When Speedplay first debuted their Zero pedals, some considered it a step backward for the pedal company. The older X/2 pedals weighed in at 198g/pair while the new Zeros weighed in at 206g/pair. This is for the versions with the stainless steel pedal spindles, not the freakishly-light titanium spindles that have a weight limit (185lbs max). The Zero weighed in at 52.5g each as opposed to 42.5g each. Overall system weight for the Zero is 324g vs. 308g when using shoes with the three-hole mounting standard. In a world where newer should be lighter, that Speedplay would make the new pedals heavier seemed odd.
Odd until a close look revealed the differences. They took the same idea, the same spindle, the same stack height and cornering clearance, and made the pedal act as other pedals. Stealing a term from the watch world, Speedplay added “complications.” Speedplay took their basic design and figured out a way to adjust, limit, and even totally remove float from their system.
The X-series pedals are famous for giving riders a “pedaling on ice” feel. By this, we mean that the Xs have no lateral resistance on the cleat mechanism or the pedal itself. There is a simple, relatively light, downward push and slight twist to get in, and then there is resistance-free float all the way until there is a stop on the inside, and twisting out on the outside. The first few rides on these pedals are freaky. The heel is going left, it’s going right, it doesn’t feel stable, it’s annoying, frustrating, and then, almost without noticing, it feels normal and easy.
The reason people switched to the X pedals was they’re light, offer great cornering clearance, and have very little stack height. Cornering is 37-degrees in the stainless version and 39-degrees on the ti’. Stack height is 11.5mm with standard three-hole mounting found on most cycling shoes. 8.5 if you have four-hole mounting like old Time shoes, a Time plate on Northwaves, or custom shoes
Lots of tech-minded riders have been interested in the X pedals, but either the adaptation or fear of adaptation stopped them. Some people just couldn’t get used to the resistance-free float. Some didn’t even try, concerned that the small pedal platform would cause hot spots.
The platform size issue is an interesting one. It came up a lot with Speedplay, but never with Shimano SPD. It came up with Crank Brother’s original Egg Beater pedals, but not with Time ATAC. We always found it odd that the platform issue critique was limited to certain small-platform pedals. Speedplay claims that shoes are really perched on the cleat, not the pedal, and if one measures cleat size, the Speedplay platform is among the larger on the market. Interesting claim, but one could assume that regardless of pedal or platform size, cycling shoes are supposed to be so stiff that force is concentrated across the entire sole and that should eliminate hot spots.
We’ve long wondered about the free float in the X pedals. On the one hand, learning to pedal without engaging in any side force could be a way to increase pedaling efficiency. Riders learn exactly what muscles need to be tense and what muscles can be relaxed. On the other, maybe the “slop” that occurs in certain extreme pedaling situations, like in a full-on sprint, is important for propelling the rider forward and losing the ability to pedal against the spring holding the feet to the pedals is worth enough watts to make up for the extra stack height or system weight.
We first stepped onto the X/2’s several years ago. While the float and small platform size concerned us, we had already tried Look and Time and were uncomfortable with Shimano’s SPD. After a few days of easy riding where we did feel out of sorts, we started getting used to the float. It was easier in the saddle than out, but then riding long efforts out of the saddle helped us get used to the float in that position. The small platform size didn’t seem to matter for us. And, with successive shoes, soles have seemed stiffer, which makes the platform issue less and less relevant, even though it shouldn’t have been relevant in the first place.
The Speedplay Zero pedal is the one that has made inroads in the professional ranks. Having team CSC, Phonak, Healthnet, Priority Health, and others on the pedal should prove they work for people who push hard and pull up hard over long days in the saddle.
It’s possible that this popularity is due in part to the differences between the Zero and the X. Despite sharing an axle and a basic design, the two work and feel quite different. We think the main difference is in the spring the respective cleats use. The X cleat uses two pieces of steel wire for springs. Push down, the wire flexes around the bow tie and then pops back to its original position. It gets partially engaged as the shoe is floating on the pedal and then is flexed again for the twist out.
By contrast, the Zero cleat uses a C-shaped spring with two tabs. The spring is stiffer than the X springs, making it a bit harder to engage, and the tabs go directly into their front and back slots. The spring doesn’t move at all on the pedal until the shoe is twisted to the release point.
There is an outboard tab on the C-shaped spring which helps adjust float. The float can be set anywhere from between 0 to 15-degrees of float, and nicely, the cleat is marked “heel in” and “heel out” to know which direction to adjust. The yellow plastic part of the cleat floats on the spring. Unlike the X pedals, there is resistance to this float, so one doesn’t feel the “ice” that came with the X.
The X and Zero pedals don’t even feel remotely similar. We tried riding with one on each foot for a while. The Zero spring took a bit of getting used to. There was a slightly different feel when we got out of the saddle, possibly the resistance of the Zero changing the float sensation we were used to. With the X, we find the inside of our heel occasionally touch the chainstays. Not good for paint, shoes, or efficiency. We set the Zeros so that our heel couldn’t hit the stays, which, surprisingly, was initially uncomfortable.
For most, the float on the Zeros should probably be set so there is plenty and then slowly cut out what one thinks is excess. A selling point when the X first appeared is that one didn’t have to have the lateral position of the foot dialed in, that the foot would naturally find the proper position, thus eliminating knee injuries due to improperly-adjusted cleats. That the Zeros can eliminate float means that users should take care in setting the position.
Another advantage of the Zero system is durability. The spring locking into the pedal has made the system much more durable. The spring lasts longer, the bow ties last longer, the pedal body lasts longer, and the cleats last longer. This is all due to the spring not moving once sprung onto the pedal.
Speedplay recommends replacing the cleats every three- to five-thousand miles. This means both components in the system—the four-bolt lower cleat and the three-bolt upper cleat (only the four-bolt part if you have the four-bolt standard on your shoes). Sooner if you notice slop in the system. Later if you don’t.
They used to recommend White Lightning lube for the pedal exterior and the cleats, but they’ve concluded that this liquid “dry” lube has a tendency to pick up a little dirt that then helps grind down both the cleats and the pedals. They now recommend PTFE (Teflon) lubes, ideally in an aerosol can. They also recommend Super Lube Dry Film, RZ-50, DuPont Performance Dry, Liquid Wrench Dry-Lube, Pro Gold, or Blaster Dry Lube these days. They also recommend greasing the pedal bearings every three months. This is an easy operation that necessitates backing out the tiny Philips-Head screw on the outside of the pedal and using a grease gun to inject grease.
The instructions warn against over-torquing the bolts. Luckily, one doesn’t need a torque-wrench for assembly, as there are tiny “shoulders” on each bolt that start to freeze up as the proper torque is reached.
The step backward for a little extra weight has resulted in an amazing step forward in terms of comfort for most riders. Speedplay has done an super job of tweaking their basic design so it performs like other pedals, but with most of the advantages that Speedplay’s X pedals already possess.