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Pedals For Bike Touring


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:

Pedals With Cleats#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 (£24.05). 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!

Ergon's PC2 Pedals

#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:

flatpedalsOrdinary 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

powergrips-cagesIf 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).

Clipless Pedals

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.
shimanospdpedals

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 ($55 from REI). The first pair lasted over 30,000km before a new pair was needed. The Shimano M324 pedals ($70 from REI and £24.99 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.

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14 Responses to “Pedals For Bike Touring”

  1. Nigel Francis says:

    Hi,

    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?

    Nigel

  2. friedel says:

    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.

  3. Nigel Francis says:

    Hi friedel,

    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.

    Thank you.

    • Friedel says:

      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.

  4. Andrew G says:

    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”?

    • friedel says:

      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!

  5. Andrew says:

    Hi.
    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.

    http://www.wiggle.co.uk/?s=A530

  6. Chubby says:

    Hi,
    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?

  7. Chubby says:

    Hi,
    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!

    • friedel says:

      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.

  8. Chubby says:

    You’ve confirmed what I suspected: the less
    complicated the gear, the easier to fix, the better. Thanx for that, no more expenses!

  9. 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

  10. Darren says:

    Hi Friedel,
    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.

  11. Mythtickle says:

    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.

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