Cycle Life

The only drawback: these pedals weigh 502 grams.     Photo: Aaron Gulley

Will These Pedals Make You Faster?

Borrowing principles from inline skating, Nikola pedals claim to improve power and pedaling efficiency.

It was only a matter of time before someone devised a pedal that could improve performance.

The new Nikola XPS road pedal is said to do just that by using an axle with 25mm of lateral float to recruit leg muscles often neglected in cycling. Thanks to that float, the pedal stroke is no longer completely vertical but instead flares at the bottom of the arc for a movement reminiscent of skate skiing or rollerblading. That, says Nikola founder Nick Stevovich, is because his inspiration came from inline skating.

“I found it interesting that after cycling my quads were sore, but after rollerblading I felt it in my adductors, calves, and glutes. Yet both sports predominately use your legs to propel you,” Stevovich explains. “So I theorized that if you could incorporate more muscles into cycling, you should get more output.

“Force equals mass times acceleration,” continues Stevovich. “Lots of companies are working on the ‘mass’ side of the equation, making bikes and gear lighter. We wanted to improve the ‘acceleration’ part of the formula by recruiting this new motion.”

And it seems to work. In a study of 50 riders conducted by an independent researcher at Cleveland State University, cyclists using the XPS pedals saw an average of 7 percent improvement in peak power and 2.1 percent improvement of net efficiency over standard pedals. That, says Stevovich, is the equivalent of 135 seconds savings on a 40-kilometer time trial course, more than the gains that can be realized from using a standard time trial helmet, skin suit, or aero bars. Many of the tested cyclists also reported improved comfort and pain relief, and Nikola has launched a new study into possible therapeutic uses for the pedals.

We can’t yet corroborate the performance claims, but so far the pedals have worked well. The pedals mount to the crank via a detached spindle that threads through the oversize hollow axle. The float comes from the pedal body moving side-to-side on that hollow spindle, and movement on our test units is silky smooth. The cleats are standard three-bolt Look style, though the company has plans to add other cleat designs in time. Our one initial criticism is with the weight: Our set, including spindles, weighed a whopping 502 grams, compared to 256 grams for a pair of Dura Ace pedals. Nikola says it is working on lightening up the standard model, though they also currently offer a titanium version that weighs 371 grams.

Although we worried that it might take some time to learn the XPS’ pedaling technique, in fact the motion is completely intuitive. The pedals move through the range of float on their own with normal pedaling. It feels strange at first but works just fine and starts to feel more normal the longer your ride. On an established trainer workout that I do regularly, I was able to hit and hold my standard power numbers without any difficulty.

Only time will tell if Nikola’s new pedaling technique will catch on. We’ve seen other interesting looking designs materialize but fail to gain widespread acceptance. However, Nikola’s design looks interesting and seems to work, and the initial science behind it appears promising. And in the end, if something as simple as a new pedaling technique can make you more efficient (or even more comfortable), it’s worth at least considering.

Both the stainless steel ($350) and titanium ($550) models have 25mm of lateral float, but Nikola is working on models with other widths for 2016. The company is also testing SPD-style mountain bike prototypes.

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