In 1987, the world of technology and innovation was marching on. Nike released their first Air Max sneakers to change the way we looked at shoe cushioning, the very earliest version of Photoshop was developed by a PhD student at the University of Michigan, and Windows 2.0 was rolled out by Microsoft (much to the dismay of Apple). Of course the world of cycling was no different, and some of the greatest advances of this time period were made in the realm of what is now the most ubiquitous of cycling parts, the clipless pedal.
As you can see on the catalog cover above, here at Performance we were not afraid to embrace new technology. At the top of the page you can see a La Vie Claire model LOOK shoe, Aerolite pedals (more on this later), and a “Darth Vader” style Bell Stratos helmet.
But in 1987 the most common pedal type was still the classic toe-clip and strap pedal. Above are a selection of the top pedals from Campagnolo, Suntour and Shimano–as you can see by the prices, these were pedals intended for serious competition. Indeed most of the pro peleton was still riding with toe clips and straps in 1987.
For those whose riding experience does not go back quite this far, the matching shoes for these pedals included a bolted or nailed-on cleat plate (seen above in the detail image), which gripped the pedal cage and, in conjunction with the tightened toe strap, locked your foot down on the pedal. Of course the drawback with this system was that your foot really was locked to the pedal until you reached down to loosen the toe strap. But it does answer the question of “Why do I Clip into a Clip-less pedal?” Just like cotter-less cranks and thread-less headsets, clipless pedals were named after the technology they left behind. This way, generations later, when toe clips and cottered cranks have become obsolete, newcomers will be confused by the name.
But as a bonus, you did get myriad accessorizing options, including some pretty sweet custom colored clips and straps!
Clearly the world of cycling pedals was crying out for innovation. One early attempt was the U.S.-made Aerolite Pedal System. As you can see, this design was super-light, but it had its drawbacks. Engaging the pedal was a tricky and delicate operation, float was not an option, and the release tension degraded rapidly as you clipped and unclipped (or walked around on the massive cleat contraptions)!
In fact, the best way to use these pedals was to simply leave your shoes clipped onto the pedal spindles and wrap everything together with a strap (like our “Ultra-Strap”). Of course this only really worked for the triathlete set.
So the stage was set for a whole new pedal system, and into the spotlight stepped LOOK, a French company that specialized in ski bindings. First designed in 1983, their pédales automatiques, or clipless pedals as we know them today, were based on the design of ski bindings (go figure). A cyclist bolted the (now standard) delta cleat to the sole of their compatible shoe, then clipped in to the spring-loaded pedal design. No longer did you have to reach down to undo a toe strap to release your foot, and the release tension was even adjustable to your liking.
LOOK pedals really came to prominence with the LOOK-sponsored La Vie Claire professional cycling team. In 1985 Bernard Hinault led the squad to Tour de France victory, and in the (rather contentious) 1986 edition, Greg LeMond did the same. Back-to-back wins on LOOK’s new clipless pedals turned quite a few heads in the cycling world, and let everyone know that the new design was here to stay.
So it should be no surprise that LOOK pedals graced the pages of our 1987 catalog. Here you can see the full assortment offered by LOOK. The white epoxy LOOK pedal (labeled M) was the original model–weighing in at a relatively stout 518g a pair, these models featured adjustable spring tension. The darker LOOK pedals (N and P, which was just a Mavic-branded model) were the “Competition” model. Slightly lighter in weight (484g) and with a spring tension preset at maximum for the racing set, these pedals featured a sleek design that does not look out of place today, plus had way better cornering clearance than the original model. There was also an “ATB” model–but it really wasn’t much different than the road model other than the fact that the reverse side of the pedal was textured so you could pedal without clipping in.
It didn’t take many years before the pro peleton was sold on the benefits of clipless pedals, with the notable exception of the great Irish rider Sean Kelly. Kelly stubbornly (and famously) stuck with his beloved toe clips and straps until the twilight of his career in 1994!
The amazing part about LOOK clipless pedals is how little the basic design has needed to change over the years. As you can see by the more budget-conscious LOOK Kéo Plus Road Pedal or the Tour de France winning LOOK Kéo 2 Max Carbon Road Pedal, new LOOK pedals are really a refined version of that original pedal first sold to the public in 1986. That’s not to say that there haven’t been improvements over the years; lighter weight (even the lower cost Kéo Plus only weighs 280g per pair), larger platform design and lower spindle/sole height are a few of the areas that have been refined by the engineers at LOOK to improve power transfer and performance.
So what’s the next step in pedal evolution for LOOK? Carbon fiber leaf springs in place of the wound wire spring cleat retention system, as seen on the LOOK Kéo Blade Carbon Ti Road Pedal. Yes, this technology is expensive, but it really is on the cutting edge (and the choice of many professional cyclists, including the notoriously picky Lance Armstrong). Click-in and click-out is quicker and more efficient, cleat retention is more secure, and they are just undeniably cool-looking! The only bad part is that nobody can see the pedals when you’re riding them! Check out this video from LOOK that shows how the carbon spring operates on the road:
With this history of innovation, we think it’s fair to call LOOK clipless technology “Pedals 2.0″ (and 2.1, 2.2, 2.3…).