal out for quite some time called the "Zero".  With the Zero you can even adjust the inward swing of your foot separately from the outward swing or float.  Liam, our very knowledgeable inside Speedplay sales rep, explained that the Zero uses a different spring interface than the X and it is less prone to cleat wear.

To be fair I really needed to give the Zero pedal system a try.

OK there was more to it...  I was intrigued by the possibility of lowering the stack height of the shoe to pedal interface.  Would I feel a smoother pedal stroke?  Would this improve my performance?  Was there a downside to using Speedplay?  With past tests I found clipping in required much more downward pressure, and forget about walking on the cleat.

But back to the almighty chance of improving performance, most racers I know (myself included) are willing to use any gear that will optimize performance.  When you consider that the podium of this year's Tour de France were all using Speedplay Zero pedals you have to wonder...

Lower Stack Height

Look Keo Speedplay Zero 4-Hole Cleat

Speedplay incorporates the locking mechanism in the cleat, not on the pedal like Look or Shimano.  And the cleat doesn't sit on top of the pedal, it actually warps around the lollipop shaped platform.  This allows the cleat to make the connection on the side of the pedal, which in turn lowers the height of the cleat (stack height). 

The difference is not insignificant.  The stack height can be as much as 8.6 mm lower with Speedplay compared to Look.  This has implications not only on biomechanics but also on bike fitting.  In this case you need to lower your seat height by 8.6 mm.  And I can only see good things related to this, lower center of gravity and less spacers under the bar.  This definitely is a factor when designing a custom bike or even when determining the correct "off the shelf" size if someone is on the cusp between two sizes.

There are two possibilities for stack height with Speedplay.  With most shoes you need to use the 3-hole adapter with the cleat.  In this case, compared to Look you still have 5.6 mm lower stack height.  The second possibility is getting a shoe designed and dedicated to using the 4-hole Speedplay setup.  In this case the cleat is super thin at 8.5 mm, less than half as thick as Look Keo.  This is where you can realize the maximum 8.6 reduction in stack height. 

Speedplay's 4-hole cleat setup not only has the lowest stack height it also the lowest weight.  See the table below for comparisons.

Weight Grams
pedal and cleat 
Stack Height
Look Keo Titanium 261 17.1 mm
Speedplay Zero Titanium 3-Hole 282 11.5 mm
Speedplay Zero Titanium 4-Hole 234 8.5 mm

 

For my long-term test I started by using Speedplay's Zero titanium pedal with the 3-hole cleat adapter and my Sidi Ergo 2 shoes (same ones I use with my Look Keo pedals).   For clarification, there is only one Zero cleat.  It comes with the 3-hole mount adapter attached.  If you are using it with a 4-hole compatible shoe, you simple remove the extra 3-hole mount that sits on top of the 4-hole mount.

Don't Forget about Q Factor:  One thing that is often overlooked when setting up and choosing equipment is the "Q" factor or the width between the pedals.  This determines your stance on the bike and definitely effects your pedaling.  Imagine drawing a line in the center of your foot when in the pedal and measuring the width between both feet.  

There are many factors that affect the "Q" factor.  The crank, bottom bracket, pedals, shoes and the cleat position and affect the "Q" factor.  Over the years I have ridden and owned many bikes and I can instantly tell when the "Q" factor is wide.  I hate it!  Campy has a nice narrow "Q" factor and it is just one of the reasons I like the components from Italy.  Clearly Speedplay understands the importance of offering different "Q" factors to match the individual stance of each cyclist as they offer 5 different spindle lengths.  When bike fitting I sometime have customers who have wide hips or are bowlegged and a wider stance is needed, so in this case Speedplay offers a good solution.

Heads up here... the stock stainless steel pedal has a 53 mm spindle and the titanium has a 50 mm spindle.  This means if you are using one shoe, and multiple bikes, each with their own pedals, they all need to be either stainless steel or all titanium to keep the "Q" factor the same. Of course you need to consider any other differences between the bikes such as the crank.

When setting up my test I measured the Q factor on my Look / Campy setup. Speedplay cleats have a nice range of adjustability both fore and aft and laterally.  So I was able to easily position the cleat to match my current setup.  I also adjusted to float on the cleat to roughly the middle of the float setting.

A tip here... if you are new to Speedplay the cleat mounting screws must have just the right amount of torque.  Too much and the springs won't move and you can't clip in.  Too little and the cleat will move around, which isn't good either and makes entry and exit a problem.  It takes a little trial and error to see what works.  So it's a good idea to outline the cleat position on the bottom of the shoe and check to see if it moved after your first ride.  And of course if you can move it by hand it is too loose!

 Tip Two... don't forget to lower your seat height the proper amount when converting from Look or Shimano.

First Impressions: To be honest my first impressions weren't good.  It took a while to get the hang of clipping in.  The technique is different than Look.  First the platform is on the small side and there are no edges to catch on to, so it is hard to pedal if you are not clipped in.  You can pedal with Look pretty easily until you are clipped in.  Or for that matter you can test ride bikes in flip-flops or go to Anna's Deli to get a wrap at lunch.  It's a little tricky doing this with Speedplay's especially if it's wet, as they get slippery.  Of course to be fair that is not what the pedals are designed for!  Once you are clipped in no problem.

Clipping in also requires much more downward pressure than Look.  In fact so much so  I thought something was wrong and I put the bike in trainer to be sure.  Indeed it was almost impossible to put the shoe into the pedal by hand, which is no problem with Look. I actually had to stand (get out of the saddle) to snap into the pedal.  Granted I'm only 155 pounds, but there are plenty of lighter bike racers.

The technique is different too.  With Look you hook the front of the cleat and step down.  The angle of your foot doesn't matter too much.  With Speedplay your foot has to be the same angle as the pedal and you need to step down directly onto it.

Clipping out was no problem.  Same motion as Look and if anything the release seemed lighter than how I have my Look pedals setup.  There is no release tension adjustment, but I never unclipped unexpectedly.

Once I did get riding I could immediately notice that my pedal stroke felt smoother.  There was a good solid interface between the shoe and pedal with no rocking and the float was fine.  I later fine-tuned the float a bit after my first few rides which is easy to do.

Long Term Impressions:  After a few hundred miles I got used to clipping into Speedplay's and it became second nature.  I also was convinced that my pedaling stroke was smoother.  So I dove into the deep end of the pool.  To take advantage of the lowest possible stack height and lowest weight I bought a new pair of Sidi Ergo 3 shoes that are only compatible with Speedplay's 4-hole cleat.  I also bought two more sets of Zero Titanium pedals to put on my other bikes.  A nice custom touch is that you can match the color of the pedal platform to your bike.

I rode another 600 miles or so with the Ergo 3's and the 4-Hole cleat.  And let me say this is a hot set up.  I feel more part of the bike, not as much like I'm sitting on top.  And my spin was smoother than ever.  The setup feels light too.

Better Aerodynamics:  And that is not all... there is an interesting article on Speedplay's website where they compared the Zero pedal to Look and Shimano in the San Diego wind tunnel.  The Zero with the 3-hole cleat had a nice 5.5 second savings per hour.  But the Zero system with 4-hole cleat saved a huge 33 seconds per hour!  This is the same as the difference between a standard and aero front wheel.  This has big implications for triathlon, duathlon and time trials.  

http://www.speedplay.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.slipperypedals

Weak Points:  There are a few weak points for the pedals.

  • I still think they are harder to learn and clip in than Look
  • The pedals are not good with flip flops (of course not designed for this!)
  • It is very difficult to walk on the cleats.
  • If you do walk in snow or mud forget about clipping in, you must clean the cleat.  A simple kick on a Look cleat usually works.
  • More maintenance is required, you need to lube the cleat and grease the pedal on a regular basis.  I never do this for Look.

Conclusion:  For new or recreational cyclists, I feel Look's Keo is still the best option as it is easy to learn and use in a wide range of conditions.  But for a serious cyclists or racers who is looking for the ultimate in performance, Speedplay's Zero pedal with a 4-hole cleat and shoe combination is the hot setup!