06 December, 2012

A Pedal Manifesto

My first pair of bike shoes had traditional cleats that fit over the back plate of quill pedals. When used with toe clips and straps, those cleats really locked you in. In fact, I fell over a few times when I couldn't get my foot out fast enough. The shoes had thick hard plastic soles and I could hardly feel the pedal. (They were also wicked slippery and I occasionally fell over after getting off the bike.)  Eventually, clipless pedals were introduced and all but the grouchiest of retro-grouches breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Yet even when we were no longer wearing cleated bike shoes, we continued to use quill pedals designed for them. It wasn't so bad when I wore thick soled running shoes, or boots. Eventually I learned that thin soled shoes not only improve the bio-mechanics of walking but are also very comfortable. The plates dug into the soles of my new shoes and my feet. That's when I began to suspect that using quill pedals might not be the best strategy.  I'm far from the first to figure this out. There were plenty of platform pedals on the market, but most were lower quality.
Barelli B-10
Fortunately there were a couple of notable pedals that met my needs. The British firm Barelli had the high quality B-10 model which had flat areas to reduce pressure and could be used comfortably without cleats. I think this is one of the best pedal designs ever. The other notable pedal of this type was the French Lyotard M23 'Marcel Berthet' pedal.

That Lyotard pedal was so great that White Industries now makes a very high quality copy called the Urban Platform Pedal. I own and like this pedal, but the finish is a little rough and the price is, well... it's $242. Not to be left out, MKS has recently introduced a less expensive copy (that we currently sell). Curiously the MKS version is also called the Urban Platform Pedal.
MKS Urban Platform

Here at VO we'd been selling the VO Touring Pedal, which offers pretty good support. And now we have the very-well-received Grand Cru Sabot pedal. We also have the MKS Lambda pedal and the previously mentioned MKS Urban Platform.

Given my own experience with pedals, I can't see VO developing any more quill pedals. In fact we're discontinuing a couple of models and they're on sale in the specials section. We're currently working on another Grand Cru large platform pedal. This one is meant to be used with toe clips or half clips. It'll also have some serious bearings.

Speaking of bearings, I think most pedal bearings are undersized, even those in most MKS pedals, in most Wellgo pedals (the best of the big Taiwan pedal manufacturers and maker of some VO pedals), and in most VP pedals (almost as good as Wellgo in my opinion). They just don't last as long as they should, based on seeing worn out bearing in older pedals we've sold.

Sabot pedal. Three sealed bearing (no bushings),
 light weight, rounded pins. It's not just a recycled
 BMX pedal.
So here is the manifesto part; I see a revolution coming in pedals. Cyclists are throwing off the chains (straps) of traditional pedal design. But too many of the current offering are not really designed for serious everyday riders. There is a need for high-end, long lasting, pedals designed for street shoes, even minimalist street shoes, not for stiff-soled bike shoes. They should have big strong bearings, and not bushings or loose balls. There must be models for those who ride with toe clips and dual-sided models (like the Sabot) for those who don't. The struggle will be to make pedals like these at a reasonable price.


33 comments:

GeekGuyAndy said...

I've found the opposite pedal/shoe solution. I've been using SPD pedals forever now, and just wear "touring" style shoes for commuting and errands and save the fancier shoes for the mega-long road rides. I can walk around without making clickey noises, and these are my primary everyday shoes now.

I'm not sure what the pedal bearing issues are all about. As a daily commuter and 5000mi/yr, I've yet to have a pedal fail because of the bearings.

Jason said...

Well put. For what it's worth, I've been well served by my 12+ year old Performance "Campus" (SPD/platform combo) pedals. They still work great despite living outside most of the time and have withstood daily bunny hops over the same storm grate for the past five years.

Ryan said...

I can't agree. Iv'e tried big fat platforms and my MKS Sylvan touring pedals are far more comfortable with both my goretex boots and my Sperry Topsiders which wear sock-less in the summer.

I love the empty area in the middle which provides some relief from pressure (I'm not a spinner) . And I love the lack of spikes. The teeth in the Sylvans grip my shoes but don't gouge my shins.

Phillip Ness said...

Ergon makes some good pedals, the PC2. Big, giant platforms. They work well for my big, giant feet. Unfortunately, they don't seem to be Velo Orange's style - brutish design, composite plastics, uncompromisingly German.

William Blake Stephens said...

Picked up the MKS Urban Platform a few weeks ago and couldn't be happier. I Use them with a pair of mid 90s Sidi touring shoes, and i feel that these pedals are more friendly to those than my old mks sylvan tracks, and i imagine they would be great for regular old sneakers too. I really don't see a need for higher quality bearings than what mks offers, I'd be much more interested in an affordable needle bearing bottom bracket.

The one thing I really dig about these pedals that I wasn't expecting, was how positively rock solid they are with clips and straps, the ridges on the side, paired with the ridges fore and aft, keep my feet locked in wonderfully, in dry, and wet weather.

and that flip tab is to die for.

John said...

You lost me at "thin soled shoes ." I've done my daily cycling on a wide variety of footwear and I feel thin soled shoes were the worst for foot fatigue - when used with quill pedals, aircraft-carrier-esque platforms, you name it. Hot spots, aches and neuroma aplenty from biking in thin soled shoes. I was a long hold-out for clipless but there's no comparison if not for the obvious power improvements (which I don't expect to get any reaction from given the forum) than for the far superior level of comfort. I'm using the Specialized Rime trekking shoe, designed for mountain biking and "bike pushing" along impassible terrain. It's a very stiff shoe but the vibram sole allows for excellent comfort off the bike. I forget I'm wearing bike shoes when walking around after a ride. Great daily commuter shoe. In the winter/ foul weather I still use clipless but go for the less comfortable, less walkable but watertight and toasty Specialized Defroster.

upriver said...

Pedals are one of the crucial locations of interface on a bicycle. The saddle is very important, but largely passive unless you are on seriously bumpy roads. The handlebars are super-important in a tactile sense, because your fingers are so sensitive and you are staring at them all the time, but really the control aspect is quarantined enough that with proper positioning, the handlebars are really overrated. The pedals, however, are there with you literally every single pedal stroke. Fatigue adds up rapidly when you are doing 3600 strokes per hour (being generously conservative here at 60rpm).

All that said, people have different bikes, different riding styles, and different mindsets. We need options, and it is great that VO is pursuing a few approaches (clipless vs platform) even while discontinuing some models. There is little sense in telling someone they are Wrong about what feels good for them, so the more the merrier, and cheers for upping the quality! With something you are slapping your feet, and half your body, against 3600 times per hour, is it really not worth a few dollars extra for it to be more pleasant?

VeloOrange said...

John, The fact is that we spend a lot more time off the bike than on. Thin sole shoes are more comfortable off (at least for me.) So why change shoes to run an errand on the bike? These are pedals for everyday short rides as well as for tours and fast rides and whatever else. They will certainly be no less comfortable with stiff bike touring shoes.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised more people do not share my shortcomings with the thin surface of MKS Touring pedals. Even with a short daily 8 mile commute with moderate hills, I have been experiencing pains in my forefoot that last for days.

My next investment will be some VP-001s. Despite the recent platform pedal offerings for the DH crowd, I think they're hesitant to invest in durable designs since they'll just eventually get bashed by rocks. I think the big demand is for people with challenging commutes or long distance cyclists who like the infinite positions afforded by open platform pedals.

upriver said...

(I mis-thought-typed "clipless" when I meant straps vs platforms, although I would welcome a VO clipless/SPD option). I am currently trying out some shimano hybrid pedals and tentatively hate them. about to try Sabots and see if I can kick the cleats once and for all.

gypsybytrade said...

Briefly: I have some time on SPDs, quill pedals with straps, and MKS Touring platforms. There is a progression thus far, and each is a revelation. Then, I tried some vintage Suntour XC-II beartrao style platforms and was hooked. The large area provided both grip and pressure relief. Of modern choices, the VP-001 and the VO Sabot are some of the best, and are even reasonably lightweight. I do appreciate the slightly concave shape of the Suntour XC and some quill pedals, as it reduces pressure on the ball of the foot.

Sealed cartridge bearings ensure that the integral parts of our equipment do not wear. Although I am not afraid of bearing service, I choose cartridges whenever I find it affordable.

The true luxury of a generous pedal platform is to choose the shoe for the other things we do in our lives, such as hiking, business meetings, crossing streams, or flip-flopping on the boardwalk.

John Romeo Alpha said...

I like these. They strike an excellent balance across the requirements you list. Except that they're not made any more. Specialized Touring Pedals made by MKS back in the 80s

lawschoolissoover said...

My experience parallels almost exactly that of GeekGuyAndy (with whom I also share a name). About 13 years ago I bought some cheap Specialized shoes, because the MKS pedals I had been using were hurting my size 13s through New Balance soles. It just so happened that the Specialized Shoes (Fat Boys, I think) had SPD-compatible soles, and so I finally tried clipless (some cheap Wellgos). I was an instant convert. I now ride in touring-style shoes and wear them all day every day at work, and in the summer, SPD sandals. You'll never get me back in clips & straps or plain platforms. NEVER!

Leora Tozer said...

I've used a lot of different pedals for commuting, and I've trashed the bearings in all of them within a few months-----except for the MKS Touring pedal. Not once have I even had to repack the bearings on those, whereas all the others, many of them quite expensive, have cartridge bearings that develop play and/or creaks and pops in just a few hundred miles. My only problem with the MKS pedals is the serious lack of grip in the rain. For that reason I've had to just continue using my expensive Wellgo platform pedals, despite the terrible bearings.

Anonymous said...

I for one am a big fan of the (recently reintroduced) MKS BM-7. Like a Sylvan with a wraparound cage, lightweight, comfy in most shoes, grippy without being harsh or restictive.

lawschoolissoover said...

Oh, and bearings?

Never had a problem yet. Shimano SPD pedals (in my limited, 3,000 miles/year experience) seem to last forever...

Scorp said...

I think many commenters miss the point. It isn't about what pedal style is best most effective or whatever. It's about shoes and pedals that goes with the shoes of your choice.

If you can't wear shoes you are comfortable in your feet will hurt, no matter how good pedals you have. Dedicated cycle shoes aren't for every foot. If your feet hurt, it sure takes the fun out of cycling.

As someone else already said, the more options the better. There isn't one shoe-pedal style that fits everyone. Alas the market acts like if there were.

I'm looking forward to my Sabots. Hope they will be as comfy as they look with my thin soled, soft and roomy shoes. I'm tired of stopping every 5 - 10 kilometers to get rid of numbness.

Anonymous said...

The Ergon pedal is my far the best pedal I've ever used for street shoes. I can't imagine going back to metal for all-around use. The reflectors, the comfort, the way the pedal cups your foot: it just works. Ugly; doesn't matter to me.

web said...

IMO, the only currently offered platform pedal that is aesthetically pleasing is the MKS Sylvan touring. My only issue with it is that it's slippery as heck when it's wet. Why not offer a near identical design but take the opportunity to improve the bearings, give it even classier lines and sharpen up the cages to improve grip. The industry is full to the brim of big, heavy, ugly platform pedals that look awful on an elegant city bike. We need more options that look open, light and have clean lines like the Sylvan touring.

Anonymous said...

After 21 years of about every type of riding, I've hung up the cleats of all kinds even the touring SPD's. Riding a good flat pedal with somd spikes for rain or general grip is bliss. I dont miss the binders at all and I do some pretty serios terrain at times. Works for me.

tallbikeman said...

I have tried two types of shoe and cleat from being strapped in to being clipped in. This over a period of 40 years. Much as I love my bicycle shoes and clips I more enjoy cycling in ordinary everyday boots or shoes. I ended up with MTB beartrap pedals until recently. I'm trying some Welgo platforms and am looking at the Velo Orange Sabot pedal which has better bearings and may be somewhat bigger than the Welgo's. I ride 15-35 miles per ride. I wear size 14 shoes and find the smaller pedals too little for me to comfortably fit onto while pedaling.

Raiyn said...

I've run Time Control Z's since they came out. Nice platform, excellent retention and release and they work well with my Specialized Primo MTB shoes for urban riding

Anonymous said...

I tried thin-soled shoes for a few years when I got back into trail running, but heel pain led me to SAS walking shoes, which I wear most of the time now. They have fairly thick soles, so I bent some toe clips to accommodate them, and I found that the thicker soles distribute the pressure of my old TA touring pedals, so I switched back to toe clips from SPD. The bike feels just as fast, and I like being in my most comfortable shoes when I lock up the bike.

Scorp said...

@web MKS Sylvan Touring aren't platform pedals. They look like typical quill pedals to me, albeit larger than usual.

E et al said...

I'll add one more thing to the manifesto: Whether SPD or platform, if you're not designing a pedal for clips and straps it MUST HAVE TWO IDENTICAL SIDES. Having to flip a pedal around when starting from a stop is a pointless distraction. It's a minor distraction, but it's something that has to be dealt with dozens of times on every single typical urban ride. A few minutes of design work and a few grams of aluminum solve the distraction completely.

Mark Holm said...

1. Here is a plug for loose bearing pedals. If you hope to do maintenance on other loose bearings on your bike, the pedals are a great place to start. They are easy to handle, require only simple tools, and are easy to adjust, but the basic procedures, including adjustment, follow exactly the same principles needed for the other bearings.
2. I ride MKS Lambda, wearing moderate thickness running style sneakers. They are just fine.

peddalhead said...

Never would have thought there are so many different opinions regarding pedals. The more I cycle the more I just want to get on the bike and go without having to fuss up special shoes or clothes. Experience has shown me that the easier it is to use the bike the more it gets used, and that applies to commuting, touring, or fitness riding. In general my pedals need to be able to handle whatever shoes I have on at the moment, flip-flops to boots to dress shoes. They must be simple, rugged, smooth, comfortable, and able to properly transmit power to the drive train; and, very important, they must be “sticky” without toe clips or straps. To me, the Sabots meet those requirements exactly with good looks too, and if I ever wear out my studded Lambdas I will get a set. Chris, your manifesto is right on, keep up the good work.

lawschoolissoover said...

I understand Peddalhead's perspective entirely. That's why almost all of my shoes are SPD-equipped. The shoes I wear to work are Shimano "touring"-style and look only slightly athletic. I also wear SPD sandals in the summer. With size 13 feet, I've had too many problems with pedal platforms being too small (and with some quill pedals, having the outer rise prevent me from keeping flat one). SPD for me, me buckos. And bike shoes that are everyday shoes.

Anonymous said...

I have BMX pedals on all my bikes, Bright blue animal pedals bring a little flash to my wine red schwinn voyageur.

trailer park cyclist said...

Who knew?! Pedals! My worstest problem on long rides (over 50 miles) is sore, or numb, feet. I don't know if they are sore or numb because that is a contradiction but what I am saying is that getting off and walking for fifteen minutes is the solution. I always thought it was due to some genetic deficiency on my part but here it turns out that I am not alone.

The first time that I used toe-clips was a revelation and I knew instantly that I would never go back. At that time I thought clipless was only for racers and now, all-wise and knowing, I still think the same way. But once I started living by bicycle even the clips became a problem and so, footloose it is and I am currently running the MKS Sylvan touring pedals which are just fine but have done nothing to relieve the pain.

I suspect a positioning problem, or fit.

All the same, gang, yer doing important work and I thank you for that.

Bicycles!

tj

Anonymous said...

I have two pair of the Barelli B-10 pedals. These are so wonderful because the bearing surfaces were machined to such high tolerance precision. The only drawback is that you cannot use PowerGrips on them, only clips and straps. I have well maintained Specialized Touring pedals on my main bike, because they can accept the PGrip straps. I applaud VO dedication to solid platform pedal design, but I hope you retain a back cage design that will allow for the PowerGrips to be used. Please!

Owen W

Steve said...

SR SP 11 was a better execution of the platform touring pedal than the Marcel Berthet. The Marcel Berthet sat too close to the crankarm.
http://velobase.com/ViewComponent.aspx?ID=036524d0-6997-4104-9f89-d654f3410143&Enum=109

mike said...

I really like the big ol' MKS Lambda pedal. I picked up a pair from VO last spring and have about 700 miles on them now. Truthfully, I like to be clipped in when I'm out on a long ride...but these pedals have been very comfortable for my larger feet, especially when I'm in traffic and don't want to deal with getting back into the pedals after a stoplight.

Thin shoe soles are a problem (I seem to feel sore in the ankles with them), and I think these pedals do more to alleviate the issue than others I have tried.