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Ditching road cleats completely – marginal losses.

SPD Pedals - XTR

There are times when you do something because ‘that’s the way it should be’ or because ‘that’s what everyone else does’. And because it seems to be right or best you never bother to question it. Then maybe you have one of those moments of realisation and decide that actually, ‘there’s a better way’. That’s what happened for me when I questioned why I was riding single sided road pedals, road specific shoes and LOOK Keo cleats.

When I bought a road bike back in 2012 to have alongside my mountain bike, I actually started off with mountain bike pedals and cleats on it but for the reasons mentioned I changed to ‘proper’ road shoes, cleats and pedals. I guess it seemed the right thing to do at the time. Maybe I was sucked in to the Team Sky concept of marginal gains, thinking that somehow this was going to make me that little bit faster. Although I’m not sure that it has at any point though.

What I realised more recently instead was that as an enthusiast cyclist and not a pro-rider, I can actually focus on marginal losses instead. Places where I can accept a tiny imperceptible loss in exchange for a significant benefit, such as ease of use, more comfort, lower cost or cross bike compatibility (that’s bike to bike, not cyclocross!). I guess this began with keeping my 32c Vittoria Terreno Zero tyres on my road bike for the whole of 2021 and not just the winter as originally planned. The next change came with a switch of pedals.

New SPD Pedals - XTR
New SPD Pedals – XTR

Mountain bike style pedals and cleats (Shimano SPD) are double sided making it easier to clip in when moving away in traffic or restarting after a stop but the main ‘selling’ feature for me was that fact that they fit onto shoes that have a recess for the cleat. This means that you can much more easily walk around in your shoes when off the bike. For instance in your house when getting to and from the bike, maybe that’s a slippery hallway or kitchen floor or in my case an overcrowded garage. You may also need to walk mid-ride too, maybe that’s in a cafe or a shop or maybe it’s when you’re off the bike during a bikepacking trip, at the bivvy/camp/overnight spot or in a pub.

Treaded Tyres and SPD Pedals
Treaded Tyres and SPD Pedals

The advantages of true road shoes and cleats are that the cleat/pedal contact area is wider allowing for better power transfer and possibly less chance of a ‘hotspot’ for foot pain. Also the shoes tend to be lighter as they’ve been designed with that in mind and have less sole material. But these are advantages that personally I don’t think I’ve ever noticed or benefitted from. A pro rider might notice these tiny differences during a race but then the pro riders have stopped having café stops in the middle of Tour de France stages these days!

Fizik Overcurve Shoes
Fizik Overcurve Shoes

The other difference in the past has been the visual design of the shoes, with the mountain bike type shoes looking more rugged and less stylish than the road shoes (of course style is down to personal perception). This however has changed recently with the introduction of ‘gravel shoes’ from various brands meaning that getting a sleek looking shoe with the two hole fitting required for SPD cleats is now much easier, such as the Fizik shoes above.

So my decision has been to eschew a tiny imperceptible performance gain for the benefit of being able to walk to and from my bike at the start and end of my rides and of course during if necessary too. I know some of this sounds and looks like I’ve given up on road in favour of gravel or bikepacking but this all applies to the road riding too and from now on I will not be riding LOOK Keo, Shimano SPD-SL or any other type of road cleat, whether on the road, the gravel or anything else.

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