Friday, December 4, 2015

The case for flat pedals in a clipless pedal world

I tried clipless pedals back in the late 90s when I dabbled in road racing and time trialing. I will say that I only had one mishap while trying to unclip where I actually fell over. Still, I never felt entirely happy riding with them and eventually went back to clips and straps.

Clipless pedals are for racers. That's my opinion, not some holy writ.
But if you think about it, it makes sense. If you go clipless, you need to buy pedals, special shoes, and, periodically, replacement cleats. There's a trial period while you dial in the right fit (and if you don't know what you're doing, take it to a shop or you'll do some serious damage to your knees). And in the end you can spend between $200 and $400 to get set up (including a bare-bones adjustment session at your local shop, because they charge for that stuff).

Clips and straps, the way many of us rode before around 1989 or so, remains a reliable option. Your foot has some more wiggle room if you don't cinch the straps down tight -- and the only reason to do that is if you race, and if you race you've probably moved on to clipless pedals anyway, so it's moot.

In which case, why not just go all the way and install flat pedals on your bike?
Seriously, if all you do is ride for fun and transportation, flat pedals will do just fine. They come in all shapes and widths; accommodate almost any kind of shoe from heels to boots; and allow your foot to move naturally while you pedal, constantly readjusting along the way and preventing some knee and ankle injuries (because your foot isn't locked in one position).

There a literally hundreds of different styles of flat pedal out there. Here are a few that are proven to work well:

1. XLC alloy mountain pedals. These can be found at many bike shops as a budget alternative to the fancier pedals. Designed and supplied by Seattle Bike Supply (a wholesaler), they are solidly made and pretty reliable for their sub-$20 price (most shops retail them for around $15 a pair). When I worked at Citybikes we brought these in and they became so popular with customers and staff alike that we had trouble keeping them in stock.

2. MKS "Lambda" pedals. Available everywhere for an average price of $60 retail. Designed and sold by Rivendell Bicycle Works under the name "Grip King", these pedals are not my personal favorite, but some riders I know swear by them. A nice hack is to drill out a few of the craters and install self-tapping pins for extra traction.


3. VP-001 Pedals. Sold by Rivendell as "Thin Gripster" pedals. but available elsewhere online and in shops at an average price of $80 retail. I ran this pedal on my All-Rounder for several months. Sealed bearings, replaceable pins and a lower profile make this a very nice pedal. One drawback is the raised "hump" in the middle, a result of the low profile (you still need space inside for the spindle); It's not my choice for long distances, but for a ten-mile spin around town it's fine.


4. Redline Lo-profile sealed platform pedals.  At a price of around $45 retail, this is by far the best value in the bunch. This design is one variation on a theme made and sold under hundreds of makes/models. Very likely made in the same factory as similar pedals sold under "Wellgo" and other brands. The sealed bearings are smooth after break-in, and the platform is comfortable on longer rides because the profile isn't so low as to require a "hump" for the spindle inside. These have become my favorite flat pedals. I have them on both of my upright bikes now and they are super-comfy and grippy. If you're on a budget, there's a version of these with molded pins and loose bearings for less than half the cost. They're just as comfortable but will require overhauling much sooner.

5. I would remiss if I didn't mention the MKS RMX pedals. They're not for everyone, especially those of us in wetter climates (there's just not enough traction in the rain for my liking). But they are a pretty comfortable platform, and among the more affordable "brand name" pedals out there. They're totally fine if you live outside the rainy Pac NW. Some folks really like their looks, too.


Platform pedals make riding simpler and easier for non-racers. If you need to keep your shoes dry in the rain, wear shoe covers, galoshes or Rivendell Splats. (I prefer the Splats because they come in different sizes and allow my sole to remain uncovered and in full contact with the pedal for the most traction in the rain.)
If you're really paranoid about traction in wet weather, do what my friend does and apply skateboard grip tape to the surface (especially good if your platform pedals have no pins).

Flat pedals also give your bike a nice clean look, a small thing but in my book still a perk.
(Below: Sweetie's bike with very basic flat pedals)
Happy riding!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I read this article and you deserve a comment:) I’m a fair weather nyc fixed gear fitness rider. I’ve had MKS tourings for years, I also get hot spots after 30 minutes as I cycle in converse which are my all around exercise shoes. Figured the shoes were the issue, but finally decided to try and resolve it through a pedal change. Tried the Wellgo R146, no hot spots but the pins were digging into my shoes and were total overkill, also they were tiny pedals and had to really make an effort to get the right spot. Then I cracked one when I over tightened a pin which I grinned the pin portion off....went for the mks lambda, wow. Amazingly comfortably and spin like the dickens. Loved the shiny silver and the 4 reflectors increased my safety by 800%. Just could hop on and ride and never had to think about my feet. However I’m concerned about the front and backs being bolted on, I’m 215 and apply serious pressure on climbs in my gear ratio. For 27 bucks I have the mks RMX on the way, if they feel as good I’m going with their one piece construction and returning the lambdas. Some peace of mind and amazon prime will refund anything apparently

At the end of the day the pedal options for road folks in sneakers are terrible, everything is geared for serious MTB and road racers, guess what most people despite what they think are not that. I’ve never had my feet slip off cycling and those pins destroy everything in their path, why would I want a spinning gauntlet of destruction on my bike. If you’re riding a bunch in the rain get slip resistant shoes, they are amazing in how well they work.