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Look vs. Shimano: The best clipless road pedals

By Bruce Lin

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Look vs. Shimano clipless road bike pedalsWhen it’s time to clip in on a road bike, most riders choose between Look and Shimano pedals. These pedals have a lot in common but a few key differences. So how do you decide between them? Here’s what you need to know. 

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Look Keo clipless pedal guide

Look Keo clipless road bike pedals Lemond Hinault Tour de FranceLook created the first clipless pedal, the PP65, in 1984. This radical new design was based on Look’s ski bindings. Bernard Hinault used them to win his fifth and final Tour de France in 1985. The next year, Greg LeMond won riding Look pedals and it soon became clear that traditional toe-clips and straps were obsolete. 

Look Keo clipless road bike pedalsLeft to right: Keo Classic 3, Keo Classic 3 Plus, Keo 2 Max, Keo Blade Carbron, Keo Blade Carbon Ceramic Ti.

Pedal

Price

Weight

Stack

Keo Classic 3

$65

280g

17.8mm

Keo Classic 3 Plus

$80

280g

17.8mm

Keo 2 Max

$110

260g

17.3mm

Keo 2 Max Carbon

$135

250g

17.3mm

Keo Blade Carbon

$165

230g

14.8mm

Keo Blade Carbon Ceramic

$250

220g

14.8mm

Keo Blade Carbon Ceramic Ti

$400

190g

14.8mm

Look’s current generation of pedals are called “Keo” and they come in three flavors: Classic, Max, and Blade. Keo Classic pedals are the entry-level option and use 60mm wide composite bodies, chromoly spindles, and stainless steel bearings. 

The Keo 2 Max pedals upgrade to a lighter, hollow chromoly+ spindle, and add a larger stainless steel plate on the pedal body for more durability. Keo 2 Max pedals come with either a composite body or a lighter carbon body. 

The Keo Blade is the top-of-the-line option favored by many pro riders for its aerodynamics and low weight. It has a wider 67mm carbon body for more support and reduces weight by using a carbon leaf spring or “blade” instead of a traditional wound steel spring. Higher-end versions use ceramic bearings and/or titanium spindles. Unlike other clipless pedals, spring tension is adjusted by swapping to stiffer carbon blades. Higher number blades equate to more tension. An 8 is stock. If you want more tension, Look recommends using 12 for regular riding, 16 for sprinters, and 20 for track cycling. 

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What is pedal stack height?

Before we move on, let’s quickly explain stack height. Stack height is how tall or thick the pedal and cleat are. It’s measured from the center of the pedal axle to the sole of your shoe. The taller this stack, the higher your saddle needs to be. Many serious riders like pedals with lower stack heights because it feels more efficient and stable when applying power. 

Shimano SPD-SL road pedal guide

Shimano SPD-SL clipless road bike pedalsJapanese component giant Shimano, took inspiration from Look’s design and, in 1987, created its own clipless pedal, the Dura-Ace 7401. It originally used Look-style 3-bolt cleats, but Shimano later branched out and created its own SPD and SPD-SL cleat systems. Through the years, it has become Look's main clipless pedal adversary. 

Shimano SPD-SL clipless road bike pedalsLeft to right: RS500, Tiagra, 105, Ultegra, Dura-Ace.

Pedal

Price

Weight

Stack

PD-RS500

$65

320g

16.5mm

Tiagra PD-R550

$100

310g

16.5mm

105 PD-R7000

$150

265g

16.5mm

Ultegra PD-R8000

$200

248g

14.6mm

Dura-Ace PD-R9100

$280

228g

14.6mm

Shimano’s road pedals are all fairly similar in shape and design. Shimano doesn’t publish dimensions, but based on a couple of examples in my garage, the pedal bodies are all around 63mm wide. Entry-level PD-RS500 and Tiagra pedals use composite bodies while 105 and above pedals use lighter carbon composite bodies. 

The main difference between models is weight. Higher-end pedals will use less material, shaving a few grams and reducing the stack height. One feature Shimano pedals have that Look pedals don’t is the option to swap to axles that are 4mm longer. These will increase the Q-factor for riders who need a wider stance due to physiological reasons. 

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Look Keo vs. Shimano SPD-SL cleats

Look Keo and Shimano SPD-SL clipless cleats float

Cleat

Keo Black

Keo Gray 

Keo Red

SM-SH10 (red)

SM-SH11 (blue)

SM-SH12 (yellow)

Float

4.5°


Both Look and Shimano adjust float using the cleat. Look’s Keo Gray cleat and Shimano’s SPD-SL SM-SH11 cleat are the standard cleats that come with new pedals (the exception is Dura-Ace which comes with the SM-SH12 cleat). Look’s Keo Red cleat provides significantly more float than Shimano’s SM-SH11 cleat. This may provide more relief for riders with knee pain or other fit issues. Both brands offer a 0° cleat for riders that want a more secure feel.

Look’s all-plastic cleats require some extra care when walking on smooth surfaces. (I’ve fallen over while walking into the grocery store.) If this is a concern, Look also makes a Keo grip cleat that adds anti-slip pads to the outside of the cleat to help with walking off the bike. 

Shimano’s SPD-SL cleats all come standard with walking pads, and in my experience, SPD-SL cleats are much easier to walk in than Look Keo Grip cleats. The one critique I have of SPD-SL cleats is that the walking pads are wider than most cycling shoes. I don’t like how they protrude on the sides of my shoes. 

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Look vs. Shimano pedals reliability and service

Both brands make extremely reliable pedals. I’ve heard stories of older Look pedals suffering from premature bearing wear, but it’s uncommon. My Keo 2 Max Carbon and Ultegra pedals are both over 10 years old. I have serviced each set several times, and I fully expect them to last another 10 years. 

Servicing the pedals just requires cleaning and re-greasing the axle. Look pedals can be disassembled with a standard 19mm wrench. For reassembly, Look suggests using a specific Loctite instant adhesive on the threads. I’ve skipped this before without incident, but it’s good to follow instructions. Shimano pedals require a special pedal axle tool to disassemble, but it’s fairly inexpensive. In a pinch, I’ve loosened the axles with channel-lock pliers, but that could damage the pedals. 

How to service or rebuild Look and Shimano clipless pedal toolsLoctite 480 - $21.95
Shimano TL-PD40 pedal axle-tool - $12.86

The one significant difference between Look and Shimano is the cleats. The SPD-SL design has worked extremely well since 2002. Look has revised its cleats a couple of times to improve issues with durability, walkability, and squeaking. I find that Look cleats also wear out faster than Shimano cleats from regular use and walking. You’ll know it’s time to swap them out when the outside is excessively worn, pedal engagement suffers, there’s too much lateral play, or the cleat becomes squeaky.

How to choose Look vs. Shimano pedals

Both Look and Shimano pedals have wide, supportive platforms, a positive click when clipping in, and adjustable tension. I probably wouldn’t be able to tell Look and Shimano pedals apart if I were clipping in blindfolded. 

Here’s my rundown of how to choose between Look and Shimano:

  • Weight - Look pedals are consistently lighter than comparable Shimano pedals and provide a better gram-per-dollar ratio. For the weight weenies, the Keo Blade Carbon Ceramic Ti is the lightest pedal here. Winner: Look
  • Appearance - Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I think Look pedals just look better. They have classier finishes, shapes, and logos, while Shimano pedals tend to look slightly generic. Winner: Look
  • Stack height - If you’re a rider that likes having the lowest stack height possible, Shimano’s pedals are all lower than their Look counterparts. Winner: Shimano
  • Float - If you need more than 6° of float, you’ll have to go with Look. But float is a personal choice so it really comes down to your needs. Winner: Draw
  • Q-Factor - If you need a wider stance, Shimano’s 4mm+ axles are the way to go. Winner: Shimano
  • Cleats - Even though I don’t like how SPD-SL cleats stick out from the sides of your shoe, I think they’re better for walking, last longer, and don’t develop weird squeaks. Winner: Shimano
  • Brand affiliation - It always feels weird to finish off a beautiful SRAM or Campagnolo drivetrain with Shimano pedals. Winner: Look

Ultimately, both brands make great pedals and price and availability will probably be the final deciding factor. For riders who are getting serious about cycling, I recommend either the Look Keo 2 Max or the Shimano 105 pedals. They look good on any level of bike, are fairly lightweight, but cost significantly less than high-end models. 

What’s your favorite clipless road pedal? Let me know in the comments!

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Photos courtesy of Look Cycle and Shimano.

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1 comment


  • Perhaps because they are best left forgotten to history, you omitted “SPD-R” in the evolution of Shimano road pedals. This is what they tried after their Look knock-offs (the DA 7400 series). I had the misfortune to get a set of these about 20 years ago and they were beautiful to look at but performed terribly, They had a very different and complicated metal cleat and I never felt right in them. The “SPD-SL” design was much, much better and it is what I use on all of my bikes now. Just goes to show you that even the industry behemoths can mess up in a big way.

    Hoogle Da Boogle on


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