In early 2008 I tested Shimano PD-A520 road pedals. That review noted Shimano’s use of an SPD cleat-retention mechanism in a wide-platform body, which allows riding the road in recessed-cleat mountain bike shoes and some touring shoes and sandals. Of course, you could also do that using MTB pedals, but most are small and may not provide enough support to stave off pressure-induced “hot foot” on multi-hour road rides.
The PD-A520 pedals proved popular with roadies who commute or do centuries, tours or brevets. They provide a supportive platform along with the ability to wear shoes with cleats that don’t touch the ground during walking, a boon when off the bike.
Now Eric Sampson, the ingenious Denver-based creator of components and frames, has introduced a worthy competitor to the PD-A520. His Showtime pedals, which cost about $20/pair more than the Shimano version, are similar in shape and design but are slightly lighter and, Sampson says, have a higher quality axle and bearings.
I used Showtimes several times at home and then for 6 rides totaling 420 miles (676 km) while coaching at a PAC Tour training camp in Arizona. The rides down there were 60-85 miles (97-137 km) on demanding terrain (and even more demanding headwinds).
Walkability is important during PAC Tour events. Daily rides are always long enough to feature snack stops about every 25 miles (40 km) and a roadside lunch — stops similar to those in many organized events. In addition, campers like to climb off at scenic overlooks or prowl around the tourist towns of Tombstone and Bisbee. Some walk like Charlie Chaplin in their road shoes with exposed cleats. I prefer Specialized MTB shoes for an easy and natural gait.
The Sampson platform, although slightly smaller than that of the PD-A520, provides plenty of support for relatively long rides. Pedal pressure isn’t concentrated and I didn’t develop any toe tingling or numbness.
Entry and exit are easy and consistent thanks in part to chromed cleat contact points. They let the cleat slide easily without the binding that plastic inserts can cause. Entry is simple. The pedal hangs almost vertically so you simply toe it over as if it were a regular road pedal and clip in. Even after walking in the Sonoran Desert’s loose sand my exits were smooth. I had no inadvertent releases during a few impromptu sprints with the campers.
The bearings were a bit stiff initially. Occasionally this kept a pedal from hanging freely as I tried to enter, but over the course of the camp week the bearings began breaking in and the pedals rotated more easily. Based on my initial 500 miles (800 km) I estimate they’ll be freely rotating within about 2,000 miles (3,220 km).
Release tension is easily adjusted with an allen key. The spring is plainly visible and there’s a tension indicator so both pedals can be set identically.
The Showtimes mount to crankarms with either a 6-mm allen key or a conventional pedal wrench. I flew to camp with my Ritchey Breakaway travel bike and didn’t want to tote a full-size wrench. But I was concerned that a short-shanked 6-mm allen wouldn’t provide enough leverage to secure and remove the pedals. Most high-end pedals use a beefier 8-mm wrench that allows more leverage. However, the pedals mounted easily and they stayed secure for the week. They were easy to remove after the last ride even with the 6-mm.
SPD Compatible Cleats
Sampson provides cleats that resemble Shimano SPD. In fact, SPD cleats work fine with Showtimes, but Sampson’s version allows slightly more lateral float before release, a feature I appreciated. The cleats didn’t show any meaningful wear after a week of tramping around in desert gravel and into the Bisbee Coffee Company.
The Showtimes are finished in silver, which should complement any bike well. From a short distance they look like a conventional road pedal so riders who don’t want to reveal their penchant for walkable cleats shouldn’t worry about their pedals giving them away.
The bottom of each pedal got scratched during camp week, probably from contact with shoe cleats as I tried to turn them right side up. Again because of the tight bearings, sometimes the pedals weren’t well positioned for clipping in and I had to flip them with my feet. The steel cleats, being harder than aluminum, caused superficial scratches.
Alow profile makes pedaling through tight corners safer. In addition, the outer edge is chamfered for more clearance right where it’s needed. I laid my bike over on several tight bends but still had sufficient room between the pavement and the pedal body to avoid catastrophe.
Of course, it’s too early to tell if the Showtime pedals will be durable, but so far they promise to last at least as well as the Shimano version I’ve used for a year. Bearings became smoother over the course of 500 miles but I haven’t noticed any play. I haven’t had the chance to use them in the rain.
After putting these Sampson pedals through some tough miles, they appear to be a higher quality replacement for the Shimano PD-A520. They’ll look great on any pro bike while still allowing easy walkability.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred’s full bio.