Monday, April 28, 2014

The Key Contact Point on a Bike - Part 1


 The under-side and business part of the new Look Blade 2 pedals.

This is the first of a two part series on what I believe is the key contact point on the bike - the pedal-cleat-shoe interface.

Contact points with the bike, are big with me. Previously I have blogged, about handle bars and even bar tape - stressing their importance, as key contact points. While others seem to stress about frame weights and materials, aerodynamics and Crr, for true riding enjoyment, comfort, and ultimately performance, it's the contact points we have with the bike, that are key to a great ride with optimal power transfer!

As to the last point - the pedal-cleat-shoe interface is where your hard earned fitness and power is transferred to the bike, then to the road, and is driving you forward! It's more important than you think.

There's lot's of choices for pedals. Some of this will be based on individual feelings and needs. Full confession, I've been a LOOK-man since they first came out with the first clip-less pedals back in the late 80's. I've had various LOOK and LOOK compatible pedals over the years. For me they have always worked, and worked well. The designs have been reasonably simple. The pedals have been durable, and easily maintained. They have always lasted longer, than I would have thought given the abuse they get.

My LOOK Keo Carbon pedals were starting to show their age. When the pedal platform and interface point on either the pedals or the cleats start to get worn down to the point, that you are getting a bit of medial-lateral rocking it's time to change either the cleat or the pedal or both.  Closer examination, of the old Keos. showed that the platform was showing some micro-wear - that even new cleats may not have helped with.

Naturally, I first had a look, at the current LOOK line up. When the Blade came out a few years ago, It looked intriguing - but the reviews were mixed, and like many I was a bit concerned with the exposed outboard location of the actual carbon fiber blade on the pedal - the functional part of the pedal that was applying the force to keep the cleat clicked in. It appeared, one, even minor bike crash, with a laying down of the bike on the side, might render the pedal useless!

For 2014, Look completely overhauled the Blade pedals - now called the Blade 2. The carbon fiber blade was widened, and moved to the very bottom and middle of the pedal. This made the pedal more rugged and, FWIW - improved aerodynamics of the pedal itself. It's so good at this now, LOOK stopped making a truly aero Blade pedal, for the time-trialer and triathlete!

Other improvements include a substantial increase in the contact interface between the pedal and the cleat (now 17% wider) and a slight lowering of the stack-height to the pedal axle ( now 13mm). Reviews, of the original Blades were that the click-in was a bit vague, and one could hardly tell you were even clicked in. I can say, that the with the Blade 2's the click-in feel is not dissimilar to the very popular Keo line - by both feel and and a nice and noticeable "click" noise. You know you are in!

The Blade 2 comes in three set tensions ( the Keos had adjustable tension) 12nm, 16nm and 20nm. I'm riding on the 12's, and they are similar in tension to the way I was set up on my Keo's - which I would judge as moderate. I'm told that most Pro level riders, who are riding the Blade 2's are going with the 16's. The 20's? Maybe for track sprinters?

Riding impressions: Fantastic - compared to my Keos, the contact with the bike seems more firm, positive and substantial. I use the grey LOOK cleats, that have a bit of float and everything feels amazing.

The one slight negative that I have about the Blade 2, is, that the pedals do not naturally return, to that heel-down position, that the Keos, and most other similar pedal designs do. This makes getting in the pedal a bit frustrating at first, as you are always expecting the pedal to be in that position - ready for action! It's this way for two reasons - LOOK used more robust seals on the inboard bearings, than previously, so the pedals don't spin as freely when un-weighted. The bigger reason, is the weight of the pedal is now more evenly distributed throughout the pedal and not concentrated in the heel - as it is with the Keo's. So, the pedals when you click out, if they end up up-side-down, will tend to stay up-side-down, until you want to click back in. Here, a little flip with the toe is needed to spin the pedal back into the correct position, to click back in cleanly. It takes a few times before you get the hang of this.

If you are looking for new pedals, that are very light (110g - CroMo, 90g - Ti), offer an amazing contact interface with the cleat/shoe, and are aero, then the new LOOK Blade 2 is one for you to consider.

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1 comment:

Stephen Partridge said...

Steve,

Just grabbed a pair today!

Also had the old keo carbons (now on my San Diego bike, giant tar carbon). Broke my hip on that bike, and wondered why there may be a bit less than perfect circle / rotation feel, like a hardy noticeable wobble).

Got the new one's putting those on my Ottawa bike, , Cervelo r5 today. Hoping they feel as good as you say, and make me as fast as you ; )

Great article!
Stephen