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.

When stiffest isn’t always best: Fizik Terra Powerstrap X4 gravel shoes

After searching for cycling shoes that fit my feet and address all their issues, I lucked out and got a great deal on Specialized’s S-Works 6 XCs. The experience has been largely very, very positive.

They are not perfect. Big, burly tread blocks pepper the underside, but they are hard things with surprisingly little grip on polished floors. As such, walking indoors with them is hard on the ankles. The unyielding stiffness baked into those shapely carbon fiber soles is a boon for power transfer, but gets progressively less friendly on longer sustained stints in the saddle. With 2020 being the year it was, I tried taking them on indoor trainer rides lasting three to four hours – on both virtual climbs up the Passo dello Stelvio and 100 km on virtual desert flats – and my feet were positively cooked by the end either way.

As vain a hope as it is – for various reasons – I am still holding on to the hope of repeating the 200 km Subic-Masinloc-Subic audax ride one day. Suitability for that event, I find, has become a good benchmark for my equipment reviews. For all their many merits, I don’t think the S-Works 6 XCs make that particular cut. Like their name suggests, they seem ideal for cross-country mountain bike races or even the pedaling-and-running combination of muddy cyclocross events. Neither of those goes past two hours per instance, in practice.

Back in 2015, I rode the audax on Shimano’s RT33L “road touring” shoes. They weren’t the stiffest things around, but kept my feet comfy as I pedaled kilometer after kilometer. Only in the final ten kilometers did I feel the discomfort of my feet contorting around the very small SPD cleats. Also, unlike the S-Works 6 XCs, the RT33Ls were much easier to walk around in, their outsoles’ lower-profile rubber still providing decent grip on floors, and the tongue having enough thickness to avoid digging into the ankles with each step.

I wonder if there is a shoe out there that fits this same bill?

Fizik may have the answer. After winning a Black Friday 2020 discount voucher on Strava, I waited five months to use it, shaving off quite a chunk of cash while ordering their Terra Powerstrap X4 gravel shoes.

It’s striking how both it and the RT33L share raw materials and design traits. Both bind to feet via two Velcro straps. Both shoes use nylon outsoles and are rated midpack on each manufacturer’s stiffness scales. Both shoes’ outsoles are even shaped in such a way to rock back and forth for easier walking. Finally, both keep the svelte, sleek road cycling shoe silhouette I adore, and eschew the bulk of a typical mountain bike shoe.

The top strap does most of the tightening.

They diverge from that point on. Fizik certainly offers more flair with the Terra X4s. Somehow, they’ve taken two humble Velcro straps, looped and arranged them to control volume up and down the shoe, similar to a BOA dial and cable arrangement…and made it look not-cheap and quite handsome in the process. That certainly takes some doing.

Let’s not pretend that the Velcro is there for any reason other than simplicity and cost savings. And that’s fine. My old RT33Ls never relinquished what grip they had on my feet just because they used Velcro straps instead of ratchets or BOA dials. Velcro is a known quantity at this point; it just works. That’s not to say its use cannot be innovated upon, though.

This “mud and caramel” colorway on my pair is pretty nice. The outsole reminds me of all the gum-soled badminton shoes I used to dart around the courts in. Perhaps calling the upper’s color “mud” is a bit “gravel cycling, bro,” but whatever; the color contrast next to the black straps is just right. Fizik offer these shoes in a few other colorways as well.

The outsole measures about 5.7 cm at its narrowest.

These are the first shoes of any kind I’ve ever bought online; I was not able to try them on to get a better idea of how they fit on my feet. Stories abound of Fizik’s earlier shoes offering a stereotypical “Italian shoe” fit and feel: narrow to the point of constriction. I felt slightly apprehensive, not sure if this was still true.

Using my S-Works 6 XCs as a basis, and trying to play it safe, I ordered a size 45.

With about 3 cm of extra length from my big toe to the end of the toe box, these are just a bit longer than the S-Works 6 XCs. Every other fit characteristic, though, was spot-on, and proves Fizik listened to its customers. The Terra X4s don’t have the locked-in heel hold of the S-Works, feeling just a bit slacker even with grippy silicone dotting the heel cup, but they sufficiently prevent heel lift in sprints and are roomy in the toe box – even at a more “correct” size 44 pair, I suspect. Fizik has a winner with the layout of the Velcro straps here, and how well they control shoe volume and fit, without BOA dials. The upper material is even decently ventilated despite the lack of mesh.

Potential clumsiness of extra toe length considered, the Terra X4s are a lot more pleasurable to walk in than with the S-Works 6 XCs. They one-up the RT33Ls by having an actual pattern etched into the tread, which should improve grip on both polished floors and dusty gravel trails. There’s also something to be said for cutting down on ultimate sole stiffness as a solution for better walking off the bike. The “Goldilocks” stiffness should also help long-haul comfort on all-day bike rides.

I’ve put these shoes to the test with some extended indoor trainer sessions, one of them covering a relatively “flat” 50 km in just under two hours. They held up very well, with little in the way of forefoot pain, and it felt like I could easily go on another 50 km stint after a bit of rest. One thing I did notice in the closing minutes of the ride was the angled overlap of the forward Velcro strap. It felt like a rather large knot on the upper and I could feel it just around my big toe. That may have been due to the strap being pulled tight, but it was not uncomfortable or painful at all.

Having gone through many pairs of cycling shoes, as longtime readers may have known, I realize I’ve spent quite a bit of coin chasing a balance that at times is tough to nail down.

Specialized S-Works 6 XC

While I am grateful for how far the S-Works 6 XCs took forefoot support with their aggressively shaped carbon midsoles, I’m also learning first-hand that there comes a point where added shoe stiffness gets diminishing returns. True to its brand name, this is a more specialized pair of shoes than I initially gave it credit for – almost to a fault. For all its many merits, it just isn’t a great all-rounder.

Shimano MT5

These Terra X4s are perhaps as stiff as I’d want a shoe to be if I’m expecting a long day on the saddle. At the same time, they’re usefully stiffer than my Shimano MT5s, which admittedly score low on Shimano’s stiffness scale. I find them just too soft for the kind of riding and training I do these days.

Fizik Terra Powerstrap X4

The Terra X4s are exactly what I expected the Shimano XC5s to be. Both are gravel shoes, but Shimano’s change to its shoe fit did not agree with my feet. Fizik nails the fit and forefoot support much better, even without resorting to swapping insoles, and I can clearly see myself reaching for this pair first for most of my riding. At US$150 direct from Fizik or PhP7,700 from local retailers, the comfort comes at a premium, but if it means getting to ride in better comfort, on longer spells on the saddle, I’d say it’s worth it.