Beginner's advice on pedals & shoes?

by parksey   January 29, 2014  

Ok, so in a blatant show of my complete lack of road cycling knowledge, I'm after advice please on the subject of road bike pedals and shoes.

Having had my road bike for a couple of months now, I feel sufficiently confident on it to be thinking about upgrading from the toe clips that came with it.

However, I literally have no idea where to start...

I'm broadly aware that there are different types of pedal system out there, but quite how they differ (or put another way, which one is better), I don't know.

What are people's thoughts on this?

I don't spend hours on the bike or ride competitively, so I'm not looking for the lightest, stiffest, high-end stuff, just some serviceable kit to help me do some reasonable weekend mileage.

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I use the Shimano A530s with SPDs: it's a 'half and half' pedal suitable for road, MTB and everyday shoes. It's clunkier and likely heavier than the A520 but great if you use the bike around town as well as for longer training rides. I've had no problem with the 'single-side' access to the clips...

posted by suebee [3 posts]
1st February 2014 - 17:24

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Yep, spd's a perfectly good solution for the OP.
Spd sl's have less 'walkability' but I disagree that they're only for racers/pro's as some have said.. With SL's there's more options for float (zero to 9 degrees), and a wider platform, which when combined with maximum release tension I really like as you feel very connected to the bike and transfer of power feels better, esp when standing on the pedals

But each to his own, and I wouldnt make a judgement about someone whether they're in all the top end gear, just as I wouldn't judge them for using standard spd's.

posted by 700c [538 posts]
1st February 2014 - 18:55

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+1 for SPD's

I started out with SPD-SL's about 3 years ago, got on fine with them. Tried SPD's last year and there's been no looking back. Comfy to ride and walk in. Oh and the cleats will definitely last longer.

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posted by SounDaz_7 [48 posts]
1st February 2014 - 20:53

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Clip in pedals are not for everyone, mind. I have used every type of pedal clip-in system there is and truly believe cleats have fecked up my left knee, the right one not so bad but far from perfect. All down to prolonged clipping in use over the last 5 years. I never had them prior to that and knees were fine. I put it down to having weird limb/bone structure I guess.

You get lateral play/adjustment, your foot and can swing up and down freely but you get no tilt play, you foot is pulled flat and firmly onto the pedal and I am sure thats whats damaged my knees. You can get shims that allow the cleat to be given a couple of degrees of tilt and you can get in foot orthotics (I have them in my current shoes as prescribed by mu physio) but I reckon they provide very limited benefit.

I still ride with MTB spd's but only ever clip in now when I am sprinting against my mates for fun or going up a hill in the wet, but even then I think I dont need to. That means 90% of my ride time is unclipped and they have not affected my own performance on the bike to any noticeable margin. I have never had a foot slip off a road bike pedal whilst wearing correct shoes and going unclipped. Ive been doing this following a course of physio and exercises for the last year and my left knee is not worse and possibly slowly getting better, but I fear the damage is done. Over 25 years of serious riding my knees were fine until I got clip in pedals 5 years ago (and spent countless hours making adjustments, using shims, orthotics, etc.)

I never clip in in town traffic either, too dangerous, which also reduces clip-in time. Unless you are pro, semi-pro level and need to eek every bit of power and efficiency out of your cycling there is no need for clip in pedals in my humble opinion, despite the insane peer pressure to do so. clip-in pedals are just not a definite must-have but please yourself. Just trying to provide a balanced view. They can, in rare situations cause more harm than good, and can be bloody dangerous where there is any traffic in any kind of volume.

posted by Critchio [100 posts]
1st February 2014 - 22:01

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Thanks all for the continued input on this topic, it really is appreciated.

Interestingly, I went into both of my LBSs today, and they both advocated Look pedals, in either the Easy or Classic forms (despite both of them also selling other brands).

When making reference to SPDs, they suggested they'd always prefer the stiffer sole and larger platform of a Look/SL type pedal/shoe setup, to avoid the possible hotspots that can arise from prolonged riding on SPDs. The walking issue was however acknowledged!

So, properly confused on the subject now... I do value the advice of the staff in both of the stores, but there is a lot of positive input for SPDs on here.

posted by parksey [166 posts]
1st February 2014 - 22:55

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I had some problems with numbness/burning on here balls of my feet way back when I had these Pearl Izumi MTB shoes with an SPD platform that currently escapes me (old timer's disease). While MTB shoes that look like sneakers are stiffer than trail runners, they still have a rather flexible footbed to allow for scrambling. I switched over to Sidi's when I started using my Speedplay Frogs and while their MTB shoes aren't as stiff as their road shoes which have carbon fiber in the sole, they're still stiff enough that I can't really stand up on the ball of my foot when standing on the ground so much stiffer than the sneaker style shoes. I did initially have some numbness/burning with longer rides (70+ miles) but after adjusting my saddle a bit that pretty much disappeared. The Frogs are slightly bigger than the road pedal lollipops (ie Zero and Nanogram) ~6.5 cm squared but not that much smaller than most SPD platforms. I wonder if you could borrow a set of SPDs from a friend with similar shoe size and swap out your pedals to test it out for a week (commuting and your longer weekend rides)? Would your LBS be willing you let you do some test rides on their Look pedals for comparison? Just a thought.

Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling. ~James E. Starrs

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posted by movingtarget [126 posts]
2nd February 2014 - 0:36

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I used to ride Look but found the cleats wore out when I was walking, and who doesn't want to walk to a cafe?

I bought into the SPD thing and now all 3 bikes have it, and I only need one pair of shoes.

KISS!

posted by Trull [54 posts]
2nd February 2014 - 10:28

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Wish I'd started a thread like this before I bought mine. The LBS recommended spd-sl pedals so I went with that. Have never felt secure in traffic and that has affected where I'll ride.

posted by paulfg42 [368 posts]
3rd February 2014 - 23:59

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Hotspots from using SPD pedals and insufficient sole stiffness are both myths IMVHO.

The suggestion that SPD shoes lack sole stiffness mystifies me. I have inexpensive Shimano and Specialized SPD shoes as well as SPD-SL and have never found any of them flex at all.

I'd say that, after finding a shoe that is a good fit for you, cleat setup is the most important thing to get right.

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posted by Simon E [1880 posts]
4th February 2014 - 9:57

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my most comfortable ever shoes are a pair of cheap shimano SPD ones a bit like the current RT32s. I've done very long rides on them (up to 24 hours) with absolutely no problems at all. and you can walk in them. and they're only fifty quid. and they've lasted about ten years.

Shimano RT81s are a bit more, but they're also excellent

http://road.cc/content/review/16381-shimano-rt81-shoes

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7227 posts]
4th February 2014 - 10:34

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Simon E wrote:
Hotspots from using SPD pedals and insufficient sole stiffness are both myths IMVHO.

The suggestion that SPD shoes lack sole stiffness mystifies me. I have inexpensive Shimano and Specialized SPD shoes as well as SPD-SL and have never found any of them flex at all.

I'd say that, after finding a shoe that is a good fit for you, cleat setup is the most important thing to get right.

agreed. I have SPDs on all my bikes and have 2 pairs of specialized shoes - one old and tatty, one with fancy carbon soles - and cleat pressure has never been an issue. I did have some more casual shimano shoes where it was but with a proper touring or MTB/CX shoe you should have no problems.

If you are concerned about fluffing the clip-in in traffic then, although they are a bit heavier, the SPD platform pedals like the M424 and M530 are nice because they help guide your foot into the clip and provide more support to pedal on if you do miss.

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posted by joemmo [768 posts]
4th February 2014 - 10:47

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Re sole stiffness - that will depend on the individual - your size and power, specifically..

One of the advantages with SL's (for serious riding perhaps more than for commuting), is that the three bolt pattern is available on a wide range of shoes, low end to high end, and so offers good choice for the wearer. That's not a reflection of the cleat mechanism, just the market for shoes which support it..

posted by 700c [538 posts]
4th February 2014 - 11:06

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700c wrote:
One of the advantages with SL's (for serious riding perhaps more than for commuting), is that the three bolt pattern is available on a wide range of shoes, low end to high end, and so offers good choice for the wearer. That's not a reflection of the cleat mechanism, just the market for shoes which support it..

That's a fair comment, but as I'm just starting out with clipless and on a reasonably low-end bike, I'm probably looking at <£100 for shoes. At that price point, two-bolt compatibility seems to be prevalent (or at least dual-compatibility), whether they're road, touring or MTB shoes.

My thinking at this stage is still with SPDs, mostly likely one of the Shimano A-series pedals, and I'll then look out for a reasonably stiff pair of road/touring shoes. If prolonged riding does cause any discomfort or pressure, I'll revisit the setup having not spent a fortune.

The Bontrager Solstice shoes seem to fit the bill, http://www.bontrager.com/model/11664, appear to be as stiff as their cheaper dedicated road shoes, but have a walkable sole too.

posted by parksey [166 posts]
4th February 2014 - 14:54

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VeloPeo wrote:
Just another random thought, Specialized do insoles with high and medium foot arches. Will fit most makes of shoe - and make a big difference in comfort to those of you who don't have flat feet.

http://www.sigmasport.co.uk/search?query=bg+footbed&pg_start=0&fq=&pg_rows=&sort=#/fn4wfn5zY29yZSBkZXNjfn4=

Not only do I have wide feet put also fallen arches!! I've been suffering from numbness in my toes, but after fitting a Specialized footbed, the blue one, into my Shimano MT42 MTB shoes I've noticed an improvement in comfort.

David Palmer
Milton Keynes

Specialized Secteur Elite 2013
Team Raleigh Road Bike
Carrera Vulcan V-Spec

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posted by djpalmer32 [49 posts]
4th February 2014 - 15:06

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Dave Atkinson wrote:
my most comfortable ever shoes are a pair of cheap shimano SPD ones a bit like the current RT32s. I've done very long rides on them (up to 24 hours) with absolutely no problems at all. and you can walk in them. and they're only fifty quid. and they've lasted about ten years.

Shimano RT81s are a bit more, but they're also excellent

http://road.cc/content/review/16381-shimano-rt81-shoes

I had been looking at these too (well, the RT82 version), as they seem to tick a lot of the boxes around the £100 mark. I guess given your glowing review of the predecessor, that's what your money would be on?

I have a reasonably local shop that stocks both the Bontager and Shimano shoes, so it looks to be a case of heading up there to try them both for size. They've also got the A520 pedals for the same £25 price as Wiggle, or the A600s for what appears to be a bargain at £49.

Further input is of course appreciated though! Wink

posted by parksey [166 posts]
4th February 2014 - 15:08

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I use Shimano RT82s (about £80) which look like road shoes from the top with a ratchet strap and all, but have a recessed SPD cleat space on the bottom. They're not too heavy, 650g. I've got carbon Look Quartz pedals that I got on eBay for a song and can't imagine needing anything more.

The pedals are about 110g each so v. light and the cleats about 20g so it adds up to a very light system. I can walk all I want (just getting down the dodgy front steps here would be a nightmare with SPD-SLs) and there's plenty of float and a good solid connection. Nobody on the road has commented on my shoes, ever, so I'm happy!

Yes, it's violating one of the Rules but hey.

posted by drmatthewhardy [275 posts]
4th February 2014 - 22:11

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I've ridden clipless for the last 20 years - look, spd, eggbeaters and spd-sl. I ride eggbeaters on my MTB and they are the easiest to get in and out of. I currently use SPD-SLs on my road bikes and I like the really positive engagement, but they are more tricky to get into, sometimes. I do wind them up to maximum spring pressure, which in combination with Sidi Ergo shoes gives a fantastic platform. I use SPDs at the gym and they are somewhere in the middle, (not that it matters how hard it is to get in on a spin bike). Having said that, I prefer the float that you get on SPD-SLs to those on normal SPDs.

If i was just starting out, I'd go with eggbeaters and some mid range shoes.

posted by edster99 [145 posts]
5th February 2014 - 0:00

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Don't restrict your thinking to just Shimano spd. I wasn't a fan when I tried them.

Other small platform mtb pedals to consider are Crank Bros Candy, Look Quartz and Time ATAC. All of these allow the lugs on an mtb shoe to take some of the strain off the cleat area and minimise the possibility of "hotspots". You'll see a lot of Crank Bros Candy and Time Atacs at Audax events (and virtually no "road" pedals) simply because they are very comfortable over long distances. They also all look a bit less "mountain" than others on the market and come in a range of specs and prices.

Any of these three will work equally well with cheap or expensive shoes, from flexible £50 Diadoras to "I can't believe I just paid that much for a pair of shoes" Carbon soled dancing slippers. Take it from Imelda. Imelda knows shoes.

My eyes prefer Celeste, my bum prefers titanium.

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posted by Jack Osbourne snr [295 posts]
5th February 2014 - 0:59

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edster99 wrote:
I've ridden clipless for the last 20 years - look, spd, eggbeaters and spd-sl. I ride eggbeaters on my MTB and they are the easiest to get in and out of. I currently use SPD-SLs on my road bikes and I like the really positive engagement, but they are more tricky to get into, sometimes. I do wind them up to maximum spring pressure, which in combination with Sidi Ergo shoes gives a fantastic platform. I use SPDs at the gym and they are somewhere in the middle, (not that it matters how hard it is to get in on a spin bike). Having said that, I prefer the float that you get on SPD-SLs to those on normal SPDs.

If i was just starting out, I'd go with eggbeaters and some mid range shoes.

The Candys are based on the eggbeater chassis, but give more stability due to the platform.

My eyes prefer Celeste, my bum prefers titanium.

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posted by Jack Osbourne snr [295 posts]
5th February 2014 - 1:02

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parksey wrote:
Dave Atkinson wrote:
my most comfortable ever shoes are a pair of cheap shimano SPD ones a bit like the current RT32s. I've done very long rides on them (up to 24 hours) with absolutely no problems at all. and you can walk in them. and they're only fifty quid. and they've lasted about ten years.

Shimano RT81s are a bit more, but they're also excellent

http://road.cc/content/review/16381-shimano-rt81-shoes

I had been looking at these too (well, the RT82 version), as they seem to tick a lot of the boxes around the £100 mark. I guess given your glowing review of the predecessor, that's what your money would be on?

I have a reasonably local shop that stocks both the Bontager and Shimano shoes, so it looks to be a case of heading up there to try them both for size. They've also got the A520 pedals for the same £25 price as Wiggle, or the A600s for what appears to be a bargain at £49.

Further input is of course appreciated though! Wink

Another shout for the RT82s. Review if you haven't seen it already:
http://road.cc/content/review/90820-shimano-rt82-spd-shoe

I ride in them, my boyfriend rides in them. They're the most comfortable shoes I own (even off the bike), keep off the rain a bit, dry quick, and I think they look alright! Especially if you're not using them solely for clean summer rides. Never had any flex/hotspot issues when hammering the commute or riding all day. means I can swap between all my bikes and can actually walk around. I mainly use Shimano A520s and they give a nice little 'platform' much like road pedals.

Keos are nice but you won't believe how fast the cleats wear out if you do any walking whatsoever. Same with all delta style road cleats really.

@oddbydefault

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posted by oddbydefault [90 posts]
5th February 2014 - 21:40

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Also, plenty of people swap between the systems, preferring the ability to walk safely and shed any dirt in the winter months.

Ergo - SPDs are a good place to start, as you an always relegate them to the winter hack if you ever feel the need to 'upgrade'.

@oddbydefault

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posted by oddbydefault [90 posts]
5th February 2014 - 21:43

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oddbydefault wrote:
Ergo - SPDs are a good place to start, as you an always relegate them to the winter hack if you ever feel the need to 'upgrade'.

That was pretty much my exact thinking. Start off on a fairly basic setup and then if the need ever arises, or I buy a better bike, I can perhaps then switch the SPDs out to a more dedicated road pedal and shoe.

The more I read about the Shimano RT82, the more they seem the way forward (not least the review on here). Comfort and walkability is what I'm after, not something super-stiff and light.

posted by parksey [166 posts]
6th February 2014 - 9:52

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Just to update on this topic, if anyone is interested, I went in the end for a set of Shimano R550 SPD-SL pedals and a pair of Shimano R088 shoes. Cool

Having visited another L(ish)BS to look at few options, these came away as my preference on a combination of factors, not least the surprising ease of walking in them.

I'd expected it to be a nightmare but it really was anything but, even on the polished floor of the shop, so I've got no concerns about mooching around the mid-ride cafe in them (I will of course update you as soon as I fall on my arse in them!).

I have to admit to having then ordered them from Chain Reaction at a little over £91, absolute bargain in my view. The LBS where I actually got my bike from were after more than £150...

Only managed a quick 15 mile ride in them so far, with no mishaps yet, albeit I am unclipping well in advance of any need to stop. They're set to the lowest tension so they're easy to get in and out of, although I seem to find it easier to twist my heel in rather than out to release them.

So far, so good.

posted by parksey [166 posts]
14th February 2014 - 9:57

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parksey wrote:

Having visited another L(ish)BS to look at few options, these came away as my preference on a combination of factors, not least the surprising ease of walking in them.

I have to admit to having then ordered them from Chain Reaction...

Better hope your LBS doesn't read road.cc!

Seriously. Good luck with clipless. But if you go to try before you buy, then buy online...

Hmmm.

The way i did it, i just bought some cheap 2nd hand pedals and shoes on ebay, that was my "try before you buy" (or, before i commit too much cash), then i bought proper shoes online from Evans and CRC, with a clean conscience Smile

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posted by PJ McNally [579 posts]
14th February 2014 - 10:38

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This is exactly what I did - bought a cheap set on Ebay and then upgraded to carbon soles and whatnot once I was well up to speed (and had broken the plastic sole on the Ebay pair!)

http://matmitchellcycling.wordpress.com
The usual new 4th Cat blog with some stuff about Pros too.

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posted by mtm_01 [90 posts]
14th February 2014 - 10:48

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PJ McNally wrote:
Better hope your LBS doesn't read road.cc!

Seriously. Good luck with clipless. But if you go to try before you buy, then buy online...

Hmmm.

It's alright, they wouldn't know me by this name anyway... Wink

To put it in a bit of perspective, I was in the area of another reasonably local, much larger store, and so deliberately stopped by as I knew they carried a good stock of shoes. By comparison, my proper LBS only had older models in and nothing in my size, so they would have had to order stuff in just for me to try on. All a bit of a faff.

I didn't get a great deal of attention in the store I was in anyway, they were admittedly busy, but the guy just got the shoes from the back and basically left me to try them out by myself. Not a service particularly deserving of my money, even if it was only £100 or so. Was the same when I went looking at actual bikes, you'd basically need to put your money on the counter before they'd give you the time of day.

As for my proper LBS, he gets all of my maintenance/servicing work as I'm useless at that sort of thing, plus he's not exactly short of people dropping 6 grand on bikes in there, so I don't think he's too worried about me not buying a cheap set of pedals and shoes!

Besides, the £60 saved also treats the other half to a Valentine's meal tonight, which then smooths things over as far as my continued, and ever-more-expensive, obsession with cycling is concerned! Laughing

posted by parksey [166 posts]
14th February 2014 - 11:44

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Ooh can I take this opportunity to express my love for the Look Keo Easy pedals? I personally really struggled with clip-in pedals for ages. I tried some different pairs and just could not get my feet out of them in time. However, and this is pretty personal to me, my ankles are hypermobile and I think that's why. I switched to SPDs and they were fine. Much easier.

After about a year one of my soles split (on a pair of dhb shoes which were otherwise, incredbily comfy and very good value, check them out for width - I'm not a skinny-soled person) and that was it. Couldn't find any SPD road shoes which were reasonably priced so bought some Look keo easy pedals and a pair of Specialized shoes in the sale (I've got small feet so tend to get decent prices). And luckily, they worked. Not easy to walk in (but neither were the others).

Do you need clip ins? Probably not, but I much prefer them especially in the wet when slipping off pedals more likely, that is uncomforatble and possibly dangerous. Toe clips I find extremely uncomfortable too. For mega sprinting the easy might not be so good because it's easier to clip out but for club rides and sportives they have done me fine. They are also reasonably priced and very light - mostly becuase they can't be adjusted. So if you think you need float and four way adjustment and all that, they are not for you. Good luck!

posted by charlie_elise [9 posts]
14th February 2014 - 14:13

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My personal opinion is that double sided MTB style PDs are a waste of money unless you MTB. Start with toe clips and then get the one-sided clipless. The Shimano 105s represent good value.

Toe clips get you used to rotating the pedal for the one-sided clipless. The MTB two-sided has far too much play and so quite a bit of the 'efficiencies' are negated. I have both (an MTB and road bike) and now hate my MTB pedals. Though wearing shoes for those clips is more convenient if you should have to walk anywhere....but why would you?!?

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1058 posts]
14th February 2014 - 14:29

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Look Keo Easy pedals were one of the recommendations from my LBS, so will definitely bear those in mind if I don't get on with the SPD-SLs.

My shoes seem to take pretty much any 2 or 3 bolt cleats, so it's only a case of £40 or so on the new pedals if I do want to change.

posted by parksey [166 posts]
14th February 2014 - 14:36

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Nearly went for the 105 pedals, but just couldn't really see why they were worth the extra £30 or so over the R550s, other than to match the other kit on my bike... Rolling Eyes

Have to admit that rotating the toe-clip pedals round was a pain in the ass, whereas at least these clipless ones seem to be weighted so they always hang in the same place when you're not clipped in.

posted by parksey [166 posts]
14th February 2014 - 14:41

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