A first look at the Look S-Track MTB pedal. © Cyclocross Magazine

A first look at the Look S-Track MTB pedal. © Cyclocross Magazine

by Clifford Lee

Back in 1984, Look popularized the step-in “clipless” pedal, using its long-gained knowledge from dominance in the ski industry, and the cycling world has not been the same since.

However, despite their innovations, Look never gained a strong foothold in the mountain bike scene (unless you consider securing mountain bike legend Tinker Juarez’s shoes to the crank for most of his wins a strong foothold). Mountain bike clipless pedals are an area that was dominated by Shimano as the sport grew in the 1990s. Look concentrated on the then-strong road bike world.

That’s not to say Look did not try tapping into the off-road market, having no less than six iterations prior to the S-Track, each requiring a different cleat:

Here’s a brief history of Look offroad pedals, based on our memory.

  1. the Look ATB, a 1985 version of the road clipless pedal with a grippy backside
  2. the MP90/TP93, a more aggressive version of the ATB
  3. a Shimano-like dual-sided pedal compatible with two-bolt “SPD” style cleats with a large platform (the S2R Moab and S2 Nevada models, a favorite of Tinker Juarez)
  4. the slimmer elastomer-based SL3 dual-sided pedal, perhaps inspired by Onza
  5. a licensed Crankbrothers “Eggbeater” design 4×4 pedal
  6. the light and mud-clearing Quartz

The Quartz was the off-road pedal most unique to Look, but had a misstep with the initial released “version one” that had early-release problems (no pun intended). “Version two” addressed this and became my favorite because it was inexpensive, lightweight and mud-clearing, all with an easy in-and-out design. We reviewed this pedal twice—first in Issue 7 just after the new version was released and recently in Issue 17, just as the pedal was about to be discontinued when the new Look S-Track debuted.

And so that brings us to new S-Track pedal, which has a two-bail cleat attachment similar to the Quartz it replaces, though the cleats are not compatible. Similar to the Quartz, the bails are the retention springs, though they are thicker than the Quartz.

Look S-Track mtb / cyclocross pedal offers serious mud clearance and stability. © Cyclocross Magazine

Look S-Track MTB/cyclocross pedal offers serious mud clearance and stability. © Cyclocross Magazine

The S-Track is available in three versions:

  • $369 Titanium axle with carbon reinforced body with carbon reinforced deflectors (244g)
  • $209 Chrome-Molybdenum (Cromoly) steel axle with composite body and aluminum deflectors (290g)
  • $109 Base model (tested): Cromoly steel axle with composite deflectors (284g)

The deflectors serve to flip the pedal onto one of its two sides for cleat engagement, similar to the age-old Lyotard Berthet M23 pedals from the 1970s for those old enough to remember.

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

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

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

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.

The pedals also have (as an extra purchase) a removable cage design, for those who want more platform while riding.

Our base model is 290 grams for the pair without the external cages, which makes it 30 grams more than the base model of the Quartz, but with a firmer, more durable interface. Despite the force required to clip-in, the Look S-Track has the most stable and firm shoe-to-pedal interface I’ve used, hands down. Once clipped in, there is no rocking or instability at all and the feeling of power transfer is absolute at the pedal. I found that confidence-inspiring when jamming on the pedals, during a steep section or when sprinting.

I loved the Quartz, and the S-Track improves upon some aspects of retention, but sacrifices ease of entry with the default cleats. Aggressive, powerful riders should love the stronger spring tension and stable platform, while lighter or younger riders might want to purchase the $24.99 S-Track Easy DCS Cleats or something with less spring tension or more adjustability. We hope Look Cycle will eventually offer the pedals with either cleat option, so that racers who want less spring tension don’t have to pay a premium to ride the S-Track with the desired entry/exit release tension.

Ultimately, weight-conscious riders will be happy, since the high-end version of the pedals weigh 142 grams each, but those looking for super easy clipping out capabilities may be less thrilled.

While many of us have a small fortune invested in pedals for our multiple bikes, technology is constantly changing and most of us are lucky to have the freedom to make a change without sponsor restrictions. Look presents a compelling option, especially for muddy environments. The S-Track is a well-thought-out design that should work well in muddy environments and remain stable even as your shoe wears. We only wish the spring tension was adjustable or that the pedal came with a cleat choice for the less powerful or timider riders.

At $109, the basic model is a good value, but the other models don’t offer much in terms of dollar-per-gram savings for the weight weenies, but the aluminum deflectors on the Race model could offer more durability.

Look Cycle’s Justin Lubecki has confirmed that the deflectors are going through a minor modification to increase durability, as the “wings” of the deflector are a little thin and could be cracked on a rock, but shouldn’t affect the function of the pedal.

Installation? It’s easy, but is performed with an 8mm hex wrench, not a pedal wrench, as there aren’t flats on the pedal axle. Also, it’s worth noting that the cleat bolts are quite long, and if you don’t use the shims, on some shoes, the bolts could actually protrude into your shoe, but thankfully you could use your old bolts or source some shorter ones quite easily.

For you superhero fans, the cleats resemble the Bat Symbol, and could win you some friends should you find yourself racing against jokers or in Gotham City.

The cleat for the S-Track from Look. © Cyclocross Magazine

The cleat for the S-Track from Look. © Cyclocross Magazine

Look S-Track MTB / Cyclocross Clipless Pedal:

MSRP: $109 S-Track; $209 S-Track Race; $369 S-Track Carbon
Accessories: Alloy cage: $49; Composite cage: $99
Float: 3 +/- free float (6 degrees total), 15-degree release angle (+/- 12 degrees spring-affected float)
Bearings: Two ball bearings, one Teflon bushing (Race and Carbon replace Teflon bushing with needle bearing)
More info:

Look S-Track MTB / Cyclocross Clipless Pedal Photo Gallery:

Check back often for more Interbike 2013 cyclocross bikes and gear. We’ve still got more cyclocross goodies from Vegas.

Update: See our review of Look Cycle’s latest pedal, its X-Track and X-Track Race Carbon pedals here.

Clifford Lee
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Clifford Lee

Tester, Bike Geek at Cyclocross Magazine
Clifford Lee geeks out on all things cyclocross, and is one of the primary testers for CXM Labs. When he's not testing or racing cyclocross, he's tinkering with bikes in the basement, being a dad, or helping people see better.
Clifford Lee
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