Thursday, May 06, 2010
New Screws and White Shoes
It will surprise approximately none of my readers to learn that I'm not what you'd call an “early adopter” of cycling technologies. It’s not any sort of distaste or distrust of new equipment that makes that so, nor is it due to some studiously cultivated and tediously repeated longing for the largely mythical, more technologically quaint days-gone-by. I just tend to use things for a long time, buy things that will allow for that, and have a hard time replacing things that don’t need to be replaced. Maybe that means I’m just cheap, I don’t know, but the result is that much of my cycling equipment would fall into the “proven” category if you’re being kind, or the “old” category if you’re not. Most people are not.
Anyway, those tendencies are how I recently came to be shopping for a new set of Look Delta cleats – the kind that fit nearly every Look pedal made from the time the company debuted its clipless systems in 1983 until they introduced the Keo platform in 2004. Shimano also licensed the Look pedal design for a number of years, which means that a set of $20 Deltas every few years allows me to keep using both the Shimano pedals I bought around 1989 and the Look pedals that came on an early 1990s Trek on my fixed gear and road bike, respectively.
Like most cyclists, I don’t really give a lot of thought to cleats unless something goes drastically wrong with them, but my recent cleat replacement awoke me to few things about Look that I hadn’t really considered. First, the fact that you can still easily walk into a bike shop and buy Delta cleats speaks volumes about the sheer number of pedals they must have sold on that platform over the years. But a closer look at the cleats themselves reveals a bit about the company’s almost bizarre commitment to product support. Why bizarre? Because not only is Look still making Delta cleats – they’ve actually continued to improve them despite no longer making pedals that use them.
The company has actually tinkered with the Delta design throughout its existence. Early Delta cleats were black and held your foot in a fixed position, without the slightest nod to the “float” that became a near obsession for cyclists by the early 2000s. That float issue was the catalyst for the earliest change to the cleat, when Look introduced a red version that allowed for the desired movement rather than sending customers to the shop for new pedals. Even better, even after float became all the rage, Look kept making both the red float and black fixed versions.
From there, subsequent revisions were more modest. What started as pretty basic molded blocks of hard plastic first sprouted rubber inserts to give a modest bit of traction on slick coffee shop floors. A few years later, the Deltas got a white layer of plastic molded into their middle, designed to both reduce the infamous "Look squeak" and make it more evident to the user when cleat wear had become excessive. My most recent purchase of Deltas last week, long after Look stopped producing compatible pedals, revealed two more recent tweaks. The three bolts used to hold each cleat to the shoe, which originally used a slotted head and then a combo slot/phillips head, now feature a hex head fitting at the center of the slot, freeing us at last from the last remaining use for a slotted screwdriver in the bicycle world. Even better though, Look also incorporated their “memory clip,” a feature of its newer Keo cleat, into the Delta cleat. Once mounted to the shoe, the clip allows you to replace the cleat itself in an identical position without having to check the position repeatedly. Just remove the old cleat, slap the new one into position over the clip, bolt it down, and you’re done.
All of those improvements, of course, add not a lick of actual function to the cleat itself, and you could argue that the white plastic layer and the easy-replacement widget are just blatant ploys to convince people to buy new cleats more often. And you’d probably be right. But those features are also pretty useful to the consumer, because, speaking from experience, I always avoid replacing cleats until they’re dangerously worn because (1) I don’t pay attention; and (2) it was a pain to get the new ones in an identical position. So Look probably will sell a few more cleats by removing those barriers to replacement, but the move is hardly indicative of heartless corporate greed. In fact, I’d argue it’s the opposite.
You see, Look could have just as easily reserved those improvements for their current Keo line, where they also appear, leaving people who wanted those features to buy a whole new set of pedals. Or, they could have gotten away with ceasing Delta production altogether, forcing riders with Delta-compatible pedals back into the pedal-buying market, arguably a more shrewd financial move. But they didn’t. Instead, they offer new features and continued support, for $20, to people like me, who still ride pedals over a decade and a half old. I like that.
The funny thing is, when you first see a set of Deltas hanging on the slatwall at the bike shop, you wouldn’t suspect they’d changed at all in 20 years. While Look has improved the product, they seem to be banking on product recognition over style by continuing to use the same Tron-meets-Mondrian packaging design they used back when Greg Lemond was better known as a puncheur than a punch line. Along with the techie grey-on-grey grid pattern and late-80s hi-tech fonts on the cardboard backer, Look has managed to source a special type of plastic shrink wrap that manages to look dusty and shopworn even when it's brand new out of the box. One look at that package is enough to give me instant flashbacks to Wilfried Nilissen and Laurent Jalabert bleeding on the tarmac in Armentières. Chapeau.
I have to admit, my purchase of another set of Delta cleats wasn’t just because my current ones are ridiculously worn, though they certainly are. No, it was because after 10 years or so with my current shoes, I finally got a new pair, even before the old ones had holes in them. Doesn’t that sort of replacement without need run counter to everything I was rambling about way back at the beginning of this post? Normally, yes, but I won the new pair in a writing contest Sidi’s new American arm held a few months ago, so I don’t think it should count against me. For sending in a 350-word-or-less “Sidi story” and landing in the top 50 submissions – a forgivingly low bar for victory – I got to pick the Sidis of my choice.
Obviously I opted for the top-of-the-line Ergo 2s, which feature roughly 100 percent more buckles, adjusters, colors, bells, and whistles than any shoes and most cars I’ve ever owned. And though every fiber of my “these will need to last awhile” being was screaming at me to go with my usual unaffected-by-fashion black color choice, I finally decided that reason and practicality should have no role when selecting the free schwag fruits of minimal labor. So on the next sunny day I actually get to ride my bike, I’ll be rolling out for the first time on something utterly and impractically fashionable, at least in cycling – shiny white shoes. I’m not sure yet how I feel about it. Like the episode of Seinfeld when Jerry wonders if participating in an orgy will mean he has to get all new orgy clothes, a selection of lotions and oils, and new orgy friends, I wonder if I’ll have to get a whole new set of white shoe friends, the kind who apply hair gel before rides, roll up their jersey sleeves when it’s sunny, and seem to somehow repel road dirt.
Frankly, the whole thing is a little frightening, but at least I’ll still have those black Delta cleats to comfort me.
- Did I just write about 1,000 words about cleats? Damn. Don't worry, with the Giro d'Italia and the Tour of California coming up, I'm sure we'll be back to writing about racing soon enough. Post-Liege just felt like a good time to take a break.
- Cadel Evans (BMC) is being touted, at least in the English language cycling press, as a big favorite for the Giro win. No doubt he's on good form, but as much as I like BMC, I'm not seeing a very strong supporting cast. That said, the choppier nature of the Giro seems to make the team much less of a factor than it is in the Tour. Paolo Salvoldelli's winning Discovery Channel team, for instance, was certainly no barn burner. But team or no team, with no Contadors or Schlecks in the mix at this Giro, Evans better sieze this chance to bag that elusive grand tour win.
- If people were sawed off by Alexander Vinokourov's (Astana) Liege win, how irate will they be if he wins the Giro? Especially when they've had Alejandro Valverde's (Caisse d'Epargne) Tour de Romandie win to keep them frothing in the interim. Like it or not, Vinokourov is certainly back, and he'll have some decent riders supporting him in Italy. He is old, though, so it will be interesting to see how he recovers day-to-day as the Giro wears on.
- Regardless of who wins, or how you feel about riders coming back from suspensions or doping in general, let's hope we can get through the next year without 2/3 of the Giro podium getting popped one way or another. I know it's a tall order, but what the hell, let's aim high.
- I'm going to try to make some visual changes to the site sometime soon, so if you stop by and see something different, or the layout is even more screwed up than usual, that's what's going on.
I'm not a hoarder by nature, but it never hurts for things as small as cleats.
Good call on Evans' team. That is not a particularly strong cast, in this, possibly his best chance to win a grand tour.