Reliably, between 10 and 15 percent of those racing in Kona choose Speedplay pedals. Every year. Not more, not fewer. When we look at what the top Kona athletes were using, here’s what we see: Five of the top 7 men, and 3 of the top 4 women (including the male and female winners) were on Speedplay. Why?
Likewise Bont shoes. They seem to be a real favorite, at least among male pros; and if not Bont then quite often Shimano.
When divining the role of sponsorships in pedal and shoe use, versus simply the athlete's choice for performance reasons, here are tells I look for. If you’re wearing Specialized shoes, are you a Specialized bike rider? If you’re wearing Bontrager shoes, are you aboard a Trek? If you’re sponsored by the bike brand it follows you’ll wear that brand’s accessories. In other words, who’s wearing shoes because it’s part of the deal?
Beyond this, I always look to see whether a product’s presence or absence is likely due to the choice to spec a product as original equipment. And finally, is a product used a lot because it’s made by a Mr. Moneybags company, sponsoring every warm body in the pro field?
None of this is the case with Speedplay. The value in riding the pedal is… the pedal. What I have not done is ask these athletes why they chose Speedplay. I know why I ride it, and have written the reasons. That said, there are clues that point to my reason not being their reason. The pros overwhelmingly choose Speedplay Aero pedals. Kienle, Skipper, Wurf, Lieferman, Potts, Charles-Barclay all ride Zero Aero. The Aero is a one-sided pedal, and I prefer the ability to clip into either side. But I’m not a long course athlete, and I don’t earn my living having my shoes already in the pedals when I mount my bike. There’s a pretty compelling set of data in favor of the Zero Aero, and you may read it if you want. Men’s winner Frodeno is the outlier, riding Speedplay Titanium pedals, unless he’s riding something not in the catalog (a ti spindle inside an aero pedal body).
Based on my knowledge of this company, Speedplay is not a free spender when it comes to sponsorships. I can’t find any good reason why these athletes choose this pedal other than… the pedal. But they aren’t riding the Speedplay I would ride, so, the adjustability narrative is probably not their reason. The aero performance of this pedal is probably why they chose it. (I bet you didn’t know there was an aero narrative that attached to pedals.)
If it’s not Speedplay, what did the top-15 men and women ride? The total count is: 12 riders chose Speedplay and 11 chose Shimano, 5 were on Look, and both Corinne Abraham and Tim O’Donnell rode with Garmin Vector pedals. Shimano appears the default choice by most folks who want a reliable, functional, quality pedal (if it’s not Speedplay). There’s a robust discussion on our Reader Forum on the choice between Speedplay and Shimano.
There is one sponsor-based explanation for the big discrepancy between pedals chosen by these pros and those chosen by the rest of you. Overwhelmingly – and I mean 40 to 50 percent of you – intend for your power meter to be in your pedal. Only 2 of 30 pros have their PMs in their pedals. Why? It could be that a lot of them have power meter sponsorships that preclude their use of the PM in the pedal. Would more choose a Garmin Vector – as so many of you are doing – if they all had to buy all their own product, as you and I do? I don’t know.
I was struck by how many were riding in Bont shoes. Frodeno, Hoffman, Skipper, Koutny, Lieferman, Baekkegaard. For some bonehead reason we left cycling shoes off the questionnaire we gave to the top-15 women, so I can’t comment on their choices with good data. But just looking at the photos, I’m not seeing the Bont Zero+ among the women’s high finishers the way I’m seeing so many among the pro men. As with Speedplay, I don’t sense that this is a sponsor dollar thing. Bont just makes a very good shoe.
That said, I’m also seeing a lot of Shimano S-Phyre, either tri or road, and I must assume it’s because it’s just… so… comfortable! I love the S-Phyre line. Rough guess, I’d say maybe 8 of these 30 were in one S-Phyre model or another.
We didn’t ask this question but just from looking at photos 18 or 20 of these 30 men and women were riding with one or another type of BOA closure. Mostly, a pair of closures, like a Shimano S-Phyre RC9. It appears that the comfort, performance, and quality of a good road shoe, with a BOA closure, outweighs the value of quick entry and exit. We don't see this same decision made by short course pros. This is the value calculation made by Ironman versus ITU racers.