Behind the design of Ultralite's 112g pedal system

We chat to Ultralite founder Bill Emerson about the pedals and the driving force behind their development

by David Arthur   October 29, 2012  

Earlier this month we brought you news of the super-minimalist Ultralite pedal - now we have the full story behind the product. It's one of the lightest pedal and cleat systems in the world at just 112g, and sports a minimalist design and glass-reinforced nylon cleat that requires a unique clip-in approach.

We were sufficiently intrigued (we always like it when the small guys challenge conventional bicycle design) so we had a chat with founder Bill Emerson, to find out more about the pedals and the driving force behind their development.

Road.cc: What prompted the design of the pedals?
Bill Emerson: We at Ultralitesports are avid cyclists to the core with decades of riding and racing fun behind us and hopefully before us! From local hill climbs to the Tour of Ireland, the master's road worlds and most recently the Leadville 100 on mountain bikes, we have enjoyed the challenges of competition as well as just a ride with the gang.

Here in the High Rockies, with many of the climbs topping 11,000ft (3,350m) and our backyard Independence Pass at 12,100ft (3,700m) - Tour of Colorado climbed both sides on two days this year - we have appreciated the improvement in bike technology and use it daily. Is it an attempt for Neal and I, (the two older partners) to turn back the clock? Maybe, but we just enjoy the functionality of great, reliable equipment.

What made you choose this particular design of pedal? Was weight the main reason for the design?
We saw the pedal market as relatively stale and felt that a new approach combining the best aerospace materials as well as innovative design could create a pedal system with more adjustability for different strength/weight riders, lower rotational mass and better aerodynamics.

Combined with the new high-performance cycling shoes that are very lightweight and have stiff carbon soles, our pedals can take a pound off your feet compared to the best and lightest pedals on the market (don't forget to add in the cleats and screws when you think of pedal weight). This not only feels better, it is faster.

The pedal is extremely light due to its unique design. Is it possible to go lighter?
Whether you are a recreational rider, competitive triathlete, road racer or time triallist, lower rotational weight translates to better performance. We maximize the potential by having 112g pedals including pedals, cleats and Ti screws for the titanium model with the stainless about 40g heavier. My previous pedals, which I rode for almost 20 years, are considered one of the best and lightest. The Ti model is some 150g heavier and the other high end pedals are over 200g heavier including cleats and screws. It makes a difference that you feel, similar to the difference between a light running shoe and regular walking shoes.

Some readers have observed that they offer less float than other pedals. Will it be possible to design a cleat with more float?
The cleats allow superb transfer of power to the pedal. Other cleats have soft stops at the end of the float travel – continue pressing past the stop and you’re out of the pedal. That is not the case with our pedals. Even the float cleat has a hard stop at the end of float travel. This ensures all power can be put into the pedal and not limited because you don’t want to click out of the pedal.

Does it take long to adjust to the different technique required to clip in?
The motion to get in and out is different. Remember when swinging your heel way out to the side felt odd? It takes a little practice and attention for the first couple of rides, then it feels natural. You can start with a light spring, then add spring shims or replace it with a stronger spring if needed. The motion is subtle and does not require great effort. Finesse. Campy, Shimano and SRAM shifters take a little thought to switch between; this is similar.

Is it possible to easily unclip in a crash?
I don't know of any pedal designed for release in the event of a crash. Crashing releases enormous forces in many directions and these forces should do their work. Will they both release every time? Probably not. We're looking for testers! Kidding! Maybe a crash test dummy on an old bike let go behind a good old 1950s Colorado pickup is a good idea! Hmm, could be a YouTube hit.

As one of our friends and testers has said (two local testers pictured above), it's hard to describe the feeling. Smooth, light feet... it's really something else. If anyone is sceptical, that's fine and normal. We, and many others, ride them every day and we're never going back.

Will they be available in the UK?
We are working out distribution to the UK. Anyone interested should email us through www.ultralitesports.com and we can help out.

7 user comments

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Damn, I wish I could remember the name, but there was a very, very similar pedal about in the mid-eighties, no too long after Look brought theirs to market. I seem to remember the one from the eighties as being almost just a spindle that the cleats 'clicked' on to, zero float but then so were the Looks back then.
It's really bugging me that I can't remember the name; anyone else remember them?

posted by pwake [280 posts]
29th October 2012 - 14:07

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I spent a month or more on crutches after a pedal didnt release in a crash, the bike twisted round 180degrees, it hurt.
"Probably not" isnt quite reassuring enough for me.

posted by lolol [114 posts]
29th October 2012 - 14:53

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You're thinking of the AeroLite pedals, which were a horrific design (drill holes into shoes, adjust cleat tension by bending the cleat on the shoe).
While these appear to be more sensible, and they are sure to make weight weenies lose their minds, nothing about these makes me want to race with them. RKP was not so impressed with their test set (not even willing to try a group ride on them).

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posted by pedalpowerDC [202 posts]
29th October 2012 - 17:22

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That's them! I just Googled 'Aerolite Pedals' and horrific design (agreed) or not, they still appear to exist.
I'll stick with my Keos for now, I think.

posted by pwake [280 posts]
29th October 2012 - 18:08

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Aerolite are still around or at least their website is… remember having a lookin at some Ti ones a few years back

http://www.aerolitepedals.com/

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
29th October 2012 - 19:38

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Funny this should pop up today, i was just reading the RKP non-review last night http://redkiteprayer.com/2012/09/ultralite-pedals/
I'll stick with shimano thanks.

posted by mustard [72 posts]
29th October 2012 - 22:09

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Reading RKP review it looks like you would want to steer well clear of these.

"The other thing I noticed about the release was that after releasing one foot, I couldn’t seem to ride a straight line and get my other foot out; I had to come to a complete stop and then release the cleat."

Ridiculous.

I'll be sticking with my Look's.

However i do admire people for engineering new stuff i'm just not sure you should bring it to market when it won't actually work.....

posted by 6654henry [56 posts]
30th October 2012 - 12:11

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