Pedals and Bike Shoes

What Kind of Bike Pedals Should You Use?

What Kind of Bike Pedals Should I Use
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Bikes use several different types of pedals. This article tells you which is which and helps you answer the question: What kind of bike pedals should I use?

Different Types of Bike Pedals

1. Basic Platform Pedals

Basic platform pedals are the most common type of pedals. Designed for any type of footwear (or none at all!), basic platform pedals are commonly found on kids' bikes as well as adult cruiser and comfort bikes. Rubber or hard plastic are the most frequently used materials for this type of pedal.

Bike Pedal

Advantages

  • Simple to use
  • No specialized footwear needed
  • Nothing holding you to the bicycle

Disadvantages

  • No power transferred to the pedal on the upstroke - i.e., you can push down on platform pedals, but you can't pull up on them when pedaling.
  • Easy for feet to slip off pedals.

2. More Advanced Platform Pedals

More advanced platform pedals are used on many mountain bikes, BMX bikes or the so-called "urban" bikes people use to get around town without the specialized features of road or touring bikes. These pedals feature an edge that often has "teeth" for better gripping power into the soles of your shoes, helping you keep your foot on the pedal.

Advantages

  • Simple to use
  • No specialized footwear needed
  • Nothing holding you to the bicycle
  • Pedal design offers better contact for your feet on pedal surface

Disadvantages

  • No power transferred to the pedal on the upstroke - i.e., you can push down on platform pedals, but you can't pull up on them when pedaling.
  • Pedal teeth can bite you too, if your feet slip off and the pedals hit you in the shins.

3. Pedals with Toe Clips

The next big innovation in pedal design came with the invention of toe clips, which first appeared in the 1860s. Toe clips offered significant advantages over platform pedals because they allow the cyclist to drive the pedal during the full rotation, i.e., pulling up on the pedal as well as pushing down. Toe clips are an ideal choice for commuters who have frequent stops in traffic.

Advantages

  • Simple to use
  • No specialized footwear needed
  • Easy to learn how to use.
  • Cyclists can utilize their leg power to pull up on the pedal as well as push down when pedaling the bike.

Disadvantages

  • Still some minor loss of power. Toe clips cannot capture all of the energy the leg provides when moving through the pedal cycle.

4. Hybrid Pedals - Perhaps the Best of Both Worlds

For providing yourself with the most flexibility, as well as not getting yourself "locked-in" (get it? har har) to the just one option of having clipless pedals, hybrid pedals are for many cyclists the best way to go.

These pedals are flat on one side, meaning they are functional for just about any style of regular shoe. The other side of the pedal has the mechanism that allows a cyclist wanting to

riding clipless to lock in their cleated bike shoe, giving them that much more power and efficiency in their pedal stroke.

I have these type of pedals on my touring bike, which doubles as my commuter with its fenders and panniers. That means I can wear ordinary walk-around shoes on my commute and not do the click-clack up and down the halls at work, but then also switch to cleated bike shoes when it's time for some long distance touring.

5. Cleats/Clipless Pedals

Clipless bike pedals allow the rider's feet to be attached to the pedals through the use of special shoes. These allow the most efficient transfer of power from the cyclist's legs to the pedals, as there is no loss of energy. The feet remain attached during all 360 degrees of the pedal rotation. This means power is applied both during the upstroke, pulling the pedals up, as well as on the downstroke, pushing the pedals down.

Advantages

  • Maximum transfer of power to the pedals
  • A complete feeling of attachment to the bike

Disdvantages

  • Specialized shoes needed to utilize clipless pedals
  • Learning how to click in and out of the pedals can be challenging. And it may take a while to remember to click out of the pedals as you approach a stop. Most people who use clipless pedals have fallen over at intersections at least once when they first started riding because they forgot to remove their feet before it was too late. I know I did.
  • Having to frequently click in and out of the pedals can suck the joy out of a ride through town, particularly if the pedals you have are a challenge to use. Certain cycling shoes and pedal combinations can be more difficult to use than others.

Cleated Shoes for Clipless Pedals

If you are going to use clipless pedals, you will need special shoes. You should specifically verify that your shoes and pedals are compatible as there are several different shoe/pedal systems on the market.

Here is a pair of Nashbar cycling shoes, the Pro Classic, that are compatible with the KEO Look Carbon clipless pedals shown on the previous page.

How Cleated Shoes Click into Clipless Pedals

Here is a bottom view of some cycling shoes. When using cleats/clipless pedals, the plate in the bottom of the shoe clicks into a spring-loaded holder on the pedal. This happens typically by the rider simply pressing his or her foot down onto the pedal.

To remove one's feet from the pedals, typically the rider twists his or her foot to the side and the cleat pops right out of the spring loaded holder.

Usually the pedal has an adjustment that can make the tension holding the foot looser or tighter.

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