Speedplay Snap Shim Road Cleats
We probably don't change the cleats on our cycling shoes often enough. We wish our SRM or powermeter software would sound an alarm when certain mileage intervals were met for certain parts and tell us it is time to inspect and probably change said parts. (What about it, Peaksware?) This would be great for things like cleats and chains. We'd also appreciate it for cables and housing. Vetta makes a computer that does this. When it debuted, we thought it a bit too nerdly for us. But, when a worn chain can wreck a pricey cassette and chain rings, and a worn cleat can destroy a pedal spindle or result in accidental pulling out of a pedal, and a broken cable can break a shifter, ruin a race, and leave you with two gears miles from the finish, we're not so sure anymore.
We have Speedplay Zero pedals. Speedplay suggests replacing cleats every 5,000 miles. Inevitably, the biggest reminder we get that it is time to inspect and probably replace our cleats is when we ride behind someone who desperately needs to replace theirs. Unlike other pedal systems, it's pretty easy for someone to accurately diagnose worn cleats when a rider uses Speedplay. You can tell because the cleat, when engaged with the pedal, doesn't line up in parallel with the pedal and the spindle. It's particularly easy with Zero cleats because the yellow part of the cleat can be seen from afar. Notice a decent cant to the cleat, and you know a rider is well past their service interval.
A good thing about the Zero system, as opposed to the X/2, which we used previously, is the cleats take longer to wear out. This is a result of the flat spring in the cleat, or, in Speedplay-speak, the spring kit. The old spring was round and would flatten with use. Since this one starts flat, and is locked in place when engaged with the pedal, it doesn't wear nearly as quickly.
Speedplay has a marked advantage over most of their clipless rivals. They have a protective cover over the part of the cleat that engages the pedal. Walking doesn't wear out the cleats.
When we decided to inspect our cleats recently, there was some wear to our cleats, but it wasn't extreme. Worn Speedplay Zero cleats allow your foot to rock laterally on the pedal. This can lead to some discomfort as your foot rolls to the inside and then out, even if your foot is perfectly aligned, every stroke. And when out of the saddle, the severely worn cleat can lead to wearing down of the pedal spindle next to the pedal body.
Prompt replacement is a good idea. The worn cleat can exacerbate wear on the pedal. In the case of Speedplay, it can wear out the "hockey puck" body, the "bow-ties," and the pedal spindles prematurely. In other pedals, worn cleats can not only wear out the pedal body, but can lead to inadvertent releases at times when you'd never want your foot to come out, like winding up a sprint or thrashing over a steep hill.
When setting up the new cleats, we were reminded of how refined the Speedplay system is. Not only is the system light, has adjustable float, great cornering clearance, and low stack height, but replacing parts is a cinch. Not only can every part of the pedal be individually replaced, but every part is clearly labeled and the instructions are excellent.
The spring kits are marked "left" and "right." If that isn't enough, there are arrows pointing to the front. Speedplay also inserts red and yellow paper discs so you can tell the left from the right and on the discs is a lubing reminder (only Teflon or PTFE dry lubes) and a warning of the appropriate service interval (5,000 miles). The base plate is marked "Base Plate" on the back, and the front has a line across it and on both sides so you know exactly where the middle is. The snap shims, the plastic bits that go between the base plate and curved shoe bottoms are marked 1-F, 4-F, 1-R, 4-R (you consult Speeplay.com if you need to determine which shims to use). There's an extra shim marked "Extra Shim." The float adjusting screws have "Heel In" and "Heel Out" so you know which each one does. There are dots in between the "Heel In"-"Heel Out" markings so you can compare the old cleats to the new and the left to the right and dial the float in precisely. The horseshoe-shaped retention spring has a star next to the float tab so you know which is the outside of the spring. All this information on the cleats doesn't make them foolproof; it comes pretty close.
Then there's the wisdom of adding Loc-Tite to the spring kit screws at the factory. And putting "shoulders" on the screws so it's nearly impossible to over-tighten them.
While this kind of detail isn't breathtaking, it is impressive, and something we wish we'd see more of with bike components. It also might be the result of Speedplay spending more time refining their designs than changing them over the years.
Setting up the new cleats is crazy easy. First, make sure you have the right Snap Shims in the base plate. Since we're replacing, all we do is make sure the new cleat has the same as the old. We marked a partial outline of where the base plate should go on our shoe, when we first set up the old cleats, so we first line up the new plate with that line. Then, once the new screws are snugged into place, we examine the wear on the old base plate to see where the new spring kit should sit on the plate. The wear is obvious; there's a visible disc shape on the plate showing where the pedal wore on the plate. Line up the new spring kit, snug the screws until the shoulders on the screw grabs the new metal bottom plate, the cleat is set. Finally, we adjust the "Heel In" "Heel Out" screws so they're at the same orienting dots as on the old base plate.
Fingering the spring set up in the newly-mounted cleat, it's easy to be concerned that you've over-tightened, as the new one doesn't move, while the old one has enough play that you can move it by hand. That play is wear. Engaging the spring on the new cleats has a sharper, louder snap than the worn cleats. It sounds more definitive.
Riding new cleats feels great. There's a sense of gaining efficiency over the old cleats. The lack of unwanted slop means more energy is going to the pedals, no? There's also a joy from having a more positive connection between shoes and pedals. Any time there's a physical connection between two parts; the one with less slop feels better. It's a sign of both newness and good design. Makes us want to replace all our cables and housing right now, because we know they will also feel that much crisper.
We've read that regular cleaning of cleats and then lubing them with a PTFE lube should increase the service interval between cleat replacement. This is possible, even likely. We've never been diligent about cleaning and lubing the Zero cleats because the design is so much better at self-cleaning than the X/2 cleat. Once we examined them after a long rainy, mucky ride, and saw how well the spring moves, we decided we didn’t' need to clean.
Of course, once we've ridden with the new cleats for a week or two, we'll forget about the newness and how great it feels. As we ride, the wear will gradually add slop to the interface, and sometime down the road, we'll be riding behind someone who ought to replace her cleats, and we'll try to remember the day we replaced ours last, and how many miles we've ridden since then. We'll probably draw a blank and try to piece it together.