Buying Right: Off-Road Clipless Pedals

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, May 1995

Buying Right: Off-Road Clipless Pedals
By Alan Cote

If you've never ridden on clipless pedals, know that they're not a way to ensure that you'll fall over in an embarrassed heap with your feet trapped. Clipless pedals are about control, and when you're standing at the top of a steep stretch of single-track, you should take all the control you can get.

There is a learning curve to these devices, however, and you will tip over a few times before you can get in and out of them quickly. You also need cycling shoes that can be fitted with cleats. But ultimately, clipless pedals are easier to use than traditional toeclips and straps, and they improve power transfer.

Unlike most road-going versions, clipless pedals for off-road use allow you to step in on either side. Where on- and off-road systems show a resemblance is in "flotation," or lack thereof: Floating pedals let your feet pivot while they're engaged, which makes the whole pedaling process easier on the knees. Still, some riders prefer the solid feeling of a fixed system. Whichever you prefer, here are the seven best pedals around.

Shimano's PD-M535 ($115) and PD-M747 ($185) have evolved from the original SPD pedals, which set the standard for all other off-road clipless systems. The new ones are better: The bodies are slimmer, shaving about 100 grams from each pedal (they now weigh 410 grams and 393 grams, respectively). Spuds, as they're affectionately known, still have the most positive-feeling entry and release in the industry, and they now include a moderate four degrees of flotation. Spend the extra money on the M747 and you get a superior axle and bearing assembly. From Shimano, 714-951-5003.

A different animal altogether is Speedplay's Frog ($130). Where most other pedals use heavier springs for retention, the Frog essentially uses a simple system of metal tabs and a latch. It sounds more delicate than it is; there's no chance of an inadvertent release. The system allows for more flotation than any other, and a pair tips the scales at 250 grams. From Speedplay, 619-453-4707.

What the Look S2 ($135) has going for it is brawn. It's tough, thanks to a big aluminum body that protects it from rocks, branches, and other trail detritus. The S2 has adjustable tension settings, and you can also choose between cleats that either do or don't allow flotation--they're both included. Scale watchers will balk at the 495-gram-per-pair weight. From Look, 800-991-0070.

The new Ritchey Logic ($110) and Logic WCS ($180) use springs for retention, have a sure-feeling entry/release system, and weigh in at a commendable 350 and 300 grams, respectively. (The difference is in the WCS's titanium axle.) A tiny indicator that shows the release-tension setting is a nice touch. Unfortunately, the Ritchey pedals offer flotation only if the tension is set very low. From Ritchey, 415-368-4018.

Onza's H.O. ($110) is so small that it probably won't ever scrape the ground as you're cranking a turn, and it weighs only 350 grams per pair. What makes the H.O. unique is its retention system, which uses light, replaceable elastomer pads. Choose harder elastomers for more resistance and less flotation, softer ones for the opposite. From Onza, 310-392-2004.

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