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Speedplay: the little pedal with the big presence in the Tour

  • By Lennard Zinn
  • Published Jul. 13, 2010
  • Updated Jan. 28, 2011 at 5:13 PM EST

Speedplay founder and inventor Richard Bryne is always smiling.

Bryne smiled during the many years when his pedals were not being taken as seriously as the big brands with spring-loaded pedals. And as the years have passed, he has had ever more reason to smile, as his pedals achieved greater and greater success.

This year alone, his pedals adorn the pro world champions in road (Cadel Evans), time trial (Fabian Cancellara) and pursuit (Taylor Phinney) and have won the Giro d’Italia’s overall, points, and best young rider competitions, Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders, Flèche Wallonne, the prologue of this Tour de France, and umpteen stage wins in races ranging from Paris-Nice to the Tours of California and Qatar to the Giro and Tour – well upwards of 150 pro wins in 2010 so far.

Zero SS CSC and Cleat

Bryne has believed in his road pedals unflinchingly all along and has never changed their basic design, despite bike consumers often voting with their dollars that pedals need to be spring-loaded, and despite whatever refinements came along to those spring-loaded pedals.

Look started the clip-in pedal revolution with a design adapted from its ski bindings. Look’s pedal designer then left and formed Time, premiering free-float in yet another spring-loaded design. Many other pedals followed with designs similar to these French companies, but not Speedplay. Bryne started with a small, simple disc of a pedal that fit into a hollow in a large cleat into which he built both release and free-float mechanisms, and he has stuck with it.

Look around the races, and you’ll see that Speedplay Zero pedals are now ridden by teams like Saxo Bank, Liquigas, BMC, Milram, Cervélo, Trek-Livestrong, Bissel, United Healthcare, Fly V Australia, Jelly Belly, and Peanut Butter and Co/TWENTY12. However, Speedplay did not become the pedal sponsor of so many powerhouse teams and riders by throwing money at them. That’s simply not in the cards for the small, San Diego-based pedal maker. Instead, what it could bring them is tangible benefits they were not willing to be without, no matter what the sponsorship dollars looked like.

Major teams are on Speedplay generally because influential riders on those teams, who had raced on the pedals before, insisted on them. The line of riders on Saxo Bank demanding Speedplay stretches back to Tyler Hamilton and the days of Team CSC. Similarly, the BMC connection reaches back to Floyd Landis and Team Phonak. The Liquigas and Cervélo teams were germinated with Speedplay pedals by former CSC riders, namely Ivan Basso and Carlos Sastre.

Many fit options

But why did these riders insist on them? In a nutshell, it was due to performance, adjustability and serviceability. Riders like that Speedplays are lighter, bring the foot closer to the pedal spindle, are more aerodynamic, and have more cornering clearance than any other pedal. They also appreciate the stability of the platform being unsurpassed (despite the pedal’s small size, once the cleat is engaged on the pedal, the combination of pedal and cleat together form a large platform) and that the range of rotational float is adjustable down to no float at all without having to change cleats or rotate the cleats on the shoes (adjuster screws on the cleats adjust the stops at either end of the float range). The facts that the pedals are double-sided (the only road pedal with this feature) and easy to enter and exit while providing high security against pre-release also make Speedplay a favorable choice. But probably the biggest reason pro riders have flocked to Speedplay in recent years is that it offers the simplest, most adjustable system for adapting the pedal/shoe interface to address specific idiosyncrasies of the rider, and that Bryne personally has made the effort to ensure that every rider on Speedplay-sponsored teams was adjusted properly on their pedals.

Riders who have struggled with adapting their problem feet to other pedal systems and then subsequently had them adjusted easily on Speedplays are not likely to want to switch back. In fact, they can sometimes become downright evangelistic about the little lollypop pedals.

Maybe it’s Bryne’s infectious smile, but more likely it’s the fitting he has done on their feet that has brought smiles to the faces of innumerable pro riders with foot issues over the years. At first, the process involved Bryne discovering how a rider’s feet needed to be positioned and going back to the shop to make some parts to put his or her feet in those positions. Over the years, he developed an arsenal of differently-sized shims, mounting plates, cants, spindles, screws, and various other parts to customize the shoe/pedal interface, allowing it to adapt to an extremely wide range of foot and ankle idiosyncracies. Realizing what a unique system he now held in his hands, Bryne decided to package the whole shebang.

The Speedplay Pro Fit Case contains a selection of all of the custom-fitting items Bryne has developed over the years. It not only contains parts to secure the cleats in different positions on the shoes, but it also contains a number of Speedplay Zero pedals. However, those pedals don’t look like any other Zeroes, because they are green – a color not offered for sale; green pedals are only for fitting.

The Speedplay fit case

Those green fitting pedals stick up out of the case at different heights because they have different-length spindles, one of the keys to the fitting system. By selecting the pedal with the appropriate spindle length and building up whatever manner of adapter plates, extender plates, shims, and cants the rider may require, the fitter develops a fit “prescription” for the rider. He then places an order to Speedplay with the prescription, and, for an upcharge, Speedplay sends out the exact combination of pedals, cleats and cleat parts to fit his customer.

Currently, over 150 retailers and professional bike fitters have the Speedplay Pro Fit Case. Bryne is fond of saying that the Speedplay system addresses “five axes” of the shoe/pedal interface: lateral, rotational, fore-aft, height, and tilt (and, of course, float range adjustment is already built into every Zero). Andy Pruitt, founder of the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine and arguably the world’s most renowned bike fitter, swears by the Speedplay Pro Fit Case. Each year, he travels to Denmark to set up all of the riders on the Saxo Bank team on their Specialized bicycles with their Speedplay pedals, and Bryne’s case full of parts makes his job easier.

Details

Weight:

  • Speedplay Nanogam: 130g/pair, pedals; 88.5g/pair, cleats
  • Speedplay Zero Ti: 164g/pair, pedals; 118g/pair, cleats
  • Speedplay Zero Stainless: 206g/pair, pedals; 118g/pair, cleats
  • Speedplay Zero Crome-Moly: 216g/pair; 118g/pair, cleats

Pricing:

  • Nanogam Zero: $630
  • Zero Titanium: $325
  • Zero Stainless: $195
  • Zero Crome-Moly: $125

Off-road

Sticking with his original road design through thick and thin has worked great for Bryne on the road, but it could also be argued that he stuck with the Speedplay Frog design too long off-road. His new mountain pedal is still not available, and he’s making no predictions about when it will be available or what it will cost, but prototypes have been in the field for some time.

Speedplay mountain bike pedal

The design has a mousetrap-type spring and strongly resembles a Time or Crank Brothers mechanism, but it has a few unique twists. Like with the road Zero pedal, the float range is adjustable with the cleat. The cleat is all steel for long wear, and it has a rotating plate with limit screws built into its outer ring to act as stops against an ear protruding from the central mounting disc to dial in the rotational range of motion of the pedal. The pedal has two teeth on it to grab the outer ring of the cleat on either side of a centering nub, and the steel ring’s lateral tabs stabilize the foot across the hardened bumps on the pedal’s central axis; the bumps and tabs stay in contact to maintain that platform stability, while the mounting disc, with the shoe attached, rotates within it. An adjustment screw pushing on the spring affords adjustment of release tension, and a replaceable steel plate allows the rider to keep the contact surfaces new.

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Technical writer Lennard Zinn is a frame builder (www.zinncycles.com), a former U.S. national team rider and author of numerous books on bikes and bike maintenance including the pair of successful maintenance guides”Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance” – now available also on DVD, and “Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance,” as well as “Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes” and “Zinn’s Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists.”Zinn’s regular column is devoted to addressing readers’ technical questions about bikes, their care and feeding and how we as riders can use them as comfortably and efficiently as possible. Readers can send brief technical questions directly to Zinn. Zinn’s column appears here each Tuesday.

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Lennard Zinn

Lennard Zinn

Our longtime technical writer joined VeloNews in 1987. He is also a framebuilder, a former U.S. National Team rider, and author of many bicycle books, including Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance and Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance, as well as Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes and Zinn's Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in physics from Colorado College. Readers can send brief technical questions to Ask LZ.

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