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The Speedplay Zero Pedal
By Tom Demerly.


Read This About Our Reviews First

What would it take for you to switch to a new pedal system? What is the best pedal system? Which pedal system should you buy?

Whether it is your first clipless pedal system or an upgrade to improve performance, these are key questions.

The Perfect Pedal System.
The ideal pedal should be easy to get in to, easy and intuitive to get out of in any situation, offer enough anatomical float to prevent injury, be adjustable, have better power transfer and efficiency, be extremely light weight (ideally half the weight of the pedals you're using), work with any shoe system, be durable and mechanically simple, easy to maintain and have parts (including cleats) readily available and the best cornering clearance.

That's asking a lot. Does any one pedal system deliver? Only one: It's called Zero.

The Speedplay Zero is the ultimate evolution of the revolutionary Speedplay "X" Series pedal. Invented in August 1989 by Richard Bryne, owner of Speedplay, The "Bryne X-2 Pedal" was a unique approach to pedal design. Richard Bryne's design is a "pure" design. It is not adapted from ski bindings (such as Look and Time).

The new Speedplay Zero is the most refined, advanced pedal system available. Although this is a sweeping endorsement, the Speedplay Zero is the best clipless pedal system available. It offers real advantages, features and benefits not found in any other pedals system- all in one package. It is a big upgrade that offers numerous performance, safety and comfort improvements. You can't argue with the facts, so read on to find out why Speedplay Zeros are the best pedals you can buy, and how they will improve your performance.

History and evolution.
The original Bryne X-2 moved critical binding components from the pedal to the shoes, reducing overall weight, increasing power transfer, making the pedals 50% easier to enter (since they are two sided) and a host of other features and benefits. So unique was Bryne's design he filed for and won a number of patents. And that was just his first effort. The new 2002 Speedplay Zero is a tremendous improvement over that. Check your shopping list: Speedplay Zeros have it all.

Triathletes, quick to adopt new technology, were early fans of Bryne pedals. Attracted more by their unique appearance and ultra-light weight (half the weight of the next lightest pedal) they were the first believers. While triathletes recognized the benefits, the traditional world of European cycling was slow to see the new paradigm.

I tried the Bryne X-2 Speedplay pedal when they were introduced in 1990. I was attracted to the idea of saving a half-pound by switching pedals.

I hated them! They did not work for me. The original X-2 design had too much float for my taste. I felt unstable on these pedals while sprinting and climbing. The pedals felt as though I was standing on an ice cube. My footing wasn't secure. While I never accidentally released from the pedals, it felt like I would. It seemed like a novel idea, but I just didn't like them. I went back to Look pedals. That was 1990.

The primary reason I didn't care for the early version of the Bryne X-2 pedal was the "excess" float. Speedplay has addressed this concern in the completely redesigned Zero by making the float adjustable in both rotational axes from zero degrees to 15 degrees. The pedals will have exactly the float you want- no more, no less. The adjustment is easy to make and control.

Problem solved.


Click to enlarge. The new Speedplay Zero
enables the rider to adjust how much float
they prefer from 0 degrees to 15
degrees and everything in between.

There are three variations of float found in clipless pedals: "free float," "spring recentered" float and "float with friction." Free float allows the foot to float without any resistance. This is what Speedplay pedals use.

Spring-recentered float features a spring that returns the foot to a center point that may or may not be adjusted by the positioning of the cleat to a neutral point. Time pedals use a version of this "re-centering" float.

Float with friction inhibits rotational motion between the pedal and cleat. As a result, a rider can reposition the foot by moving it within the rotational range, but the foot does not move freely on its own. This is the system used with Look Arc Pedals.

I was accustomed to the float systems with friction, namely the Look Arc. Look is a good pedal system but does suffer from its own share of drawbacks. The plastic cleat is fragile and wears quickly. Most people using Look pedals are riding on worn-out cleats. This is a dangerous situation. Erik Zabel's near catastrophe in the 2001 Tour de France when he accidentally released from his pedals during a field sprint is an example of what happens when pedals don't work correctly. The pedals are much heavier than they need to be, an attribute that belies their ski-binding heritage. The pedal is also single sided, making entry 50% more difficult for beginners and experts, a critical drawback for triathletes.

In fairness, Look was the first real evolution in modern clipless pedals. Jean Beyl was the originator. Beyl recognized the drawbacks inherit in his original Look design and proposed a second generation to (then) Look company owner Bernard Tapie. Tapie became embroiled in an Enron- like business scandal surrounding his health food venture, La Vie Claire, a failed French chain of natural food stores. Capital to reinvent the Look pedal (and resolve its drawbacks) was not available. The pedal has remained largely unchanged, except for a few changes, ever since. Jean Beyl went on to start his own pedal company, Time. The Time pedal, dubbed "Le Defi", or, "The Challenge" by Beyl- in deference to his competition and bitterness toward the original Look corporate snub of his vision of evolution for his own invention was a quick success. In less than two years Time, under the U.S. leadership of the charismatic French millionaire and bon vivant Jean Pierre Pascal, seized 1/3 of the road clipless pedal market and the lion's share of the professional peloton. Pascal was particularly proud of saying he only paid three or four riders to use Time pedals, the rest were only given free pedals.

Time pedals were an evolution over Look, but were still mired in the "ski-binding" paradigm. After all, the pedals were designed by the same man who invented Look pedals- Jean Beyl.

I did a tour as the technical representative for Time pedals and traveled the United States teaching dealers the features and benefits of the pedal system as well as installing pedals and cleats for professional cyclists like Greg LeMond, Roberto Gaggioli and others.

Time was the state of the art then. But it was clear there was a next step, a higher level of design that was more elegant, simpler, worked better and weighed less.

It is also worth pointing out that Greg LeMond's time trial bike, used in the final stage of the 1989 Tour de France, weighed nearly 30 pounds. Everything was too heavy- frames, wheels, especially pedals. LeMond required an average power output of 450 watts to sustain his incredible final time trial effort in the Tour in 1989. With lighter equipment he could have gone much faster, or gone as fast with less energy. Lighter pedals would have been an important part of the equation.

Along came Richard Bryne and his first generation Bryne X-2 Speedplay pedal. The new paradigm. That was 1990.


The New Pedal Paradigm: Perfection realized.

At the annual Interbike Bicycle Trade Show in Las Vegas during September of 2001I noticed a lot of activity in the Speedplay booth. Speedplay was rumored to have a new, revolutionary pedal for the 2002 season. Right. I saw the revolution in 1990, and doubted it was the coup they hyped it to be. With some reservations I looked at the new Speedplay Zero.

What I found was all the drawbacks of the older Speedplay X-2 were entirely eliminated. The pedal was a complete redesign. It shares almost no interchangeable components with the old "X" series pedals, and none of their annoying tendencies.

First of all, the new Zero enables you to adjust the amount of play from zero degrees to 15 degrees of float- and everything in between. Even more significant, you can adjust the float independently, or asymmetrically. There are separate adjustments for inboard and outboard float. The adjustment is simple and easy to make.

I was so impressed by this feature alone I decided to try Speedplay pedals again. When I was installing the new Speedplay Zeros on my new 2002 Sidi Energy SDS shoes (size 42.5) I discovered further refinements. The cleat has been completely redesigned.

The original Speedplay "X" series cleats had a major dirt-fouling problem. Think about this: You're at the local triathlon. You come out of the water, enter the swim to bike transition area. You put on your cycling shoes, helmet and sunglasses. You pull your bike out of the rack and a volunteer yells at you to "Walk your bike!" to the road where you can get on, clip into your pedals and start riding. If you are doing the Ann Arbor Triathlon, Waterloo, Mrs. T's and most other triathlons the bike racks are in the grass. You may have to run some distance on grass, through gravel, even in a little sand before you hit the pavement and can mount your bike. With the older "X" series cleats there was a thin "coat hanger" like spring that made up the retention system. Dirt, grass, grit and road debris would easily lodge in the spring, preventing it from retracting and enabling the pedal to engage the cleat. The cleat was fouled with dirt and wouldn't clip in. You had to stop and rinse your cleats out with your water bottle. This was a major hassle. At the Caesar Creek Duathlon in 1994 I lost almost two minutes in the transition while he tried to rinse lodged debris from his old "X" series cleats with is water bottle. I went back to using different pedals after that.


Click this photo to enlarge. This view shows the
improvement in the new Speedplay Zero
cleat over the previous Speedplay "X" series cleat.

The Benefits.

The new Speedplay Zero cleat is completely different. You can't dirt foul it. I tried. The "coat hanger" retention spring has been completely replaced by a greatly improved disc-shaped spring. The design is so simple, clean and elegant nothing can go wrong. If you own Speedplay "X" series pedals you don't need much explanation to understand how valuable this improvement is.

Additionally, installation is as easy as it ever was. While it is very simple to install Speedplay Zero cleats, I recommend having someone do it who has experience. At the minimum, read the instructions and be sure you understand them completely before you begin. As the instructions mention, do not over torque the bolts that hold the metal "cookie" layer of the cleat down. Do use Locktite 242 Blue thread locker on the threads of all mounting bolts. Do be certain the hardware and receiving threaded orifice in the shoe is spotlessly clean and the threads are not damaged. If you fail to follow instructions and install the cleats incorrectly you may not be able to escape from the pedals, resulting in injury or death. Having satisfied the lawyers (don't ignore the warning) it is simple to follow the written instructions with the pedals and install them correctly.

The new Speedplay Zero cleats work with almost every shoe system available in North America. They do, however, work better with some than others. On my Sidi Energy SDS shoes I have the Sidi standard Millennium drilled sole. This version of the Millennium sole incorporates Sidi's new SDS (Sidi Dual System) adjustment. The SDS enables you to vary the stiffness of the sole of your shoe from firm to rigid. This is a big advantage on any clipless pedal, but particularly with the new Speedplay Zero (more on that later).


The yellow arrow indicates the new Sidi
SDS sole stiffness adjuster. This is the
actual shoe/pedal combination
Ken O'Day used in his 500 mile test.

The Sidi Millennium sole pattern, also on their super-popular T-1 Triathlon shoe (best tri shoe available) allows you to "flush mount" your Speedplay Zero cleats to your Sidi shoes. You can actually eliminate one full layer of the Speedplay Zero cleat when using shoes with the Sidi Millennium sole. This puts your metatarsal joint of your foot (the ball basically) much closer to the pedal axle than any other pedal system, reducing rocking torque and improving efficiency.

How important is this? Remember when you were a kid and you had a tricycle with those red, wood pedal blocks on them so you could reach the pedals? When you pushed down hard on the pedals the darn things wanted to jump out from under your feet and spin around. Maybe you banged up your shins a couple times. That is rocking torque. The harder you pressed, the more the pedal wanted to dive out from under your feet.

With Speedplay Zero pedals and Sidi shoes your metatarsal is only 8.5 millimeters above the pedal axle. That is less than half the distance with Shimano Shoes and Look pedals that are at 22mm. This results in over 50% less rocking torque. Even if you don't use Sidi (or Carnac) shoes your metatarsal is still only 11.5 mm above the pedal axle. The only brand that comes close is Time when used with their own brand shoe, and it still a minimum of 6.5 mm higher than the worst Speedplay Zero combination. Speedplay Zero pedals offer the lowest rocking torque and most direct power transfer of any pedal system by a substantial margin. You will go faster with the same energy using Speedplay Zeros.


Click to enlarge. Lower rocking torque
means more power and speed with less work.

This is such a big difference you can actually ride one frame size smaller on some brands of bikes when using Speedplay Zeros, Sidi shoes and the same length crank arms- provided the top tube of the frame is still the correct length for you. At the very least, if you are using Look pedals now with Shimano, Nike or some other generic brand cycling shoe, you will have to lower your saddle around 8 millimeters (that's almost an entire frame size!) to maintain the same leg extension. The benefit of this is the rider/bike package is lower to the ground, with a lower, more stable center of gravity. More aerodynamic too.

More good news: Even with this lower position you still have better cornering clearance. That's right, you're lower, but you have more clearance. The cornering clearance on the Speedplay Zero is a dizzying 37 degrees with the stainless pedal, and a downright acrobatic 39 degrees on the titanium Speedplay Zero. Chances are you will never even come close to catching a pedal while pedaling through a turn because you will never approach those lean angles. After years of motorcycle racing and bicycle racing I rarely approach those lean angles.

Several ways to make you faster with less work.

Now, let's get to the biggest reason to own Speedplay Zeros: Weight.

Bottom line: A pair of 2002 model year Look PP357 pedals without cleats weighs 380 grams (13.5 ounces). Speedplay Zero pedals with cleats weigh 311 grams (11.10 ounces). Including the weight of the Look cleats, the Speedplay Zero Stainless pedals and cleats are a whopping 24.8% lighter than Look. The savings are even greater if you use Sidi shoes since you eliminate part of the cleat.

And Speedplay Zeros have better power transfer; better cornering clearance, adjustable float and they are two sided - 50% easier to get into.

Is a nearly 25% savings of critical rotating weight not enough for you? Remember, this is rotating weight- it has to be accelerated and decelerated every time you coast and begin pedaling. How many times do you do that during a ride? A 25% savings in rotating weight is like a 50-65% savings in static weight. Since you are saving almost four ounces in rotating weight, translate that to the static weight savings and it is like taking over a half pound (almost a pound) off your bike. If you spent another $1500.00 on your frame and component group you might be able to save that much weight. If you already have Shimano Dura-Ace components and a high-end frame, there is no way to save that much weight.


Click to enlarge. The Speedplay Zero cleat and
pedal combination is the most cost effective
performance upgrade you can purchase.
The weight savings alone is worth the price.

On a bike between $1000 and $2000 installing Speedplay Zeros is the most cost-effective way to save weight and improve performance. For well under $200 you will make a $1500 difference in performance. The longer your race or ride, the more of a difference it becomes. If the route is hilly, even bigger.

Still want more? Check out the Speedplay Zero Titanium. The titanium version is $295. The spindles are 6/4 vanadium/titanium. The pedals (and cleats) weigh only 269 grams per pair (9.6 ounces for everything, less on Sidi shoes). That is a 44% saving in weight over Look PP357. The only other place you can get that kind of performance upgrade is with a $1000+ set of race wheels. For someone looking for performance, these pedals are a cheap way to go a lot faster. Less expensive than race wheels, a lighter, faster frame or better components- and the time savings is the same, plus it makes your bike safer and easier to use. For much less money.

What kind of effect will that have on performance? Over a hilly ½ Ironman course like the HFP Buckeye Challenge in Ohio it could account for over two minutes. The effect of carrying extra weight uphill can be easily measured in units called foot-pounds. A foot-pound of energy is the work required to lift one pound one vertical foot. For example, it requires 1000 foot-pounds more energy to ride a 22 pound bike up a 500 foot climb than to ride a 20 pound bike up the same climb. It is easy to understand the cumulative effect of carrying extra weight can easily determine who wins or loses a long, hard race, or perhaps more importantly, whether the race was fun or miserable.

On a flat International distance course like Mrs. T's in Chicago it could be as much as 45 seconds. Ever lose your age category by 20 seconds? In a hilly Ironman distance race that is like having to run 25.4 miles instead of 26.2. Imagine saving eight tenths of a mile in the run! That's the time savings with Speedplay Zeros over a hilly bike course like Wisconsin, Utah, Canada or Lake Placid.

Mechanically reliable.

Now that we have your attention, lets talk about mechanics. Each precision turned axle (stainless steel or titanium) is completely rust proof and rotates on three sets of bearings: Two precision sealed cartridge bearings and one row of precision needle roller bearings. Maintenance of rotating surfaces is easy. There is a grease port for injecting fresh grease into the pedal. The pressure of the entering fresh grease expels the old grease. You can rebuild your pedals in less than one minute with no tools except a grease gun.

From a bearing perspective, no competing pedal system is as good. Look uses one cartridge and one needle bearing. Time uses the same. Shimano uses cup and cone (read: maintenance, sure you can rebuild them- you'll have to rebuild them) and needle. Speedplay Zeros have better bearing support, less bearing load and are maintenance free except for injecting fresh grease.

The engagement mechanism is the most secure in the industry. The springs are not loaded when the pedal is engaged to the cleat. That means you do not depend on spring tension to hold you on the pedal. If you've ever had an accidental release (or, more importantly, have not been able to release) then you understand how important this is.

Because the pedals are two sided they are the easiest to enter of any dedicated road pedal system. Because the spring is not loaded and the amount of float is adjustable they are the easiest to release from only when you need to get out- at a stop sign, an accident or whenever you need to clip out now. It addition to being the easiest pedals to win Ironman on, these are also the easiest pedals to get used to as a first time clipless pedal user.

The drawbacks.

So what are the drawbacks? There are surprisingly few.

Perhaps one may be the small surface area of the pedal. Speedplay is sensitive to this issue and has addressed it on their excellent website. The Speedplay website is actually one of the more complete resources for any cycling product on the web. On their website Speedplay does a comparative analysis of the relative surface areas of various clipless pedals. They put the pedals on a copy machine or scanner and scanned them in actual size. You can view the results below, borrowed from their site at www.speedplay.com

This is the competitive cleat size comparison from the Speedplay web site.

This is an interesting, albeit somewhat self-serving comparison. Notice the photocopies depict the shoe/cleat contact area only. Our photos show the critical cleat/pedal contact area. This is the area largely responsible for the pedal/shoe interface and resultant power transfer.

Speedplay Zeros are noticeably smaller than Look and Time. When I tried Bryne X-2 pedals in 1990 this was a drawback. I felt like I was standing on a walnut. I could feel the pedal through my shoe.


Click to enlarge. Comparison of pedal surface areas.
Improvement in shoes make smaller pedals a good
option for better performance. Older style pedals like
Time and Look relied on large platforms for foot support,
adding weight. Speedplay Zeros rely on the new
generation of shoes for foot support:
A much more efficient design.

But this is not 1990. It is twelve years later and cycling shoes have evolved (and improved) tremendously. Specifically, the soles are now lighter, thinner and much stiffer. My Sidi Energy SDS shoes actually have a mechanical adjustment so you can vary the stiffness of the sole. I have run them at "full-stiff" and at the "less-stiff" setting. Both are entirely adequate for the new Speedplay Zero pedal. I do not have any hint of feeling the pedal through the sole of my shoe.

Speedplay Zeros have a smaller contact area, disbursing the load over a smaller area, but that doesn't matter much any more- shoes have gotten so much better. In a way, Speedplay pedals (even the old X-2) were well ahead of their time and the shoe designs of the time. Shoe technology had to catch up. It has.

Another drawback is cleat availability. You could buy Look style cleats anywhere. Not every retailer will have replacement Zero cleats in stock. The good news is, the cleats last many times longer than Look cleats and are actually less expensive to use (although the initial price is higher, that last much longer).

Another minor concern was with the "heel in" and "heel out" labeling on the cleat rotation adjustment. I thought they seemed intuitively backward. After I worked with them for a few minutes I figured it out.

That's it. These are the only issues I can come up with. There has to be one pedal system that is better than the others and the new Speedplay Zeros are it. I've tried them all in the real world. This is the best pedal system by a wide margin in all areas.

I can use any pedal system I want- and I have already switched to Speedplay Zeros. I did not get the pedals free and was not compensated to endorse them. I paid for them and am buying another set for my other bike.

There is no more cost-effective performance, safety and comfort upgrade you can make on your bike.

New 2002 Speedplay Zero Stainless pedals are $185.99
New 2002 Speedplay Zero Titanium pedals are $279.99

 

 

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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