Famously resistant (like many riders) to changing particular contact points on his bike like the pedals, saddle, and handlebar, Armstrong has been persuaded to make the jump. For as long as most of us can remember, he’s been on Shimano pedals of one type or another, and just last year he was the lone holdout on Shimano Dura-Ace 7810 pedals while the rest of his Astana team spun Look Kéo and Kéo 2 Max pedals.
Long history with Shimano
Wayne Stetina of Shimano gave us a timeline of Armstrong’s long history with Shimano pedals. His chronology, created with help from Shimano’s Shimpei Okajima, who was in charge of pedal development at the time, pegged Armstrong’s start on Shimano pedals in 1992.
After Look introduced their original PP 65 in 1985, Shimano released the PD-7401 in 1988 with a Look-compatible cleat and a design licensed from Look. Stetina says that Armstrong used this original Shimano pedal for a ten-year span from 1992 through 2002, interrupted only by a short stretch in 1993, when he used Shimano’s SPD-R for his first full year in the pro ranks.
If you remember, SPD-R pedals used a metal cleat and clasp not unlike Shimano’s SPD mountain bike pedals, and featured a much lower shoe/pedal height than the PD-7401. “Lance did use SPD-R during his first full year as a pro, including his first world road race victory back in ‘93. Then he went back to the Look/PD-7401 until 2002,” said Stetina.
But Stetina added, “Although Okajima started Lance’s history with PD-7401 in 1992, an Olympic year in which Lance also turned pro, I suspect Lance was actually racing PD-7401 soon after it was introduced. At minimum 1-2 years before 1992, including all his time with Subaru-Montgomery.”
He also noted, “I actually began sponsoring Lance with Shimano components when he was a 14-year old triathlete back in 1985 …”
Since 2002 Armstrong has used Shimano SPD-SL pedals, what we would recognize today as the company’s flagship road pedals. “SPD-SL pedals use Look 3-bolt cleat mounting, and combine the cleat/pedal stability of the original Look/Shimano PD-7401 with the much lower shoe/pedal height of SPD-R (PD-7700),” said Stetina.
In August of 2003 Shimano introduced the PD-7800, which updated the original SPD-SL pedals with a larger contact area nylon top plate for improved durability. Then in 2007, Shimano introduced the current PD-7810 with a stainless steel top plate. Stetina noted that Armstrong had retired before this model came out, but confirmed this was the pedal he used last year for the comeback season.
Making the change
This year, Look sponsors the entire RadioShack team, and Armstrong made the transition alongside those of his teammates that likewise might be new to Look.
“The primary concern with Lance and his pedal choice is if something were to go wrong with a bike, or a flat tire, or something during a critical moment in the Tour, or any other race for that matter,” explained Ben Coates, Trek technical liaison to team Radio Shack. “It doesn’t happen that often but it has happened where a race leader has needed to take another rider’s bike.”
“It’s a very, very narrow instance, but it’s a risk,” said Coates, “So with the goal of eliminating all risks, that was the major motivation to try the pedals out, to make the switch.”
Armstrong’s team carefully tweaked his position for the new pedals.
“The process of making the switch was basically back-to-back fits on the same bike, but with two different pairs of shoes,” said Coates. One pair of shoes had Armstrong’s customized Dura-Ace cleats, and the other was fitted with new Kéo cleats. By starting with the Dura-Ace pedals and cleats, measuring Armstrong’s position, then duplicating it with Kéo pedals and cleats, the correct biomechanics were established.
“That was at team camp in December,” said Coates. “He’s been riding them with no issues up to this point, and it looks like he’s going to stick with them.”
Levi lends a good word for Look
According to Coates, teammate Levi Leipheimer was riding the Kéo Blade pedals at team camp and put in a good word for Look’s new pedals.
“Lance’s concern with pedals is that they’re locked in,” said Coates. “He rides with a zero-float pedal, wants zero gap in the interface, and wants to have the best power transfer possible. And Levi attested that they were a tight fit with a good interface,” Coates related. Along with some coaxing from the team staff, the case was made, and the pedals with carbon fiber blades for retention springs got the green light.
Speaking of light, at about 93 grams each, the new Kéo Blades are feathery, but shaving grams was not a big factor in the decision to switch. “It certainly doesn’t hurt, but his bikes are at the (UCI) weight limit, so it’s not as big of a factor as one might think,” said Coates.
But all in all, the transition has been smooth. “So far, so good,” added Coates.