Another feature new to the S-Track is what Look calls DCS (dynamic cleat system): Mud is evacuated from the cleat via cutouts on the cleat itself. With all the cleat sculpting, it leaves thin blade-like areas of the cleat that left us wondering about durability, though that hasn’t been an issue in six months of moderate use.
The Quartz relied on shimming the cleat with included wedges so that the shoe’s tread contacted the pedal body, and if setup correctly, it had one of the most solid, rock-free interfaces. Shimano relies on the cleat interface for loose stability and if the shoe tread contacts the pedal body, that enhances the stability. With the Time and Crank Brothers two-bail engagement system, the shoe rests on the bails themselves, often resulting in a rocky relationship and a dented sole. Crank Brothers sells metal shoe shields to combat this problem.
With the S-Track, dependence on shoe’s tread for stability is eliminated since the broad cleat rests on the stainless steel surface of pedal body, cushioned by composite pads on the cleat itself, similar to the Shimano interface, but broader and without the potential metal-to-metal squeaking. The consequence of the wide cleat is potential interference with shoe treads with pedal exit or mud build-up.
There are four different cleat spacers, but you may not need them. Look S-Track MTB / cyclocross pedal reviewed. © Cyclocross Magazine
Outer areas of the pedal body are designed to interface with the shoe’s tread and sit lower than the cleat interface surface, but I was never actually able to get the shoe’s tread to contact the pedal body for support. Although the cleat comes with the four different width pads, I didn’t need to use any of them on my Specialized S-Works shoe. The shoe’s tread would have to be very tall in order to contact these areas and I could not find a shoe with such tall treads. Without any pads, I could still get in and out of the pedal without problem, and didn’t find mud clearance to be an issue with the cleat as close to the sole as possible. Regardless, the shoe was still completely stable when engaged—more than any other pedal I’ve used except perhaps the Quartz that it replaces.
Engagement is firm and positive, but requires considerable force with the included Comp DCS cleats compared to the Quartz or a Shimano SPD set to moderate spring tension. The engagement/release tension is not adjustable, but will ease slightly as the cleat wears a bit and the pedal breaks in. I wondered how fast the rubber pads on the cleat would wear and how that will change the firm interface I’ve enjoyed, but I haven’t experienced any significant change so far.
Though flipping the pedal and finding the engagement points is easy and intuitive, actually clipping in is sometimes challenging because of the step-in force required. Perhaps if I was a heavier rider, this would be less of an issue, but I sometimes have to put conscious effort into clipping in, sometimes repositioning the crank arm to the 6 o’clock position. As I’ve gotten used to engagement, I found that rotating my foot slightly to the release angle helped, as did being in a taller gear. Clipping out has never been an issue. However, I can envision that with two to go, just before that last set of barriers, if you don’t exit with intention and instead are distracted looking for a hand-up, you might find yourself sideways still attached to your bike.
[Update: Look Cycle has released the Easy DCS S-Track cleat as an aftermarket option for easier entry/release for lighter or less-aggressive racers.]
“There is no tension adjustment because it always springs back,” a Look representative explained at Interbike 2013. “Compared to the Quartz, the model before this one, we improved the contact surface between the cleat and the pedal to protect the surface. We added some deflectors, which helps the cleats clip in.”
Thick mud? No problem with entry or release. Look S-Track MTB / cyclocross pedal reviewed. © Cyclocross Magazine
Our first rides involved muddy running, which caked up the sole and cleat, but thanks to the open pedal design, and perhaps the carved-out cleat, engagement required only minimally increased force and release was not greatly affected. Release did not seem to be affected by sticky mud and grass, offering a smooth predictable release every time.
The cleat is designed to evacuate mud, but still collects it. Entry and exit still work just fine. Look S-Track MTB / cyclocross pedal reviewed. © Cyclocross Magazine
I practiced high-speed dismounts with the S-Track, at first nervously, but never experienced a problem with release—again, as long as it’s done with intention. Miles later, the engagement is still firm, and the force to enter or release is not perceptibly different.
Float is listed at +/- 3 degrees, or 6 degrees total, with a 15 degree release angle and my measurements indicate that’s pretty accurate.