Sunday, March 22, 2009

Which Pedals Should I Buy?

On the right hand of this blog I have a note inviting readers to "send your thoughts to my over-flowing inbox by emailing me at:

kentsbike (at) gmail (dot) com"

and adding "If you are not a robot I figure you are smart enough to replace the (at) and the (dot) with the appropriate symbols." My wife will tell you I'm not kidding about the "over-flowing inbox" part of that statement and that I feel bad that I don't always manage to respond to everybody who writes me. I don't feel too bad if you want me to link to your spamariffic blog of cycling ads, yes I know you've "read my blog and find it so interesting," but no, I don't think my readers will find your site valuable, but I digress...

Anyhow, I get a lot of email out of vastness of cyberspace and every once in a while, one of these missives stirs me to action. Yesterday, for example, I got this note from a fellow named Mark Marowitz.

Subject: platform pedals HELP & wisdom

Dear Sir,

My name is Mark. I am 57 years old. I am riding a bike for the first time in 25 years. I live in and ride in the confines of NYC, the only home I've ever known. I met a young enthusiastic bike builder who built me this very sweet Townie (the blue Civilian with the Velo Orange saddle bag and the SRAM imotion 9-sp internal gear hub with mechanical disc brakes). I'm afraid on his first time out he built a bike with an aggressive seasoned bike rider's approach. Notice the Nitto North Road Bars are laid upside down to bring the rider into a low cyclcross-like position.

When I got the bike I flipped the handlebars over to put me in a sitting upright position like the purple Boston Roadster by ANTbike Mike Flanigan.

I, also, ordered MKS Touring pedals but the bike builder, Tyson Hart, decided on MKS Stream pedals which are a narrower version both horizontally and vertically than the MKS Touring and made for a more aggressive ride. These pedals give the rider more cornering clearance and the only cornering clearance I need is to turn the corner onto 85 St. where I live. I wear sneakers or Keen walking or hiking shoes when I ride. In other words I just get on it (the bike) and ride. I find the MKS Stream pedals uncomfortable. My heel strikes the crank arm and I'm only attached to the bike by the ball of my foot. I want to change to a bigger more comfortable platform pedal. I have provided some examples of these.

MKS Grip King ($54)

MKS Touring ($40)

Wellgo Platform ($15)

MKS RMX sneaker pedal ($27)

MKS Stream (narrower version of the MKS Touring)

GK vs Touring


Perhaps you have had more experience riding a bicycle than me and I'm hoping that you will share some of your experiences with me, thereby saving me a lot of trial and mostly error. I'm hoping even though you might be reticent to actually recommend a pedal for my bike that you will actually do just that. That is help me to decide on one. 90% of the bikes life will be on the streets of NYC. I might do some CC touring with it in the not to distant future. Speed is not for me but fun and fitness are. Grant Petersen recommended The MKS Grip King pedal for it has lot's of surface and lot's of support (by far the most support). Mark Abele, Rivendell's head mechanic recommended MKS RMX sneaker pedal. ANT bike Mike recommended the MKS Touring pedal. My local bike shop recommended the Wellgo Platform pedals which have a very wide platform, indeed. Now perhaps you're thinking that I can't go wrong with any of these selections. And you'd be right. But as you can see the GK's are kind of narrow with a wide toe-box shoe. The Touring pedals are wide enough but don't give the same support as the GK's. The Wellgo Platform and the MKS RMX sneaker pedals are approximately the same size. The prices are from Rivendell and can be found cheaper with a google search. Perhaps you can recommend some other pedals for me to consider. Anyways, which pedals should I buy?

Kind Regards,


When I got Mark's note, I stared at it for a bit. My first thought was "Wow, this guy has done his homework!" my further thoughts, on expertise and advice, brought to mind a story I've often told friends but that I haven't told on the blog until now. While the story doesn't directly involve bikes, it does explain something of the course that lead me to being a guy who gets emails from guys like Mark. And I think it does something to explain why I gave him the advice you'll read at the end of this post.

But for now, fans of diversion (and if you stick through my long and winding blog posts, I'm betting you're fans of diversion), let me tell you a story.

Thirty years ago I was an undergrad student at the Duluth campus of the University of Minnesota, theoretically majoring in Physics or Mathematics while actually spending way too much time in Doc Olsen's lab rooms fixing oscilloscopes and hacking field mills, taking far too many philosophy courses and reading way too many books and back issues of The Mother Earth News to be any kind of serious Science Major. To show that even then I was a curmudgeon in training, even in 1979 I knew that the early 70s copies of Mother Earth were better than the watered-down commercial crap they were printing in 1979, but I'm digressing from my digression...

Anyhow, I was also into computers. Really into them. I learned Fortran 77, I knew CDC assembly language. I lived on Snickers bars and could camp out for 36 hours at a stretch so I wouldn't loose my spot on a DECwriter or a "glass TTY". I burned through my timeshare allotment on the mainframe, so I built my own Ohio Scientific Superboard Computer from a kit. I taught myself 6502 machine code, wrote bootloaders, sector readers and games. I got a job being the computer geek for a local engineering firm. I was a nerd before most of the world knew what nerds were. I'd started reading Byte magazine at issue one.

It was via HP calculators and Byte that I started learning about a computer language called Forth. Forth was (and is) something amazing, a tiny set of low level tools that comprise a language, an operating system and an interactive development environment in one tiny package. You pretty much don't write programs in Forth, you extend the language to encompass the problem space you are trying to navigate. I began to devour every bit of information I could find about Forth.

It was my math advisor, Dr. Dunham, that asked me one day what I'd been working on. I told him about Forth, my Superboard, building interactive debuggers in a few hundred bytes and then I asked him if he knew where I could find out anything more about Forth. He said he didn't know anything about it, but he suggested I talk to a colleague of his, Dr. Mark Luker. Dr. Luker was the guy basically heading up the Computer Science department, which was just coming into it's own after having branched off from the Math department. "Dr. Luker was telling me that there is somebody on campus who is something of a Forth guru," Dr. Dunham said.

"Forth guru? Hot Damn!" I'd been piecing stuff together from books and experiments and newsletters sent from California and now it turns out that here, on my tiny little freshwater campus, there's a guru of this stuff. Awesome!

I sprinted over to Dr. Luker's office. I'd never met Dr. Luker before but Dr. Dunham had told me where his office was and what his open hours were. I poked my head in and saw a bearded, thoughtful, scruffy looking guy not really that much older than me. I stammered my introduction "Dr. Luker, I'm one of Doug Dunham's advisees and he said I should talk to you. I'm really interested in Forth and Dr. Dunham says you know a guy here on campus, a professor perhaps, whose something of a Forth guru?"

Dr. Luker looks up from his cluttered desk, and says, "No, I don't know the guy, I've just heard about him. And he's not a professor, he's a student here. I've been meaning to look him up. I've got his name jotted down around here somewhere..." Dr. Luker digs around for a bit and unearths a scrap of the green and white tractor feed paper. "Ah," he says, "here we are. This is the guy you need to talk too."

And with that, Dr. Luker hands me a scrap of paper with the name "Kent Peterson" written on it.

A few years later I got another piece of paper from the University of Minnesota. I think doctors Luker and Dunham were kind of disappointed it was a degree in Philosophy instead of Math or Computer Science. But those two guys had already given me something far more valuable than a bit of parchment when they gave me that scrap of paper with my own name on it.

Now, thirty years later, this is what I wrote back to Mark Marowitz when he asked me for pedal advice:

Gee Mark,

You've already put a ton of thought into this. If I was in your shoes (so to speak! and I kind of am, I ride in Keens all the time these days) I'd spend $15 at my LBS on the Welgo Platform pedals.

And what's the worst case? You guess wrong and you try again. It's not like you'll suddenly be thrust into a world without these other pedals.

There are other choices as well, but I get the sense your problem isn't a LACK of choices. If you've got some time, check out this video:

There is one expert who can tell you what pedal is right for you. His name is Mark Marowitz.

Would you mind if I use some of your note as material for a blog post? I can fully credit you or anonomize you if you wish. Or I could not use anything from your note at all, it's completely up to you. I just think that what you're going through with pedal selection is something others are going through.

Kent Peterson,
Issaquah WA USA

Mark replied:

Dear Kent,

Of course you can use my note. I'd be proud to. I was hoping that you had used some of these pedals yourself. Other choices would be welcome as well:):)

Thanks for the video. I think it's terrific. If you knew me this video would be even more ironic. I am 57 years old. I live in a tiny studio apartment. I have an inexpensive tv, an inexpensive computer, but I have treated myself to a rather expensive bike. I haven't a car, or expensive clothes or much in the way of savings. In other words I have always eschewed ownership and material. I wear overalls.

Not owning much has caused me to obsess about the only thing I do.

There are three contact points between a rider and the bike. The saddle, handlebars and pedals.

I've just finished the video you so thoughtfully provided and I'm about ready to click the send button and shoot this email off to you. 1000 thanks for so aptly solving my dilemma of choices. As usual the answer is right underfoot.

Kind Regards,

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