June 22, 2010

Look Keo Max 2 Pedal Review

I have been using the Looks in their various versions since I got my first pair way back in the 1980s. They always worked well for me. The early versions really had no float and I was having knee problems. Of course, no float was the norm. Clipless or toe clips, float was not an option. Although I do believe that no float in a clipless pedal held the foot tight in more dimensions than with toe clips. Of course, no one really cares about that argument anymore.

In the 1990s I switched to Speedplays for a while. The knee problems went away, and I realised pedal float was a good thing. But the Speedplays always felt a bit unstable to me and to be honest, my results were not as good with them. I felt like my foot was wobbling all over the place - up, down, side to side. To be fair, Speedplay has revamped their design quite a bit and their success under people like Cancellara is undeniable. I haven't tried the new versions.

And of course, Speedplay pedals are not what I'm reviewing. A few years ago, I bought a pair of Look Keo Carbons. I like the Keo's and have had good success with them. I probably put about 15,000 km on them. The platform is stable side-to-side, yet I still had float. I started with 9 degrees of float, but when those cleats wore out, I switched to 4.5 degrees. (How do you know when your cleats are worn out? You can feel slop or play in the cleat/pedal connection - a clunk, clunk feeling when you move your foot around.) With a little cleat adjustment, the 4.5 degrees also worked very well for me and I think less movement on the pedal translates to more efficiency, provided your knees are OK with that. You can also get 0 degree float (i.e., no float) pedals for the biomechanically perfect cyclist.

Comparing the Keo Max 2 to the Keo Carbon, the Max 2 has a significant improvement. My Keo Carbons essentially wore out. The pedal body had no protection from the cleat and the cleat gradually wore down the pedal body. This didn't seem to be a problem for the clamping surfaces - the pedal didn't get sloppy. Well actually it did, but when I replaced the cleat, it went away. So it wasn't the pedal. But I did begin to worry about some type of failure (premature release) or loss of efficiency as the body wore down. Hence the purchase of the Keo Max 2 pedals.

The Keo Max 2 pedals have a stainless steel plate exactly where I was seeing lots of wear. So my one criticism was addressed nicely with the new design. Other than that important change, the pedals are virtually identical, which is not a bad thing because I liked the old design. I do think the bearings are smoother on the new pedals. Even on day 1, I don't believe the Keo Carbons were as smooth. The other nice thing was the fact that the new Keo pedals use the exact same cleats as the old Keo pedals. So no need to even change cleats, just slap the pedals on the cranks and start ridin'.

The cleats do wear out quickly if you walk on them, so the little cleat positioning tab that Looks offer (position memory) is a great feature, provided your shoes support it with the extra hole in the sole. Basically, you position your cleat, then tighten down the little tab. When you need a new cleat, it is aligned to the original position by the tab that remains behind when you remove your cleat. My Sidis support the Look position memory feature. Yay. Also, cleats are available pretty much everywhere in this neck of the woods, so its easy to find replacements on short order.

Look has two versions of their cleats, one is all plastic. Probably a bit lighter, a bit more slippery for float and very slippery for walking. The other has rubber inserts molded in to make it less slippery for walking. I haven't used the walking versions so I don't know how well they work. I'm guessing they are a lot less slippery, but I am also guessing they don't last long if you walk on them much. To reduce cleat wear, I have the cleat covers that I slap on when I'm not riding. They aren't overly slippery and they last forever while providing 100% cleat protection. Just try to remember to take them off when you jump on the bike. Oops.

I have read about complaints with the release tension being too light for sprinters. It hasn't been an issue for me, although I'm not one of the big boys. I did tighten mine down half way and I find I have to push down quite firmly to engage the cleat which is tighter than my setting was for the Keo Carbons. And I know I never had a problem with my Carbons at my max - about 1200 watts. So I'm certainly not worried and sprint with them as hard as my little legs can carry me.

I didn't opt for the Keo Max 2 Carbons, I just bought the Keo Max 2 pedals. The significantly greater cost wasn't worth the insignificantly lighter pedal weight (70$ for 8 grams). Otherwise the pedals are the same. By the way, I don't like the look of the Keo Blades - I can't imagine those withstanding pedal rub during a crit or a slide-out crash very well. Seems like a faulty design for hard cornering as the carbon blade is too exposed in that position. And too hard to replace. And too expensive.

Bottom line? If you like Look pedals and/or you like a stable pedalling platform while providing customizable float, the Keo Max 2 pedals are a good choice.

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