03 July 2008

bikefix Exclusive Review: Look Quartz pedals (Marc's take)

Look have had a bit of a hard time with the mountain bike pedal market, haven't they? Despite giving it their best for quite some time, they have failed to gain a real foothold. Most recently, they were selling a pedal using Crank Brothers' excellent Eggbeater design. Apparently, though, that wasn't good enough, so they decided to have another go at things.

I think that I understand what they're shooting for with their new (for 2008) Quartz pedal. No doubt inspired to some extent by Time's immortal ATACs, the Quartz are very similar in concept. A fixed rear retention bar holds the cleat and a sprung front retention bar moves to allow entry and exit. What they're selling here are two things: a large(ish) platform and light weight. The entry level ($99) Quartz pedals come in at 130g apiece, or within 5g of my dirty Eggbeater SLs. There's plenty of room to clear mud, and they look good on paper. the pair pictured here were leant to me by a very frustrated Charlie, so I figured that I'd give 'em a go.

After hearing Charlie's complaints, I decided to read the manual. Not instructions, mind, but a proper (if tiny) multilingual bound book. Unlike Time pedals (where the retention bars interface with the shoe) or Eggbeaters (where the cleat has little wings that rest on the pedal body), the Quartz rely entirely on the lugs of a rider's shoes to act as the interface for pedaling. Sure, the cleat stops the shoes from pulling out of the pedal, but the bulk of the work is done by the lugs. While this approach does provide a large amount of surface area, mountain bike shoes' lug depths are hardly standardized. As a result, in order to allow the cleat to engage while the lugs bear the load, the cleat has to be fairly accurately located through the use of any of a number of included shims.

While the instructions provide a good starting point, there is a fair amount of trial and error involved- not something to do while your riding buddies are waiting. After a couple of tries, I got the shoes to provide support while allowing the cleat to clip into the pedals without too much effort. Time to ride.

The first thing that I noticed was the complete absence of any float. While some like the feeling of being rigidly tied to a pedal, most folks (and their knees) appreciate a few degrees of self-correction. Because the shoe's lugs are the primary interface here and because of the cleat's flat-fronted shape (see photo), though, that's not an option. Not the end of the world, but certainly worth mentioning. Clipping in wasn't as easy as I have become accustomed to, either- it's toe-down and forward only, please, and they really don't self-locate particularly well. Less acceptable, though, is the Quartz's tendency to release with even a small amount of roll. Maybe it's because I'm a spaz, or maybe my excessive application of body English in technical situations, but I found myself popping out of these pedals at some very inopportune moments. Throw a knee out in a corner? Release. Roll a foot while climbing? Release. Land a bit sideways in a rock garden? Release. I haven't had this problem in ten years, and that was usually the result of ATAC cleats worn to the nib. After a particularly exciting no-footed rocky descent in which I was happy to have landed testicle-first on the saddle, I pulled the Quartz off my bike and the cleats off my shoes.

From a design perspective, relying on something that you (as a manufacturer) can't control as the key part of an interface is best avoided. Furthermore, shoes' lugs (especially on mountain bikes) aren't static- they wear over time and that wear will have an impact on the pedals' performance. I'm not sure if Look expect riders to change shims every time their shoes wear 1/2mm, but I'm confident in saying that most won't. Finally, if folks walk a bit funny, their shoes will wear unevenly, resulting in one side being lower than the other, which I can't imagine particularly agrees with this design (and may be part of the problem I had). Canted shoes can work well biomechanically (Specialized cant their Body Geometry shoes to the outside), but that kind of thing should be controlled better than it can be here.

At the end of the day, I can't even come close recommending a pedal that releases so unpredictably, regardless of its other virtues. Things around here are just too technical and the consequences too great. Have a look at Eggbeaters (SLs or better), Crank Brothers Mallets or any Shimano SPD pedals if you're in the pedal market.



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