Life from an outsider's perspective…

Widespread Shimano Pedal Confusion.

One of the major tasks here at is swapping pedals. There are more pedal systems out there than CO2 molecules at the moment, and I know people are finding it all a bit too confusing. Judging by the perplexed customer responses as they inevitably bend down and spin another hitherto unknown pedal on its axis and say “they’re the wrong pedals!”, by far the biggest misunderstanding lies with the Shimano Pedalling Dynamics (SPD) system.

Shimano SPD vs SPD-SL cleatsShimano SPD vs SPD-SL pedals.There are two main types of SPD pedals, and both standards are not interchangeable. The ones pictured here that people have come to know and love are simply called SPD pedals. These are your bog-standard clipless pedal which haven’t changed one iota since I left highschool. These use a small, hard metal cleat with two screws, enabling the cleat to be recessed into the soles of cycling shoes. For this reason alone, SPD pedals are good for cycle-touring, because you can easily get off your bike and walk around without spraining your ankle. The majority of SPD pedals are also double sided. Sometimes though, you see some fancy single-sided ones with a normal flat pedal on the other side. The important thing to remember is that they have that tiny cleat…

Shimano SPD vs SPD-SL cleatsShimano SPD vs SPD-SL pedal systemsThe other type of pedals are called “SPD-SL”. Contrary to what many people must think, SL is not a “Super Light” version of the normal SPD pedals -it’s an entirely different system altogether. SPD-SL pedals are designed for road use only. The enormous cleats are made of a polymeric material and have three holes moulded into them. They’re attached with 3 bolts (arranged in a triangular pattern) to the bottom of your cycling shoes. The good part is that they have a bigger shoe-cleat interface for better power-transfer and comfort when cycling. Your foot also hovers just above the pedal axle, improving the bio-ergonomics of your pedalling circle. All of this means better performance. They’re also substantially lighter. However, there’s a dark cloud in this sunny sky: all this on-bike efficiency comes at the considerable expense of off-bike mobility. Try getting off the bike and walking around without looking like a stranded penguin (like you so often see at the end of major stage race). For this reason, people only tend to use road pedal systems like the SPD-SL if they don’t plan on getting off the bike and walking around much.

Shimano abandoned it’s other (3rd) line of road shoes called SPD-R, although that was a better naming convention, in my opinion (the R obviously standing for Road use). If I haven’t got the point accoss already, none of these three pedal systems are interchangeable. The only way you can assure that the pedals will fit your shoes is to go by the number of mounting bolts. 2 for SPD, 3 for SPD-SL. And forget that I ever mentioned SPD-R.

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