Wednesday, 7 December 2011

On pedals

Pedals, pedals, pedals.
Thirty years ago I used to have "cage" pedals
(also known as "quill" pedals) - open metal contraptions with rounded, raised, "teeth" at the front and rear (to grip the bottom of one's shoes). Some of my contemporaries had toe-clips that held the pedal more firmly to the shoe, allowing one to "pull" on the upwards stroke as well as "push" on the downwards one.
Nowadays, toe-clips are rare, having been replaced by pedals with special fittings on them, and shoes with matching fittings, that "lock" together to give a similar push-pull effect (such as Shimano's SPD system).

low-cost metal pedal with rubber pads
Plastic "cage"-style pedals
Not for me, though :-)
I seem to have a preference for flat pedals, metal with a bit of rubber - the sort of pedals that are comfortable to pedal in whatever footwear you are wearing, be it thin-soled gym shoes, or wellington boots (galoshes!). However, my little folding bike has plastic "cage"-style pedals, and I seem to get on all right with them, so I just leave them.

My cycling is mostly urban these days (and, overall, mostly always has been), and I have always liked the security of being able to quickly get a foot (or two!) down on the road. This can be used to aid balance, or, equally well, as "emergency" braking - when you work out how much of your bike tyres actually touch the road (or whatever), you can see the difference an extra pair of shoes can make!
I commute in an urban environment, almost all fairly short distances at fairly low speeds, in all weathers, rain and shine. So I have pedals I can wear just about any footwear in, including a pair of short wellies.

If, however, I was commuting 10 miles (16 kilometres) a day each way, then I might think about clip-type pedals (such as the SPD type), and shoes to suit, with a pair or normal shoes either left at work or carried in my panniers etc. The benefits from the "push-pull" possible when you pedals are locked to your shoes would probably be worth the extra effort cost and trouble (you need 2 pairs of shoes all year round, while I usually cycle in the pair I then wear at work!)

If one is engaging in a bit of friendly competition with one's friends, then SPD pedals (or toe-clips) definitely allow one to go faster, and/or pedal a longer distance for the same amount of effort.

But like so many other things in cycling (and life) there are different answers for different people - all equally right. So think about the type of cycling you do, and get pedals to match. There is no reason why you can't change the pedals on a bike part-way through owning it, so fit what is best for you.

Marking showing "left"-side pedal
One last word - remember that on normal (also known as "British") pedals, the left-side pedal (facing forwards) has a "backwards" thread - so it undoes CLOCKWISE. This is so that it undoes in the opposite direction to the normal rotation it gets in use.

If you have a French bike (especially something from Peugeot!), then chances are that you have TWO right-hand pedals that undo "normally" - that is to say, ANTI-CLOCKWISE. While the bolts are conventional, they have a tendency to undo during use unless done up really tightly, or a thread locking compund is used. Some Italian bikes also have French-type pedals, but my little Cinzia folding bike (Italian made) has "regular" pedals with a left-hand "backwards" thread on the left side!