Speedplay Zero Pedals

Speedplay Zero Pedals

The single most recurring question I get from readers is what bike stuff I actually use on my own bike. When it comes down to my money, what do I choose? On some points, I’m nearly agnostic. I’ll happily ride Shimano, Campagnolo or SRAM components. I have quibbles with every one of them and know their strengths like the smiles of my boys. On saddles I get a bit pickier but my preferences there are as meaningless to you as my preferences in music; unless your ass is shaped like mine, what works for me isn’t likely to work for you. Bar preference runs along similar lines because it is influenced—if not outright determined—by your fit.

Pedals are different, though. A friend once said to me that pedals are like religion. Once you find something that works, you don’t want to switch, not for all the super models in New York. Granted, I know people who still feel that way about Campagnolo, but component groups don’t inspire the same fervent reaction across all three brands.

So what do I use? No big question there as this particular cat departed the bag the moment you saw the thumbnail image leading this post. I’m a Speedplay Zero user. I began using Speedplay X pedals back in 1997 out of a sense of journalistic duty. In the previous year I’d tried every other pedal system on the planet and figured I owed myself the perspective. The transition wasn’t easy, I’ll admit. The unimpeded float felt like ice skating on a bicycle for about three days. Somewhere between hour six and hour ten on these pedals, that sensation evaporated. I stayed on the X pedals until four or five years ago when Speedplay wizard-in-chief Richard Bryne urged me to switch to the Zeros. When I asked why I should switch, he said in his characteristically confident but understated way, that it was simply a better pedal. Because the cleat engages the pedal in a completely different way, both the pedal and the cleat will last longer.

My single favorite feature of the pedal is the double-sided engagement. Why no one else has made a serious run at double-sided road pedals is one of the bigger mysteries of component design to me. I mean, if it’s a good enough idea for every last mountain bike pedal in the known universe, it’s hard to make an argument that it wouldn’t always be handy feature for a road pedal. The issue isn’t that I struggle to enter Look-cleat or other pedals. I know how to engage a pedal. What I’ve noticed is that I’m always quicker off the line than people riding other pedals. Speedplay doesn’t require any thought or special moves to engage. If you can place your foot on a flat pedal, you can engage Speedplay. This feature might mean less if I lived in a small town in Europe (as I often dream) where stop lights and signs are as frequent as native English-speakers, but because I live in Southern California where the only thing that outnumbers the stop lights are the numbers of cars on the road, I stop a lot and on a long ride, there comes a point at which I’m just too flippin’ tired to do yet another track stand. It makes for a lot of clipping in and out.

Switching back and froth between shoes set up with Speedplay and other pairs set up with Look has taught me that my foot position changes from seated to standing riding. I pronate more when I’m seated and the unrestricted float on Speedplay is friendlier to that. When riding a Look or Shimano cleat I have to give a concerted little twist to my foot every time I sit down. Do not like.

I’m not a total weight snob, but the fact that a pair of Zeros with stainless steel spindles weighs only 209g is a genuine selling point to me. I don’t see a reason for a pedal to be more complicated than necessary, nor weigh more.

It used to be that one of the big selling points of any pedal was cornering clearance. Speedplay has led the pack among all the major manufacturers by allowing a 37 degree lean angle. To put this in perspective, since 1997 I’ve scraped a Speedplay pedal exactly once, at it was on an unusual, dipping corner on a motorcycle track I was racing on, a circumstance quite unlike the real world.

The fact that the Zeros feature adjustable float, that is, the rider can adjust how much heel swing both in and out from the centerline of the pedal wasn’t really a selling point for me. That said, I’ve limited a the amount of pronation the cleat will allow to prevent the heels of my shoes from rubbing some crank arms. I’ve talked to riders who moved to Speedplay from other pedals systems who adjusted their cleats so that they needed up with only a couple of degrees of float. The upshot is they ended up with a pedal system that answers the number one criticism I hear regarding Speedplay: too much float.

The other criticism I’ve seen leveled at Speedplay is that because the pedal itself is fairly small, it can cause hotspots for riders. In my experience, this is nonsense. Hotspots caused by flex between the shoe and the pedal were a notorious problem for SPD road pedals. That cleat was, to use a technical term, itty-bitty. However, when you look at how big the cleat is that attaches to the shoe, it’s larger than Look, Shimano or Time cleats, and because carbon fiber soles are so much stiffer today than they were 10 years ago, hotspots are more likely to be caused by problems with the shoe fit than in the shoe/cleat/pedal interface.

Back when I worked as a mechanic, I prided myself on being able to overhaul any cup-and-cone bearing I encountered. While I could get the job done, my results with pedals were frequently less-than satisfactory. Getting the adjustment right on pedals proved to be difficult because while you never want to over-tighten a bearing, what usually felt tight enough without the pedal body on was never quite tight enough with the pedal body on. That Speedplays use cartridge bearings that can be serviced with a grease port and an injection of a few squirts of grease makes them the mostly easily serviceable pedals I’ve encountered.

The Zeros with stainless steel spindles go for $199. If you’re part Mallard and pronate even more than I do, you can go for the longer chrome-moly spindle model which goes for a very reasonable $129.

My belief in the pedals notwithstanding, they do have a few other qualities to recommend them. First is the fact that every rider I know who has run into knee issues related to aging has been able to solve them by moving to Speedplay, a few of them reluctantly so. Second is how Speedplay began its Division I pro team sponsorship with CSC more than 10 years ago and expanded to nearly a half-dozen different teams at one point simply because as riders left Bjarne Riis’ formation they didn’t want to give up the pedals. Only recently has that number begun to drop, in part due to Shimano demanding that if they are going to sponsor a team they must take their pedals as well.

While I can ride other pedals when I need to riding anything other than Speedplay is a bit like travel; I’m always happy to return home.

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  1. Jon Mackinnon

    When I got my first road bike it came with a set of Look Keo’s and a set of shoes which happened to fit. When I replaced it, I kept the shoes but upgraded to a slightly fancier Keo model. After a short while I thought “why did I bother spending the same amount of money on Keo’s as I could have spent on Speedplay’s” and switched immediately. I don’t know what it was about them, I just always knew they were a superior system. It turns out it was everything that sets them apart from every other road pedal system that makes them so good.

    When my friends ask for pedal recommendation, it’s Speedplay, nothing else. My dad bought a road bike about 18 months ago, “I’ve used Time pedals on the MTB for 10+ years, what should I get for the road bike?” he asked, “Speedplay” was my answer. When my sister got her road bike early last year she rode MTB SPD’s on it until the inevitable question was asked “I think I’m gonna buy some road shoes, what pedals should I get”. Three family members, three cyclists, all on Speedplay.

    People can bitch and moan about them falling to pieces (I’ve done thousands of km’s on mine and lubed them only once or twice) or Richard being aggressive towards people selling unauthorised service kits, but Speedplay is his business, and the last thing he wants is people badmouthing his product when it’s due to third party bearings that they’ve failed. I can confidently say for the rest of my cycling career, as long as I can get hold of them, I’ll be on Speedplay.

  2. puckmonkey

    I totally agree. One detail you should mention. Using Speedplay compatible shoes(4 bolt holes)give a much different feel compared with look style shoe with the adapter. That 3mm above the pedal axle makes a difference. What type of shoe are you using and have you noticed a difference?

    1. Author

      Puckmonkey: I’ve only ridden one pair of shoes that took Speedplay cleats without the adapter but it was so long ago and the sole was flexible enough that all I really recall was being rather disappointed with the outcome. For the last 16 years I’ve always used shoes that required the adapter.

    2. Author

      SteveB: I’m not sure they wear out faster than a traditional cleat. My gut says that if you add up the amount of walking it takes to kill a pair of Look cleats and the amount of walking that will kill a set of Speedplays, it’s close. Of course, you can always get a set of the coffee covers, but I can never spare that much room in my pockets for them.

  3. Brian

    I’m always killing my cleats, I walk way too much without covers. That being said I’ve only been on shimano pedals, when I upgrade this spring I’ll be testing out the speedplays, I’ve only heard great things about them.

  4. Alan

    Speedplay fan too. The cleats last for thousands of miles but I do find I need to replace the bolts every few months. Some jackass sells them for many dollars on ebay when you can simply find better and cheaper ones at the local hardware store.

  5. Dave

    Speedplay fan here too. I started out on some Light Actions and switched out to Zeros when I unclipped accidentally going downhill around a bend at 40+ mph! I don’t wear out my cleats very quickly because I always use the Coffee Shop covers when I’m walking. I’ve had the same cleats for about three years (?) now. My only criticism with them is that I seem to have grease trickling out of the side of the pedal for several days after I inject fresh grease. This often leads to dirty cleats and a sometimes squeaky riding experience.

    1. Author

      Alan: Yes, you can get the same screws at Home Depot, I believe four for about a buck.

      Dave: When I inject grease in my pedals, I wipe them down like crazy immediately after pedaling a bit in the stand with each pedal. Next, I put the bike in the trainer and ride for a few minutes, then wipe the pedals off again. I do that a few times before going for my first post-greasing ride. It doesn’t end the shedding of grease, but it makes a big difference.

      Michael: That’s news to me but intriguing. I just found them: http://www.keeponkovers.com/Product.html. Thanks for the heads-up.

  6. Champs

    Seriously, though: what gives with the bolts? I thought that was just my problem. It’s something Speedplay users should know about and maybe remember to torque periodically.

  7. papogi

    Love Speedplay. They help my already troubled knees (I have the longer spindles, too), are easy to use, and are easy to lube. I get about a year and half or two years out of a set of cleats. I don’t walk around in them, but I sometimes have the spring eventually knock off one of the little yellow tabs that hold the spring in place on the cleat, and that then allows the spring to stick out further than it should, making clip-in not as smooth as it should be. Whenever I notice that small yellow tab finally snap off (my current ones have had no issue for quite a long time), it’s time to replace the cleats. And that’s easy to do as well. I’ve never had issues with the bolts wearing out at all. I install them tight, sometimes with a bit of extra blue threadlocker, and that’s it. I can tighten them quite a bit without affecting how the cleat operates since I was careful to use the right shims for my shoes to keep the clamp surface prefectly flat. That’s my experience anyway…

  8. MattC

    Been using the X series since I started road-riding (5 or 6 years ago?), never any problems. They are almost completly maintenance free (I think I squirt some grease in the port MAYBE once a year?) The cleats are kind’a clunky to walk in, but I have the coffee-shop-covers (the Kool-covers fit way tighter than the ones Speedplay sells, which tend to drop off occasionally as you walk)… and I use them anytime I’m doing more than just standing on the side of the road during a regroup…my cleats last for YEARS. (OK, there IS one small maintenance item I do every month or so: squirt a tiny bit of Dumond chain lube in the cleats where the metal springs move back and forth…otherwise I find it gets harder and harder to clip IN…do that and I clip in easy-peasy). Can’t imagine any other cleat for the road (I use eggbeaters on my MTB).

  9. ScottyCycles62

    I tried to switch to Speedplay zeros last year after two decades of riding looks (delta then KeO). I gave it a full month. Never could get the clip in smooth. It would take me 30 seconds or more to get clipped in. I switched back. As for leaving others at the stop lights Padraig I find that i’m the one doing that. The “just slap your foot forward” of the LOOK system fits in with the my natural pedaling style. It really comes down to what you are used to for ease of clipping in. My GF rides Speedplay and love its but I’ll stick to my KeO’s.

  10. David

    Speedplay is my pedal choice as well, but God forbid if you try to sell some Speedplays/parts on eBay.
    Speedplay told eBay to stop my auction of X series cleats due to using a Speedplay diagram.

  11. richard mclamore

    ditched speedplays several years ago cuz (a), i was tired of grinding the pedal spindles away because of the crappy cleat-spring design and (b). i prefer NO float.

    (‘course, i pronate so much that i’ve also ground away the pedal bodies on look keos: the ones with the metal plate on the body help immensely, but a decent custom insole has helped most).

    as for the double-sided pedal engagement: you can miss a speedplay on both sides just as easily as you can flub a look/time, whatever single-sided pedal. it’s not that big a deal.

    but this is one of those “use whatever works best for you” sorta deals like saddles, really.

  12. David

    A great product to complement Speedplays is the “Keep On Kovers”. They are a cleat cover for the X, Zero or light action pedals, but the unique difference is you can keep them on 24/7 since you can still engage the pedal. They are much more stable when you need to walk around compared to no covers on the cleats. My first experience was with the original version and they lasted for at least 6000 miles till I lost one side. Sometimes I do trackstands at stop signs/lights so your mileage may vary. The newest version runs $23.95, compared to the original at $17.95, but they are supposed to have 4X the life.

    I do not have any ties to them other than being a repeat customer.

  13. Darwin

    I’ve used just about every type of clipless pedal including the original Looks in 1984. From about 1990 on I used Time pedals but got tired of their constant changes and poor quality. I’ve had two surgeries in my left knee and I also felt that Times reentering spring was not good for my knee. Why they do that is beyond me. I finally tried some Speedplay Zeros and within two blocks knew I was switching. i run them wide open and never had the skating on ice sensation. My knee issues were dramatically reduced so i never have to ice them or take ibuprofen like I used to.
    You can get the stainless steel zeros with the longer axle btw no just chrome moly. I have the longest axle Speedplay makes on mine.
    I was also concerned about deal size but I wear size 48 wide Sidi Mega’s and it is true that the pedal platform on Speedplays is the cleat not the pedal.
    Bike fitters love Speedplay by the way as they offer the most adjustment options.
    Maintenance is minor..a little lube before every ride and grease flush once a year or so
    So here’s a good story. Right after i got my Speedplay’s I was sitting in Sonny’s pizza in San Clemente, California telling my girlfriend how much I liked them. The guy and his wife sitting next to me seemed to be listening so i glanced over and the guy was wearing Speedplay bike socks. Looked over again and I realized i was sitting next to Richard Byrne and his wife!

  14. Darwin

    I also use the keep on Kovers. They work well, extend the life of the cleat greatly, keep loose screws from falling out, and form a natural funnel for even easier clipping in.

  15. Bikelink

    About to give up on my zeros after 5 years (have two pairs, and replace body of one once too). Float, double sided entry (crit racer!), and adjustment are great, but they just ROCK once they wear a little (the cleats) and even changing them 3x/year for a cat 4 racer I can’t keep them good. I also am the only person I know who a) bought their grease gun and uses it, and b) applies dry lube to the cleats every 1-2 rides….they still wear out (the cleats). Can’t say I like something else more since I haven’t tried it yet but the lateral looseness when they rock is a real problem…a bad one. Others who don’t change them that much..maybe they just don’t realize how my rocking there is or it doesn’t bother them.

    1. Author

      Bikelink: In talking with some fitters, what I’ve learned is that rapid cleat wear that leads to rocking is usually a sign of an imbalance in leg strength typified by a pedal stroke where the knee either falls in or bows out during the pedal stroke. It’s a result of your weight on the pedal not being squarely in line with the pedal. Some of it can sometimes be addressed with cleat position, but wedges are a great way to address it if you don’t want to go into the gym. Using wedges helped me improve cleat life years ago.

  16. Jason

    I switched to Zeros years ago and use them on all of my bikes- even the mountain bike when the trail permits it. The adaptability of the system is a huge benefit to those of us who are not symmetrical. I have a leg length discrepancy and the shims that are available help make my pedal stroke as smooth as it can be. I am good for about 10,000 miles/year, and I replace the cleats about half way through the riding season just to be “safe”. Generally the cleats still have life left in them when I replace them and I atribute that to a solid maintenace program. The program involves cleaning the cleats after every few rides with a toothbrush, applying the dry lube prior to each ride and avoiding excessive walking in them. I have also had the cleat bolts loosen up on me one time, but have since prevented that recurrence by being diligent with loctite and routine checks.

    Padraig- Do you have any information or insight on when, or if, the Syzr mountain bke pedal will be released? To me that is the Zero of the mountain bike world, and it would make a lot of my offload riding more comfortable.

  17. view836

    I used Speedplay Zero for a couple years, but found the bearings would develop a lot of play within a couple thousand kms causing rocking — the cleats were fine and entry/exit better than anything else I’ve ever used. I greased them religiously and really wanted to stay with them (a considerable investment with titanium pedals for several bikes) but eventually switched to Look pedals, which last me about a season and a half between changes (20000kms). The Look system has relatively terrible entry/exit and squeaks in wet/dirty conditions, but it lasts. I do supinate though so that may be contributing to the problem (so extra pressure on the outside of the pedal vs the inside), but other pedals don’t suffer the same way.

  18. Ryan

    Zeros are the best road pedal I’ve ever ridden. Full stop. The double sided entry & dial able float are what does it for me. I’ll ride them till the stop making them. On the cx bike, I roll Crank Bros egg beaters, but have been seriously thinking about trying a set of Frogs. My only reservation is I’m afraid pedal engagement in muddy conditions may not be as flawless as with the egg beaters. On the tarmac though, I think the Zeros are the finest & it’s not even close

  19. Vincere

    I used Speedplay pedals for years. Although I did fall in love with them for many reasons, they always developed play and required a lot more maintenance (injecting grease) than any other pedal system I had ever used.

    Now I use the Time Xpressos. Cheaper pedal. Lighter pedal and cleats. One third the cost to replace a cleat and the cleat won’t kill you walking across the wrong floor. You feel the size of the pedal pushing down. And as a lighter rider, engaging the pedal is the exact opposite of a new Speedplay Zero — it takes no effort and just clicks in instead of prepping the pedal on the training by stomping on it. Besides saving money and having a lighter bike, I haven’t had to grease or lube anything the entire time I’ve owned them. I’m not sure why I’d ever go back to Speedplay.

  20. Weyland

    I will never use Speedplays. Seems like their legal team must share lawyers with Specialized. Google Bebop Speedplay lawsuit.

  21. jorgensen

    I like the Speedplay concept. I cannot use them. My feet thanks to over-correction for other leg and foot problems early in my life leaves me out of the pool of users. I do like the double sided concept, perhaps for my son.

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