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.
We ordered a set of DMR Pedals from Wiggle (£22.49). REI also stock Wellgo pedals ($22).
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.
Power Grips – These simple straps ($26 from REI) are loved by many mountain bikers and some cycle tourists including Tara & Tyler of Going Slowly.
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.
16th February 2011 at 10:54 pm #
I have been using SPD’s for many years. After my first short tour was always seeming to be in and out of the pedals, then clumping around in semi-rigid-mtb shoes.
Have been considering toe clips (metal or plastic?)then using walking shoes or just improving my shoes to a more walking friendly SPD.
What do you use?
17th February 2011 at 6:17 am #
Hi Nigel, we started out with me on a pair of ordinary pedals, like the top picture, and Andrew on a pair of Shimano SPDs like you see above. Now, however, we’ve both traded in for pedals with cleats, and they’re not on this list. I’ll add them sometime in the coming days.
18th February 2011 at 1:07 pm #
Thanks for reply. Looked online but a bit unsure? A cleat been also SPD (Shimano)? I do use a Shimano touring pedal (SPD & flat). Will move to a more walker friendly SPD shoe.
18th February 2011 at 1:12 pm #
Nigel, I’ve now updated the page with links to the types of pedals we have. Hope that clarifies! Like many things, you may have to try a few different ones until you find something that suits you. Lots of people swear by SPDs but I just didn’t get along with them.
31st March 2011 at 7:01 am #
Hey there! I found the article extremely helpful. I’m looking to get into touring (with the prospect of biking cross country this summer), and this is exactly the type of resource that I was looking for.
You can follow my progress on my website (www.interpopulus.com). Check it out!
Btw, did you mean to say that the disadvantages of clipless pedals were that they required special “shoes” rather than special “pedals”?
31st March 2011 at 7:31 am #
Hi Andrew, thanks for commenting. I actually meant a bit of both, shoes and pedals. Anything specialized is hard to find in many less developed countries. I’ve edited the article now, so thanks for pointing that out, and good luck with your tour!
2nd June 2011 at 6:33 pm #
I have recently been researching pedals as I want to upgrade my current basic ones. I have settled on a pair of Shimano A530 (see link below), SPD on one side for longer rides while the other side is flat making it great for just jumping on your bike with regular shoes to go to the shops etc. They have good reviews. Hope this helps.
19th October 2011 at 5:07 pm #
I’m using Shimano SPD pedals: PDM 540’s, with Shimano MT60 MTB shoes. Perfect for touring thru Europe, and the shoes are easy to tromp around with when off the bike. Heading South from London and now thru Spain on a Thorn Nomad , I was wondering when I arrive in Africa if it would be better to switch to flat pedals with spikes like the above DMR pedals, or stick with the more pedalling efficient PDM 540’s I’m currently using; would the DMR spikes be more practical when arriving/dismounting on arrival in muddy African villages surrounded by welcoming locals?
19th October 2011 at 5:37 pm #
Did you use/need/ or dream about suspension forks when in Africa? I’m headng to Africa without suspension forks on a Thorn Nomad, and was in half a mind to fit some suspension forks before I arrive in Africa, Morocco (to Cape Town…and beyond!). Idealy, I’d rather not invest in more gear; who would on a shoestring! But I am very interested in your views and those of other cyclists you’ve met along the way on your inspiring trip of discovery………..thanks!
19th October 2011 at 8:16 pm #
I’d personally go for something easy to fix over suspension forks for an extended tour, where spare parts aren’t going to be so easy to find.
20th October 2011 at 11:20 am #
You’ve confirmed what I suspected: the less
complicated the gear, the easier to fix, the better. Thanx for that, no more expenses!
5th December 2011 at 8:40 am #
I’ve been going back and forth about pedals for touring for a long time, I recently picked up a new pair from Performance bikes. Big platform with replaceable cleats on one side and spd on the other, a little heavy but hey it’s a touring bike!
http://media.performancebike.com/images/performance/products/1500/50-8258-BLK-ANGLE.jpg those are them
7th August 2012 at 3:12 pm #
Sorry to revive an old thread but how did the Ergon PC2’s work out? I’m looking to tour in sandals and suspect these might be the perfect pedals. But I’m put off by the price and the ugliness so would like some reassurance they are as good as they seem.
5th December 2012 at 1:12 pm #
For what it’s worth, I’ve toured with SPD pedals and 1980s vintage Suntour Superb road pedals with toe clips. The Shimano XT SPDs are a very good pedal and provide a comfortable, smooth, relaxing ride with zero fear of foot slippage. The downside was the cross country style Shimano SPD shoes that I wore were terrible for walking on sealed roads when I became tired and pushed my heavily laden bike up steep hills.
The Suntour Superbs were superbly comfortable with silky smooth bearings and a reasonable degree of non-slip security. They allowed me to wear my favorite and most comfortable walking shoes. Unfortunately after more than 25 years use without a service the bearings need replacing.
On my next trip, for simplicity and out of curiosity, I’m planning to use spiked platform style pedals. The spikes should provide a grippy surface for whatever comfortable shoes I end up taking. I’m just hoping they don’t tear up the soles too much.
3rd August 2015 at 7:59 pm #
I’ve toured for twenty years and have allways use cages and straps. I don’t pull them very tight and can easily slide them on and off and can use any shoe without damage. Pedals without cages slide around and leave my foot slightly misplaced and insecure on the pedal. I’m about to try some spd pedals and see if I can stand the clomping or changing shoes.
4th May 2016 at 12:02 pm #
For off-road touring I prefer to use flat pedals because the bike can hit a tree root or rock and stop dead when going slowly up a hill and it could be dangerous to have a 40 kg of bike and gear falling on your body. It is also easy to lose control in gravel etc going downhill and you have to jump off the bike quickly. The dangers are compounded if the rider is riding solo.
28th September 2016 at 7:11 am #
I also recommend the Shimano MT60 Shoes as they are just right on and off the bike (hiking for a few hours-no problem). My go-to pedals are Shimano A530s (£31.99 in Halfords) 1 side SPD and 1 side flat (easy to wear with other shoes, but land SPD side up for easy clipping in.
13th June 2017 at 7:49 pm #
When I was younger (and much fitter) I used to use cleated pedals, the old shimano 600 ultegra ones, with those pedals I found if I adjusted the seat around 1/4 to 1/2 inch higher than normal, I had a much better cadence, in addition you can use extra muscles when pedalling, as, with practice you can both push and pull at the same time, therfore increasing efficiency and average speed greatly. I also, found that if I slightly loosened the cleat and rode the bike, the cleat would rotate to a desirable angle (the natural angle) once it felt comfortable tighten the cleat back up, after several goes you can get it set up perfect for yourself. The down side is, obviously you need cycling shoes and cleats.
25 years later (as in now) I don’t take cycling very seriously (at all) although I still like them (obviously) My current pedals are virtually identical to the picture you have next to your ordinary pedal photo, I use plastic cages and Christophe toe straps (set very loosely, so I can use any shoes I happen to be wearing at the time) to find the correct cage length, the ball of your foot should be inside the indent of the pedal, while the front of your trainer (which is what I mostly use) should just be in contact or a few mm shy of being in contact, with the cage, I find these very convenient, as I can use whatever shoe I happen to be wearing, the downside as you say is slightly less efficiency, as, you cant push/pull, even with practice.
I`m quite happy with the new setup I have, due to convenience, plus, the fact I`m not as worried about speed as I used to be and am quite happy to arrive at my destination when I arrive, rather than trying to set personal best times and improve my overall performance. As such my current set up, is a very good compromise.
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