Thursday, December 28, 2006

Aerolites

They say things go in cycles. And with bicycling, well, heh, the word cycle is in bicycle.

In the mid 80's, when Look came out with its "Look Safety Bindings" (also known as the Look clipless pedal), another clipless pedal existed - the Aerolite pedal.

Nowadays, Aerolites are used only on the super light bikes at trade shows, you know, the ones that weigh 8 or 9 lbs and are "fully functional road bikes"? I suspect the builders would not probably bomb down a descent or mix it up in a field sprint on their own super light bikes. Those show bikes may be light and the pedals fine, but some of the other parts are a just a touch sketchy.

Aerolites are simple affairs - a sleeve rotated on bearings around an axle, and the cleat actually grabbed the sleeve. If you picture a drill bit holder, the pedal was the drill bit and the cleat the case. If you push a drill bit into the case, it pops right in. But to pull it out straight is virtually impossible. If you pull it on one end though it comes out easily. Likewise, you stepped into Aerolites (it took about 150-200 pounds of force to so so) and rolled out of them. A strong rider cannot lift 200 lbs with their hamstrings so accidental "pull-outs" didn't happen. Well as long as the rider kept their cleats tight.

They were odd though. It looked like you had just an axle sticking out of the crank. It was virtually impossible to ride them without Aerolite cleated shoes - your foot simply rolled off. I forgot this in my excitement in test riding a new stem or something. I coasted down my driveway, accelerated a little, and, imagining I was sprinting for the line, threw the bike forward. Well, with slippers and roly-poly pedals, my feet slipped right off. My crotch landed on my rear wheel, the momentum rolled me into the rear brake, and my shorts got jammed in between the brake and the tire. And yes, my privates were in there somewhere. Very painful, in case it wasn't obvious.

Anyway, the inability to ride them in slippers aside, the pedals did have some redeeming features. They weighed about 145 grams for the steel set (76 grams for the Ti set). Mind you, that's the PAIR of pedals WITH cleats and hardware. They offered pretty good cornering clearance (37 or more degrees cornering clearance) and even if you dug a pedal, it was the soft plastic cleat you dug and so you didn't have the wheel-lifting shock like a normal pedal dig when metal hit the pavement. They were non-sided so you never worried about up or down - you just stepped down into the pedal.

At my office, where we write financial-type software, we say that the final testing environment is production. And it's true - because until you test things with paying end-users in a real environment, it's not "real". And like software, Aerolite released a pedal for final testing. And it was apparent that the product had severe technical flaws.

There were some doozy's - like the screw holding the pedal together was plastic, and sometimes it just broke in half, releasing the pedal (the sleeve) from the axle. Your foot went flying off the pedal. Actually, your foot was fine. The *pedal* went flying off the axle with your foot still attached to it. If you were lucky you landed your thigh on your top tube. Unlucky... well suffice it to say that my slippered bike throw was worse by just a bit.

A few revisions later the pedal actually stayed together. There was an adapter plate for Look mountings (the plate cracked after a year or so and it mounted your cleats 1 cm too far back, but still, better than nothing), a rethink on how the pedal held together (Turcite, a plastic bearing material, became the pedal body, and there were no more bearings), then cleats adapted to the SPD two bolt pattern. A round of legal problems (the company was Zerolite for a while, but then reverted to Aerolite) and you have the current pedal.

I have a new set which is now 2 years old, won by a pro friend's pro friend out west somewhere. It has titanium axles, the SPD holed cleats, and no Look adapters.

I was looking for places to buy parts and stuff and stumbled across a great bike shop site up in Maine - www.bikeman.com. But I realized that the best fix would be to actually make new cleat adapters.

So I went to the best website for inventors who need construction materials - www.mcmaster.com. Last night I ordered two polycarbonate plates. $8 shipped. They arrived this afternoon. They will become my Look or whatever other bolt hole adapters which exist on my new Sidis (I'll probably use the 4 widest spaced inserts as the basis for the adapter plate).

The next step is to use my Dremel with its "routing kit" to replicate the cracked Look adapter plates I have on my 10 year old shoes. And if things go well, I'll have a nice set of shoes that will work with my nice set of new Aerolites.

My bike isn't like one of those super light show bikes, even if it will share the same pedals. It has too much aluminum and not enough carbon. But there's a big difference between those show bikes and my bike.

My bike will bomb down descents and partake in some furious field sprinting.

2 comments:

Biker Dude said...

Do you have any photos of your Aerolites, Aki? Sound pretty cool.

Aki said...

The old ones will be up in a day or two. It might be a full blown post as I converted wood-soled, laced Duegi's to clipless shoes by using a nylon sleeping bag strap, ShoeGoo, and a thumbtack.

The new ones... well when I finish the plates (hopefully this weekend).