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Cycling game changer: Look clipless pedals

James Spender
10 Feb 2017

The French revolution in road pedals introduced a fundamental design that endures to this day

Competition breeds innovation, and never is this truer than in the cycling world. Unfortunately, along with pioneering inventions come conflicting historical accounts, such as those that surround the clipless pedal.

Two companies stake a claim to having first done away with toe-clips, however for Cyclist’s money, only one triumphs: the French company Look, with these PP65 pedals, which came to market in 1984.

True, Cinelli will argue its 1970s M71 pedals were the first clip-less models, replacing toe-clips and straps with a sole-mounted cleat that locked the shoe in position.

But the PP65s were the real game-changers as they allowed riders to clip in and out using just pressure from the foot or a twist of the heel (in contrast to the M71s, which used a hand-operated lever to release the shoe). 

‘The revolution of the PP65 was the fact that a spring [release mechanism] replaced the belt [on toe-clip pedals],’ says Look’s delightfully titled chef de produit pedales (pedal product manager), Guillaume Lenoir d’Espinasse.

Quicker release

‘Then it was safer for the rider because when he fell down he could detach from the pedal.

'One story that helps to explain this pedal is the following: Bernard Hinault was riding in the Giro and there was a big fall in the bunch.

'Everybody fell down badly, but because of the PP65 Bernard was able to free his feet just in time so he could stay on his bike and pursue the race.’

This design, referred to by Look as the pedales automatique, was borrowed from the ski bindings it was then manufacturing (Look later sold off its ski division to Rossignol in 1994), and featured pretty much the same construction its pedals use today: a solid body with a rebate at one end to locate the front of the cleat and a sprung hinge at the rear with which to secure the back.

Adjustable tension

In these original PP65s – and indeed on many of Look’s pedals today – that spring is a steel torsion spring, and even in this earliest of versions, its tension could be adjusted via a hex bolt to make the clamping force higher or lower, as per modern examples.

Of course pedal pedants will point out that Look’s current flagship, the Keo Blade, has swapped steel torsion springs for carbon leaf and the alloy bodies of the PP65s for injection-moulded composites, but the principle behind the pedals is still remarkably similar.

‘We had a patent filed in 1983 that covered us for 20 years,’ says Lenoir d’Espinasse.

‘During this time we have made pedals for companies such as Campagnolo and Shimano. Now every company has the ability to propose road clipless pedals with a spring system. But we have 30 years of experience.’

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