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.