One of the welcome side effects of my recent bout with gout had nothing to do with pharmaceuticals. Rather, a cornucopia of information about selecting the right pedals flowed my way, as friends, acquaintances, and downright strangers offered their ideas about how to combat or prevent knee trouble.
It’s all in the pedals, they said. Specifically, Speedplay pedals.
We’ve looked at Speedplays before. In any discussion of pedals, Speedplays have their loyal adherents.
The main attraction is the amount of float they offer. It’s called “free float,” or non re-centering float, and allows the foot to follow its normal path through the pedal stroke. One of my fellow club members says that feature can really benefit bad knees: “Most pedal systems these days allow for some natural ankle rotation, but Speedplay is one of the few systems that allows for ‘free’ float, meaning that there is no resistance due to the pedal trying to move your foot back to a centered position if you tend to rotate too far. This can be good for knees that have been aggravated by a poorly positioned cleat – cycling is actually one of the best rehab activities for knee injuries.”
Another club member, who uses Speedplays, says that free float feels different than any other pedal: “With Speedplays, you initially feel like you are skating on ice until your feet find the angle they want to be at (yes, I dangle participles). Two rides max and you will be dialed in.”
Not all of them have unrestricted float. Yet another club member (as you can see, my fellow clubbies love to talk about pedals, as well as other accessories) weighs in with this opinion: “The fact is that most of us don’t need as much rotation as Speedplay allows, which is why they introduced the Zero model, which allows you to reduce the range of motion to match your pedaling style. They’re remarkably easy to set up, and have solved pretty much all of my knee issues, including those caused by having too much available float.”
Speedplays come in four basic models, the Light Action, Zero, X, and Frog. Each is available in titanium, stainless, or chro-moly. The Zero is considered a pro-level pedal; the Light Action a recreational pedal; the X an ultralight version, and the Frog, a mountain bike pedal that has been adopted by roadies as well.
The Frog looks different than the other Speedplays, because its cleat can be recessed in the sole of the shoe, like a Shimano SPD cleat. That makes walking around in them easy.
So, what’s NOT to like about Speedplays?
Penny-pincher that I am, I passed on them because of price. MSRP generally ranges from $115 for the cro-mo versions to $325 for the titanium ones. But a lot of bikers who spend their money more wisely than I pass up other fripperies and put their money where it will do their cycling the most good.
Some riders don’t like the “rocking” sensation they get from the pedals. But Speedplay apparently has dealt with that. One of the guys from the club says it’s a thin steel shim, and it stops the lateral rocking motion: “I highly recommend them to ALL Speedplay users – $10, and they’re called the ‘Carbon Sole Protectors.’ They also stiffen the cleats and provide a harder surface contact patch between the pedal and shoe.”
It’s clear that those who use Speedplays generally love them. Another acquaintance has had a long-term love affair with them: “I had an ACL rebuild and have been riding Speedplays for the past twelve years. That, plus ibuprofen, has kept the inflammation to zero. Still riding the original pedals and on my third set of cleats … Just keep ‘em out of the mud!”
Okay, I’m interested, because of their potential to solve knee problems. But I’m not about to make the switch yet, because my Shimano SPD-SLs offer me a wide platform, and they’re comfortable. I wish they had more than six degrees of float, though. Maybe if I save my pennies, in another year Speedplays will be worth considering.