First look review: Look X-Track clipless pedals

Having solely run Shimano’s SPD clipless pedals for many years, I’ve become familiar with the way their retention mechanisms interact with the small metal cleats bolted to my shoes. For my kind of riding, the SPD system is a great fit. I can’t quite say the same for Shimano’s pedal spindles, however. On both the Deore XT PD-T780 and the PD-M530, I’ve run into issues affecting one pedal of each pair’s ability to spin smoothly. While I know how to service them by myself, bafflingly, the problems have kept coming back.

Instead of running these pedals to the ground with unaddressed ills, I decided to try something else. The French company Look, creator of the clipless pedal and shoe system, is a force to reckon with on three-bolt road bike cleat systems with its Keo lineup. On the two-bolt mountain bike side, however, it’s had to play catchup to Shimano SPD for years before finally giving up and joining the Japanese titan with its own line of SPD-compatible clipless pedals.

These are what I have on hand today: the Look X-Track pedals. The X-Track pedal lineup itself consists of many models, climbing hierarchically in price and material quality, as well as pedal platform size. I got myself the most basic model on eBay at discount.

Look’s press video for the X-Track Race pedals, which is the next level up.


  • Cleat compatibility: Shimano SPD, Look X-Track, Look X-Track Easy
  • Construction: Aluminum body; “Chromoly+” steel spindle; two cartridge bearings and one bushing
  • Pedal platform dimensions (claimed): 57 mm width; 350 mm2 area
  • Pedal stance width (Q-factor): 53 mm
  • 6 degrees of float; 13 degrees release angle
  • Intended for cross-country (XC) mountain bike use
  • Weight (claimed): 200 g per pedal + 25 g cleat hardware per shoe
  • Suggested retail price: US$55 (PhP2750)


The packaging is pretty beat-up on my pair, but what matters is what’s inside. You get the pedals, plus a pair of Look’s own X-Track cleats – which themselves are also SPD-compatible. I set them aside as spares as my current cleats are still good. Any instruction manuals these pedals were supposed to come with weren’t present in my box…but hey, I saved $10 off retail price in return, I guess?

The outboard dust cap requires a three-pin tool to loosen.
The rotating assembly on all Look X-Track pedals. The spindle is suspended by a bushing and two sealed cartridge bearings. Photo credit:

Unlike Shimano pedals, which are usually disassembled from the inboard side, these have a dust cap on the outboard side which is removed to access the rotating assembly. Loosening an 8 mm nut then opens it up for servicing and/or replacement.

Look claims the X-Track pedals in this smaller XC form factor offer a larger platform area compared to their Shimano counterparts, at a purported 350 mm2. I wasn’t sure how they got this figure until I took another look at the box. This measured area is highlighted in white in one of the product feature icons, corresponding to the raised area of the pedals flanking the clipless mechanism left and right. This terminates with the edge of the chrome waffle grid area up front, where the pedal platform steps down about 2 mm.

It is this raised area flanking both sides of the clipless mechanism where Look takes its 350 mm2 claim from.
You get some idea here of how the chrome waffle grid on the pedals contacts the sole of the shoe.

By comparison, the trail/all-mountain-use M530 pedal set is physically larger, but has an external cage which makes up the bulk of the size difference. This external cage tapers off and away from the pedal platform area, and doesn’t make actual contact with your shoe when you’re clipped in.

Another difference with Shimano pedals is in how these X-Tracks don’t spin as freely when flicked by hand. This would normally indicate an issue with either bad bearings, excess preload, or dirty grease on a Shimano pedal, but on here it’s just how Look rolls. Actually turning the cranks with these pedals yields smooth and quiet operation, with none of the gritty action I got with both the left pedals on the M530s and T780s.

Clicking cleats into pedals is a surprisingly soft action, perhaps even besting Shimano’s, with the feeling of clipped-in security is about just 90% of those – especially when used with the SH56 multi-release SPD cleat. Like most SPD pedals, the retention spring can be tightened or loosened with a 3 mm hex hey.

Look X-Track cleats. They’re basically the same as Shimano SH51 SPD cleats.

Underfoot, the X-Track feels quite good. I was surprised to find I did not miss the external cage on the M530s. I can still put down the watts just as well on these physically smaller pedals. I’m not certain how much difference there is in terms of float, but at 6 degrees, the X-Tracks seem to offer a bit more of it, which will help riders with dodgy knees. This added cleat float takes a bit of getting used to, but becomes familiar after fifteen minutes of riding.

That said, the differences aren’t dramatic. The improvements Look brings to the table with these pedals are welcome, albeit incremental. Some of the quirks of other SPD pedals find their way on the X-Tracks too, such as the way the SH56 multi-release cleats can disengage unexpectedly if I curl up a relaxed, raised foot outward at an angle. (Disclaimer: I have yet to try SH51 single-release cleats.)

Installation is solely by an 8 mm hex key. No 15 mm pedal wrench flats here, sorry.


My X-Tracks are still fairly new, but I like what Look has done here. SPD cleat compatibility might have been the best thing they’ve done with their mountain bike pedals in terms of removing barriers to entry. I tend to not think about them at all while riding, which is very high praise for anything on a bike that serves as a contact point with your body. I don’t own any road cycling shoes or pedals, so I can’t make say how the pedal platform on these compares, but I will say these feel solid and supportive underfoot, while spinning smoothly and offering a welcome amount of float.

For my use case, which is primarily road riding and indoor training, I think these pedals should hold up just fine. That said, James Raison of La Velocita has a pair of the X-Track Race Carbon pedals which he takes on multiple gravel rides, and those have kept on trucking, so that should be a much better test of their longevity than anything I’ll put these through. We’ll see.

The clipless diaries, part 12: How incorrect cleat position on good shoes can be a painful lesson

I’ve already waxed lyrical about the Fizik Terra X4 Powerstrap gravel shoes on this blog, and they’ve been an easy favorite in my current shoe rotation due to their more relaxed and versatile design.

Unfortunately, the praise I had for these shoes was countered by the shooting pain I found on the ball of my left foot two days after my last ride at the time.

Friends suggested it might have been gout, but I quickly ruled it out based on the description of the symptoms and onset of pain usually associated with that dreaded disease. As the nights passed one by one, I noticed it was a very specific, peculiar sort of pain, the kind that manifested itself only when I tried to move my left big toe upwards. With more information at hand, I was able to narrow down the list of foot conditions until I found one that matched perfectly: sesamoiditis.

Photo credit: Häggström


Describing this condition to another friend, his reply was that it was literally the first time he had “heard about our sesame seed bones.” Jokingly or not, this is an apt description of what sesamoid bones are, as they take their name from the Arabic word for sesame seed, and a reference to their general small size. These bones are usually embedded within tendons or muscles, and tend to act as pulleys, increasing the ability of tendons to transfer muscular forces. The largest sesamoid bone and the one most familiar to us is the kneecap, or patella, but most sesamoid bones are located in our hands and feet.

In the case of sesamoiditis, it is the sesamoid bone and its tendons under the ball of the foot (the metatarsophalangeal or MTP sesamoids) that become inflamed, or worse, fractured. In this sense, it’s mainly a form of tendinitis. Outside of cycling, it’s an injury common to ballet dancers, runners, and baseball catchers.

Within our sport, sesamoiditis can be exacerbated due to the repetitive motion of pedaling, coupled with the biomechanical “locking-in” of the feet which is characteristic of clipless pedals and shoes. The real flareup triggers, however, are a change in cycling footwear and cleat positioning. As it turns out, my case was a classic one that followed this exact trend.


The first consideration is in the shape of the shoe – particularly the shape of the last that it uses. In shoemaking jargon, the last is the foot form that determines the basic shape and structure of the entire shoe. In terms of cyclist fitment, you want to see if the shoe uses a straight last or a curved last.

The Specialized S-Works 6 XC shoes I use are constructed based on a straight last shape. How do I know this? You can trace a straight line from the heel of the shoe to its cleat pocket. I can confirm that this shoe works well biomechanically with my feet, and despite my complaints about the shoes, they are a pair I have not suffered sesamoiditis in.

By contrast, the Fizik Terra X4 Powerstrap shoes are built around a curved last. Trace one line from the heel, then another from the cleat pocket; notice how they meet in an angled junction in the middle of the shoe? This means these shoes are predisposed to cant your forefoot and toes slightly inward.

As a fundamental part of shoe construction, there’s not much you can do with the last shape of your shoes if you’ve already bought them. Going forward, last shaping will be important to check and compare before you buy your next pair. However, for shoes you have on hand, last shaping will play a role in how you determine your cleat positioning, which is the next thing to check – and arguably more important.

All cycling shoes are built to give the cleat a limited range of adjustment – fore and aft, and side to side. When setting up cleats on shoes by ourselves, we will tend to copy the cleat placement of any existing shoes onto our new shoes, which is usually a conservative and safe way of doing things. Unfortunately, if this is done without taking the shoes’ last shaping into account, this is where you can potentially consign your feet to the pain of sesamoiditis.

Your cleats may look correctly set up when viewed close-up…
…but a more holistic view says otherwise.

In my case, I failed to take into account just how far inward the cleat pocket was shifted because of the Terra X4’s curving lasts. Simply copying the S-Works 6 XC’s cleat position onto these shoes, I had actually set my cleats too far inboard – or too medial, in physiological terms. The Terra X4’s outsole tread design and cleat pocket positioning did not help things, either, as it was offset quite a ways inward as well, with wider tread blocks on the outboard (lateral) side.


I was sidelined from cycling and indoor training by sesamoiditis pain for a total of ten days. During that time, I noticed that as the days passed, I could walk and move about with a little less pain than the day prior. I was lucky my case was relatively mild; some people suffer with sesamoiditis pain for months or even years. In the meantime I was careful to shift my weight such that it was borne more by the outside of my left foot, instead of on the ball and big toe.

By day nine, the pain was pretty much gone. I was a little apprehensive getting back on the saddle though, as I could feel a little unsteadiness where my left foot’s sesamoid bones were. While the training furlough was appreciated at first, I had spent too much time idle at this point, so I took hex key to shoe and readjusted my cleat position.

This is about as close to the “known good” S-Works 6 XC cleat positioning as I can make it. Note how much straighter the cleat is now, relative to the entirety of the shoe.

This time, I looked at cleat position in a more holistic manner. Instead of just looking at the cleat pocket and matching things between shoes, I looked at how my feet would sit on the pedals instead, and used that as basis for adjusting the cleat position. To account for the peculiarities of the Fizik’s outsole, I pushed the cleat to the right pretty much as far as it would go, in order to center it on the actual shoe as a whole. As a final fix, I removed the Terra X4’s stock insoles with their fancy foam pads, and replaced them with the much stiffer Ergon Solestar IP3 units.

One thing I forgot to mention in the Terra X4 Powerstrap review: its stock insoles have this foam pad on the forefoot. In hindsight, they may have hidden the negative effects of my incorrect cleat position.

Then I rode the next day.


My maiden ride on the new setup was a 35 km stint on RGT‘s pancake-flat Tempelhof Airport (aka 8bar Criterium) course. I stopped once or twice to dial in small adjustments to the cleat position, but afterwards I finished this ride without any pain at all. I had even put in a few sprints and out-of-saddle efforts. Monitoring for pain the next day yielded zero pain, either.

As of this writing, I’ve had four days of riding on the improved cleat setup. I’ve ridden through both hillier routes and harder efforts on Tempelhof Airport, putting down more power and going longer, and the pain underfoot is nowhere to be found. Long may it continue.


  • If you can afford it, get yourself a bike fitting session. With some luck, you can avoid the painful shenanigans I had to go through, because I was feeling around in the dark dialing in my cleat setup and getting used to new footwear without a second pair of eyes to watch me.
  • When shopping for new cycling shoes, study them as much as you can. Look at the last shaping of your candidates, and make comparisons to a known good pair of your older shoes. On shoes built for two-bolt cleats, study the cleat pockets and how they’re shaped.
  • Set your cleat position in a more holistic manner, taking into account how your entire foot will sit on the pedals while clipped in. In my experience, it’s best to have cleats set up as central to the width of the foot as possible.

The clipless diaries, part 11: Shimano SPD cleat replacement

While COVID19 lockdown is in place and spells of outdoor riding not feasible, it’s quite a good time to go over your riding gear and do some maintenance.

Today I’ll be replacing my old, worn Shimano SPD cleats with fresh ones. After setting up their position, however, how do you install the new cleats in the same exact place the old ones used to be? For that, I use some painter’s tape (or masking tape) and a felt-tip marking pen.

To begin with, I stick three pieces of painter’s tape around the SPD cleat pocket. Then, with the felt-tip marking pen, I make three marks on the old cleat: one up front, and one on each side. I extend these marks so that they are laid down on the pieces of painter’s tape.

The basic idea here is to have a nice position reference on the sole of the shoe. With the marks on the affixed pieces of painter’s tape, you have now effectively saved the old cleat’s position.

Before removing the old cleat, however, get your new cleat and place it directly over the old one. Then, using the marks on the painter’s tape, extend them back on to the new cleat.

Now, you can finally remove the old cleat and its bolts. Position the new cleat, matching its position with the marks you’ve made around the painter’s tape on the sole, then torque its bolts down to 5-6 Nm. Don’t forget to grease the bolt threads first.

Repeat on the other shoe; you can even reuse the painter’s tape on its sole.

That’s pretty much it! This is a simple ten-minute job that, given that SPD cleats are made of hard-wearing steel and usually recessed, doesn’t have to be done all that frequently. I tend to run SPD cleats for at least a year before replacing, and they usually last even longer than that. However, their pedal retention does eventually worsen with prolonged use and general wear and tear.