Having had considerable knee problems in the past, I have tried most pedal systems. After weighing up the pros and cons of each system, I have found myself using Look’s popular Keo pedals for the last few years.
There were several reasons that I began to consider a different pedal system. Like saddles and handlebars, pedals are a very personal choice, and I have in recent times found myself struggling with the Keos. Looking at the choices available, I realised (primarily as I am a SRAM man) that I had never tried Shimano’s SPD-SL system. I decided the guinea pig bike would be my titanium bike, and as it runs SRAM Rival, the 105 level pedals would be the right place to start.
One of the reasons I was looking to move away from Look was the plastic pedal bodies. I was slightly disappointed to find that even though the previous 105 pedals (PD-5700 for those up on Shimano’s codes) that I was intending on buying were constructed with a full alloy body in both a polished or gunmetal finish, the revamped 105 equivalent features a resin body instead. Whilst using resin instead of metal has actually knocked 25g off per pair of pedals, in my opinion the matt resin body does not have the classy, expensive look and feel as the old 105 pedals. Having said that, in the hand the R550s felt extremely well constructed if not a little heavy.
Out of the box, there were a couple of things I noticed. Firstly, the Shimano pedals can be fitted/removed using a pedal spanner, whereas the Looks can not. This is a big plus in my books, as removing pedals that are over tightened or seized with an allen key can be a challenge. The Shimanos also have the allen key bolt, so you can use either method. The second thing I noticed is the size of the allen key bolt heads on the cleat bolts. It’s very easy to round the heads of the Keo cleats, especially if they are worn, and the larger bolts on the Shimano’s should help alleviate this problem. Thirdly, the Shimano pedals have a metal plate screwed into the top of the pedal body, to protect the resin body from wear, and can be replaced when worn – at feature missing from the similarly priced Look Keo Classics I removed from my titanium bike.
Once fitted, I span the pedals in my hands to get a feel for the quality of the sealed bearings. The run quietly and smooth, and had the feel of a much pricier pedal, certainly in line with the Keo 2 Max on my other bikes.
Fitting the cleats was a breeze (thanks to the larger allen key bolts) and are available in two versions – a yellow cleat that offers 6 degrees of float (3 degrees either side) and a red version that offers zero float. Most rides are recommended to start with the yellow version and see how they get on.
Out on the road the pedals proved to be extremely competent. Clipping in was very easy, as the pedals present themselves at a easily accessible angle, and the spring mechanism provides a positive but nicely damped response. The pedal platform on the R550 is quite wide, which makes the pedals extremely stable and aids power transfer. However, don’t think that the wide platform means cornering is an issue – Shimano have created a low profile pedal shape that has plenty of clearance through the corners.
After a few rides on these pedals, I began to forget they were there. Essentially, this is how a good pedal should be. If you’re thinking about the pedals, they are probably not performing as required. Despite the matt grey resin finish, I really started to like these pedals, but couldn’t really put my finger on why. With a few hundred miles in the pedals the bearings were still running smooth, and the cleats, despite a few coffee shops, were holding up just fine. At £59.99, the R550 pedals seemed to be punching above their weight. In fact, I like these pedals so much, I have swapped all my pedals from Look Keo to Shimano, so a pair of attractive gunmetal grey Ultegra SPD-SLs have made their way onto my Cervelo.
All in all, despite being a SRAM man, I’ve found one Shimano product that definitely gets the thumbs up enough to find a permanent home on my bikes. Well priced, easy to use, with high quality bearings and materials with a positive feel that despite the slight weight penalty are a great alternative to Look and Time.