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Look/SRM Exakt power pedals review

29 Nov 2018
Verdict:

The ultimate double act in power pedals is tricky to set up but could ultimately be the new standard

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
• Light, neat pedals • Classy package • Pedigree of two major brands
Against 
• Expensive • Tricky to set up initially

When Olympic track stars Laura and Jason Kenny announced the birth of their first baby in August 2017, the entire cycling world had the same thought: one day that kid is going to be a hell of a bike rider.

Having the right parentage is often the key to being a world-beating performer and – just like little Albert Kenny – the new Exakt power pedals can boast some excellent genes.

This is the latest pedal-based power meter to hit the market, and it comes from a collaboration between French pedal giant Look and German power meter giant SRM.

Buy the power pedals from Exakt Power

‘We are a specialist of pedals, they are a specialist of power meters, and we thought it made a lot of sense to work together and develop the best power pedals on the market,’ says Look’s product manager Alexandre Lavaud.

The relationship started when the two brands’ eyes met across a crowded room at the 2016 Eurobike trade show in Germany. Two years later, the result of their union was the Exakt power pedal system.

‘For Look the main aim was to develop the best pedal body and spindle, with the best features, including the best power-to-weight ratio, the best stability and the best weight,’ says Lavaud.

‘On the part of SRM, it was all about keeping the accuracy of the measurements that SRM is known for.’

A glance at the Exakt pedals shows that Look has certainly kept its side of the bargain. At first sight it would be hard to tell that these are power meters at all.

There are no additional pods or attachments, and they are less bulky than some competitors such as the PowerTap P1. Indeed, the weight for each Exakt pedal is 156g, making them lighter than the Garmin Vector 3, and only 26g more than a standard Look Keo 2 Max pedal.

Look also claims that the stack height is just 1.9mm higher than its Keo Blade pedals, and otherwise they look remarkably similar. The Exakt pedal body is made from carbon and uses the same ‘Blade’ carbon leaf-spring retention system.

The power-measuring gubbins is all tucked neatly inside the pedal spindle, and Lavaud insists that SRM’s expertise with strain gauges is what sets the Exakt apart from other power pedals.

‘The Exakt pedals may be similar to other brands in what they do, but the way we measure is a different. It’s less based on algorithms and more on “true” power measurement.’

Lavaud suggests that where many power pedals are reliant on electronics to estimate power figures, the Exakt pedals rely more on the accuracy and positioning of the strain gauges to give direct and consistent readings.

‘The engineers at SRM have calculated really precisely where to position the gauges, to find the right spot to measure the force. Their approach is really pragmatic, and the aim is to get the most reproducible and accurate data.’

Rather than using removable batteries (as the Garmin Vector 3 does), the Exakt pedals are rechargeable, with a magnetic cable connector that pops into the end of the spindle. SRM claims that battery life is around 100 hours.

Connectivity is via Bluetooth LE and ANT+, meaning it should connect to any bike computer or smart phone. Cadence is taken care of using a small magnet in the pedal body that rotates past the spindle to precisely track its location.

The pedals are waterproof (near enough), will automatically adjust to temperature changes, and in the event of damage the various parts can be replaced, meaning you won’t have to shell out the full sum if you take a tumble.

On that front, Look/SRM is offering three packages for the Exakt pedals. The full Bundle (as shown here) comes in at a hefty €2,179 (£1,930) and includes power meters in both left and right pedals as well as an SRM PC8 head unit.

The ‘Dual’ package is €1,399 (£1,240) and has the left and right power pedals. For those on a budget, the ‘Single’ option is €799 (£700) and has the power meter only in the right pedal, with the left pedal being devoid of the measuring equipment. In this case the meter estimates power as an average based on one side only.

For reference, the Garmin Vector 3 pedals come in at £850 (cheaper if you shop around) for dual sided power meters.

Getting started

Look/SRM’s new pedals are much in demand by cycling industry testers. So, although I was privileged to get my hands on one of the first pairs in the country, I only had a matter of days in which to test them before they needed to be returned.

As such, I am aware that this review is more of a ‘first look’ than a long-term assessment. With something as complex as a power meter, I would really want weeks of thorough testing before I could be assured of my own opinion, and so it may be that my early impressions would change with more extensive use.

With that caveat out of the way, let’s take a look at what’s in the box.

The Exakt Dual Bundle comes in an elegant package with two layers of items. On top are the pedals and PC8 head unit. Beneath is a layer that includes a spanner and 8mm allen key that has been cunningly shaped to allow usage from in front of the crank arm.

There is also a heart rate monitor chest strap, a set of Look cleats, a charging cable and a mount for the SRM head unit, as well as instructions on setting up and calibrating the power pedals.

With instructions in hand, I began the set-up process. Step one was to download the Exakt app, which is vital for calibration.

Once the pedals were charged, the next step was to screw the pedals into the cranks until they were finger tight. So far, so simple.

Next I had to unscrew the pedals slightly until blue tabs on the rear of the spindle pointed down the cranks. Then I had to tighten the silver lock nut with the spanner while holding the spindle in place with the allen key. Trickier, but still manageable.

Next came the calibration. I had to press down on the pedal and see how it affected the needles on the app monitor, while attempting to adjust the pedal spindle position ever so slightly using the allen key.

After a couple of abortive attempts owing to lack of available hands, it became plain that the only way to do this successfully was to lock the bike upright in a turbo trainer, which I did.

This was followed by reasonable amount of pushing, tweaking and occasionally swearing while I attempted to get the needle into the correct ‘blue’ zone.

I then had to attempt to hold the spindle in place with the allen key while tightening the lock nut to 35Nm. That’s very, very tight and I didn’t have a suitable torque wrench with a spanner head, so I had to make do with tightening it as much as possible with the spanner supplied.

Job done. Except when I then checked the calibration on the app again, it was not perfect. So I started again. And then did it a few more times. And then had to repeat the process for the other pedal.

My initial reaction was that the whole set-up was far too complicated and fiddly. In the age of the iPhone, most of us expect to be able to take something out of the box and have it work straight away with a minimum of tools, instructions and faffing.

I put my reservations about the set-up to Lavaud, and he suggested it was the price the user had to pay to get the most accurate readings from the equipment.

‘It may be a little bit tricky, but SRM assures us that this is the best way. If you want to be really accurate and get the right data, you have to be really strict on the installation. When you install a Garmin pedal, it’s really easy, but that doesn’t mean that it is right.’

Out on the road

With the pedals installed and calibrated as best I could, it was a simple operation to pair the power meter to the PC8 head unit, and I also had no problem pairing with my usual Garmin bike computer.

The PC8 is an attractive unit and has the added benefit of looking really pro – it’s the one you see in the pro peloton all the time. However it is designed for power purists. There is no GPS, so it won’t display speed and distance unless you have a separate speed monitor attached to your bike.

The screen displays a wealth of different power data, but it’s not necessarily the easiest to read as there is so much going on, and it’s not easy to customise the display to your preference. It involves connecting the unit to a laptop and downloading the relevant software to make any changes.

As soon as I set off, I noticed something of a discrepancy in my power readings. My right pedal was responsible for 65-70% of the reading, while the left was 30-35%. I know I’m a little unbalanced in my pedalling technique – most people are – but not by that much.

It meant I had to go back to the start and re-do the calibration process. It was beginning to get frustrating.

Once it was all set up to my satisfaction, the whole system seemed to work exceptionally. The pedals felt light and fluid, and I really couldn’t tell the difference from riding a standard set of Look pedals.

The power readings were quick to respond to changes in effort and, as far as I could tell, were consistently accurate. I compared the readings to a separate power meter – a Stages crank-based meter – and the data was comparable enough to assume I wasn’t receiving any false readings.

SRM claims the Exakt is as accurate as its crankset-based power meters, and I have no reason to doubt that. Ultimately, once the pedals are in place and calibrated properly, they are as effective as any other power meter on the market and potentially more accurate than most.

Buy the power pedals from Exakt Power

However, for me, the main reason for getting a pedal-based power meter is that you can swap it quickly between bikes. For example, you can have it on your road bike during the week and then switch it to your cyclocross bike on race day at the weekend.

With the Exakt system, that switch is not as simple as it should be. When you attach the pedals to your other bike, you have to go through the whole set-up and calibration process again. I just want to be able to screw them in and start riding.

SRM has favoured accuracy over usability. For some people, that will be a major selling point, and it is obvious that the Exakt pedals are a remarkable piece of engineering, but I felt I would have accepted less than perfection for greater ease of use.

If this is something that could be addressed in subsequent models then the Exakt could set the standard for the industry.

When I suggested to Lavaud that I would like them to be a bit easier to use, he had a simple response for me: ‘In life, the easiest things are not always the best.’

Price: 
From €799 (£700) to €2,179 (£1,930)

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