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Power to the Pedal

Do you remember 1990? The end of the Cold War, Nelson Mandela walking free and Luciano Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma to celebrate football’s World Cup in Italy. In cycling Rudy Dhaenens won the World Road Race Championship in Japan, Greg Lemond won his third Tour de France and Ned Overend and Juliana Furtado became the first Mountain Bike World Champions in Colorado.

Meanwhile Shimano were beginning a quiet revolution in the way we all pedal with the introduction of their iconic line of SPD clipless pedals. Standing for Shimano Pedaling Dynamics, the range has become synonymous with quality and durability. Today it features SPD pedals for off-road adventures and commuting, and SPD-SL pedals for road riding.

1990 may seem like a long time ago, but in the whole history of the bicycle the clipless pedal is a relatively new development. Up until the late twentieth century flat pedals were universal. Serious cyclists used metal toe-clips and leather straps combined with a cleat that sat proud on the sole of the shoe and clamped onto the pedal. This humble technology held the foot in place but had a number of disadvantages. Firstly, there was no lateral ‘float’, so even a minor misalignment could cause knee injuries. Secondly, in the event of a crash, the rider could never be sure his or her foot would detach from the pedal. And thirdly, toe-clips were hopeless for off-road cycling where the rider often needs to quickly put a foot down, and walk or run through difficult sections.

Ever since Shozaburo Shimano founded Shimano Iron Works in Sakai City in 1921, the company has put technological innovation at the heart of its operation. Starting with freewheels and three-speed hubs, Shimano gradually broadened its product range and developed its products to anticipate the needs of consumers. From the introduction of SIS shifting in 1984, to the first dual-control brake and gear lever in 1990, electronic shifting in 2009, 11-speed cassettes in 2012 and integrated power meters in 2016, Shimano has always led the development of bicycle technology.

And while the late 1980s saw a variety of manufacturers test prototypes for clipless pedals, it was Shimano’s system that brought efficient and safe clipless pedals to every type of cyclist – road, mountain bike, cyclo-cross and commuter.

In that first range the road pedal PD7410 and mountain bike pedal M737 both featured spring-loading at the front and back so a rider could easily slam a foot down and clip in, essential for remounting in cyclo-cross or mountain biking. The tension could be adjusted to suit the rider and terrain. Perhaps the biggest innovation was the dramatic reduction in the size of the cleat compared to other models. With its unique two-bolt design, the SPD cleats were small enough to fit inside the tread of a shoe. That meant walking in cycling shoes became possible, whereas before cyclists had only been able to waddle.

Over the years the basic principles of SPD and SPD-SL pedals have not changed, but Shimano’s product specialists have evolved the designs. With the mantra ‘power to the pedal’ always in mind, Shimano’s engineers work with footwear experts to create optimal pedal and shoe combinations. Every cyclist wants to get as much power through the pedals as possible, but across the many different types of riding and racing there are other factors to take into account.

The SPD-SL range for road cyclists has a seamless shoe and pedal interface to ensure maximum power transfer under extreme pedalling loads and its wide platform gives stability for the rider, particularly when sprinting out of the saddle. There are three different settings for tension adjustment to suit individual preferences and situations.

For mountain biking and cyclo-cross, the SPD range has options for every riding condition. There is adjustable tension, and on most models there is double-sided entry. And because off-road riding means dirt, the pedals have an open-binding mechanism and refined axle-body that pushes mud out of the pedal when the cleat is pushed in. A sealed cartridge bearing unit keeps dirt and moisture out, reducing the need for maintenance.

Because it is designed to withstand the pressures of off-road racing, the SPD range is built to be reliable and durable. Which in turn makes it the perfect pedal for commuting. Shimano’s range of off-road shoes all have recessed cleats, so walking into the office is as easy as in regular shoes.

Shimano understand that correct pedal set-up is essential for reducing wear on the axles, so all SPD and SPD-SL pedals feature adjustable axles.

And the development continues. Through its association with professional teams across all disciplines Shimano has the perfect channel to test and refine new products. Shimano representatives provide teams such as Team Sunweb and Cannondale Factory Racing with dozens of new sets of pedals every season. The riders cover thousands of kilometres, giving the pedals the most rigorous workout, then give Shimano their valuable feedback. Ultimately that helps Shimano’s engineers design a better product for everyone. The humble pedal has come a long way since toe-clips and straps, and Shimano has driven its innovation.