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Nikola is the brain child of Nick Stevovich from Rocky River, Ohio. Stevovich took his background in speed skating and applied that to the bicycle pedal and has developed a laterally moving pedal that he developed in an effort to increase power and speed.
Stevovich's theory was that if he can recruit and pull in more muscles into the pedaling motion, he should get more output. So, he built a prototype, rode it, felt great, but didn't know what it was doing to his body or performance. He partnered with the human performance lab at Cleveland State university in a study that involved 50 riders and measured their V02 max and other biometric statistics. What he found out was that 70% of riders showed a 2% efficiency improvement and 7% more peak power. This translates into an estimated time savings of 135 seconds during a 40km time trail.
The Nikola pedal uses what Stevovich has dubbed Zivo Technology and his pedal moves 25mm (approximately 1 inch) laterally over the pedal spindle mimicking the side-to-side movement of a speed skater. His patented design is very unique, unlike anything we have seen before. There are two versions, one made from titanium and one from stainless steel. Both pedals use a standard 3-hole style cleat and are compatible with any 9/16" crank-arm threading.
Here is short video clip showing the Nikola pedal in action:
One big benefit of the Nikola pedal design soon became apparent from test rider feedback is that for riders that suffered from knee and hip pain, the lateral movement greatly increased their comfort on the bike. Riders who were recovering from FAI surgery (FemoroAcetabular Impingement - friction in the hip joint) noticed a huge amount of relief. Baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees had FAI surgery and it is common for certain athletes.
We had a chance to talk to Stevovich about his interesting pedal design and we asked him many questions.
RoadBikeReview: Is there any kind of learning curve that goes along with the pedaling motion?
Nikola: We wanted it to be intuitive. We didn't want people to have to "learn" how to pedal these pedals. In less than 5 minutes, you'll get use to it. It's a very subtle motion.
RoadBikeReview: How about when you stand up?
Nikola: It helps improve all pedal performance including peak efforts like when you are standing. I'm a terrible hill climber but that's where I felt the benefit the most. When you're out of the saddle and rocking the bike back and forth, the lateral movement of the pedal goes right along with the movement of the rest of your body.
RoadBikeReview: How much movement is there laterally and how did you decide on this?
Nikola: The first production run is 25mm which equals about 1 inch. We've tested as low as half an inch and as high as one and 3/4 inch. We're also looking at a version just for stationary bike classes that is 2 to 2 and a half inches. We went with 1 inch to start to make it easy for people to adapt and accept. Some of the most vocal opponents before trying the pedal are the hardcore riders and racers and after trying these pedals, they tell us how surprised they are because the motion feels natural.
We have prototypes of a new pedal with a spring action on it. With data logging capabilities to measure how much your left foot moves compared to your right foot. Perhaps your feet are not symmetrical in their pedaling motion, so we could potentially account for that with a custom setting if your right foot goes out 1 inch and your left foot goes out an inch and a quarter. We can also adjust where in the pedal rotation the lateral movement starts and ends. People may are not symmetrical, so we instead of people adapting to the bike, let the bike adapt to you.
The actual mechanism involves a pin and a bearing that spins. Inside the spindle is a channel that moves in a modified sin curve . There is very little play and the movement is silky smooth.
RoadBikeReview: How durable is the pedal, is there a limit to its lifecycle?
Nikola: We have this test jig set up just to show the durability and lifecycle. That particular spindle has 55 million revolutions on it. The equivalent of 500,000 miles.
RoadBikeReview: What is the warranty?
Nikola: We currently offer a 2 year warranty.
RoadBikeReview: Are there any other versions in the works? For mountain bikes, maybe?
Nikola: We have prototypes of an SPD version for mountain bikers that is currently in the works.
RoadBikeReview: If you are making a mountain bike version, you're going to get a lot more dirt and dust and mud exposure.
Nikola: Correct. We are looking at all those factors and what is the right lubrication, what's the right kind of bushing, what's the right setup ...so that's probably a year away right now. We have a proof-of-concept in development as we speak.
Another factor that we are looking at is for bike shops that do custom fittings....do we have a setup that their customers could benefit from.
RoadBikeReview: The float that is allowed...that would still be specific to the cleat that is used, yes?
Nikola: Correct. We are currently looking at different cleat float setups like 0 degree inward float and 3 degree outward float which is what your leg naturally wants to do.
RoadBikeReview: Will your pedal system cause cleats to wear out faster?
Nikola: No. Your cleats will wear out faster from contact with the concrete when you are walking, than from using our pedals.
RoadBikeReview: Any special cleaning or lubing considerations?
Nikola: Lubricate once a year like most other pedals.
RoadBikeReview: Do you have any kind of cap that will fit on the end of the pedal?
Nikola: We are currently debating that. We have discussed caps in different colors, but right now we don't have a cap. We will re-evaluate the need for a cap depending on feedback from our first run, but throughout our entire test period we have not had any problems with dirt or debris causing problems. We have even discussed a commuter version of the pedal and putting a light inside the pedal. My mad scientist engineer has even discussed putting a power meter in there.
I was able to give the Nikola pedal a test spin, but unfortunately the demo was not optimal. To truly feel the difference, the rider needs to be clipped in with the pedals. Since most show goers probably wouldn't have their cycling shoes on hand (and providing a multitude of shoes in various sizes would be too much for a small builder) the demo setup simply had a cleat installed in the pedal to provide a flat surface to place my sneakers on. But even with that, we could feel the pedal moving in and out laterally. The motion was not as foreign as I thought it would be, but at the same time it was hard to perceive any noticeable advantage (just like Nikola described as his own first experience). The pedals we demo'ed were set to start their lateral motion at the 12 o'clock position and stop their motion at the 6 o'clock position. These engagement points are changeable by the user when they install the pedals. This is also a requirement due to the threads on the cranks - when you thread the pedals on, you will not know ahead of time where the engagement will be, therefore the engagement points are changeable.
Price for the first version of the Nikola pedal in titanium is $549 and the stainless steel version is $339 and can be purchased directly here at Interbike or by contacting Nikola through their website. Currently they are using an aluminum body but they are looking at producing future versions with a magnesium body. The first production run was 200 sets of pedals and they have commitments for 50 of those to coaches, pros, retail distributors and media samples. After processing direct user feedback from this first batch, Nikola will be ramping up for his next production run. Stevovich says, "I have been fortunate enough to be the beneficiary of four grants to get this project funded. We just closed our first round of investors about 60 days ago who have backed the idea, so we have really good support."
Stevovich continues: "We want to launch with a quality product that is going to last. That test spindle with over 500,000 miles on it is highly over-engineered because the last thing we want is a product that fails a year later. I'm Serbian and we have a saying that says, "I'm not rich so I can't afford to buy cheap things." We hope it's not the only pedal you buy, but we feel that it will be the last pedal you buy. "
We here at RoadBikeReview look forward to getting a set of these pedals in for a full test and review. Stay tuned.
For more information visit www.nikolainnovation.com
This article is part of RoadBikeReview's coverage of the 2014 Interbike trade show in Las Vegas. For more from Interbike CLICK HERE.