The second-lightest of four pedals in the distilled Wahoo Speedplay line.
Dual-sided entry, rock-solid pedal platform, adjustable release, low profile
System can easily clog with grit
Speedplay continues to be an excellent pedal system — but one best for those who only put a foot down on clean, dry pavement.
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Smooth, solid, and fussy. That is the Speedplay system in three adjectives.
I last used Speedplay pedals nearly 20 years ago, when I lived in sunny Southern California and the Trek-VW team I was on handed us each of the riders a set. I found the float to be icily smooth — as in, there was virtually no friction, a stark contrast to Shimano and Look plastic cleats — and the pedaling platform and retention to be rock solid. The adjustable float was cool, and, after a short learning curve, I found the pedal system — when clean — to be excellent.
I ultimately abandoned them because the latching mechanism — which unlike other systems is bolted to the shoe — is fussy outside of clean, dry environments and can render clipping in impossible if you step in snow or mud or otherwise manage to get some grit in the system.
Fast forward two decades, and the cycling technology company Wahoo now owns Speedplay. Wahoo drastically reduced the number of models but kept the fundamental design the same.
Clipping in — upside down
Most pedal systems consist of a static cleat that bolts to the shoe, and a securing mechanism with moving pieces on the pedal itself. Speedplay flips the script: aside from rotating on the spindle, the lollipop-shaped pedal is a static object; the moving parts that secure the system are bolted to the shoe.
This does a few things. One, it makes for an exceptionally light pedal — the Zero weighs 111g; the titanium Nano weighs 86g — but the cleat weight more than makes up for it. I weighed a Zero pedal, cleat, and hardware at 185g, compared to 159g for a Shimano Dura-Ace SPD-SL system.
The primary benefit of the Speedplay design is that just can’t wear down your cleat by walking on it like you do with Shimano and Look systems. The more you wear down your cleat, the more play you introduce into the system. With Speedplay, conversely, the engagement system is buried inside the cleat on your shoe, so the interface remains consistent throughout its life.
Also unlike most road pedals, you can clip into either side of the Speedplay pedal. If you are accustomed to Shimano and Look systems, where you first engage the front of the cleat and then stomp down, clipping into Speedplay may take a few pawing attempts; you just find the pedal under your shoe-mounted cleat and step firmly down.
Clipping out is like any other system: rotate your ankle out with a bit of force, and your foot pops up. Unlike other systems, though, you can adjust how much float you have in both directions.
Super smooth — until it’s not
When the system is clean, the float feels exceptionally smooth and virtually friction-free. Some find it almost disconcerting at first how ‘slippery’ the float feels. But most riders myself included quickly adjust. And returning to Shimano or Look systems feels a little sticky.
The simplicity of the pedal stands in contrast to the complexity of the cleat. Unless your shoe has four bolts, you first start with an adapter plate to convert the standard three holes to Speedplay’s four-bolt system. To that, you bolt on a two-piece engagement mechanism, over which you secure the texturized rubber cover.
Tiny Allen bolts under the cover adjust the float — one bolt for each direction. And the engagement spring in the mechanism needs to be kept clean and lubricated with a dry lube.
The narrow channel around the circumference of the pedal is how the cleat snaps on. Get any grime in that channel, or inside the cleat on your shoe, and clipping in becomes challenging if not impossible. Under normal riding conditions, including in the rain, this isn’t an issue. The problems usually start when you put your foot down.
While most roadies don’t start most rides planning to stick a foot in mud or snow, these things happen. A nature break by the side of the road, say, and one step in some soggy ground could well mean that you’re going to spend a few minutes on your butt, cleaning out your cleat with a stick or whatever you can find.
Speedplay for a while made cleat covers, to protect the inner mechanism and hardware floors. Now the rubberized cover protects floors, but protecting the tight quarters of the moving parts in the cleats remains up to you.
So, back to Southern California. Out there on the usually clean, usually dry roads, Speedplay pedals are great. When I moved back to New Mexico and later Colorado, I found that I valued being able to put a foot down wherever, whenever, and, if I ended up with grimy cleats for whatever reason, I could just kick my pedals once or twice and be on my way.
With the promise of a power-meter Speedplay model on the way this summer, Wahoo has added a significant pro to the Speedplay column. Until then, I will qualify my endorsement of Speedplay pedals as a great system — if you never put your feet anywhere but on clean surfaces.