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By John Stevenson
Speedplay's Richard Bryne has always danced to the beat of a different drum in the design of his clipless pedals. Where other pedal makers put the mechanism in the pedal, Speedplay builds it into the cleat, leaving the pedal as a simple 'lollipop' that gives the cleat something to grab.
The advantage is that it's very easy to make a pedal like this double-sided for quick entry; you still have one mechanism per foot, but it's on the shoe, so you can make the pedal into a double-sided 'cleat'. The alternative is to put two mechanisms in the pedal, as Shimano does with its mountain bike pedals, but this adds weight.
While other pedal makers limit the amount of rotational movement your foot has on the pedal, the original Speedplay provided completely free float, a feature that some people loved and some couldn't cope with at all. If you want to see a lively discussion, find a group of riders who have used Speedplays and set those still using them against those who've moved on to another system.
With the Zero, it's as if Speedplay is now dancing to a slightly more mainstream beat. The cleat still contains the mechanism, but riders who found the free float of previous models disconcerting now have the option to set it from as much as 15 degrees to as little as none at all.
Like previous Speedplays, the Zero is double-sided and because the cleat wraps round the pedal your foot sits close to the pedal axle. Speedplay claims a 'stack' the distance from the pedal axle to the sole of just 11.5mm, including the adapter plate needed for a Look-drilled shoe. Our measurements confirm this. The lower your foot is, the more stable it is on the pedal, and the lower you sit on the bike which is also good for cornering stability.
The Zero also shares other previous Speedplay features such as a grease port for easy lubrication and high cornering clearance from the pedal's compact shape.
On the road
Getting into the Zero is straightforward: find the pedal with the cleat and stomp down. Learning the exact best place to put the shoe before you stomp takes a few goes, but it soon becomes natural. It's definitely easier than fumbling for a single-sided pedal, though it's not quite as easy as engaging a double-sided mountain bike pedal, where you're really helped by the cleat recess guiding the shoe into place.
Exit is extremely easy: twist and you're out. The mechanism starts to disengage as soon as you push against the rotation stops, but it takes significant sideways force to get out. Even deliberately sprinting like a total unco I haven't managed to get an accidental release, but I've been able to exit whenever I've wanted to. For my money, that means Speedplay has the exit action spot-on.
In the important time between getting in and getting out, the Speedplays are, well, they're pedals. You don't notice them. The free float feels strange at first if you usually use spring-centred pedals, but that feeling soon vanishes. The broad cleat and adapter feels very solid, though I suspect the very stiff soles of the Shimano shoes I was trialling at the same time didn't hurt. Nevertheless, the sheer size of the Speedplay cleat and its wide screw spacing is a good thing; you'd have to be the Incredible Hulk to rip the cleat off the shoe.
Speedplay cleats have always had a reputation for being sensitive to muck. The manual urges you to keep them clean and use a dry lubricant on them to stop them picking up dirt. I experienced no problems, but I kept out of the crud.
RTFM! (Read The Manual). Some pedals let you just slap them on and ride away. Not the Zeros. If you skip reading the manual (or, er, only skim it lightly, as I did at first) you miss important set-up details. I over-tightened the screws that hold the cleat to the Look adapter and found entry was inconsistent until I backed them off slightly.
Speedplay supplies two sets of screws, long and short, to anchor the adapter plate to Look-drilled shoes. If your shoes have threads that end flush with the sole, you only need the short ones; the long ones may protrude into the sole far enough that you'll feel them.
For some people Zeros will be the perfect pedals. If you like free float, but want to be able to limit it, and you want a lightweight pedal that's easy to enter and exit with no fumbling to flip over a single-sided mechanism, then Zeros are definitely for you.
Pro: Adjustable float and angle; free float; compact; light weight;
easy entry and exit; high cornering angle
More information: Speedplay's website
Got an opinion on the Zero or any other clipless pedal system? Let us know
November 2 tech features, news and letters
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