Review – Speedplay Ultra Light Action Clipless Pedals for Road Cycling

Speedplay ULA Walkable Cleats

Speedplay has achieved a special place in the world of cycling after it was brought to life in 1989 when Richard Bryne patented the innovative Speedplay X pedal and cleat system. There were already a few clipless systems available at the time, such as the M71 by Cino Cinelli and the Look clipless pedal which borrowed the principles from ski bindings to create the first cycling clip-ins. The Speedplay solution took a new approach and introduced more float and the ability to clip onto the pedal from both sides.

Cinelli M71 Cleats
Cinelli M71 cleats © Anders

Clipping into pedals is a sore point among beginner cyclists; it takes practice to become comfortable and even an experienced cyclists can have a bad day with their cleats. The Look Keo, Time and Shimano SPD-SL pedals can only clip-in from one side and the cleats are susceptible to wear (from too much walking, for example) which can affect clipping in and out.

The Speedplay system conceals the mechanics inside the cleat rather than the pedal. As the Speedplay’s spring mechanism is recessed, it is less susceptible to the wear and tear from walking. The current generation Speedplay road cycling cleats (Zero Aero and Ultra Light Action) now have walk-able cleat versions which have integrated rubberised covers that provide more protection and let you walk to the cafe counter to order your post-ride espresso with ease.

Speedplay Walkable Cleats

My history with pedals is fairly straight forward; flat pedals on the kid’s bikes, BMX’s and early mountain bikes, toe clips on my early road bikes, and then Shimano SPDs on the mountain bike and SPD-SLs on the road bike. Speedplay are a new system for me and I felt a bit like a beginner clipping in the first few times. Speedplay cleats don’t have a ‘lip’ like the Shimano system and you just need to guide your shoe onto pedal and press down… in theory.

There is always a learning curve using cleats and the Speedplay Ultra Light Action pedals that I was sent for this review are designed to be easier to clip in and out of than the very popular Speedplay Zeros. Targeted to enthusiasts and first-time clip-in pedal users, the Ultra Light Actions appear to be similar to the Zeros and original X-Series, but do conceal some differences.

Speedplay Pedals Unboxing

Speedplay Competition

Speedplay Unboxing

These pedals are really being pitched against the Speedplay Zeros and the first difference is that the Ultra Light Action has ‘free float’ (like the X-Series) which means that the foot can pivot 15° laterally while pedalling. For most riders this float allows the foot and knee to move more naturally while pedalling. As a comparison, the Speedplay Zero pedals also allow up to 15° of float but provide the ability to reduce the amount of float and means that they offer more adjust-ability.

The other key difference, as noted, is that the Ultra Light Action pedals require far less force to clip-in and out which makes them easier to use.

First introduced in 2014, the Ultra Light Action pedals and cleats have gone through two notable changes. The cleats received an updated spring to make it even easier to ‘engage’ and became known as V.2. Additionally, a “Walkable Cleat” version was introduced which replaced the thick CNC machined base plate for a thinner stamped/pressed metal base plate, over which the rubber ‘walkable cleat’ is fitted.

In the Ultra Light Action range there are a few models available. In this review we are testing the chrome-moly (CrMo)version which has one bearing (cartridge) in the pedal.There is a Stainless version with two bearings and a Titanium version which also has two bearings.

The pair of chrome-moly pedals weighed 210g for the pair and the walkable cleat is between 100 and 138g for the pair, dependent on whether you need the four hole adapter. There are a range of pedal colours available; for the chome-moly version there is black, blue, pink and red.

The principles for setting up the Ultra Light Action cleats are the same as the Zeros. Speedplay cleats prefer Speedplay compatible soles with four bolt holes but include ‘base plate’ adapters to provide compatibility with cycling shoes that only have the 3 cleat holes, which suit SPD-SL and Look cleats.

Speedplay Construction Covers

Speedplay Ultra Light Action

 

Speedplay Base Plate

Speedplay Cleat Setup

A feature of Speedplay cleats is the low stack height, the distance between the sole of the shoe to the axis of the pedal. If the base plate adapters are required, they increase the stack height by 3mm. To accommodate for the curvature of the sole of some cycling shoes, there are also ‘snap shims’ included that can be used to ensure the base plate sits flush to the sole of the cycling shoe.

Speedplay Stack Height

Setup Speedplay Cleats

As the transition to Speedplay from Shimano SPD-SL pedals is not direct because of the different stack height and cleat positions, I went to Aaron of Fusion Peak to set the Speedplays up correctly. I took in a pair of Northwave Sonic 2 cycling shoes which only have 3 bolt holes, so the baseplate adapter was required. Aaron did his magic and told me I needed more wedges to increase the stack height to accommodate for the transition from the Shimano SPD-SLs and add 2mm to my left shoe stack height (which balances my pedalling stroke). If this is the same for you, the extra wedges would need to be purchased separately though your bike fitter.

Speedplay Stack Cleats

An issue in my setup was that the plastic base plate adapters couldn’t be positioned as far back (away from the toe) as required. Your own setup will be affected by your optimal cleat position, the brand and model of cycling shoes, and the position of the bolt holes in these shoes. If you do need more fore and aft adjustment, there are some 3rd party base plate adapters available which provide more scope for adjustment.

Speedplay Adapter Cleats
3rd party adapter provides more fore/ aft movement

Installing the pedals is super simple. Remove your old pedals and, with a 15mm spanner or 8mm Allen key, tighten up the Speedplay pedals, making sure they are on the correct side. The pedal with ‘R’ goes on the right and the one with ‘L’… you know the rest. As the pedals are two sided, it is useful that they are marked.

Speedplay Pedals Bowtie

Before we get on the bike to try out the pedals and cleats, it is worthwhile noting that you can’t mix and match Speedplay pedals. For example, you can’t use the Ultra Light Action cleats with Zero pedals.

 

On the road with Speedplay

The Ultra Light Action cleat on your shoe is meant to ‘guide’ it onto the pedal, however it requires a bit of trial and error to get it right. Elton Christiansen, the brand manager for Speedplay with the Australian importer Echelon Sports, noted that I should use dry lube, though I wanted to see how they performed without it first. Directly out of the box, the pedals were much harder to clip in than expected. Sometimes they would get stuck on the spring housing and I had to wiggle my foot around until they engaged.

As soon as I used the dry lube, clipping in became a breeze. Just guide the cleat into position and it engages with comparatively little force. Occasionally, if the pedal isn’t positioned perfectly, you may need to twist your foot left and right so that the pedal moves into position in the cleat.

Clipping out is dead simple, angle your heel out and the cleat disengages. Enthusiast and beginner cyclists will be comforted by the ease-of-use and provided that you prepare yourself to clip out, you will avoid the nightmare scenario of the traffic light clip stack.

Pedalling with the Ultra Light Action pedals felt good; it is connected and comfortable. The power transfer both in and out of the saddle was effective.

The unrestricted float was problematic for me. The cleats and pedals allow the feet to rotate a full 15 degrees (7.5° left and 7.5° right of centre) and there is no resistance to free movement in this range. For riders who need the full range of movement this is great because float allows for natural foot and leg movement and, if the range is needed, it will be more comfortable. In my case, pedalling on the flats was fine, though on curvy descents and on inclines when I was out of the saddle, pedalling felt sloppier and I noticed my feet twisting too much when apply power. I could restrict the excessive movement by being more conscious of my pedalling, but the ‘proper’ solution is to go for a pedal like the Zero which allows the range of float to be refined. Even with the movement, the grip was tight and they only let go when I wanted to release my shoes from the pedals.

Speedplay Float
Float – heel in

cleat float
Float – heel out

The super-dry weather in Australia has kept me out of pouring rain, though after a few damp rides – the pedals have worked well. The walkable cleats are only showing superficial wear and provide the best indication that they will give you a great lifespan. There are replacements available for about $35 in store.

 

In Summary

I was expecting the Ultra Light Action Speedplay pedals to be easier to clip into directly out of the box, but they do need some dry lubrication first. For absolute beginners, though you still need a little time to practice and become familiar clipping-in and out, the Ultra Light Action pedals require less force and acrobatics than other pedals.

Pedal Cleat Interface

As a more experienced cyclist, the Speedplay Zeros, with their float adjustment, will continue to be the first choice for many riders. However, if you need the full range of leg and foot movement to suit your pedalling style, or if you want easier clipping-in, then these pedals are a good option. Your physio and bike fitter should be able to provide some guidance with regard to pedal system selection and float requirements.

For beginners, I would suggest opting for the chrome-moly version of the Ultra Light Action pedals which are the most affordable in this range.

Speedplay pedals are imported by Echelon Sports and are available from bike shops across Australia.



Product Details:

Speedplay Ultra Light Action Cr-Mo Walkable Cleat (RRP $ 219.99)

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About The Author

Christopher Jones is a recreational cyclist and runs a professional design business, Signale. As the driving force behind Bicycles.net.au he has one of each 'types' of bicycles.

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