-written by: Mark Davis
At some point in your bike-riding life, you’ll be climbing a steep hill, or hopping over a pothole, or hitting the road with a faster crew, thinking to yourself, “What is it I’m doing wrong? Why can’t I keep up?”
85% of it is your legs. Ride more, push harder, challenge yourself. You’ll get faster, more skillful. For that last 15% though, your equipment has to be up to snuff. And 10% of that equipment is going to be your pedals. Are they clipless? If not, that right there is going to be the extra ‘umph’ you need to beast over that hill, hop over that obstacle, and keep up with your friends and rivals. If you don’t believe me, try it! My hand to god, if you get back and tell me I’m wrong, I’ll eat my shoes.
“But Maaarrrk, I want to just ride my bike around and not have to wear those silly shoes that I see all the srs bikers clicking and clacking around in all damn day!” Well, duh, you’re on the DZR blog! That’s what these shoes do best! I work on my feet in these sumbitches all day long, and forget I’m even wearing bike shoes until I hop on and ride.
When it comes to clipless pedals, there are a slew of choices; enough to make your head spin if you don’t know exactly what you want. That’s why DZR has tasked me with breaking down the three most common pedals you’ll encounter: The ever-ubiquitous SPD, The light and colorful Crank Bros., and the sturdy, versatile Time ATAC. Each pedal has its pros and cons, so this guide is here to help you decide which one is going to suit your riding style best.
Shimano Pedaling Dynamics (SPD) is one of the earliest 2-bolt cleat systems around. Developed by Shimano in 1990, SPD is known for being inexpensive, reliable, and easy to use. The cleats are made of stainless steel, giving them a much longer functional lifespan than the brass cleats used by Crank Bros. and ATAC; performance declines due to cleat wear happen a lot slower. Where you might think about replacing your Time cleats after 6 months of every day use, you can probably get away with about 18 months on SPDs.
A large part of the choice to use stainless steel cleats has to do with spring tension. Crank Bros. and Time both have much higher tension in the retaining springs, which allow them to keep your shoe engaged with the pedal under heavier loads; the tradeoff being that they need to use a softer metal to engage with. Additionally, there isn’t a lot of float (available side-to-side cleat movement) designed into these pedals, nor is there any adjustment for the angle of disengagement, beyond repositioning your cleats.
What it all boils down to is this: SPD is cheap and long lasting, but the design isn’t very good at keeping you clipped in under more intense circumstances, and it’s absolutely crucial to align your cleat properly for maximum effectiveness.
This pedal is a great choice for someone on a budget, a daily commuter who isn’t concerned with performance, or a clipless newbie who is just testing the waters.
Commuting – 6/10
Road Riding – 6/10
Polo – 3/10
CX – 2/10
Brakeless Fixed – Don’t you ever.
Crank Bros. has been putting out pedals since the 2001 release of their flagship pedal, the Eggbeater. Quite striking from a design standpoint, the Eggbeater, Candy, and Mallet pedals have definitely come a long way from their rough introduction. For years, Crank Bros. products were plagued with a pretty heavy return rate. Specifically, the spindles on their pedals had a tendency to bend, making repair impossible, and sending warranty claims through the roof. However, for the past few years, they’ve really stepped up their game and now they put out a seriously solid product.
For this review, I spent a month riding a set of 2014 candy pedals, and I’ll be damned if they didn’t make my bike look sexy as hell. They’re noticeably lighter than both SPDs and ATACs, they felt sturdy, and the cleat is extra low profile. DZR shoes already have a lot of sole recession, so even though the cleats will wear, it will take much, much longer than with other clipless shoes. Aside from good looks and weight, it was pretty rad to just be able to step onto the pedal and be clipped in. Most pedals are double-sided, causing a bit of fumbling from time to time, but these are designed with a four-sided retention system to be able to just step on the pedal any old place and clip right in, particularly with the Eggbeaters. Unlike SPD, the Crank Bros. have a respectable amount of float, give or take a few degrees depending on which way you mount the cleat. Crank Bros. pedals do not have spring tension preload adjustments, so the feel is pretty consistent from pedal to pedal. I also hear that they have amazing mud shedding properties, but CA is in a drought right now, and I never got to test that. There’s gotta be a reason so many ‘cross riders swear by them, though.
I will say, however, that these pedals didn’t provide the same sort of satisfaction and affirmation that the ATACs, in particular, give when engaging with the pedal. I found myself a few times thinking I was in when I wasn’t, and other times when I was surprised to learn that I was still connected to my bike. I never did get completely used to finding the sweet spot on the Eggbeaters I sampled; and the Candys and Mallets don’t have the same 4 sided feature in full effect like the ‘beaters. Additionally, there’s not quite as much float in the Crank Bros. as there are in Time’s ATAC pedal, which allows for quite a bit of movement. For a rider like me who tends to move around a lot on the bike, and ride a variety of terrain in a lot of strange ways, this was a little problematic.
Overall, this pedal is great for people who don’t want to do any futzing with spring tension, cleat alignment, or any other minutiae; who just want to get out and ride, particularly in the dirt, and particularly if you are trying to keep it light and pretty.
Commuting – 7/10
Road Riding – 8/10
Polo – 5/10
CX – 8/10
Brakeless Fixed – 3/10
The whole idea behind Time’s Auto Tension Adjustment Concept (ATAC) is that the release angle of the cleat is determined independently from spring tension. This may sound boring, but that principle has created one of the most versatile pedals you’ve probably never heard of.
What the ATAC design principle up there means for you is that you can clip in to a pedal with an awesome amount of float, whatever spring tension you want, and do all that without changing the angle in which your cleat disengages.
I spent time riding ATACs up and down the steepest hills in SF, and even though those bastards will make anyone’s legs twitch in weird ways, my feet stayed in through it all. I spent time riding my track bike around the Oakland hills, and while it was super easy to clip in and out for the ol’ ted shred maneuver, I never once clipped out unintentionally. I took these pedals off some sweet jumps in the dirt, and had no problems bailing out, even with my springs at maximum tension. Oh, and I only cursorily glanced at my cleat placement when installing them in the shoe. These bad boys felt dialed in even with the absolute minimum dialage.
They’re heavy, heavier than most SPDs, even. I’ve seen a couple of them break, usually at one of the springs, and the cleat will wear out faster than the Cranks or SPDs. But at the end of the day, this is one of the most versatile pedals around. It is the pedal of choice for riders that do the most intense riding on a day-to-day basis short of the peloton. It’s a favorite of bike couriers the world over. It is the pedal ridden by the vast majority of polo players, who spend day after day thrashing every part of their bike. I also have to say, these pedals had a more satisfying and affirming feel than the others. I never wondered if I was clipped in or not, a loud CRACK notified me of that just fine every time I clipped in or out.
If maximum reliability is your thing, and you find yourself wishing you could move around on your bike more without clipping out, these are the pedals for you. No weight weenies allowed.
Commuting – 7/10
Road Riding – 5/10
Polo – 9/10
CX – 8/10
Brakeless Fixed – 9/10
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