20 January 2010

bikefix Exclusive Review: 2010 Look Quartz pedals

Despite being a relatively small (400-person) company, Look can claim responsibility for bringing about two technologies that have had massive impact on the sport: carbon fiber frames and clipless pedals. The company continues to make beautiful road bikes and pedals, but after discontinuing their S2R pedals some ten years ago, their off-road efforts have been mixed. After several years of selling a pedal that used Crank Brothers' Eggbeater design, Look released their own Quartz design for 2008. While I applaud any company that goes its own way and creates something from scratch, I’m afraid that Look may have wasted an awful lot of time and energy on their Quartz pedals. On paper, there's a lot to like. The Quartz have a good-sized platform and the overall design looks like it would do an excellent job at shedding mud. Their weight is what will attract the most riders- at 260g/pair, they're much lighter than Crank Brothers' Eggbeater SLs' 300g. At $110, they look like a good deal too. Unfortunately, the good attributes of these pedals really don’t beat many of the proven designs on the market, and it's mostly their bad attributes that distinguish them from other designs.

Look sent us these pedals to try because they'd redesigned their original Quartz (reviewed here) and admitted that the old Quartz design was flawed. I thought that was pretty stand-up of them and I hoped they had solved the problems we had with the originals. Alas, not so much. The new pedals are better than the previous version, but the same two major issues still nag them: unintended release and a complex & lengthy cleat setup process. The old pedals would release by mistake way too much. This was mostly because Look's design relied on the shoes' lugs to keep the rider clipped in. To me, this approach is a big gamble because they have no control over the size, shape, or wear of the lugs on other manufacturer’s shoes. Not to mention the need to change the cleat setup as lugs are chewed-up and worn down. Maybe I could see this type of design working if you were required to buy Look shoes that matched the pedal and cleat perfectly. I probably wouldn’t be a fan of something so restrictive, but the engineering would make more sense. The thing that bothers me is that Look didn’t change their flawed approach with the Quartz redesign. I don’t know for sure but I think that all they did was increase the spring tension. This does help keep the rider clipped in in dry conditions- I had only a few unintentional releases with dry shoes (which is still more than I should have). Once they get wet and cold, the interface between the shoes and pedal bodies becomes even less consistent and it’s back to the old form with my feet flying out quite often and in potentially dangerous situations. I guess with the friction reduced from the wet and cold, increasing the pedals' spring tension just wasn’t enough.

This brings me to my second issue, setup. I cannot imagine why somebody would buy a pedal and cleat system that was so much harder to set up than every other system on the market- unless the product performed much better than the others. Because correctly setting up the Quartz requires a specific distance between the bottom of the soles and cleats, the cleats themselves must be shimmed off of their mounting surface. The company has added a fit chart to it's website (pick your shoes and it tells you what shim combination is needed), but not all brands are covered and the process still requires close reading of the instructions and even a change in shims as soles wear. Because the Quartz don't even perform on equal footing with the other systems, to me that is another nail in their coffin. Maybe there are a pair of new cycling shoes out there that set up nicely with their cleats, but I’m not going to buy a pair just to get my pedals to work.

I tried these pedals on two pairs of used shoes and found that the best performance was with no shims at all (which hold the shoes most tightly against the pedal), and I had loads of trouble when things got wet. Sorry, Look: I respect you for coming clean about the old pedals, but the Quartz really is in need of a ground-up redesign- or perhaps a shallow grave. The S2R Moabs had a devoted following and were ridden by Tinker Juarez for years after being discontinued- largely for their reliability and bombproof construction. Going with Crank Brothers' Eggbeater design for the 4x4 was a safe decision and the pedals worked well, as do the company's road offerings. We know that Look has the ability to make some good pedals- unfortunately, the Quartz just can't be counted among them.



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