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23 May, 2016

If You Want My Advice...

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After many years and many events, our resident bike guru The Gentleman Racer can share a few tips and tricks that could help smooth your ride. So if you’re in a bind and wondering if there really is a cleat tension sweet spot, read on, because this month he talks about pedal set-up!

The clipless pedal that eliminated the toeclip-and-strap of yore revolutionised cycling when companies like Look looked (pun intended!) at ski-binding technology and made it applicable to the bicycle. These days there are many pedal brands and types available, all offering different technologies, but the predominant question I always face is “how tight should it be?”

Think of a clipless pedal as a form of bear trap, and how strongly it closes its teeth on the cleat is its tension. Only some pedal models have adjustable spring tension, whereas others are fixed, but there’s more than one way to skin a proverbial cat.

The most popular pedal make on the market seems to be Shimano, whose market share is the result of producing very reliable, serviceable pedals that generally give years of good service. The pros are the aforementioned reliability and re-buildability – higher-end models even have complete ‘drop-in’ internals and a fit-and-forget usefulness. They also have the added bonus of an adjustable spring (cleat-binding) tension. That’s very handy, as one pedal can handle a variety of different users’ needs.

Novice riders and commuters tend to want a very low tension, meaning it requires very little force to uncleat. Racers tend to prefer a much tighter bind. This is because, generally, more force is applied by an experienced rider, at more variable angles, on rougher terrain, meaning a tighter bind is required. I mean, ever had a foot unclip going through a rock-garden? Not recommended!

 

Popular Choice

The beauty of a Shimano SPD pedal is that each pedal can have its tension adjusted to suit your riding style. If one looks at the ‘jaws’ of the pedal, one can see a small Allen key adjustor replete with a rotary insignia with a plus and minus at either end (see photo, below). To decrease the spring tension, and therefore reduce the force necessary to clip in and out, turn your Allen key in the minus direction. Likewise, to tighten the bind, turn to the positive. You’ll hear and feel a click as the adjustor winds the spring.

To keep the left and right pedals equal in their tension, start from zero. I like to decrease the tension as far as it’ll go, then adjust the left pedal to my liking first, because I tend to unclip with the left foot. Once happy with that, I’d have counted the number of clicks it took from the least tension position to get it there, then repeat the same for the right. Make sure you always test the pedals in real-world conditions, to be sure you’re in the right spot tension-wise. The great thing is, if you’re riding and it doesn’t feel right, it’s an easy adjustment to make on the road or trail with your multi-tool.

 

Alternatives to Consider

The next most popular would be the offerings from Crankbrothers, their best known pedals being the eggbeater range, whose biggest advantages are their inherently light weight and unsurpassed mud-shedding ability. It’s a different take on the clipless pedal idea, using spring-loaded blades to engage a hooked cleat attached to the shoe. Crankbrothers pedals do not have an easily-adjustable spring tension, but one can change from the standard binding tension by taking the dotted-cleat installed on the right-hand shoe and moving it to the left-hand shoe, which will give you an easier and quicker release (see illustration). By changing cleats, one changes the degree of rotation needed from your foot in order to unclip.

Unfortunately, other brands such as Time’s ATAC and Look’s S-Trac pedals don’t offer any adjustability. Their cleat-binding tension is based on many years of research and on-the-trail testing. Certain Look road pedals have different tensions via different carbon blades that provide the ‘spring,’ and many Pro teams use the 16Nm Keo Blades rather than the standard 12Nm offerings.

As you can now probably tell, the only ‘sweet spot’ is the one that exists for you. If in doubt, ask your local bike shop for advice. Most pedals come with a very well thought out idea of what you need to get the job done, so describe what kind of riding you do and what you expect from your pedals, because the more info you can give, the better they can advise.

Good luck with your pedal set-up, and remember, always shiny-side-up. If not, you’ll have a good story to go with it!After many years and many events, our resident bike guruThe Gentleman Racer can share a few tips and tricks that could help smooth your ride. So if you’re in a bind and wondering if there really is a cleat tension sweet spot, read on, because this month he talks about pedal set-up!