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Friday, April 5, 2013

Review: Look S-Track Pedals

Look S-Track Series

Over the past several years I have been riding some kind of pedal from the Crank Brothers, the company out of Laguna Beach, California, that revolutionized the world of mountain and cyclocross pedals.

With a stiff enough shoe sole, a good set of mountain pedals can work just fine with road riding, and I liked the idea of having one set of good, walkable shoes to share between my road and CX bikes.

I liked the idea of Crank Brothers. I wanted their products to work as advertised. They were innovative and practical. They were diminutive and elegant.... or at least as elegant as you can get in the world of mountain bike pedals --a world defined by the massively utilitarian Shimano M520 series.

I wanted so bad for the Eggbeaters and Candies to live up to the ad copy.

They didn't.

My expensive, high-end Eggbeater 3s started to fall apart after a year of ROAD riding. The replacement Candy SL pedals failed on consecutive days after about a week of riding. I was given a replacement set of Candy pedals for NT1000, but I had put enough pieces of the puzzle together to realize that Crank Brothers and their shoddy construction were causing me more time off the bike than they were worth.

That nagging knee pain that had cost me so dearly over the course of a year... it coincided with my purchase of the eggbeaters. I had my suspicions, but there were so many variables. As the eggbeaters loosened and unclipped with a mere pull, my riding changed. I could no longer trust my equipment.


I really didn't want to buy new pedals and new shoes for my pedals, so I was looking for a light weight, high performance mountain bike pedal that was radically different from the Crank Brothers offerings... with a design aesthetic that I could live with on a beautiful titanium road bike as well as my orange CX bike.

That is when I discovered Look's new pedal: The S-Track.

The Look S-Track pedal seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

The Look S-Track is a completely redesigned pedal from the Look Quartz that was shamed from the brand for its numerous failures and complications. The S-Track supposedly is the result of a company having learned some hard and costly lessons.

Although the spring engagement looks similar to that of the Quartz, the mechanism and cleat have been redesigned and are therefore not compatible. The "S" in S-Track stands for the S-shaped spring that holds the cleat in place.

Look has three iterations of the S-Track pedal to choose from:
  • S-Track (142g)
  • S-Track Race (145g)
  • S-Track Carbon-Ti (122g)
The difference between the three are construction materials and weight. 

For practical purposes I went with the low-end S-Track pedal so I wouldn't feel too bad if I hated it or if it broke after a week. 


I have been riding the Look S-Track pedals for about six weeks and, in the short term, I give them a huge endorsement over the Crank Brothers pedals. I have taken them on a few rough hill climbs, wet weather and hard mashing. 

According to the company, the S-Track pedals have a larger spindle and thus offers more surface area (460mm2) and thus greater support.

I am cautious to buy into marketing science, and most modern shoes are stiff enough to turn the entire sole into a platform. I always use the example of an aluminum bat and a needle. If you push your hand against the bat it is fine. If you push into a needle it hurts like hell. The difference is that the bat has a larger area to displace energy. The same goes for a pedal. With solid soles the energy should be dispersed over the entire sole... regardless of spindle size. Still, the S-Track pedals felt far more comfortable than the Crank Brothers system.


Usually I try to check my bias between something better and something new. With the S-Track pedals I felt a more solid connection to the pedal. I did not feel loose or shaky in while clipped in. The feeling was of being suctioned in place.

The Crank Brothers feel rickety and unsure. I could feel a lag under each pedal stroke as the pedal caught up with the cleat. Side by side they make the Crank Brothers look obsolete and clumsy.

The Looks took some time to get used to clipping in. They are a little harder than the Crank Brothers, and I can only clip in on two sides as opposed to four, but the connection is sure every time. I know I am in. Often with the Crank Brothers I found myself searching for the snap. I had always assumed the looseness was in how quickly the cleats wore down. Apparently it was simply the pedals loosening up after a couple hundred kilometers.

The S-Track cleats and screws are solid. They feel robust enough to last. My first set of Crank Brothers cleats had to be taken off with a hacksaw after I had stripped them over the course of a week while I tuned my position. It made me reluctant to mess with them. The screws were so soft they would warp with every turn of the hex wrench.


My greatest endorsement comes from the fact that my knee pain has miraculously disappeared. Before, it would go away for a while, but then ebb back as I started to practice my climbing. It was frustrating to say the least and really held me back at times I could have done some amazing things on the bike. I will never get those lost moments back. Nor will I get back those months out of the saddle.

I am so relieved to have discovered the root of my problem and put Crank Brothers and their pedals behind me.

Now, I worry if the plastic will last, and having bought the lowest-end of the series, if I should have gotten a more robust race model.

Another concern is that the S-Track pedals are not available everywhere.

As far as an initial report, these pedals deserve the attention of anyone considering Crank Brothers. These are a better pedal.

I am relieved to find how well they are working for me and I can't wait to readjust back to a normal riding cadence now that I do not have to fear the upstroke and a potential disengagement. I am relieved my knee doesn't hurt. I am relieved to have found a seemingly great pedal.

With the good feelings from my knees, I can easily make a solid recommendation for the S-Track. Crank Brothers should really invest in engineering pedals that can last. I can't believe they are expected to be used off road or in foul weather. They couldn't even handle dry road riding. 

Stay tuned and see how well the Looks fare over the long term.

June 6, 2013 UPDATE:

Although the pedals were less a part of my knee issues than I thought, things did improve with the S-Track pedals. 

What I really notice after a period of use, is how well the pedal body and cleat look after some regular riding and even walking around on pavement. My shoes are getting old, and the rubber has warn down, so more of the cleat comes in contact with the road when I dismount. My Crank Brothers pedals always looked as if they'd aged 5 years over the course of the first week out of the box. The brass cleats would always chip and wear as soon as they were exposed to outside air. The pedals fared no better. They'd loosen up after about a month or two. 

The Look S-Track pedals are as tight today as they were new. The cleats look new, save for a little wear on the refillable rubber grips. There is a bit of wear on the plastic mud guards, but very little cosmetic damage. 

The pedals stick to the cleat during the entire motion of the pedal stroke. The CBs tended to get sloppy. There are no hot spots or other issues. 

The engagement is a bit easier now. Very intuitive. 

I couldn't ask for more. 


Taiwan Cycling: A Shining Example?

The Vancouver Sun had an interesting piece in which the writer uses Taiwan as a model for Vancouver. The author raises some good points, but risks over-idealizing Taiwan's cycling environment in his pitch to his Canadian readers.
The government seized the opportunity to offer incentives to build "bike parks" around the island. These are scenic rural tourist destinations replete with paved paths, tea houses, bike rental stations, ponds and bridges, and picnic spots. There are now dozens of such bike parks all over that country, and one can only wish some clever folks would build something like them in Canada.
"Bike hotels" are springing up replete with drive-thru lobbies, wash and repair rooms, cycling instructors and rentals. You can ride your bike right into your room and hang it on the wall. Paved bike paths and bridges are popping up everywhere in rural Taiwan. It's a recreation revolution.
While there are more cycling projects in Taiwan than ever before designated for cycling recreation, at best Taiwan's current cycling situation might be similar to having dozens of beautiful islands separated by shark infested waters and nary a boat in sight. The hotel he describes is the Yoho Bike Hotel near Heng Chun in Pingtung County. He also fails to delve into the quality or purpose for many of these trails and leaves it to the reader to imagine an ideal, when in fact, there are tremendous problems with traffic flow, speed limits and the quality of construction.
You can ride to the market, school, library, between towns, to the beach, all on smooth paved recreational paths than don't allow motorized vehicles or pedestrians.
The idea of interconnectivity may be stretching it a bit. I know people who opt for taking a taxi everywhere to simply stay off the dangerous roadways.
Politically speaking, the end result is that most Taiwanese are now in favour of spending yet more taxpayers' money on much more cycling infrastructure. Building safe and separated bike paths and dedicated overpasses costs money, and in urban areas that means lots of money. Simply painting an imaginary line on the pavement is not enough to encourage most beginner cyclists to start jousting with heavy metal.
I do take some exception with the paragraph above. I have yet to see the government directly engage citizens in transportation policy. Most bike lane projects seem to be directives issued from the Executive Yuan or township chiefs with a special budget allotted to them from the central government. This is often where we see bike lane funds misspent on painted sidewalks and crumbling tiled paths. The Taipei City government even voted against spending more funds on rebuilding the disastrous Dunhua Rd. bike lanes. 

I understand the writer is trying to instigate progress in Vancouver's cycling infrastructure by leveraging it against Taiwan's. Unfortunately, by heralding Taiwan's cycling policy without due balance, the interests of the citizens of Vancouver are not being served. While Taiwan makes a conveniently distant example to draw from, there may be better examples a bit closer to home.

Portland, Oregon may be one of the best cycling cities in the world, and it is within a day's drive from Vancouver. It may be more worthwhile to ask for some advice from other cities in the Pacific Northwest, than trying to use selected examples from Taiwan, which is still struggling with its own traffic culture and with the conflicted interests of the state and other political actors who benefit from the current direction of recreational cycling policy.


  • Giant's Tony Lo advocates Taiwan's "economic integration"(Read: economic and political unification with a large, belligerent neighbor) to ensure its economic viability. Shock Doctrine!!! It is no secret that Lo is politically aligned with the ruling KMT. It is a shame to see his company exploit Taiwanese national pride for profits while selling the nation downriver. Quote: "Lo said Taiwan needs to integrate into regional markets as soon as possible so local firms can enjoy the trading privileges that other nation’s companies do, such as tariff exemptions." This is a familiar talking point repeated by the KMT in their drive to ratify the ECFA agreement (in which bicycle makers were an early beneficiary). Of course, since ECFA was signed there have been no FTAs to date and ECFA has had almost no positive effect on the nations economy or regional competitiveness. 

  • The City Fix publishes a strange piece detailing the resurgence of cycling in China and Taiwan. I can't for the life of me figure out why the two countries are being discussed in the same piece as they are two separate states that, naturally, would have different policies and political cultures. It seems random in the least. You might find a better corollary in comparing the UK and India.