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,



Anonymous said...

When I was still at school, I had a Saturday job helping out with customer deliveries at the local electrical store. Some of my friends actually worked there in sales, and were HATED by the full-time sales staff. Here's why:

Customer walks in, and wonders along the [high sales commission] washing machine aisle. They get pounced upon by one of my friends . . .

Friend: "Hi there! Can I help you with anything today?"
Customer: "Uh, yeah. I'm looking for a new washing machine"
Friend: "That's great, because we've got dozens for you to choose from!"
Customer, overwhelmed with the choice, leaves the shop.

The professional sales staff would guide them through the choices, with questions about how big the family was, did they already have a tumble-drier, did they want to pre-programme the machine to come on at 6a.m. with cheep electricity, etc. They would always make a sale if they got the chance to speak to the customer, and the customer would always feel that there was only ONE washing machine that was right for them. The fact that it also happened to have the highest sales commission on it was just a happy coincidence . . .

So anyway, back to pedals (see, I too can do digressions then return to the theme). The final advice you give is spot on - most pedals are cheep, so pick ones that look about right and try them. IF they work, they work. If not, Ebay them & try a different pair. Sometimes making any choice is better than making no choice at all - at least you'll get to ride while you make up your mind!

Anonymous said...

Getting deep for a Sunday morning, which is good. Thanks for the link to an interesting video

2whls3spds said...

Interesting...FWIW I usually start with the old standard; MKS Touring and work my way around from there.


Anonymous said...

I liked the diversionary anecdote, Kent.

Mark: I ride without foot retention and definitely prefer the Grip Kings. The MKS Sneakers are pretty good too, but they're not as supportive. I definitely do NOT like platform pedals with pins. They're certainly the grippiest, but my knees start to object to the locked-in position.

And...I never would have known that if I hadn't tried them all.

And...what works for me won't necessarily work for you!

Good luck!

PS: In that photo of your new bike, is the top tube supposed to be bent like that?

Anonymous said...

Hi Kent. Thanks for the video link! I've always had those same feelings about choice, so it's fun to hear someone really explore the subject in a thoughtful manner.

I like my internet service at home. There is no T1 line near our house. Cable does not run past us nor is DSL available. We used dialup for years and it is unacceptable. Cell coverage is not great. That left satellite internet, with a choice, really, of 2 providers. One of the providers had a local rep. As a result I KNOW I have the best option in place.

Long distance telephone service - Skype, bundled AT&T, ditch the landline and go with cell only, choose from a bazillion providers and resellers. I chose one of the cheapest recommended resellers, ECG. We get great service at a low rate and I am COMPLETELY unsure whether I have made the best choice.

And now, God help me, you've got me thinking about pedals....

Anonymous said...

Great post Kent, It reminded me of two things. First an old Joe Jackson song from '91 called "it's all too much":

I hate this supermarket
But I have to say it makes me think
A hundred mineral waters
It's fun to guess which ones are safe to drink
Two hundred brands of cookies
87 kinds of chocolate chip
They say that choice is freedom
I'm so free it drives me to the brink

And you know why - it's all too much

It's all too much for me to bear
What kind of shampoo suits my hair
It's all too much for me to do
Especially without you
Won't you please come home
Honey please come home

Guy was ahead of his time, great album by the way. The second was the movie Kung Fu Panda. If you've seen it you know what I'm talking about.

As to the pedal debate, I'm starting to really like the Grip Kings, though I thought they felt kind of narrow at first. Or course I have the wellgos on another bike and have to say they are pretty decent. Really good if your factoring in the price.

Anyhow, have a great week and thanks for the blog, always a good read. Cheers

Anonymous said...

For Mark's use, I'd recommend the MKS Sneaker Pedals. I've used these, the Grip Kings and a BMX pedal with the pins similar to the Wellgo. The Sneaks have great support for the foot and don't have anything sticking off them to poke you. Mark mentions living in an apt and cycling in the city. I can see lots of walking the bike and maybe carrying up stairs. While I like the GKs for gription, they can bite you if not careful. Same with pedals with pins. The only downside to the Sneaks is they are a bit slippery when wet but you really just have to be aware of that and a little more careful.

To Kent: This is an interesting blog and I enjoy digressions and diversions. Too much on the internet is little short snippets with no contextural development. I especially enjoyed your description of academic pursuits. Back in the 60s & 70s there were a lot of people in college & grad school for the intellectual pursuit and not to pick up a meal ticket. It was probably more fun then than it is for students now.

Doug Peterson

jimmythefly said...

Excellent post, Kent! For what it's worth, I have Wellgo B-37s and love-em, they work well with my wide feet. As others have said, mind the pins and your shins, but at least you can remove pins or replace them with shorter ones for a custom fit.

The Shimano DX is another that has worked well for me, and is silver!

Thanks for the link to that video.

brad said...

So, one fine day, Mark became Kent. This is a pattern in Yiddish story structure, where the one seeking becomes the one with the answer. The best known version of this, besides Kent's, to which I was treated on the way up to Ensign Ranch last summer, is "The Wizard of Oz".

Thanks, Kent. You are a great friend and a friend to many.

DW said...

That whole Ted series is amazing. Much to look through there.

Check out "Manufactured Landscapes" on that site. One of my favorites.

Back to pedals: I'm going through the same connundrum. I have size 14 paws and I'm tired of numb toes and knee pain, so I'm giving up clipless after 15 years of trying.

My feet are too wide for Sylvans, so I have some MKS Touring coming with the XL MKS clips and Christophe straps.

Hoping for good things.

Anonymous said...

I have Grip Kings on my commuter and like them a lot. They're much more comfortable and practical than the MKS touring pedals.

--Leaf Slayer

Matt in Tacoma said...

Strangely enough, I just inherited a file box of Mother Earth News two weeks ago, starting with Issue often am I going run into a reference like that? ;) Thanks also for the video link.

Anonymous said...

Dear MitchK,
That bend in the top tube is kind of like the personal signature of the builder and doesn't affect anything as far as rideability (did I just make up a new word) is concerned. The builder likes the aesthetics -- go figure. I'm actually leaning towards Wellgo MG-1 pedals because in NYC where I live the main purpose of my bike is commuting in NYC. A NYC bike has to be nimble and possess a modicum of lateral handling. I need a nice big platform for mashing down on them quickly in traffic and they fit every shoe.

Brian said...

Kent, I think this is one of the best posts I've read. That anecdote was simply amazing, and so fitting with the question at hand. Keep up the good writing and riding!


Anonymous said...

A friend and I were just talking about how much we love the el cheapo bmx style platforms. I have them on two of three of my bikes.

But, on the high end, check out the Flypaper Pedals at for an intriguing re-invent of this part. Unfortunately require custom crankset...and a hefty price...

DW said...

Tracking back on an older thread here...

But I finally got the MKS Touring pedals put on and dialed in and couldn't ge happier with them.

nollij said...

Found this post again because of your repost on twitter this morning Kent. This is an excellent post and I somehow missed it the first time around.

My personal preference are the Grip Kings, but I own 2 pairs of the MKS Sneaker pedals and I love those too. I have one pair on my snowbike (replete with K-trak attachment) and another pair on my road bike. I definitely prefer the Grip Kings when things get wet or muddy but as I said, the sneaker pedals work fine on the snowbike. Try em all: like someone else said: if you don't like them, ebay em!