The Ultimate Gravel Pedal

The Ultimate Gravel Pedal

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Speedplay’s Richard Bryne may be the most creative person in the bike industry. He came up with the first design for aero bars, invented the wind trainer and brought to market the first double-sided road pedal with real float. All that, one brain. Sure, Shimano kills where new ideas are concerned, but they employ engineers like universities have students. Bryne had help at most turns, but in every case, the spark of inspiration was his.

So when he showed off a new mountain bike pedal at Sea Otter for at least three years running, I never really doubted that it would make it into production. The Syzr is that pedal and I’ve been riding it since this year’s Sea Otter. Not since the original Shimano SPD pedal, the PDM-737, have I been so excited to try a pedal.

The Syzr is different from other off-road pedals in a few significant ways. The first is that the way the pedal grabs the cleat, the fit is road-pedal tight. There’s no slop that comes from the shoe’s lugs resting on the pedal, and as the lugs wear, the fit relaxes. Also, the hinge is at the front of the pedal rather than at the rear, so there’s no way that pulling back hard can cause the pedal to open. And while that never personally happened to me, I’ve definitely clipped a pedal in such a way that it caused the pedal to release the cleat. In more than 1000 miles of riding on everything from easy dirt roads to rocky singletrack I’ve tagged some rocks and never had the pedal release.

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Bryne’s biggest asset—the super-secure fit—also proved to be the pedal’s biggest challenge. Because the tolerances were so tight in order to give riders the secure fit they are accustomed to with road pedals, a little-known feature of steel caused problems on release. As it turns out, steel becomes surprisingly grippy when wet. All it took was one stream crossing and the pedal wouldn’t release and you’d be on your side, twisting your feet like mad. Need some help, son?

The solution came in the form of four tiny ceramic rollers, two of which you can see at the bottom of the cleat. The other two are at the top, between those antenna-looking things. The addition of the ceramic rollers solved the release problem. Honestly, I was concerned that with such high tolerances, the pedal wouldn’t release in super dusty conditions either. I can report that the pedal releases (and captures) the cleat in every circumstance I’ve ridden, from wet to dusty. Think of them as $100 bills in Africa; you can get into or out of anything with a handful of them.

The one thing I haven’t had the chance to encounter yet is proper East Coast mud, but the pedal design is open enough that so long as you’re not walking around in modeling clay, you shouldn’t have trouble clipping in.

Of course, it’s not enough to offer a truly secure fit. Most riders also need some float. As you can see in the image above, the outer portion of the cleat can rotate on the inner, mounted portion of the cleat. The two tiny set screws on the left of the cleat adjust float just as you would with a Speedplay Zero pedal. And they are every bit as effective as bouncers at a Hollywood club. 

I decided to try these on my Seven Airheart initially, as I wanted to get a feel for how secure the fit was and how good the float was on a bike that I ride on the road some of the time. The performance was flawless. Not only were clipping in and releasing just like with a good road pedal, the float was just as true as with a premium road pedal. I hate depending on pedal slop to achieve my desired foot position, but I’ve come to accept it with mountain bike pedals. The Syzr was a chance to bring road standards to a circumstance where I’d never run Speedplay Zeros.

One aspect of performance that I’ve noticed with the Syzr is that I can’t get away with slapping my foot down when starting from an awkward position and catch the rear of the cleat and still clip in. This is a toe-entry pedal exclusively. Now, that said, those two little antenna thingys at the front of the cleat are guides that aid proper entry. I’ve learned that if I just draw my foot back slightly, more than I would with a standard Look-style road cleat, the guides ensure proper alignment so that all I have to do is step down to engage.

So while I’ve tried these on a mountain bike and appreciate the improved power transfer, it’s on the Airheart where this pedal shines like 777 landing lights. The Syzr gives road-level performance in circumstances that every other pedal system had taught us to give up on proper float and a secure cleat-to-pedal interface.

The Syzr comes in two versions, one with stainless steel spindles (our pedals weighed in at 315 grams), which goes for $199, and another with titanium spindles which nearly double the price to $389, while shaving less than 20 percent of the weight.

This pedal is perfect for multi-surface road riding. It would be great for cyclocross racing. It’s also an ideal solution to loaded touring where you want to make sure your fit is perfect and you can walk through a hotel lobby without scratching the floor or waddling like a duck.

Final thought: Swiss Army knives wish they were this versatile.

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8 comments

  1. Andrew

    I’ve ridden SPD’s forever, and have started using them 100% of the time now (i.e., I gave up on road specific pedals). Maybe I’m just obtuse- what problems of SPD’s do this design remedy? I’m asking this sincerely- why would I want to go from SPD to this?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      My experience with SPDs is that you can get a fair amount of play between the cleat and the pedal. Real float, the way you get with Time and Speedplay, isn’t really a thing with SPDs, either. SPDs are a great system, but performance degrades as shoes wear. Syzr addresses all of that. It’s a road pedal you can do a hike in.

  2. Andrew

    Sounds like it would be interesting to try. Unfortunately I have 4 pairs of shoes set up SPD, 3 bikes all SPD, and a few spare SPD pedals lying around…

  3. Scott G.

    You still don’t want to walk thru the lobby, when the shoe lugs wear down, the cleats
    touch the floor. You won’t popular with the hotel staff. Besides the teflon infused soles of
    SIdi mountain shoes are terrifying on hard wet surfaces. Note Sidi & Giro shoe lugs
    don’t touch modernized SPD pedals, the SPD cleats chew on the expanded pedal contact
    area, still loose as you say, probably on purpose.

  4. RPB

    I tried them but didn’t like them enough to give up my eggbeaters (and variants–candy and for fat bike racing, mallet). Speedplays are nice but I feel like I get all the benefits mentioned above from Crank Bros (float, easy to get in and out of, great mud clearing, can walk in my shoes on wood floors, etc.), plus four sided entry (at this point irreplaceable for me in CX). What advantage do you see over Crank Brothers? I have to replace cleats on occasion as they wear down, but that’s not a big deal.

    I love Speedplay on my road bike…

  5. GB

    The antenna move from side to side? As in, if you put an ink mark at the tip of each one and then road around the block and disengaged you shoe from the pedal, the antenna could be in a different place? Just wondering how the pedals are supposed to function. Thanks


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Yes, the antenna move; the whole outer portion of the cleat swivels on the central section of the cleat.

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