Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pondering platforms

Date: April 13
Mileage: 36.3
April mileage: 462
Temperature upon departure: 39

Ever since I removed the Look pedals from my road bike to accommodate my obnoxiously big overboots, I feel like I have finally been set free. I don't have clipless pedals on my snow bike. I don't have them on my mountain bike. And now that I am officially clipless free, I'm free to do anything I want - wear an obnoxiously big overboot over comfortable running shoes and/or sandals, place my foot anywhere that suits me, and pedal down the road.

I admit that I never became all that attached to my clipless pedals. I just didn't understand them. In most long-distance riding, emphasis is placed on relieving your pressure points. Use lots of different hand positions. Stand up and sit down in the saddle. And yet, people feel perfectly comfortable having their foot locked in one small place for hours at a time. I don't. Sometimes I ride with my heel resting on the platform. Sometimes I push down with my toes. Sometimes I even ride the proper way. The truth is, I move my feet all over the pedals, usually intentionally, as a way to relieve knee pain and foot numbness and generally just mix it up.

I won't even go into how much I hate cycling shoes. Yes, I know they make shoes that you can technically walk in. But those shoes are made by cycling companies, who don't seem to understand the first thing about walking. Their shoes start out uncomfortable and quickly deteriorate to shreds while the cleats are ground down to useless nubbins.

Then, what do you do if the pedals, heaven forbid, get unworkably clogged with mud or ice? Really, what do you do?

But the truth is, I've been thinking about converting my mountain bike to clipless for all the bikepacking I'm going to be doing this summer. I'll give clipless advocates the truths they hold dear - that clipless pedals do give the rider a power advantage (I happen to believe it's pretty marginal, at least it my case.) And, in extreme technical mountain biking, where accidentally slipping off the pedals at an inopportune moment could send a rider headlong off a cliff, clipless pedals can save lives (I've never come close to attempting this kind of extreme technical riding.) Still, while I'm willing to accept the advantages of attaching myself to a bike, I'm having a hard time overcoming the disadvantages.

How can I get the power advantage of clipless pedals while still maintaining my ability to relieve joint pressure by moving my foot around? I know they make platform/clipless hybrids, but those seem pretty spotty to me. And what about those horrible shoes? I don't simply want shoes that will work for walking in and out of stores. I want shoes that I can use to hike across the Grand Canyon, 25 miles with 7,000 feet of climbing, carrying a bike and gear on my back. I'm not saying I'm actually going to do this ... but I wouldn't mind having shoes that could handle it.

I really believe that platform pedals with Power Grips are the answer for me. Am I crazy?

Are there any other former platform pedal die-hards who managed to make the conversion and never looked back? I'm open to suggestions.


  1. Ummm .. have you tried toe clips? Power grips are basically toe clips after all.
    I tend to set up toe clips and my clipless pedals loose to allow more foot rotation on the pedals. This also eases clipping in and out.
    Using toe clips for awhile may change your perception of power advantage once you develop a good spin.

  2. I have used power grips and love them. They are much easier to get out of than toe clips.

    Now I have pretty much gone over to Shimano PD-M324 MTB Pedal for all my bikes with the exception of my road bike. The pd-m324 gives me clipless when I want it and a platform when I don't.

    And like you there is a certain feeling of freedom that I enjoy when riding on the platform pedal.

  3. Die hard flat pedal user here...

    been on clipless for a number of years and the only pedal i found conformable was the time attack...

    that being said it was fine for 4 hours anything past that and the kneew/ankles hated me...

    maybe i'm losing power but i like my feet roaming free.

    I think clipless is a crutch in the techy offroad terrain and you learn bad bike handling skills esp with rock ledges and the like

  4. I'm at the opposite extreme from you - I cannot ride platform pedals because I accidentally lift my feet off the pedals, kicking into thin air on a regular basis.

    But, for what it's worth, I started snow riding almost daily on a Fatback this past winter. I found that Crank Brothers Candy pedals almost never get clogged with snow or mud - even the current wet and sloppy spring snow. And, if I don't want to clip in because I'm riding tricky conditions that seem ripe for a fall, they have nice platforms that I can use for pedaling so that I can put a foot down pronto.

    That being said, it sounds like you plain don't like being clipped in - so why do it? Biomechanical studies show little difference in pedal efficiency whether you pedal with your heel or normally. There haven't been good studies of maximum power output that I know of.

  5. Jill,

    Being a MacGuyver kind of person and seeing you don't mind experimenting with stuff, what if...now, this may sound completely crazy to most people because everyone says there's just one "sweet spot" to attach a cleat for the most comfort/power. What if you rigged a pair of cycling shoes to have two sets of cleats? One nearer the toes and the other further back. Might be an issue with allowing enough space between the two cleats to clip-in/out with each set. Grab a drill and see what happens. Maybe put one set in a power position and the other in more of a "noodle ride comfort" position.

  6. I don't know about a cycling shoe that will double is a heavy duty hiking boot...but I think it's about gear selection. If you have your shoes/pedals set up propely, you shouldn't have any discomfort/hotspots etc. Look for a pedal with a big platfom and some float for starters. And if you do a little research, people have lots of opinions about which pedals shed mud the best (not sure about ice....
    Oh, and shimano also has a two sided pedal--one side with flats, one with an spd clip

  7. I recently came across this guy's post, which offers a couple of relevant thoughts about power grips and cycling shoes... maybe his points/questions are useful.



  8. I have switched my cyclocross, mountain, Pugsley and 29r over to BMX style platform pedals (like the Shimano DX ones) after being a long time user of clipless. The BMX style with the little screws that stick up and the big slightly concave surface are the key. The number one benefit of a cycling shoe is the stiff sole and the BMX style pedals size effectively turns any shoe into a ridged sole. The screws give me all the grip I need to push and pull on the pedals without coming off. The only drawbacks are in sprinting and cornering clearance.

  9. I love this post. I learned to ride a road bike w/ mt. bike pedals and shoes and now that i've switched over to road pedals on my road and tri bikes I can barely get my feet unclipped even with the adjustable tension all the way down. I ride in an urban area and I'm basically scared all the time. I HATE the pedals and I'm seriously thinking of putting mt. bike pedals back on all the bikes for no other reason that it will make me a happier person-i don't care if i'm slower...

    i will follow this comment thread with interest :)

  10. Hey Jill,

    You're the best one to judge what pedal works best for you. For me, I've ridden various pedal systems and had no problems riding Power Grips on the GDR in 2005. If I was going to ride it again, I'd ride what I've been riding for the past few years: flat pedals and Keen shoes.

    As for the loss of speed thing by not being clipped in, I never was that fast and I'm not convinced I'm any slower because I'm riding flats. I'm with Fixie Dave on this one.


  11. http://www.rivbike.com/article/clothing/the_shoes_ruse

  12. You should take a look at Vik's comments about mt biking, platform pedals, and real shoes.

    Go back about a month, he took a trip to Moab, UT and Sedona, AZ.


  13. There are SO MANY pedal/shoe options out there. I would recommend going and asking the friendly folks at MTBR.com for advice. The hardcore guys there really know their stuff.

    Personally, like the commenter above I use Time ATAC Z's on my mountain bike, which is a combination platform/clipless pedal. It lets me hop on the bike whenever I want for a ride around the neighborhood with the kids, or clip in and head out on the trail. It also lets you clip out when you are on the trail if you want to have your foot free for support or whatever, but still be able to mash the pedal when you need to, even if not clipped in.

    As for shoes, the problem with all bike shoes is that they have to have a very stiff sole. That being said, I have seen "hiking style" MTB shoes, again on MTBR.com. I think those would get you as close as possible to a true dual-use shoe.

  14. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the Time ATAC's are specifically designed to shed mud, snow and ice. I live in Wisconsin, and they work great for me. Crank Brothers pedals are also good for that, and they also offer a wide range of combination platform/clipless pedals.

  15. Look road pedals are probably part of the problem, something like an SPD or Crank Bros. has a much smaller cleat, ample foot rotation and are generally easier to use.

    That being said, I'm with the general consensus of going with what works for you. A broad MTB pedal with pins for off-road riding, maybe try the powergrips for the road bike.

    As far as shoes go, look at something like the Pearl Izumi Enduros if you do go clipless.

  16. you can't walk with the cleats, but speedplay pedals are great

  17. I would say it is almost a rhetorical question in that you ride exponentially more miles than most. Everyone's comfort is relative to their style of riding. I would think another obvious advantage of the hiking shoe /platform combo for you would be less to lug around. I ride TIME ATACS on all bikes but when I jump on my pimped Schwinn cruiser that has platforms in flip flops I can still fly like the wind.

  18. Jill, I agree with you, with the clipless pedals. What I've been doing is riding clipless on my road bike due to the fact that I need all the speed I can get riding with the group I ride with. As for my mountain bike though, I use a platform with clips tighten a little loose. When I am doing some technical single track, there have been times I needed to get my feet out of the pedals ASAP so I don't hit a tree or go down a into a creek. Also, if you're doing a long ride and break down, it would surely be more comfortable walking in regular shoes as oppose to cycling shoes. Anyways just my thought for what it's worth.

    John S.

  19. I love my power grips! I love my power grips! I love my power grips! I will never go back to clips just for all the reasons Jill stated in her blog.

  20. BMX platform pedals with Power Grips rule! Set up can be a bit problematic if you are using hiking boots, but not too bad. Make sure to get the extra long Power Grips, and look carefully at the pedals to be sure that they have attachment points for the Power Grips (intended for reflectors originally). I have also found it worthwhile to grind down the Power Grip front mounting bracket so that it will fit inside the pedal cage, thus giving a bit more effective strap length (also bolt the other end of the strap on the inside of the pedal cage), but this may not be necessary, depending on the size of shoes you use. I also like to remove most of the spikes from the Power Grip side of the pedal, so that the foot can slide easily in, out, and all around on that side, but I leave the spikes on the non Power Grip side, so that you still get nice grippiness when not using the straps. They are cheap, and fun to mess around with to get just the right setting for your shoes and style, so really, you have nothing to lose by experimenting with them. Have fun! Val

  21. My first impression is to do what works best for you. In my case, I can't imagine going mountain biking without clipless pedals. I couldn't possibly make it up steep little faces without them. Spinning circles is mandatory. You, however, probably don't run into the problem of trying to keep up with your buddies, as you ride alone. Therefore, it doesn't matter if you get off and walk. I don't think there is a good shoe for biking and hiking. Every compromise comes with a penalty. You have to decide what is more important for you. The most important thing is to keep'em turning and enjoy it.

  22. Mike In WI say's

    Good and valid points made by everyone.

    My opinion from many years of riding, if you want peak efficiency, go with good cycle shoes/cleats and clipless pedals while practicing quality pedaling technique...

    THERE IS A REASON RACERS USE THEM and it's not all marketing.

    You plan to make a race out of the GD and challenge yourself then don't delay...get the best fitting shoes and pedal system for yourself and start building those calves/thigh muscles/tendons...

    My opinion, you are already to late to reap the full rewards of training with the new pedal system for the GD race however some benefits above using Power Grips will be seen if you concentrate on good technique.

    Good Riding to you!!!

    Mike In WI.

  23. Having used Powergrips for half a year, I crawled back to the altar of the clipless pedal, in sackcloth and ashes, and roared "Peccavi! I have sinned!" They are never right: Either too tight or too loose, depending on which position you want your foot in right now, how long you have ridden today (foot swelling), and so on.

    I would rather have old-style toe clips, the ones with the cage over the toes, than Powergrips. But for myself, I chose to go back to clipless: On my main touring and bikepacking bike, I use Shimano SPD (the M324 pedals, one side SPD, the other side flat), and on the mud bike, I have the Crank Brothers' Mallet 1, which is less easily annoyed by ice and mud. Both allow ample float, _without_ either releasing or constricting your foot as Powergrips will.

    Oh, and the Mallets have the usual BMX-style adjustable set screws sticking out so you get a better grip with non-cleated shoes.


  24. Another vote for the Crank Brothers eggbeaters. Have them on both my road and mountain bikes and have never had them clog with mud to a degree that they wouldn't clip in. Also lots of float and ability to change the angle of my foot easily.

    I use BMX platform pedals on my mountain bike during the snowiest part of the winter when I'm plowing through deep snow at a snail's pace. Much more need to put my foot down then and speed is not an issue, so I skip the clipless.

    Do what works for you but be sure to get plenty of training time with whatever you choose. Don't show up the first day of the GDR with new pedals. Apparently you've done some things on the spur of the moment in the past and they haven't always worked out that great. :-)

    Let us know what you decide. Good luck!


  26. Hi Jill,
    Although many previous posters seem to love them, there are two things about Power Grips that you may want to consider.

    1. They may not give you the freedom in footwear that you are looking for--at least not on a day-to-day basis. If set up as intended, they are highly shoe width dependent if you'd like them to hold your foot somewhat snugly. So, for example, a proper adjustment for a pair of sneakers wouldn't even fit a pair of hiking boots.

    2. In my case, I found that they aggravated knee issues because they rely on a slight twisting pressure to keep them snug.

    All of this being said, you could set them up in a way that was more of a guide than an actual holding mechanism. It's also not a very expensive experiment, so it's probably worth just doing.


  27. Hi Jill,

    I've been searching for a clipless shoe or boot that would be good for hiking. When I tour, I like to have one pair of spd sandals for riding when its warm and one pair of shoes or boots for when its cold. The best looking things I've found are from Northwave, Shimano and Lake. Northwave's and Lake's websites both have a couple of spd shoes and boots that have vibram soles that look like a regular boot sole. Shimano also makes an spd boot (google SH-MT90) that is available in Europe but not in the US. I don't know if any of them are at all comfortable for walking. But one of these might be good for Great Divide Race if you're going to go clipless.


  28. Hiking your bike across the Canyon? That's crazy talk.

    My 2c, having used both for long bikepacking trips, is that I like platforms more, but I end up using clipless.

    If I were doing the divide, I would likely go back to flats. Probably the biggest reason I am back at clipless is technical climbing. Hopping the back tire up stuff and being able to generate power on the upstroke is crucial, if you're into that kind of thing.

    Otherwise I think the comfort, freedom and simplicity of flats are hard to beat. Powergrips? No thanks.

  29. Huh. I've actually been struggling with an ongoing injury that's plagued me for months now-- that I believe was related to riding too far & hard on.. platform pedals. I enjoy cycling shoes for the stiffness they provide, which I have found-- personally-- to relieve my arches and calves.

    But hey, I'm not preaching it as a fact-- just sharing a personal experience. I hope you find something that works for you!


Feedback is always appreciated!