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One Cleat To Rule Them All

When I bought my first road bike, I briefly considered getting road shoes and pedals, but quite frankly I didn’t see the point. It’s nice to be able to walk in my shoes, not have to carry cleat covers, and now that I have a gravel bike it makes even more sense to have a single, unified, approach to shoes and pedals. Whatever bike I take, it’s the same cleat system, everything unified on a single standard that just works. It’s SPD of course.

I probably don’t need to get into to much detail around why SPD is a great choice for gravel or winter riding. You know because, snow, ice, mud, and more mud. As a cleat system built for mountain biking it was designed to deal with all of that nasty, and the shoes deal with it too. Where it’s not as obvious is for the fair-weather road cycling. Well first, there’s the whole standardization thing. I don’t have to swap pedals to ride in different weather (why would you do that?), I don’t have to swap pedals to ride on the trainer, all my shoes and boots work everywhere, on every bike that I own. This convenience might not be important to everyone, but it’s a nice to have, and frankly I don’t think I’m giving up much, if anything, to get it.

So let’s address some of the common concerns around using SPD for road:


This is a valid concern, because most SPD pedals are designed more for durability than weight. On the plus side, this means that the pedal, and cleat, last a long, long time if you go that direction, and in almost every case you also get the benefit of a two-sided pedal. But, looking at the chart below, which breaks down different pedal systems by weight, we can see that it’s quite possible to assemble an SPD based pedal system where the total system weight is not only competitive, but also lower than what is common on the road side of things. Now, it’s quite possible that in my search for road pedals I missed the absolute lightest pedal, but the intent here is more to demonstrate that it’s not as skewed as one might think.

The shoes used above are Specialized S-Works 6 XC (what I wear in the summer) for SPD, and the Specialized S-Works 6 for road. These shoes have the same SRP as a control, also the weights are claimed. Which is why I went with shoes from the same brand. Under the assumption that any fudging would at least be consistent :).


The jury is out (scroll all the way down) on whether pedal float is a good, or bad thing. Personally, I like a tiny amount, but not too much. Float on SPD is not as precise as I would like it to be since it’s mostly controlled by how much tension you dial into the spring. As the pedals and cleats age, you do need to adjust it to keep everything tight, and on some pedals I never quite get that locked in feeling that I want. It is something that annoys me about SPD, there’s just no guarantee that every SPD pedal will work the same when it comes to float. On the other side, road pedals have a massive amount if claimed variance. Anywhere from 0° float to floppy-knees-are-the-new-black should be possible with different cleat/pedal combos. This is one area where SPD falls behind.


I don’t get this one. Yes, the SPD pedal platform is generally smaller (although it can be much bigger) than a road pedal, but your shoe is the real platform. No one goes on about spindle size, you know the bit that actually transfers power to crank. It doesn’t matter how big the contact area (within reason) is between the shoe and the pedal. It all comes down to the how flexible the sole of the shoe is. With a nice set of carbon soled XC shoes, there’s no flex, and all your power goes into the spindle, the same as it would with a wider platform…


If we ignore pedal OEM’s marketing claims, the best I’ve found on this topic is, maybe, but probably not. Hambini touched on this briefly in one of his Q&A sessions, basically the air around the crank is so churned up when you’re pedaling that the potential additional drag from lugs and a two-sided pedal can’t be anything worth worrying about. The numbers that OEM’s make up derive from their extensive wind tunnel testing always revolve around a stationary pedal, so if we assume that it’s not hogwash, this means that a road pedal is only marginally more aero when it doesn’t matter. If you’re pedals aren’t spinning, you’re not working…


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142ish lb flatlander
142ish lb flatlander
2 years ago

A bit of cheating here with 90 gram cleat covers 😉 Covers in your pocket aren’t nearly as relevant as pedal/cleat/shoe weight, basic shimano ones weigh 58 grams per pair and I often skip taking them. Uniformity is nice, but even though I started with Crank bros and have pretty good ones, I now use SPD-SL on gravel most of the time (though do bring covers for that). For more technical stuff or snow riding you do, MTB is better of course.

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