Clipless pedals have been around almost for 30 years, and I’ve been riding them for about 20 of those years. These days, I use clipless for just about everything other than park riding because they simply work better for the type of riding I like – pedaling up, across and then down. I’ve always been a Shimano SPD fan, and while I’ve tried a few other pedals over the years, I keep coming back to Shimano. My current fave is the XTR Trail, which is an all-mountain pedal that offers a larger platform that’s easy to clip into without a significant weight penalty.
Not everyone wants to run Shimano pedals, however, and there are a number of other platform clipless pedal options out there. One of those comes from LOOK, the French company that developed the original clipless pedal. LOOK has made it possible for riders to build their own platform clipless pedal by combining its S-Track Race cross country pedal with the bolt-on S-Track Cage to create an all-mountain or enduro platform-style pedal that should be able to stand toe-to-toe with others in this category.
The pedal-and-cage idea isn’t revolutionary – Shimano does it with the M-647 and M-424 pedals – but unlike the others on the market, the LOOK cage doesn’t come pre-attached to the pedal. It’s also fixed in relation to the pedal on the LOOKs, whereas Shimano’s cage is on a spring that allows the pedal body to move a few degrees inside the cage.
Some technical details on the LOOK system:
- the pedal body is made from injected carbon, the deflectors are aluminum and the spindle is cromoly
- the pedals use one lip seal and one seal integrated into the bearing to keep out contaminants
- there is no tension adjustment on the pedal itself
- the cleats come with a set of 0.5, 1 and 2mm wedges to adjust release tension
- cleats release at 15°
- the S-Track Race pedals weigh in at 290g for the pair, and 326g with cleats and screws
- the cages weigh 74g per pair, including screws
- total weight for the pedals, cleats, cages and screws is 400g, compared to 398g for the XTR Trail pedals
- LOOK claims 870mm2 of surface area with the cages, compared to 585mm² shoe / pedal contact surface with the Shimano XTR Trail pedal
Setting up the pedals
Setting up the cage-and-pedal combo was simple. Fit the cage around the correct pedal (there’s a left and right cage), and use the included screws to bolt the cage together. Installing the cleats is a little more involved. You can bolt them directly onto any two-bolt shoe that’s SPD compatible, which I tried with my Specialized Rime all-mountain shoe. Clipping into the cage-and-pedal was easy enough, but there was too much lateral float and I had to twist my foot too far to clip out.
I loosened off the bolts on the cleats and attempted to slip one set of the included wedges between the cleat and the shoe without actually removing the cleat, as they were designed. Nice idea, but that wasn’t happening. After removing the bolts from the cleat, I placed the 2mm wedge and the non-slip pad underneath it and tightened everything down. That made all the difference in the world and there was a lot more positive click both in and out of the pedals. Problem solved, time to ride.
Riding the pedals
I started testing the S-Track Races with the cages when the weather in Vancouver was still warm and the trails were dry. There was a bit of an adjustment period, largely because it took a bit more effort to find the sweet spot to click in, but once I got the hang of it things went smoothly. There was some minor resistance when I clipped in – it wasn’t quite as smooth as clipping into Shimano SPDs – but it was fine. Different, but fine. Clipping out was straightforward with the 2mm wedge installed, and I was able to get out of the pedals whenever I wanted.
Performance while riding was very solid. I have big feet and tend to find that small pedals aren’t that comfortable when I’m standing on them for long periods of times; the S-Track cages worked well to spread the load when I was standing on the pedals. The cages stayed tight and didn’t seem any worse for wear from impacts with roots and rocks on the trail. I used the pedals for a few weeks in the dry weather and was happy with them.
Things weren’t quite as good, however, when the trails got sloppy. Once the bottom of my shoes got gummed up with mud, it took some serious digging around to hear the click you’re waiting for when clipping in. That was a little annoying but I can live with some trouble clipping in. The last thing anyone wants is trouble clipping out, though. And I had it, in spades.
The release point on the S-Tracks went from being predictable to WTF???, and there was more than one occasion when both the bike and I went down because I wasn’t able to clip out in time. After riding clipless for more than 20 years, I’ve become fairly adept at unclipping when the bike is going down and it was as if that skill had suddenly evaporated. The whole experience left me a pretty unhappy camper with some new bruises and one hell of a charlie horse. And with that, the test ended.
The S-Track Race pedals and the cage are a cool idea. Customizable release, replaceable composite cage, plenty of surface area, light weight but all of that is secondary when you can’t unclip in a hurry. You simply have to be able to do that if you’re going to ride clipless in technical terrain. These pedals worked well in dry conditions once you got used to the entry and would likely be a very good pedal in drier climates, but they were a disappointment in wet weather. I only rode the LOOKs for a couple of months so can’t speak to long-term durability, but unlike some platform clipless pedals, the internet isn’t awash with reports of failures.
It’s nice to have the option of taking the cage off if you ever want a light-weight XC pedal or something for your commute, but it’s hard to recommend these pedals to Shore riders. Sorry, LOOK, but I’m gonna stick with my Shimano SPDs.
LOOK isn’t a well-known brand in the mountain bike world; have you used their pedals for road or commuting?