Pedals are one of those things on the bike that are not only very important, but also a very personal choice. Anyone who rides a bike regularly will be using the 'clipless' pedal – something akin to a ski binding whereby there is a cleat attached to the bottom of your shoe which interfaces with the pedal and holds you attached – until you need to release yourself (usually by twisting your foot sideways). For safety reasons, these pedal systems are designed to release in the case of a crash (again – somewhat like a ski binding). It can take beginners a while to get used to them and it's not uncommon to see cyclists keel over sideways at traffic lights because they haven't released themselves in time. But in general, they are safe, provide excellent power transfer to the bike and make cycling easier.
The pioneers of this technology are a French company called 'Look' (www.lookcycle.com). They launched the first clipless pedal system into the market back in 1984. Their pedals (and virtually all clipless pedal systems) use a spring tensioning mechanism that holds the cleat in place. Some pedals allow you to adjust the tension on the spring, making it easier or harder to get out of them. I prefer the tension to be as high as possible, particularly when it comes to riding on the track – as you want to be held firmly in place when putting all your power down from the start. 'Pulling a pedal', or having your foot release from the pedal under heavy strain, can cause accidents or disqualifications in important races, so it's important to get it right.
The actual componentry involved in these pedals (with the heavy-duty springs needed), tend to make the pedals heavy. The influence of carbon fiber has certainly improved matters over the years allowing for lighter and stronger platforms and pedal bodies, but the core spring that holds you in place has always been a constant. But never one to sit back on it past successes, Look have gone back to the drawing board and re-engineered the clipless pedal concept with an innovative solution to get rid of the spring... and the excess weight.
The Keo Blade pedal uses a flexible carbon 'blade' to hold the foot in place. The blades come in two different tensions (12nm or 16nm). The higher the tension (16nm), the harder it is to get out of it. But the use of this carbon blade eliminates the need for the traditional spring, and saves weight. In the photo above you can see the usual spring that most pedals use. But compare this to the new Keo Blade pedals shown to the left. You can see the blade (shown flexing as the cleat engages) on the right hand side of the pedal. This replaces the traditional spring and cuts the weight down significantly. It's an elegant and innovative solution and possibly represents the way forward in pedal technology.
Look Cycles, via their UK distributor, Fisher Outdoors (www.fisheroutdoors.co.uk), have come on board as not only my track bike provider, but also my pedal provider. For me, it was an obvious choice as I have been riding Look pedals for years now and was happy to stay loyal to them. They make great pedals, have excellent customer service, and are proven winners. I have 6 different bikes I use between the road and track, and they all are equipped with Look pedals. Different models on many of them for my different needs, but all equally top-notch.
The curved undercarriage of the Aero Blade
Lat year for my time trial bike, I purchased the Look Keo Blade Aero pedals. These pedals are rarely seen in the wild, but at the time I was looking for something different, and perhaps something that could shave off a second or two from my TT times. The Aero Blade pedals use the same blade attachment mechanism, but the underside of the pedal is a curved section of carbon fiber. This helps smooth the flow of air across the bottom of the pedal. I know this probably sounds ridiculous to most people, but consider this: I lost a World Cup time trial last year, over a distance of 12.5 miles, by 0.4 of a second (riding conventional pedals). These Aero pedals would have given me that time back and given me a win. So whilst this technology may not benefit your average club rider, there is an argument for an elite rider such as myself to use them. (Then again, everyone needs pedals and these are just as light and fast as any other, so no reason to NOT use them, even for everyday riding!)
I am now using the regular (non-aero) Keo Blade pedals on my track bike. I like the positive feel as you click into them and the 16nm blades hold me firmly in place, even under the stress of standing start efforts. They are light also, shaving valuable grams off the bike's weight. Right now I'm using the cro-mo spindle version of the pedals, but with a little persuasion I am hoping that Look will pass on a pair of the titanium-spindle pedals to me for competition. Anything to help go a little faster!
One last aspect of the Blade pedals that I find to be of great help is the wide platform that they have. The surface area that comes in contact with the bottom of your shoe is larger than most pedals. It means more stability and better power transfer. Your foot is held stable with less lost energy or rocking from side to side. Even micro-movements add up over the course of a ride and can cost time and energy. This diagram shows the difference between an old Look pedal and the Blade pedal. Notice how much wider the base is on the Blade pedal:
Aesthetically, the pedals look amazing (for those, like myself, who want their equipment to stand out). And the blades ARE replaceable should any problems occur (but I've had none to date). In short, they are simply superb. I can wholeheartedly recommend them if you are in the market for a new pedal system and want to try something a little unique.