I must admit that I have a soft spot for LOOK‘s off-road pedals. In the mid-nineties, I chose the French company’s big red S2R Moab model over Shimano’s more popular SPD. Why? More float for one. But to be completely honest, the Moabs’ glossy red finish just looked cooler than the matte-black SPDs. So when I was invited to preview LOOK’s re-entry into the MTB clipless space at last year’s Interbike trade show, I was very curious to see which direction the company would take.
If you think the X-Track is similar in appearance to the many SPD variants on the market, don’t feel too bad–that was my initial reaction, too. The engineers from LOOK, however, were quick to point out some very key differences. Topping the list was the X-Track’s superior weight-to-power ratio. LOOK also touted the pedals’ improved lateral support and a retention mechanism designed to work reliably regardless of external conditions.
Although the $49.99 X-Track is the base model in LOOK’s MTB lineup, it shares the same core functionality as its pricier siblings. But instead of titanium spindles and composite/carbon bodies, the sub-$50 X-Track utilizes chrome-moly axles and an aluminum body. All X-Tracks feature tension that’s adjustable from 6 to 14 nM, and the SPD-compatible cleats provide six degrees of float (there’s also an optional multi-directional, easy release cleat).
While many XC-style clipless pedals feature bodies that have been pared down to the absolute minimum, LOOK takes a slightly different approach with the X-Track. According to their research, larger platforms enable more power transfer due to the increased surface contact between the pedal and sole of the shoe. So if a bigger platform is better, wouldn’t you want the largest possible platform? Yes and no. If the pedal body is too big, you’re more likely to experience pedal strike on rocks. And as size increases, so does weight. LOOK’s design attempts to strike a happy medium between weight and clearance, while still offering improved power transfer.
Due to the increased contact between the X-Tracks’ platforms and the soles’ tread, choosing the right shoes proved slightly more challenging than expected. Shoes with overly deep tread or heavily recessed cleat pockets were difficult to engage and release, whereas shoes with shallow knobs didn’t take advantage of pedals’ increased surface area. After experimenting with various combinations of pedal shims and XC-style shoes from Northwave and Pearl Izumi, I found that Five Ten’s Hellcat offered the best overall compatibility without requiring spacers or modifications to the soles.
With my shoe selection sorted (say that three times fast), clipping in and out of the X-Tracks proved to be extremely smooth and predictable. There was the same reassuring tactile feedback that you’d expect with Shimano SPDs, but the LOOKs’ entry and exit simply felt more refined–even when covered with grit and light mud. Aside from some initial experimentation, I spent the majority of my testing with the retention adjusted to the lightest setting. Even at the lowest tension, however, I never experienced any unexpected releases. As with my old LOOK Moabs, I was very pleased with the X-Tracks’ float. Other SPD-style pedals’ rotation always seemed constrained by spring tension (even when set to the lightest option), but not so with the new LOOKs. I wouldn’t go so far as to place the X-Tracks’ float on the same level as, say, Speedplay, but I finally felt like I was utilizing the full six degrees of rotation with LOOK’s pedals and cleats.
Was I able to validate LOOKs claims of improved power transfer? Not quantitatively. I can see how the increased contact area between the pedal and shoe may offer better power transfer, but at the same time, I suspect it’s highly dependent on sole depth and hardness. I can, however, report that the X-Track and Five Ten combination felt far more stable than other SPD pedal/shoe combinations I’ve tried in the past. That improved lateral stability, combined with the X-Tracks’ buttery float resulted in noticeably less joint strain during my testing. While the LOOKs won’t replace my favorite flat pedals, I found their performance better than the current crop of SPD clones.
Disclosure: LOOK Cycle provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.