History of the Clipless Pedal
Cycling is known for its dichotomy of innovation in design and upkeep of traditionalist ways. There is no better example than the humble bicycle pedal; Perhaps taken for granted by the average cyclist, the once simplistic metal platform was at the centre of a technology race. A race which built the reputation of many of today’s household brands, and even snatched companies from other sports. Yet, the cycling community was slow to adopt unfamiliar designs. Pedal innovation has not stopped, as it remains an integral part of improving performance. Through their own research, Nikola are continuing this pioneering legacy.
From no clips, to clips, and back to clipless again?
The first bicycles used simple flat pedals, which today are still the norm on many bicycles. It wasn’t until the 1890’s that anything really changed; around this time toe clips and straps were adopted and fixed to pedals. These devices attached to the pedal and allowed the shoe to slide into and stay secure to the pedal. Such set ups are still common today, with the advantage of not needing specialist shoes. As these became popular, purpose built pedals with toe clips attached as standard were designed. For a long time these pedals remained the only choice for professional riders to aid their pedalling performance.
And this is why modern pedals you ‘clip into’ are confusingly called ‘clipless pedals’; before the clipping in system, professional riders all rode with the preferred metal toe clips which were secured to the pedal platform. When early pioneering manufactures of ‘clip in’ pedals were adopted by professionals, they were missing the distinct metal toe clips – they were indeed clipless pedals. In the place, a pedal with a small platform allowed for a specialist shoe to lock into through a cleat on the sole.
So now we know how the cycling world got to the ‘clipless pedal’ and the reason for its confusing name, lets have a look and some iconic designs which helped innovate the pedal:
Cinelli M71 (1st Generation) 1970
Cinelli claim to have invented the first clipless pedal – The rare 1st generation Cinelli M71. This early version pedal replaced toe-clips and straps with a sole-mounted cleat that locked the shoe in position. Its cleat was originally made of aluminium, but later versions of M71 pedal cleats were made of moulded plastic for durability. Also, the pedal platform was made of chromed steel and looked quite different from the aluminium platforms with a round hole found on later M71 pedals. Designed by Cino Cinelli. The rider would clip out using a hand operated lever.
NaturaLimits Quick Release Cleats 1980
These novel “clipless” pedal adapters attached to the bodies of typical quill flat racing pedals and the cleats would attach to ordinary cycling shoes. This retro-fit system was intended as a replacement for toe clips and straps and turned ordinary quill pedals into clipless pedals. Before this, you would have had to change the whole pedal to be able to run clipless. The idea of adapting pedals and shoes for clipless did not take off however.
Look #PP65 1984
While Cinelli claim to have invented the clipless pedal, Look rightfully are seen as the key catalysts to making clipless technology successful. The French company produced the first commercially successful clipless pedal. As a ski binding manufacturer, Look began designing what it termed pédales automatiques – a style of spring loaded pedal from which you could release your foot with a sideways twisting motion. This feature meant a rider could safely detach from the bicycle ultimately accepted by professional riders and teams. This in turn kick started the pedal revolution, as other manufacturers followed suit. This design included the three-hole cleat mounting standard, which remains the standard design for racing pedals today. A testament to Look’s design.
Time TBT 1988
This was the first commercially successful clipless pedal that had float (spring-recentered). Float is the ability for the foot to move in the pedal without un-clipping. This reduced the strain on knee joints and became an integral feature of future designs. This model was created by the original inventor of the Look #PP65 pedal – Jean Beyl.
Speedplay X 1989
The Speedplay X Series’ innovative design and unrestricted float changed the shape of clipless pedals and proved that user-friendliness, comfort, and improved performance are all attainable in a simple, lightweight package. The unique shape of X pedals provided knee-saving lateral rotation, without the self-centering action inherent in most pedals as knees didn’t have to work against spring tension. The compact, low-profile shape of X pedals positioned your foot closer to the spindle. X Series Pedals were Speedplay’s first double-sided design. Unlike other designs, the pedal is essentially the cleat – as unusually it fits into the shoe.
Shimano PD7410 1993
Shimano’s first in-house designed clipless road pedal. Shimano named their range ‘Shimano Pedal Dynamic (SPD). They miniaturized Look’s design using a proprietary 2-hole mounting standard instead of 3.
Shimano M737 1993
Shimano also launched the M737 which was a compact 2 bolt version of its road pedal. The smaller design was aimed at mountain bikers, and was quickly adopted. This design became popular and Shimano has continued to produce pedals with the same basic mechanism. The relatively tiny SPD cleat recessed into the shoe sole, making walking a breeze. It’s little surprise that as the years went on, the technology grew from mountain bikers to everyday cyclists. This pedal brought the racing bike clipless system to the wider mass market.