Saturday, January 20, 2007

Cycling With Platform Pedals and Ordinary Shoes

Certain things in the cycling world seem to invoke extremely strong responses in many people. Helmets, bike lanes, Campy vs. Shimano, and fixed gears all have been known to split riders into opposing camps. But if you want some really spirited discussion, start talking about pedals.

In the years I've been riding, I've ridden various kinds of pedals. Like most kids, I started riding with simple platform pedals and whatever shoes I happened to have. As I grew up, I learned more about how "serious" riders rode. I raced in the days of nail-on cleats and toe clips and later tried various clipless pedals. I do like being able to pull up on the backstroke and feel more secure when attached to the pedals but ultimately found I was more happy with Power Grips than clipless pedals. I explained my logic behind this choice here:

The recent snow and ice here was enough to make even pedestrian propulsion something that required extreme levels of vigilance and this inspired me to get a new pair of some very tready shoes. My new Keen Targhees work great for hiking the trails of Tiger Mountain and the slick sidewalks of Seattle but the very tread that makes them great for hiking keeps them from sliding easily into my Power Grip pedals. I could just use my usual Shimano touring shoes for riding and reserve the Keens for hiking, but I wanted to try riding with the Keens, so I dug a pair of big old mountain bike pedals out of my junk pile and slapped them on my bike.

Friday was the test commute. It felt a little weird but the grippy shoes and grippy pedals made it easy to keep my feet just where I wanted them to be. Mostly I wanted my feet to be on the pedals, but on the super slick section of the Bellevue Slough ice-field, I could deploy one foot as an outrigger. My feet didn't lift off the pedals on the backstroke but it did feel a little different. My commute times in winter are never fast but this different choice of pedals and shoes didn't seem to add any time penalty.

But my cycling colleagues are appalled. With the Power Grips I was merely eccentric, but with no obvious foot retention, I seem to have crossed the line into the land of the whacko. I'm turning my back on some obvious efficiency and somehow that strikes some folks as being really, really wrong.

I do think that foot retention does add some efficiency but I don't know that it's always needed. For some instances, like winter or a bike that you just are hopping on to go to the store or work, do you need to have your feet strapped in? I don't know what the answer is for you and I'm not sure that I even know what the right answer is for me. For now, I think I'll keep experimenting with the big pedals and grippy shoes, but I think I'll probably switch back to my Power Grips and Shimano shoes in the spring. My Shimano shoes are also pretty "normal" walkable shoes.

Both Jill and Doug are people who ride through weather that most folks only watch from the comfort of their warm homes and they use platform pedals. Over at Cyclelicious the questioning of the clipless faith has prompted a discussion of the virtues of clipless pedals. And the saga continues...

Keep 'em rolling folks, whatever you've got on your feet. There are lots of ways to turn those pedals.


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