Drive My Bike


Understanding Clipless Pedals – Two Common Systems

It seems like a lot of people are searching for information on clipless pedals these days, so I thought I’d write a bit more about what I’ve learned recently. For this post, I’m going to explain two of the most common clipless systems available: “Look” and “SPD”.

Clipless Cleat Comparison (Look and SPD)

When I started shopping for clipless pedals I really had no idea what I wanted or needed, I just knew that I wanted some shoes that I could use both on my bike and on the spinning machines at our gym. I have learned a lot since then, and I settled on Shimano’s SPD system for my Trek mountain bike, which I use for commuting. At the same time I’m also watching over my friend Jake’s sweet road bike while he’s in Africa for a year, and his bike and shoes are based on the Look system, so I’ve also had a little experience with that lately.

Let’s talk about these two common clipless systems, Look (primarily for road bikes), and Shimano SPD (originally for mountain bikes, but now also found on road bikes).

In the picture above the Look system is on the left, and the SPD system is on the right. You can see that one of the biggest differences is that the Look cleat is much larger, probably three times the size of the SPD cleat.

Here’s what the Look pedal looks like:

LookPedal

Here’s a close up of the Look cleat and Look pedal next to each other:

LookCleatPedal

And here’s a side view of the Look system when it is clipped in:

LookClippedSide

Both of these systems operate almost the same when it comes to clipping in and out of the pedals. You begin to engage the pedal by hooking the front (toe side) of the cleat in the front of the pedal, and then you press down with your heel to make the cleat “clip in” to the pedal. To remove your shoe from the pedal, you push your heel to the side, rotating your entire foot away from the bike, which causes the pedal clamp to disengage from the cleat and “unclip”.

Here’s what the SPD pedal looks like:

SpdPedal

You’ll notice that this pedal looks similar to a non-clipless pedal. That is because it has a standard pedal on the other side, which allows you to use regular shoes as well. I chose this because I wasn’t sure how committed I was to riding clipless all the time, and I figured that in bad weather I would still be wearing my Neos overshoes and would need a regular pedal. I have to say that I like my clipless system so much that I’m not sure I would buy these double sided pedals again if I had it to do over. The “clip only” pedals are smaller, lighter, and double sided, so you don’t have to fumble around getting the clip right side up when clipping in. Of course clip only pedals would mean that I’d have to find some serious cold weather overshoes to fit over my clipless shoes, and those get expensive. The weather is pretty nice for now, so I’m figuring that I’ll cross that bridge later when the weather gets nasty.

Here’s a close up of the SPD cleat and SPD pedal next to each other:

SpdCleatPedal

And here’s a side view of the SPD system when it is clipped in:

SpdClippedSide

Again, unclipping the SPD system is done in the same manner as the Look system, by rotating your heel sideways, away from the bike.

So which system is better?

Unfortunately I can’t answer that for you, but the kind of bike you’re riding can help narrow your decision.

If you are primarily riding a road bike, then you might choose to use either system, although you’re probably more likely to come across a road bike with a Look system.

If you are primarily riding a mountain bike, then you’re probably going to choose Shimano’s SPD system. There are other mountain bike systems out there, but from what I’ve seen SPD is the most common.

If you find yourself riding both road and mountain bikes, and you’d like to have a system that can be used with both, then you probably want to go with the SPD system. That way you can buy a single pair of shoes, and use them with all your bikes.

There are other clipless systems out there, but I’ve focused on two of the most common systems. When I go to the spinning class at my gym the machines have double sided pedals, with Look clips on one side, and SPD clips on the other. While that works in the gym, a pedal like that would be too large and heavy, so it wouldn’t be very practical on a real bicycle.

Shimano makes a system for road bikes they call SPD-SL, and it is very similar to a Look system. Crank Brothers make their unique “Eggbeater” system (named for the way the pedals look) which is primarily aimed at mountain bikes. There are numerous other clipless systems available, but you’ll have to do your own research to decide what’s best for you.

When you purchase a clipless system, you’ll buy at least two things:

1) The pedals, which usually come with a set of matching cleats

2) The shoes, which will have a drilled panel on the sole designed to accommodate a certain kind of cleats. Some shoes can accommodate multiple types of cleats. Be sure they’ll work with the pedals you choose.

One of the best things to do would probably be to go to your local bike shop and spend some time with one of the knowledgeable staff members discussing your needs, and seeing what they recommend. I bought my pedals at REI, and the folks there were very helpful.

This post described the different systems, so next time I’m going to get into more detail about the different pedals and shoes that are available.

As I’m sure you can tell, I really like riding clipless now. I rode with normal shoes the other day, and it felt just plain weird, and I really missed the added power from clipping in. I’m sold on clipless pedals, and if you’re thinking about making the switch I hope this information will be helpful.

UPDATE: You can read more about clipless shoes in the next post here. You can read about installing cleats on your shoes here.

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