Wednesday, October 14, 2009

TechTalk: Choosing Pedals

What different kinds of pedals are available for you bike? What issues do you need to consider when choosing which pedals are right for you?

Pedals come in three basic varieties: platform pedals, pedals with toe clips, and clipless pedals.

Platform pedals are the regular pedals that come with most recreational bicycles. These pedals let you wear any shoes you want. Some platform pedals have a smooth surface that makes them "barefoot" compatible, ideal for a beach cruiser or other comfort-style bike. Others have a jagged "bear trap" surface, which provides a better grip on the bottom of your shoes, to help keep your feet from slipping off of the pedals.
The Avenir Comfort-Plus platform pedal

Other platform pedals have a mostly solid surface, with raised knobs that provide grip on your shoes. This type of pedal is preferrred by BMX riders, freeride, and downhill mountain bikers, and other "extreme" riders who want a pedal with good grip on their shoes, but want the ability to easily dismount in an emergency. On some higher-end versions of these pedals, the gripping knobs are screwed in place, and can be replaced when they wear out.
The Odyssey JC/PC BMX pedals

Platform pedals are appropriate for casual riders who are not riding long distances and are not concerned about getting the maximum performance out of their bike. Many serious riders also have a spare "errand" bike with platform pedals, which they can use to just hop on for a ride down the street to the convenience store or coffee shop.

A toe clip is a roughly C-shaped device that is attached to the front of a platform pedal to provide a cradle to hold your foot in place. Sometimes the toe clips are used alone, or with a strap that allows you to adjust how tightly your foot fits inside the toe clip. The toe clip or clip-and-strap pedals provide a way to hold your feet in place more securely, but still allow you to wear any type of shoes that you want.
The Dimension Combo Compe pedal with toe clip and strap

Clipless pedals are used in conjunction with cycling-specific shoes. The pedals come with a pair of cleats that bolt onto the bottoms of the shoes, and a mechanism in the pedals allows the shoes and cleats to click into place. Some people describe this system as like a miniature version of a ski boot and binding. The term "clipless" is often confusing, because why is that word used to describe a system where your feet click, or "clip," into the pedals? The term "clipless" was adopted for this type of pedals to distinguish them from the toe-clip-and-strap pedals described above. The advantage of clipless pedals is that they allow you to pedal with a more even, circular motion, which is more efficient, and less tiring on the muscles in your legs and feet over the course of a long ride.

Many people are fearful of trying clipless pedals, because they don't feel comfortable with the idea of being "attached" to their bike. However, the clipless mechanism is designed so that your feet are held firmly in place during the normal circular pedaling motion, but all it takes to un-click is to rotate your foot slightly outward, with very little force needed to release the cleat. People who are considering switching from a platform pedal to some kind of more secure foot retention often think that they should take the "baby step" of trying clip-and-strap pedals first, then moving up to clipless. In our experience, however, we've found that it's easier, and probably even safer, to go straight to clipless pedals. If you are in a situation where you are losing your balance and about to fall over, your natural inclination is to move your foot outward, which is also the motion that allows you to un-click from your pedals. This is in contrast to the rear-pulling motion that is required to remove your foot from a toe-clip-and-strap pedal. Ironically, we've found that the hardest thing for new clipless pedal users is getting used to how to click IN to them.

There are two functional features to consider in all clipless pedals: float and release angle. The float is the amount that your foot is able to swivel side-to-side WITHOUT un-clicking from the retention mechanism. The release angle is the amount that you need to swivel your foot in order to un-click from the retention mechanism. Some pedals have no float; most typically have around six degrees of float, and some have as much as 20 degrees of float. Some pedals have adjustable float and/or release angle.

Clipless pedals come in versions that are specific for road bikes, and for mountain bikes.

Road cycling shoes have a smooth sole, with a set of three or four mounting holes on each, where the cleat is bolted into place. The larger surface of most road bike pedals and cleats are meant to spread the weight of your foot over a larger area, providing more comfort over the duration of very long on-road rides and races. The disadvantage of road-specific pedals is that the smooth sole and large cleat on the shoes makes it somewhat difficult to walk around when taking a break off of your bike. The click-in mechanism on road pedals is usually only on one side of each pedal, but the pedals are usually weighted in such a way so that they hang in just the right position to facilitate getting your foot clicked in easily. A company called Look makes popular road bike pedals of this type. Another company called Speedplay makes two-sided road pedals distinguished by their "lollipop" appearance.
The Look Keo Carbon road bike pedal
The Speedplay X/1 Titanium road bike pedal

Clipless pedals for mountain biking come with cleats that attach to the shoes with two bolts each. The cleat is recessed into the tread of the shoe. The treads on the shoes have a surface sometimes like that of a running shoe, or a more aggressive tread like a hiking boot. Either way, the tread gives you traction for times when you need to dismount and run or walk your bike on the mountain bike trail. For this reason, many people use mountain bike pedals and shoes on their road bikes, because this makes it much easier to walk around during lunch stops and other breaks during long road rides.

The most common type of mountain bike pedals use the SPD mechanism manufactured by Shimano (the "SPD" stands for Shimano Pedaling Dynamics). This is the type of pedal found on the indoor trainer bicycles used in many spinning classes. Most SPD pedals have the click-in mechanism on both sides, to make it easy to click your foot in place no matter how the pedal happens to be sitting when you get going. Shimano makes a version of this pedal (the PD-M324) that has the SPD mechanism on one side, and a regular platform on the other, so that you can use the same pedals with your cycling-specific shoes, but also wear regular sneakers once and a while if you want to hop on the same bike for a quick errand. The downside of these particular pedals is that you have fiddle with your feet a bit to spin them to the proper posi
tion when you get going.
The Shimano PD-M324 pedal

Several other manufacturers make mountain bike pedals that have become pretty popular. They tout features such as lighter weight and designs that supposedly to not get clogged up with mud in messy off-road conditions. The cleats that come with these pedals are specific to the pedals, and do not work with SPD pedals. However, these pedals are still compatible with any shoes that are SPD-compatible. Once such model is the Egg Beater pedals made by Crank Brothers, which is distinguished by its four-sided cleat mechanism, making click-in even more easy and mindless. Speedplay makes a mountain bike pedal called the Frog that features the same almost limitless float as their road bike pedals.
The Crank Brothers Egg Beater 4Ti mountain bike pedal

The Speedplay Frog Ti mountain bike pedal

Pedals range in price from $10 for a basic set of platform pedals, to several hundred dollars for the latest lightweight racing pedals. The least expensive are made mostly of plastic, and as you go up in price, you get increasing sophisticated combinations of plastic, chromoly steel, stainless steel, aluminum, titanium, and carbon fiber. Another feature of higher-priced pedals is the quality of the bushings and ball bearings in the rotating spindle.

Century Cycles carries a variety of road bike and mountain bike pedals, and shoes for both men and women for use with clipless pedals and spin classes. Stop by one of our stores and let our experienced staff help you select the combination that's right for you!

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