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Interbike show -
Las Vegas, Nevada USA, September 25-29, 2006
Part 25 - November 13: Paris-Roubaix win a highlight for Speedplay
Light Action pedal to ease in new riders
It could be argued that the transition to using clipless pedals remains the final step in the 'convert-newby-to-serious-cyclist' program. And for many new cyclists, those contraptions that can hold their feet remorselessly to the cranks as they topple over in ungainly fashion will be a major deterrent to experiencing the vast improvement that comes from a secure connection between shoe and pedal.
Indeed, even serious cyclists can suffer the same 'whoopsy-do' fate, especially those who like to max-out on the pedal retention screw.
But Speedplay pedals have always been different - and easy to use - in that it's not the pedal that defines the retention, it's the cleat. The pedals also have dual-sided entry, so the rider doesn't have to spend too much time looking down to ensure they've engaged the pedal.
Speedplay's chief designer, Richard Bryne, feels the company may have made this transition somewhat easier by releasing its new Light Action pedal system. "At Interbike, we had dealers say to us, 'we can sell this', and they'd not even ridden it."
In fact, all the dealers had to do was engage and release the bare cleat and pedal by hand to realize it was a much lighter action than almost all other clipless pedals. It's quite a feat for a clipless cleat and pedal to be pressed together - and easily separated - without being attached to a leg and crankset, respectively.
If any prospective purchaser was worried they wouldn't be able to disengage before falling over in front of their friends or traffic, this demonstration should allay those fears.
The Light Action still retains all the other features of Speedplay pedals, like low weight (220 grams per pair), thin pedal profile, self-location cleat design and 15 degrees of float.
At the same time, Speedplay president Sharon Worman stressed the Light Action model is not just for recreational riders. "It has many of the features of the other pedals (used by leading professionals) but it's also proving to be popular because it's available in a wider range of colours, too. "We under-estimated demand," she added, "and we've already pre-sold the first production run."
By Gerard Knapp
Participating at Interbike this year marked a milestone for the innovative American pedal manufacturer, Speedplay. It was the fifteen-year anniversary for the company, no minor achievement in the bike business, especially for a company that has focused on one major product - pedals. The year saw the company's pedals ridden to numerous victories at the highest level of road cycling, including what is probably the toughest road race of the year, Paris-Roubaix - an event that delivers arguably the greatest bragging rights for any manufacturer.
When Team CSC's Fabian Cancellara entered the Roubaix Velodrome his feet were still secured to the small, lightweight yet strong pedals. If any doubts possibly remained about the pedal's durability, they should be dispelled by that ride and indeed the years of elite-level sponsorship funded by the Californian company. Cancellara rounded out his remarkable year by also winning the individual time trial at the 2006 UCI Road World Championships in Salzburg, again using Speedplay pedals, while the USA's Dave Zabriskie finished second, also riding Speedplays. In between those events, there were Grand Tours and many other races won in Europe and the USA on the pedals.
At Interbike, the company wanted to focus on new products, rather than solely on the results of sponsored riders. It introduced its first completely new model for years, called the Light Action pedal system. Aimed at the enthusiast and recreational rider, this pedal features a lighter action entry and exit tension, while still retaining the same highly secure retention characteristics of the higher-end models.
In fact, the entry and exit tension is so light that the pedals and cleat can be separated by hand - even if they are removed from the crankset. (Try doing that with regular clipless pedals from any any other manufacturer and you need a vice-like grip and a leg's length of leverage.)
"The easy entry and exit takes [clipless pedals] to a whole new level," said Speedplay principle and chief designer, Richard Bryne. "The feedback we're getting from dealers and riders is that they can't believe how much easier it is [to clip in and out], when they thought the X pedal [an earlier model from Speedplay] was pretty easy." Bryne said the ease of use makes it an ideal entry-level clipless pedal, especially for new cyclists who've been apprehensive about using clipless pedals for the first time.
A major part of Speedplay's global branding has been its sponsorship of leading professional teams and riders. The company continues with these relationships, although Speedplay president, Sharon Worman, was keen to stress that the company had been more focused on developing new products.
On the team sponsorship side, 2007 will be no different with several leading teams and riders using Speedplay in the pro peloton. However, team sponsorship can be a double-edged sword. Speedplay pedals were ridden to victory in this year's two biggest races, the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, but then the valuable marketing opportunities were somewhat thwarted when doping controversy engulfed both Giro winner, Ivan Basso of Team CSC, and TdF victor Floyd Landis of Phonak.
Both Bryne and Worman are close friends of Landis, who also lives in California, and they remain completely supportive of the cyclist "in his quest to prove his innocence of the doping charge," Worman said.
As a casual observation, this year's Interbike was a bit more about product, and not so much about who was riding or using it. Compared to previous Interbikes - where the athlete-manufacturer relationship was driven by Lance Armstrong's ongoing success in the Tour de France - the effects of both Operacion Puerto and the alleged Landis positive saw less branding based around famous riders, and more about the product. In fact, about the only high-profile cyclist image to be used with abandon was that of Belgian superstar, Tom Boonen.
Still, a significant proportion of many leading cycling companies' marketing budgets are tied up with sponsorship of professional teams. But it would seem that even if the sport's ongoing doping problem continues to generate negative headlines in mainstream media, its impact is seemingly not being felt - yet - in the bike industry. Bryne and Worman reported that Speedplay posted a record year in 2006. Their comments echoed several at Interbike; and while disappointed to see what happened before and after the Tour - especially among those companies that had sponsored teams at the centre of these stories - they remained optimistic for the future of the sport.
Nothing, it seems, will deter the interest for high-end road cycling products, especially in English-speaking countries. Or, as one Australian financial newspaper reported on its front page earlier this year: 'cycling is the new golf'.
The relative newcomers to the sport buying the expensive bikes and related equipment look to the top level for product endorsement, and the toughest races on the planet are a great proving ground. For that reason, Speedplay remains committed to sponsoring elite teams, securing another two year deal with Bjarne Riis's Team CSC, as well as sponsoring numerous riders in other ProTour teams who personally prefer the pedals (many due to sound ergonomic and positioning reasons).
Speedplay also sponsors an array of US domestic pro teams, including Health Net presented by Maxxis, Navigators Insurance, Jittery Joe's, and the emerging Priority Health squad, to be managed by popular veteran Kiwi racer, Glenn Mitchell. But after the highs and lows of 2006, the company is looking more to its Californian base for its continuing growth. "We're focusing more on new product development next year so we're not really looking too hard (for another ProTour team), but if something comes along, and a team really wants our pedals, then sure, we'll look at it," said Worman, "but we're doing fine for now."
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews
Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net
Images by Fotoreporter Sirotti
Images by Gerard Knapp/Cyclingnews.com
Images by Speedplay