03 February 2015

Getting Rid Of The Clip

Yesterday, in my post about Lyotard pedals, I mentioned the one and only clipless offering in the company's seven-decade history:  the PL 2000.

That got me to think about some of the other clipless pedal systems that have come and gone.  Some, like the PL 2000, were belated attempts to compete with Look and Time, the first widely-accepted clipless systems.  But a few others predated Look's original 1984 offering.

The original Cinelli M-71, introduced in 1970.

One that is fairly well-known, at least among cyclists of a certain age, is the Cinelli M71, a.k.a., "the suicide pedals".  I never tried them myself, but from what I've heard, they had very strong springs and held the rider's foot securely.  The problem is that, like that boyfriend or girlfriend from Hell, they didn't want to let go.  At least, they didn't make it easy to take your feet off them:  You had to reach down and flick a lever to disengage your cleat from the pedal platform.  So, while I don't doubt the quality of the product (I don't think Cino Cinelli could have made junk if he tried!), it wasn't--to use a phrase that wouldn't be current until two decades later--user-friendly. 

Second-generation M71, 1972

The first version of the M71, introduced in 1970, had a steel platform and used an aluminum cleat.  Two years later, the pedal came with an aluminum alloy platform with a big round hole in the middle, and plastic replaced aluminum in the cleat.

Contak, 1973

The year after the second version of the M71, another short-lived clipless design went into production in Italy:  the Contak. 

The name is certainly apt:  It had a much larger platform than the M71--or, for that matter, most subsequent clipless pedals.  The longer and wider contact area probably made it more comfortable than the M71, the PL 2000 or some other clipless pedal.  But, like the M71, it wasn't easy to use:  The cleat was made to slide into the pedal from the side, and was held in by a ball detent.  To exit, the rider slid the cleat outward.

Having never used one, or known anyone who did, I don't know how securely this system held, or how easily it released, the cleat.  But I would imagine that a gain in one of those qualities meant a sacrifice in the other.

Keywin, 1983

 For a decade after the Contak's introduction, there was little or no effort to create new clipless pedal systems.  One of the most notable was the Keywin, which hailed from New Zealand a year before Look's introduction.  Instead of the spring-loaded systems used by Cinelli and Look, or the ball-detent of the Contak, Keywin employed a bayonet-type locking device similar to the type found on many cameras with interchangeable lenses.  The rider, after placing his or her foot on the pedal, twisted inward to engage the lock and outward to disengage it.  A rider exits a Look pedal in the same way, but simply steps into it to engage the cleat.

Early Look pedal (PP-65), 1984

 While Look was clearly an improvement over previous clipless systems, some cyclists complained about the weight:  The first Looks weighed over 500 grams (about 1 pound and 2 ounces) per pair. Two designs seemed, in part, an attempt to reduce the weight and make a mehanically simpler system.

Elger, 1984

 During the year of Look's debut, there was a West German entry:  the Elger, which was like the PL 2000 without the spring-loaded end.  As with the Keywin, the rider locked into the pedal by twisting the foot inward and unhitched by twisting outward. 

Aerolite, 1986

Two years after Look and Elger, an American design--Aerolite--dispensed with anything at all on the outward end of the axle.  It may still be the lightest clipless system ever produced.  It offered one convenient feature of Look:  One had only to step down on the pedal to enter.  But, I imagine that to use it, one had to have a better aim than one needed for Look.  Once engaged, the cleat clasped rather than locked into the pedal.  And, to disengage, the rider tilted his or her foot.

NaturaLimits, 1980

Perhaps one of the most interesting early attempts to create a clipless pedal wasn't a pedal at all. Rather, an enterprising American introduced NaturaLimits, a system that included cleats and an adapter that attached to the body of a Campagnolo-style quill or track pedal.  I remember seeing ads for it in cycling magazines of the time--circa 1980--but never actually saw one in person.  

I wonder whether the system didn't catch on because it wasn't reliable or easy to use--or whether the cycling public simply wasn't yet ready to take another look at clipless systems after the shortcomings of the M71 and Contak. 


  1. Good info. I think I recall Bob talking about the rt/lft pedal issue when we put it together. Hoping for the best.

  2. Imane--Interesting. Thank you for stopping by!