I’ve ridden for the last year and a few months with some relatively inexpensive mountain bike shoes that I was very happy with and Shimano PD-M520 pedals which I haven’t been very happy with. The non-crank side on two pairs have developed a click or a “squish” sound every time the crank goes around (it’s in the pedal, trust me – I’ve checked – they’re known to have this issue for intense riders) and on really long rides I always develop a hot spot right at the cleat that radiates out and ends up numbing my toes before long on both feet. In light of that, it was a pretty big deal when I won some new Pearl Izumi Tri Fly III Carbon shoes – they run double what I paid for my mountain bike shoes. The Keo Classic pedals were suggested by my local bike pro because they have such a large surface area for the foot/cleat to rest on or lock into… Well, it was that and I told him I wanted a trouble-free pedal, I’m sick of the clicks and “squishes”.
As much as it isn’t recommended to start out with a century to break in a new pair of shoes, cleats and pedals, I did exactly that plus 25 more just to make sure. The ride was an out and back 200k so I wasn’t too worried, if I had any problems I could turn around whenever I felt any discomfort. It wasn’t necessary. Those shoes made my feet feel like they were sitting on two pillow pets turning the crank. The pedals, thank goodness, were absolutely quiet. I rode a little more than 125 miles on Saturday and the only thing that didn’t hurt when I was done were my feet.
I couldn’t be happier with the set (shoes and pedals). Next I’ll be trying them without socks. I’ve heard they’re so comfortable you don’t need them. Well, maybe when I get a warmer day (if we have any left), I’ll be putting that to the test.
I went for another easy 16 mile ride yesterday evening and I’m noticing a bit of a difference in the feel of how the power transfers from my legs to the cranks. It’s a small difference so far, but absolutely noticeable. First of all, the stiffness of the soles is “flattening” out the hills a little. It seems as though I’m able to climb one gear higher than I’m used to and I’ve ridden that normal 16 mile route so many times that there is no question that there’s a difference, the question really boils down to this; Is the difference worth $180 (the cost of the mountain bike shoes and PD-M520’s and the PI Tri Fly’s and Look pedals). If it were just up to the speed difference, I might say no, but that’s mainly because I’m cheap – and you can train harder to make up the difference… But that’s not where the discussion ends. The shoes and pedals are infinitely more comfortable – as I wrote before, my feet always developed a few sore spots and/or numb areas with the mtb setup on longer rides (25+). With the more road worthy setup, they’re a thing of the past – and that was really put to the test right off the bat. My first ride with them was 25 miles farther than I’d ever ridden and about 63 miles further than I’d ever ridden without the benefit of a pace line and that’s huge.
Getting down to the really tiny differences, there is a small factor worked into pedals that your feet lock into called “float“. It allows for a small amount of left to right movement without the cleat “unclicking”. With the LOOK Classics, the float is about 4-1/2 degrees. The PD-M520’s float is almost identical at 4 degrees but is “sticky” – it takes a concerted effort to move the heel left to right where with the Keo Classics the float is more fluid, allowing the foot to slide slightly on a missed stroke or more importantly, when out of the saddle climbing. It took a minute to get used to, but now that I know what to expect, it is much more desirable. Climbing is exceptionally less ugly with the new setup… Oh, and I can’t pull my foot out of the Keo Classic pedal, I can and have on several occassions when pulling up too hard on the PD-M520 pedals – what can I say, I’m an animal (it’s not the release setting, I’ve got it cranked down).
Getting used to the second foot clicking in is quite a bit more difficult though and in my third day of use, still requires a downward glance from time to time when I don’t hit the top of the pedal with the cleat just right, but that was to be expected and I’m getting better with it every day.
So that leads to the summation and the important part: Is the difference worth the money; $180 if you haven’t purchased your shoes and pedals and upwards of $350 if you already have SPD’s and are using mtb shoes on your road bike (there is an additional cost to get the cleats aligned properly on the shoe – if they tell you they “just set it to the neutral position” on a shoe/cleat/pedal system like that, don’t ever go back… Pay the extra $30 to have them aligned properly. This does not apply to mountain bike shoes/cleats).
In my case, there is no doubt – even if I hadn’t won the shoes – they’re worth the cost in comfort and ridability alone. There are two important factors at play here (and neither has to do with cool – if you’re worried about that you’ve already spent the money to get the better shoes and pedals without my cosigning it).
First, you have to ask yourself whether or not you’re going to be getting into the distance rides. The money can be better used if you’re just going for a 10 mile jaunt around the neighborhood. The problem inherent in the question is that you won’t know how much fun the really long rides are until you get into them – and when I got into cycling the most I planned on doing was 25 miles on a mountain bike. In all my years of running I was never into the endurance events (marathon or more) but once I got bit by the cycling bug, I’m absolutely hooked on endurance riding. There is no doubt at all that the Pearl Izumi Tri Fly’s with the LOOK Keo Classic Pedals will make my long rides much more enjoyable.
Second, you have to ask yourself how much effort you’re willing to put into being fast and efficient. If you’re only going to cruise around at 15 mph or less on your road bike (on those short rides around the block), don’t bother. If you’re willing to put a little of your butt into it (and I absolutely do put much butt into it – I love the speed), then it makes sense to go with the stiffer road/tri shoes.
If you even think you’ll be getting into the long rides and like to go fast, the answer is a no-brainer. And I can’t recommend my setup highly enough.
Weight Weenie Stats:
Shimano PD-M520: 320 grams
Look Keo Classics: 139 grams
Specialized Sport mtb Shoes: 340 grams
Pearl Izumi Tri Fly III Carbon: 247 grams
Weight Savings: 274 grams or .604067 pounds (technically that’s a lot of weight folks)
Cost/Weight Reduction: $0.72 per gram (technically that’s a really decent cost/gram ratio too. Don’t believe me? Look up the weight savings/cost for the upgrade from Shimano 105’s to Ultegra… Well, you don’t have to – it’s $1.16 per gram.
*I won the shoes in a drawing on another blog – not directly from Pearl Izumi. I paid full price for the pedals and for the cleat alignment (minus a club discount that any member of our club gets at the shop).