If you’re just getting into bike touring, you may be amazed to discover how much choice there is when it comes to pedals.
Like most things, ask 100 people which pedals they prefer and you’ll get 100 different answers. The only way to know for sure is to try a few out for yourself. You may try several systems before you find the one that fits you best.
We’ve tried almost every system going, and we have two current favourites:
#1. Pedals With Cleats
Pedals with cleats or spikes have more grip than normal flat pedals. You feel like you’re cycling with cages or clips, which is especially nice on a rainy day, when you don’t want your feet sliding over the pedals. When you want to release your feet, it’s easy. You’re not actually locked or strapped into the pedals, so you can lift your feet off quickly at any time.
Advantages: Reasonably priced. Lots of grip, while still leaving your feet free to move (unlike pedals with straps and clips that keep your feet in one place).
Disadvantages: If you hit your legs against the pedals when you’re pushing the bike, it’s going to hurt. Ouch! Also, if you use your bike both for touring and commuting, be warned that these pedals will scratch any nice shoes you might wear to work!
#2. Ergon’s PC2 Pedals
Ergon’s PC2 Pedals ($79.95) are flat pedals, with a twist. They have a unique contoured surface and a sandpaper-like coating that helps your feet stick to the pedals, without the need for special shoes.
Friedel started using these in late 2011, when she realised that her pedals with cleats were ruining her dress shoes (she uses the same bike to tour and to commute to work).
So far we can only give first impressions but they’re positive. There’s a high ‘sticky’ factor, and the pedals are very comfortable, if a bit larger than most other pedals. We’re looking forward to testing them more over the coming winter months, and writing a full review on the blog in 2012.
Advantages: Very comfortable and good grip. Can be used with any shoes, and won’t ruin or scratch good dress shoes.
Disadvantages: A bit expensive, and relatively large. People who are particularly into aesthetics may find them ugly.
Other options include:
Ordinary Flat Pedals
Found on most low to mid-range bikes, this style of pedal should be familiar to everyone who has ridden a bike. The only thing you need to know about picking out this type of pedal for a bike tour is don’t go with the very cheapest one. The bearings are not good quality in cheaper pedals.
You don’t need the most expensive either but spending an extra $10-20 will go a long way. Aim for a metal pedal, not plastic. (After trying all the other options, a flat pedal like the one pictured is what Friedel used for our world bike tour).
Advantages: Can be used with any type of shoe. No learning curve. Easily replaceable anywhere in the world.
Disadvantages: Not as efficient as clipless pedals. Feet can slide around on the pedals in wet conditions.
Straps & Cages
If you want to kick things up a notch, you can add Power Grips straps or more traditional Cages to your flat pedals.
Advantages: Cheap. Durable. Can be used with any shoes and normal pedals.
Disadvantages: Can cause injury if not properly adjusted. (We think improperly adjusted Power Grips contributed to some trouble Friedel had with tendinitis).
Cages are a common choice for beginners who don’t feel entirely comfortable with being clipped in. You just slide your feet into a cage and there’s a strap to adjust the tightness of the fit.
Advantages: Inexpensive. Widely available. No special shoes required.
Disadvantages: Can be frustrating trying to get your feet into the pedals. Not as efficient as clipless pedals (see below).
These are the choice of many bike tourists. The name is a bit confusing. They’re called ‘clipless’ when in fact you secure your feet to the pedals by clipping in, but the ‘clipless’ term is a reference to the fact that these pedals don’t have toe clips or cages.
There are many different types, one of the most common being Shimano’s SPD system. Other common brands include Eggbeaters and Frogs. They all work on the same premise: cleats in your shoes attach to the pedals. While attached, pedaling is more efficient because you put energy into the upward stroke as well as the downward stroke. When you are ready to stop, you release your feet with a small outward twist.
Andrew uses Shimano M424 pedals ($50 from REI). The first pair lasted over 30,000km before a new pair was needed. The Shimano M324 pedals ($60 from REI and £29.99 from Wiggle) are also popular among touring cyclists because they have an SPD attachment on one side and a normal platform on the other side.
Advantages: Makes your cycling as much as 15% more efficient. Can help keep your feet secure on the pedals in wet or bumpy conditions.
Disadvantages: The pedals, and the shoes that go with them, are more specialised than other types of pedals. If you need a replacement, they may be hard or impossible to find in less developed countries. The learning curve of clipless pedals means you’ll probably fall once or twice as you learn to clip in and out. The pedals can cause knee pain if they are not properly adjusted.