Ultralite Pedals

We’ve often heard that necessity is the mother of invention. That may be true. However, the engineering required to bring any new bike product to the market can be monumentally difficult. One could be forgiven for imagining that a pedal would be a relatively easy device to re-invent. Nearly 10 years ago I had a ringside seat for some months to the design process for a pedal that sort of made it to market around 2004. Its inventor, Steve Lubanski, had all the creativity of a mad scientist on ecstasy, with nearly as much discipline. It was a great idea that simply needed more shepherding.

It is through that lens that I gave a careful examination to a pair of pedals that arrived recently, the Ultralites from a Carbondale, Colo., company called Ultralite Sports. On paper (and in the box) these pedals are fascinating … and promising.

They look less like pedals than just spindles. The retention system is based on a spring-loaded sleeve that slides toward the crank arm when the cleat is engaged. To release, the rider applies slight inward pressure while twisting the inboard edge of the cleat up. If you have trouble visualizing that, I can’t blame you; it’s the clearest description I can muster and demonstrates just how different the release motion is from any other pedal system on the planet.

But hey, these things weigh a negligible 72g for the pair of pedals, another 40g for the cleats. Nothing is lighter. Period. Also, the stack height is especially low, just less than 13mm from shoe sole to the center of the spindle. A low stack height reduces rotational weight, which cuts down on fatigue over the course of a ride.

Okay, so they are a fresh approach to clipless pedals, but are they really ready for the big time? My sample pedals are pre-production I’m told; Ultralite plans a few more changes before these hit the market this fall (a November 1 release is planned). Allowing press for a product that doesn’t make the full measure of the manufacturer’s intent seems a risky proposition to me.

I went out for a short ride on the pedals yesterday. The purpose was to see how quickly I could adjust to the entry and exit and whether I thought I could get it to be second-nature enough that I’d be willing to use it on the group ride the next day.

Let’s cut to the chase: I took the pedals back off following the ride. I don’t think these are bad pedals, but there are some issues that give me pause. If I had more time, I’d prepare a PowerPoint presentation with schematics and sound effects, but my multimedia guy is ice fishing in Patagonia, so I’m just going to have to give them to you in simple, bullet-point form.

  • Placing the cleat’s opening perfectly on top of the pedal is a bit like trying to place pipe insulation on a flagpole while blindfolded. Whatever easy is, this ain’t it. Once it is there though, the engagement motion is surprisingly simple.
  • The cleat has the highest profile of any cleat I’ve encountered since the Sampson pedal of the late ’80s. It’s not easy to walk in and because it is narrow, I have some concern about the chance of a twisted ankle should you roll your foot as the result of an awkward step
  • The cleat allows fore-aft positioning but it allows about two degrees of rotational adjustment. We’re not talking float here; we’re talking yaw. The last time I encountered a cleat that couldn’t be adjusted for pronation and supination I had big hair. This is absolutely the biggest single problem I have with these pedals. If you can’t achieve proper fit, what’s the point?
  • The release motion is profoundly unnatural feeling. I’m sure it’ll get better through practice, but on more than one occasion I banged my foot against the bottle cage mounted on the seat tube of my bike. I’d be bummed if I broke a bottle cage because I whacked it with my shoe, but if for some reason I actually damaged the seat tube, I’d be in the next county beyond bummed. The other thing I noticed about the release was that after releasing one foot, I couldn’t seem to ride a straight line and get my other foot out; I had to come to a complete stop and then release the cleat.
  • Small rubber caps protect the end screw on the end of the pedal that locks the spring and sliding barrel in place. While two replacements are included, the simple fact that I managed to eject one of them in less than 10 miles of riding suggests I’d be through the replacements before the month is out.
  • Did I mention no float? A float cleat is said to be coming, but the cleat I used had zero float, which combined with the lack of adjustability caused me to cut the ride short. I was simply unwilling to risk my knees.

I really don’t want to be too rough on these guys. The incredible amount of work they’ve put into these pedals is evident. Unfortunately, the shortfalls have the effectiveness of a 1k flyer that gets swallowed up 50m from the line. It’s just not quite enough. It may be that all of my concerns will be addressed with the final production version, but the way I see it, the cleat needs a bunch of changes to make it more adjustable, more ergonomically friendly and more walking friendly, not to mention easier to catch the pedal for speedy stoplight getaways and crit starts.

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15 comments

  1. Tom Moore

    These “pedals” remain me of an older type from (more) than a few years ago: can’t remeber the name. Impossible to get into or out off, not to mention not being able to walk,

  2. randomactsofcycling

    Wow, these certainly look interesting. When I first saw them, I thought “God, how simple.” Then as I thought a little more and read your review, the issue of engagement and dis-engagement entered my mind.
    I hope these guys can sort out the issues you have identified. It certainly seems that the other pedal manufacturers have run out of genuine innovations and are creating all kinds of gimmicks (leaf sprung pedals, really?) to keep us purchasing.

  3. redcliffs

    I would also think that these would be very rough for anyone inclined towards hot foot. You may not have been out long enough to comment on this (or perhaps you are spared that particular scourge), but they definitely move in the opposite direction from SPD-SL and Speedplay, among others.

  4. Sean

    When I first this pedal yesterday, it just screamed “track only!” to me, where there’s a nice controlled environment and actually getting out of said pedal isn’t hugely important. Haven’t actually never been on a track, would the lateral movement to actually release the pedal actually happen incidentally?

  5. Aki

    I found your review refreshing. It appears the pedals’ light weight is the main benefit, losing 100-150g.

    The incomplete development (lack of adjustment, float) has to be resolved, else people will shy away from the pedals. I have a problem with the price too – my perceived value is lower than their MSRP by a large amount, based on the well-developed and extremely refined $100-150 pedals I use. If the price is “fair” then the company needs to address that perception.

    I used the Aerolites for a long, long time, close to 10 years, stopping only because I ran out of cleat adapters. They were easy to use, safe, but had issues – a too-small standard allen fitting (not metric), poor early model design/manufacturing, and awkward to walk on.

    The worst thing was that the lack of normal cleat mounting holes made them hard to deal with. The pedals were a 95% solution – a little more development and I’d still be on them. In fact I still have my pedals, waiting for a better cleat solution, even contemplating making my own cleats. (And yes I have a problem with Aerolite’s current pricing too – the pedals were $70-80 back in the day, comparable to Looks, and there hasn’t been much development from the last generation pedal that I can see).

    Regarding the Ultralights the singular (to me) benefit of lower weight gets demolished by pricing and, to a lesser degree, refinement.

  6. Bily

    I’m imagining the weight weenies forum going crazy since details of these things surfaced. The craziest of them can finally get off their Aerolites!

  7. WestCycle

    What if you crash with these pedals? It seems to me that with this kind of lock mechanism your foot does not release if your leg gets twisted in crash. With e.g. SPD-SL your foot will release in that such situation. To me these seem dangerous.

  8. Weyland

    I’ll stay away from these babies, ultralight gear tends to fall apart on me.

    I’d like to know more about the pedal system that Steve Lubanski designed. Sounds like a good topic for a future article. I have a place in my heart for great ideas with solid engineering but not enough marketing. In the pedal world, I think the Coombe pedal was a great example – loved those pedals but Bill went out of business for whatever reason.

  9. George

    I had Aerolites years ago. On the bike, they were oky, off the bike they were god awful. These are close in design to those pedals. I’ll keep my Looks.

  10. Evan Shaw

    Rotational weight is a none issue just too trivial. Safety and wiggle room essential. Low stack height. Bring back those fabulous aero dura ace pedals god I loved those. Lowered you whole center of gravity seat height too.

  11. Atlaz

    Looks like a solution in search of a problem but creating a whole new one at the same time. Nice to see people trying to evolve but I can’t say I’d go for it.

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