Wednesday, June 04, 2008

My clipless platform

Date: June 3
Mileage: 35.7
May mileage: 87.2
Temperature: 48

The other day, someone asked me why I use platform pedals on my bikes. It’s a good question. Platform pedal use does seem to run against the grain of most acceptable bicycle accessory standards. It’s a blatant rejection of nearly universally adopted technology, and, unlike fixed-gear bikes and leather saddles, you don’t even get cool points for your retro grouchiness. In fact, I think there are even fixie hipsters who sneer at platform use. Platforms are for children, and BMX bikers ... and me.

I do feel like I’ve given clipless pedals a fair chance. I’ve had a pair of LOOK pedals on my road bike, off and on, for more than a year now. All of that pedaling has given me lots of time to think up reasons why I like platforms better. So here is my “Top 10 Reasons for Reverting Back to Platform Pedals” list:

1. I hate being stuck with one pair of shoes. There are so many subcategories to this - shoes get wet and take two days to dry; shoes make toes go numb on any ride longer than three hours; shoes don’t match clean socks. Then there are all the times I want to wear winter boots and times I want to wear knee-high overboots and times I want to wear running shoes. Platforms allow this kind of freedom.

2. Cold feet. I can only fit one thin pair of socks in my cycling shoes. This makes them essentially useless any time the temperature is lower than 45 and it’s raining. And yes, I do own neoprene booties.

3. I hate being stuck in a pair of shoes I can’t walk in. Put on a pair of shoes made to attach to your bike and suddenly you’re stranded on the thing. If you need to walk anywhere, for any reason, you either have to click-clack awkwardly forward or strip down to your sock feet.

4. For the aforementioned reason, clipless pedals complicate commuting. I’d need to carry an extra pair of shoes nearly everywhere I went.

5. Also for that aforementioned reason, clipless pedals really punish simple mistakes. Forgot your pump or Allen wrench? If you get a flat, a five-mile walk to the nearest gas station is fair punishment. But five miles in cleats? That’s just cruel.

6. I actually destroyed my first pair of cleats in less than a year because I walked on them too much. I ground them down to little nubbins and they wouldn’t attach to the pedals anymore. I like to walk.

7. I’m still a lousy enough technical rider that the ability to bail off the bike quickly has saved my skin more than once.

8. I’ve never noticed any real power benefit to clipless pedals. Maybe I’m just doing it wrong, but I’m dubious of the notion that they actually make any difference at all.

9. I’ve don’t have a problem with my feet slipping off my spiky platform pedals. I do have this problem with my clipless pedals, thanks to the aforementioned destroying of my cleats and the fact that my new ones still randomly slip forward when it’s really wet out (yes, I do have them set as tight as they will go.)

10. My knee problems increase exponentially if I push a steady rotation for too long. I move my feet all over the pedals - sometimes with the tips of my toes barely touching the edge, sometimes pressing down on my heels. This seems to alleviate a lot of the repetitive motion pressure. I can imagine all kinds of sports medicine specialists would tell me this is wrong, wrong, wrong, but it has allowed me to stave off nagging pain and ride with happy knees for an entire year.

So there you have it, my pedal platform: Free your feet, and free your mind.


  1. Right on, Jill. My reasons are similar to yours, and it's nice to have your top ten list to point folks to.

  2. Bravo Jill! I have combination platform/clipless on my single-speed mtn. bike. I love them because it allows me more options. I can wear cycling shoes, trail running shoes, hiking boots, or my Sorels. I would love a pair of those Lake winter riding shoes, but can't justify the $250+ dollars for shoes that may not keep my previously frost bitten toes warm.

  3. Sorry to be a spoilsport, but isn't 3 to 6, in addition to being repetition of "you can't walk", also only applicable to road shoes?

    On the other hand, you only ever need one reason to do or not to do something, provided it's a good reason.

    I use mountain bike shoes on all my road bikes and block pedals only on my mountain bikes. Which makes one think that maybe there is a problem in terminology, but I didn't invent it. But I get to walk a lot on the mtb shoes. They are not the best shoes for walking, but it's not too horrible.

    Of course, anything done to buck the trend of complete assimilation within cycling is good. It often gets to me, and anyone cycling differently is a hero to me.

  4. Jill,

    I ride platforms today because of nerve damage in my right foot sustained from wearing overly tight, narrow cycling shoes during my 1982 cross country bike trek. Before that journey, I'd ridden thousands of miles with toe straps and comfortable gym/running shoes with nary a problem. Now my right foot burned and felt as though I was standing on a molten hot golf ball and my knees ached and cracked and popped sounding much like a bowl of rice krispies. The pain nearly ended my tour but I soldiered on and made it to California with my brother Steve. Unfortunately, those painful foot and knee injuries forced me to quit cycling only two short years later.

    A recent car accident five years ago forced me to take up cycling again for rehab purposes and I balked knowing that the nerve damage would make cycling uncomfortable and painful once again. Platforms pedals saved the day because I can now wear wide comfortable cross training shoes with my orthotics. This combination reduces the compression on the nerve and allows my foot to utilize multiple foot positions which prevents knee pain. Five years and 23,000 miles later, I have very little foot pain and no knee pain! Cycling is now fun again.

    A couple of helpful links...

    The BEST article I've found regarding platform pedals is this one from Rivendell Bicycle Works...

    Those of you suffering from "Hot Foot" should search for Mortons Neuroma on the net.
    Here is a general info page about the malady...

  5. I'm with you Jill! I used to be a hardcore road biker. Had the whole kit going with the clipless pedals and cleats, etc. Now, I ride my mountain bike exclusively and with regular cage platforms. I do use MTB shoes for a little more foot support but they are easy to walk in as I found out last year when my chain broke 5 miles from home. I did put on a pair of Power Grip straps as I do believe the "locked down" feeling gives me more efficient strokes. The nice thing about the PGs is they don't restrict me to one set of shoes. If I need to run an errand I can go in anything from work boots to flip flops.

  6. I'm with you, Jill -- all my bikes are running platforms these days after years and years with toe-clips, clipless pedals of several stripes, and even powergrips -- and for many of the same reasons that you talk about.

    I can wear whatever shoes (or clogs, sandals, or boots) I want, I can hop on anyone one of my bikes whenever I like without having to change shoes, and my knee problems have basically disappeared because my feet can move around naturally depending on how I feel and the type of pedaling at hand (or foot, I guess).
    I must say that I've found, contrary to what one might think, that my pedal stroke is perhaps even more efficient than years of clipped pedaling could achieve. There's nothing quite like the possibility of losing pedal entirely to encourage a nice, even, round stroke. With decent platforms -- ones with pins or nice sharp teeth -- it's even possible to pull a bit through the bottom of the stroke.

    And let's face it, there's a dark spot in my heart that really likes the look of disdain tinged with disbelief that I get from the lycra-clad and clipped-in when I pass them.

  7. Mountain shoes with spd pedals take care of most of your complaints.

    Clipless pedals are good for 1-2 mph added to your average speed. Throw in a hilly environment and they are worth even more.

    Your technical skills would improve immensely if you rode clipless. A truly technical trail will bounce you off of platforms, no matter how spiky the pedals. The control you have over your bike on a technical trail with clipless pedals is on a different planet than platforms.

    Your knees hurt because you ride 600 - 1200 miles in a month. That type of mileage is not about fitness anymore. There is nothing wrong with riding for something other than fitness, but it will take its toll.

    With all that being said, I have a bike with platforms on it. If I am mountain biking or want to go fast I ride clipless. If I want to ride to the pharmacy to rent a movie I ride platforms.

  8. I agree with you Jill in the mountains. Esp for escapability reasons. On the road tho....I gotta clip in.

  9. I ride with clipless - Crank Bros Mallets. Love them, always have. And I do think it makes a huge difference in one's ability to turn the cranks for long distances. It has a lot to do with being able to use more of the muscle groups in your legs, which helps prevent fatigue in the ones you use to 'stomp them'. I got that tidbit from Andreas Hestler a few years back when he was kicking butt at Trans Rockies.
    You don't seem to have a fatigue problem, Jill. Good gosh....over a thousand miles in a month!
    When I did Trans Rockies last year, my partner was quite likely the only one in the entire field that rode with platforms. I was amazed with him, much as I am amazed at you.

  10. Very nice list. It makes a lot of sense and great that it works for you. I use both with equal pleasure.

  11. Jill-I am so with you. I use crank bros. studded 50/50s on my mountain bike (for sure on terrain that's simultaneiously hilly and technical). While I do notice a big difference when climbing in clipless, efficiency still comes in a distant second to ease of bailing when I need to, which is often. I do have to be careful my foot doesn't slip off on steep descents, but I remedy that by just riding slower. While I've been trying to ween myself of them only so I can feel comfortable using both types, I see nothing wrong with using platforms if that is what you're most comfortable with. It also sounds like they're more practical for riding up where you live.

    As far as shoe fit, like teemu, I use mtb shoes on my both my mtb (platforms) and my road bike (with spd's) because they're easy to walk in, and I like the support of the stiff sole. Shoes with ratchets let you adjust the tightness to your liking.

  12. I don't know you, but I love your I care--get some clipless pedals!!!!!

  13. Jill: what mtn bike would you recommend in the sub 1000 dollar range?

  14. I'm totally with you. My new Surly came with platforms and toe clips, which in retrospect I think was some sort of cruel joke by the guys at the LBS, as they know me. I tipped over 3 times in 2 weeks, the last of which being mucho amusing as I was meeting my wife and kids at a park. I pull up, start stopping and... the end.

    In that light, there's no way I'll do clipless. I've heard enough stories (3) from folks who have came unclipped while powering up a hill and got hurt (1) or who were unable to unclip due to a malfunction and just had to "fall over in the grass somewhere (2) for me to feel anywhere near comfortable with it.

    Plus, freedom. If I had clipless on my bike, I couldn't just jump on it during the noon hour in a suit and go ride the mile to a park, and sit on a park bench and read. I'd have to put on some robotic shoes that would, quite possibly, make a fat guy riding a bike in a suit look even more ridiculous than I would naturally.

    Anyway, I agree. :)

  15. thank you from another platform loser who has ridden bikes for over 30 years.
    God is good

  16. Different strokes for different folks, right?

    There are good and bad with both clipless and platform.

    Platform does win hands down when it comes to simplicity and ease of use...any shoe (or even barefeet if you wanted) and you can ride any bike , any time.

    Whether or not clipless helps in technical situations or not can be argued. Many DH'ers don't clip in, most Freeriders don't clip in, you never see a Trials rider clipped in, etc. All are riding in serious rough terrain.

    I use clipless in warm weather on my mtb and road bikes. My snowbike always has platforms though.

    In winter...get those heat sucking cleats off your feet though. Platforms all the way. It amazes me that folks will pay a few hundred bucks for winter cycling boots that will not keep your feet warm, without serious modification, oversizing, and the like. Anyone suffering from cold toes needs to try flat pedals as their first solution. Warmer, better fitting, more roomy shoes and no cleat is where it starts.

    Way to stir up the pot Jill!

  17. Still curious, what was that white line running through the scraggle in your picture on the post, "The End of May".

    Don't let that punctuation make you dizzy.

  18. Hi, I'm the guy who posted the initial question, and I want to say "thanks for the detailed response." I personally have a big butt, so I can leverage that part of my anatomy when clipped into my bike. Though I have to admit I haven't ridden without clips for quite some time, so I should give it a shot, eh?

  19. Submit and Obey! Go Clipless!

    Whatever, nobody here should post a dissenting opinion unless you can keep up with JJ (aka MC Jilly Jill.)

    Personally I ride clipless so I look like a douchebag at the grocery store.

  20. flats for 5 yrs... Maybe I'll slower but I can ride so much longer with flats.

    Good stuff

  21. I thought for sure you would be getting lambasted by the clipless masses. I ride clipless - mountain pedals/shoes on both mountain and road bike - makes the "kitted out" folks squirm - but I have a stable of cruiser bikes with platforms. Just finished restoring a 1950s Schwinn in an original/modern set up - with bmx platforms, original one piece cranks with a really big gear and a coaster brake and it has become my new favorite bike to ride. I got the cowbells ringing for me when I was climbing a hill on the first leg of the Commerce Bank Lehigh Valley Classic yesterday (not competing obviously)- first year the first leg of Triple Crown started in Allentown and it rocked.

    All I can say is - if taking off the pedals and tying your showlaces to the cranks makes you happy - let it roll.

  22. They don't make SPD compatible fuzzy bunny slippers....nuff said.

  23. Want to help those bad knees? A product called, Glucosamine. It's made by Wellesse. I don't know if you can get it in Canada, but in the USA its available at Costco. Get it in liquid form for best results. I never thought my knees could feel normal again until I used it.

  24. Items 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,9,and 10: Right On!

    Item 8: not so much...

  25. Saul, I thought for sure I was going to get lambasted myself. I guess I've come across as overly sensitive in recent posts.

    I'm not a platform pedal preacher. I'm all about different strokes for different folks. I'm more of a platform pedal apologist. I acknowledge that I may be losing out on certain advantages in favor of comfort. Sort of like flat bars on a road bike and rear suspension on a MTB (how I miss it.) But I do disagree that clipless pedals do all good things for everyone. I genuinely haven't been impressed with the ones I've used. I haven't seen my average MPH go up or felt any stronger on climbs and I've generally been less comfortable. Granted, I may just be a poor cyclist. I'll acknowledge that.

    Doctor S. I'm actually looking into similar bikes for my dad right now. I think his price range is lower, but he's looking for a good MTB/comfort bike. I think your best bet is to go into a bike shop and tell them what you're interested in and what you have to spend. They'll definitely send you in the right direction. If you're looking to buy online, I'm also a big fan of the quality-vs.-price ratio of IBEX bikes. They have a few good hardtails in the $500-$800range.

    Craig ... the "trail" is just a series of simple wooden planks. They're used widely in Juneau to cross muskeg, areas where normal dirt trail would be swallowed by the bog in a matter of days. Juneau is a wet place, so pretty much any flat area is boggy muskeg. We have entire trails built of wooden planks, up to five miles long. I hate them. They're as slippery as oil-slicked ice when they're wet, but I realize it's either them or nothing. When they're dry, they make for great singletrack practice.

    Jeff ... thanks for the info. I'm actually a regular user. It's an expensive habit.

  26. You've opened up a can of worms here Jill!

    I like all pedals they all do the job but I use just spd's & mountain bike shoes on both mountain & road bike. I like the solid attached to bike feel & don't mind falling off every now & then.

  27. I can't quite understand why you couldn't have both clipless and platform at the same time - I use a pair of cheap Shimano 520s on my MTB with the platform attached to one side. I use it as clipless by default and when the going gets rough and technical downhill I unclip, turn the pedal and voila - platform it is.
    I've ridden some 10 thousand miles with toe clips also, they are very cheap, and I quite like them. So many options...

  28. btw. when you ride a singlespeed or a fixed gear bike clipless pedals and/or toe clips make all the difference when going uphill. Perhaps on a geared bike it doesn't make that much of a difference though.

  29. and this is my last post (sorry), try to pedal a 150+ cadence with a platform pedal on a fixie... on second thought, no, please don't try it. But as a matter of fact, on a fixed gear bike you benefit a lot from clipless pedals both uphill and downhill. Actually, if you can get a Speedplay with free float you'll be shocked to find the pedal feel like it's _disappeared_ under your feet when pedaling high cadence. It's a kind of magic ;-]

  30. I got a pair of big old platform pedals on my "everything" bike. It's great to just hop on a bike & go with any old shoes. But if you are looking for speed, clipless is the ticket. I was a holdout until 1997.

  31. I have a time trial bike with old-school Look cleats that I use if I'm trying to set some kind of speed PR. I also will put SPD pedals on a bike if the entire outing involves climbing nonstop for hours. But 99% of my riding is with toe straps or Power Grips. All of your reasons are dead on right. My personal pet peeve is getting mud packed in the cleat making them useless. I once did a little tour in Baja MX and I figured that clipless would be ok since it's a desert (no mud). Wrong. It did rain and I spent tons of time picking mud out. When I did more race training than any other riding, I used clipless all the time, but I changed back to platform pedals when I realized that for commuting to work, clipless necessitated that there be a hole cut in whatever kind of overshoe cover you wear. This means that when the weather is really crappy, your feet will get wet. With toe clips, I can wear rubber overboots (available at lab and safety suppliers) under gaitors and my feet are 100% dry as long as I need them to be. Toe clips also allow me to ride in boots which are needed in weather when anything that would take a cycling cleat would be disastrously cold. And a tip for people new to cycling, I find that a great enhancement is putting toe clips on normal pedals, but leave off the toe strap. Then new riders get used to good foot placement, get some benefit from different parts of their stroke, but with none of the liability when stopping too suddenly. I'd say start with that, then add the strap, then go to clipless, then choose what you think works for you.

  32. I was right there with ya till I read #8 ;)

  33. I rode with clips and straps for many years and was always bothered by numbness in my toes, no matter how I adjusted the straps. So I asked the shop manager of my LBS about going clipless. He asked me what my shoe size was. When I told him that I wore 10 1/2 EEEE, he just laughed.

    I gave up on the notion of clipliess and removed the clips and straps. I have ridden for several years on platform pedals and my feet feel great. Oh, and my knees stopped aching, too. I don't think I will go back.

  34. You've made some very interesting points. I completely disagree with you on #8, and I'm dubious about #10, but everything else you brought up seems to outweigh those two anyway. Who wants to lug around extra shoes? Yuck.

    Have you ever thought about just using toe straps? I admit they are more difficult to get out of than clipless pedals, so maybe not good for all situations.

    I wonder if your problems with clipless pedals is simply an adjustment issue. A proper and PROFESSIONAL fit/adjustment is essential. This applies to everything: saddle position, handlebars, pedals, and the cleat position on the shoe. It all works together. If one thing is off it can make you hurt in surprising places. It also sounds like your shoe is too small. Mine will accomodate two pairs of wool socks plus a chemical toe warmer in the winter, but still cinch up tight enough on one pair of thin socks in summer.

    Love your blog.

  35. About point No. 8 ... the dispute of this point seems to be universally accepted fact, but what if clipless pedals don't work for me, specifically? To gain any power from the upstroke, you have to actually pull on the upstroke, and years of platform conditioning have me essentially resting my opposite leg on every upstroke, even clipped in. (I realize how extreme this habit is every time I try to pedal one-legged.) I think I may have to relearn how to pedal in order to gain any advantage.

    On No. 10, I obviously don't have any medical proof to back up this theory. For all I know, it's all in my head. But even if it's placebo effect, it seems to be working. When sharp pains start to hit my knee, I just move my foot and they go away.

  36. But that's just it. Since you are resting your leg on the upstroke, you aren't using all the power you have at your disposal. Yes, it would require you to retrain yourself, but it isn't as hard as you might think. Try one-legged intervals (with clipless pedals and shoes of course) on a trainer or rollers just once or twice a week for maybe twenty minutes. Pedal with left leg one minute, both legs for a couple of minutes, then right leg one minute. You aren't pedaling HARD (low resistance on the trainer) or trying to keep a super high cadence. You are just training your muscles to work more efficiently. I suppose you could do this out on the road, if you had an area that was smooth and relatively flat.

    Also, on number 9, if your foot is slipping out of the cleat, even on wet days, SOMETHING is not adjusted properly.

    But, again, maybe you don't need to worry about any of this. As I mentioned in my earlier message, having to carry extra shoes is probably reason enough to use platforms. Clipless maybe just isn't convenient for commuting.

  37. And who likes changing pedals over all the time? What a hassle. Sticking with whats easiest is what happens.

    I think if you lived in a warm dry climate you'd look more favourably at SPDs and notice your knees were also a lot happier (mine don't like the cold months). I have never had issues with my clipless pedals malfunctioning and have crashed many times with successful detachment - seems its mainly a paranoia problem. I recon platforms will suit me for the short commute rides since any old crappy shoes can do the trick.

  38. Jill - believe it or not, folks may *think* they pull up on the resting leg but studies in cycling biomechanics show quite the opposite - it's dead weight even with clipless pedals. Power still increases with clipless though. There's no "slop" at the pedal/foot interface.

    Your conditions are something else though. I'd be using flat pedals if I lived in Juneau too...

  39. Here's why I hate clipless pedals:

    1. Your foot seldom slips out of a clipless pedal, but when it DOES slip out, it often results in a wreck.

    2. Not being able to reposition your feet on the pedals is a tremendous strain on your knees and ankles.

    3. Studies indicate that nobody (not even the elite cyclists) actually "pull up" on the reverse side.

    4. I hate having to think about stopping before I actually do.

    5. Struggling with the pedal everytime I take off from a stoplight is a drag.

    6. I hated those stupid stiff shoes.

    I never actually fell over with my clipless pedals, but I did truly despise them. About a year ago, I took them off all my bikes and replaced them with either old track pedals or bmx hex-shaped pedals (depending on the bike). My foot has never "slipped off" either style, and I will never go back. "Riding free" is a joy.


Feedback is always appreciated!